What Are Pre-Workout Supplements:
And Are They Safe?
Whether you are a competitive athlete or someone who is just getting into working out, you have likely heard about pre-workout supplements. This guide will help you understand what pre-workout supplements are, how they should be used, and answer common concerns about their safety.
Understanding Pre-Workout Supplements
A pre-workout supplement is a powdered mix that contains a variety of ingredients that intend to boost your performance during a workout if you take it beforehand.
Before we get into what pre-workout supplements are made out of, it is important to note that almost every brand uses a unique formula. Simply put, every different type of pre-workout is going to have the same or even similar ingredients.
So, while we can generalize a few statements and give a broad overview of what pre-workout is and what it is meant to do, you must research any supplements individually before consuming them.
Unfortunately, this means that there is not exactly a clear definition of what a pre-workout supplement is, and the ingredients on many brands just say proprietary blend.
In general, though, pre-workout supplements aim to increase your energy levels through a combination of antioxidants, vitamins, carbs, and other supplements - like caffeine and creatine. Some pre-workout brands have carbs, but many are calorie- and carb-free.
Companies may utilize amino acids like citrulline and arginine, which can ramp up your fight or flight response and increase blood flow to your muscles by dilating your blood vessels. Other supplements contain unique ingredients like deer antler velvet that is supposed to boost the production of insulin growth factor-1. This is a hormone that is supposed to increase muscle and tissue growth as a response to resistance training.
Let’s break down some other ingredients that can be found in pre-workout supplements, as well as how they help:
Carbs are usually found in pre-workout supplements because they are our bodies’ go-to source of fuel. In fact, experts recommend eating carbs before you work out so that you can increase your energy levels and have a better exercise session.
Athletes everywhere use carbs for a wide variety of things. Some will use a carbohydrate solution before sprint events, while others will take in a certain number of grams per hour before a long endurance event.
When you exercise, your body uses up glycogen – stored carbs – and glucose to keep you going. This is why taking in some carbs as a pre-workout can help you have more energy available and improve performance.
Caffeine is a stimulant that helps us feel more alert while increasing our energy levels, so it makes sense that it would be found in a pre-workout supplement. Not only does it help you feel more awake for those early morning workouts, but it can also enhance muscle and aerobic endurance, as well a muscle strength.
Beetroot juice is a more surprising ingredient that can be used to develop a pre-workout supplement. However, studies have found that consuming it is an effective way to boost your body’s nitric oxide. Nitric oxide works as a natural way to increase blood flow by expanding your blood vessels.
This can improve your cardiovascular performance and enhance your endurance! Research is still developing around all of the benefits that beetroot supplements provide, but they seem to have promising results.
Creatine is also an ingredient used in most pre-workouts. This is derived from three different amino acids that are produced and stored in our muscles for energy to be used later. Creatine can help us build muscle mass and increase strength.
When Should You Use Pre-Workout?
Now that you understand what a pre-workout supplement is and what it does, you may be wondering, when should you use a pre-workout?
Most individuals take supplements to feel more awake and energized when they exercise. Whether you are trying to hit a new personal record on a one-rep max or push through a long endurance workout, the goal is to help you improve your performance.
If you are looking for some of these benefits, you could try to use a pre-workout 30 to 45 minutes before you exercise.
However, pre-workout supplements are not for everyone, and you should not automatically resort to using them before trying to boost your energy levels naturally. You should first make sure that you are getting the right amount of sleep, hydration - and that you eat the right foods. Doing so will help optimize your performance and support your body while you exercise!
If you do decide to try a pre-workout, look for those stamped by independent labs that test for quality and ingredient contents.
Common Concerns about Pre-Workout Supplements
Are Pre-Workouts Bad for You?
This is one of the most common concerns about pre-workout supplements: are they bad for you?
As we mentioned, pre-workouts can help you boost your energy, endurance, and muscular strength through the use of caffeine and other supplements. Consuming too much caffeine can cause your blood pressure and heart rate to increase, which could eventually lead to cardiac issues. Similarly, excessive caffeine intake may affect your sleep cycle and cause other gastrointestinal issues.
Certain pre-workout brands may load up the pre-workout with unnecessary stimulants, preservatives, and excessive sugar to make them taste better.
Like with anything else that is loaded with preservatives and sugar, moderation is key. Try to focus on pre-workout products that limit sugar and unnecessary stimulants. Although the pre-workout itself is not necessarily bad for you, specific brands or overconsumption might be.
If you're simply looking for a boost of energy, you may be better off sticking to a Cup of coffee or some natural, Whole Foods instead. If you like the extra energy that your pre-workout gives you, aim to buy from high-quality brands that have been third-party certified.
Will Pre-Workout Make You Gain Weight?
Another frequent concern regarding pre-workout supplements is whether or not they will make you gain weight. Creatine is a common ingredient found in pre-workouts, and this derivative of amino acids has been shown to improve performance in athletes and is safe in healthy adults.
The important thing to note about consuming a pre-workout supplement that includes creatine is that it must be taken with a lot of water for it to be safe.
Although it can help you build strength and increased muscle mass overtime if consumed at the correct dosage, the most common side effect that athletes complain about is weight gain. Creatine encourages your muscles to retain water, so when your muscles store, they also store excess water. This makes your muscles look bigger but also will cause you to gain some weight.
Other research suggests that creatine could be more effective if taken after workouts as opposed to taking it in a pre-workout since your muscles might be able to absorb it better when your natural creatine levels are at the lowest point.
Are Pre-Workouts Bad for Your Kidneys?
Some individuals are concerned that pre-workouts are bad for your kidneys. This concern stems from the creatine that is contained in pre-workout supplements.
Now you may be thinking you just said that creatine was safe! Creatine is generally a safe ingredient when taken as a pre-workout supplement as long as you take it with a significant amount of water.
It is a natural compound that is created and stored within our muscles, but just like steroids, taking too much of it can cause the amount of creatine that you produce to decrease substantially. Also, your body could end up actually producing more creatine - large doses of this could be very dangerous and can cause kidney problems to the point where it leads to renal failure.
This is why it is recommended that you do not take creatine over extended periods, because doing so can lead to kidney problems.
Tying it All Together
Pre-workout supplements are a way to boost your performance while exercising and get an extra kick of energy before your workout. Well, this can be especially helpful on days that you find yourself lacking the energy to get started with your workout, don't expect it to make your workout class feel easier!
As with everything, moderation is key. It is necessary not to take too much pre-workout especially if it is one that includes large amounts of creatine since this could potentially lead to kidney problems and weight gain.
At the same time, if you do your research, work with a brand that has been certified by a third-party regulator, and use the pre-workout as recommended, it does not mean that the supplement is bad for you!