Written by Tim McComsey, RD, CPT
When did pre-workout energy and muscle support turn into a need for massive amounts of jittery energy, that stellar “pump” that promises increased performance and mental focus, blood flow that makes your skin crawl and itch, and a simulant intended for massive fat burning? Pre-workouts and other workout stimulants are a dime a dozen, and there isn’t much difference between them and their ingredients. Here’s the cold hard truth about pre-workouts: they are mostly all caffeine, food coloring, unnatural flavorings, unnatural sweeteners, and a few synthetic amino acids.
Why would someone want to put these things in their body? Well, caffeine offers the energy you’re looking for to keep pushing through a heavy workout in addition to helping your body process fatty acids. The addition of synthetic amino acids can help sustain your muscles and delay the onset of muscle fatigue which allows you to workout harder, longer. The other ingredients are just pointless in regards to your health and are absorbed and stored as toxins or eliminated by your body.
Caffeine is classified as a drug, however, it is unregulated and high exposure to it can cause dangerous side effects such as hypertension and adrenal stress that can eventually lead to adrenal fatigue. When someone ingests high levels of caffeine, the body can experience an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, frequent urination, and mental excitement which can sometimes accompany mental focus. The recreational use and overuse of caffeine has been in the news lately highlighting the dangers of overdose because young adults simply aren’t educated on the subject of it. So who is to say that you can’t just ingest a more natural caffeine supplement and eat your amino acids like everyone before the invention of pre-workouts?
While a regular cup of coffee averages around 60–90 milligrams a cup, some pre-workouts can have up to 300 milligrams, including other stimulants, additives, and chemicals as previously discussed. Even with this knowledge if you are still choosing to use a pre-workout, always be sure you’re abiding by the recommended dosages for your age, height, and weight. If you need any more than 300–400 milligrams of caffeine to function, you’re treading on dangerous “addictive” territory, which can be harmful to your body and overall health. Do your research and always buy products from a company you trust. Not all supplements are created equally!
Truth is, I’ve tried a few pre-workout energy products in my lifetime before I knew the truth about how good marketing on pre-workout bottles overrides the common sense of checking out what ingredients are actually being consumed. I now choose to not rely on a pre-workout to get through my scheduled lifts. I fuel my workout with the same thing I fuel the rest of my life: clean, whole foods. I eat to fuel my workout for the next day, and I eat a pre-workout meal 1–2 hours before I head to the gym. While I do occasionally count on the caffeine from green tea to help boost my energy and encourage the breakdown of fatty acids, the risks of ingesting highly produced and synthesized pre-workouts just isn’t my bag.
Other popular types of pre-workouts for the health conscious are things like energy boosting B vitamins and amino acids taken alone without other additives. For the person that enjoys a pre-workout routine, I would encourage the addition of raw non-synthetic B vitamins and or a Branched Chain Amino Acid supplement in addition to a healthy diet built around fueling your body and your workouts for ultimate success.