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When it comes to spending time in the gym, most of us will take any reasonable advantage we can get. Anything that motivates us to get there in the first place, maximize our training once we’re there, or improve our results. In this effort, many people choose specific meal plans or learn techniques and strategies to better build muscle and burn calories.
But some people also look to dietary supplements for a boost. Such supplements may include individual powders or capsules, but many people take a combination option of “all-in-one” dietary supplements colloquially known as pre-workouts. “The market for pre-workout drinks and powders has exploded in recent years with more and more products on the shelves,” says Matthew Anastasi, MD, a consultant in Mayo’s division of sports medicine department of orthopedics. Clinic in Arizona.
Knowing what these products are and if they are not safe to consume can be useful.
What are pre-workout supplements?
Pre-workout supplements are powders, drinks, gummies or capsules that are marketed as being able to improve athletic performance. Different pre-workout brands contain different ingredients, advertised as working together to ward off fatigue and keep energy levels high throughout your workout. These ingredients may include amino acids, protein, ashwagandha, calcium and creatine. Some also contain vitamins D and B, plus minerals such as sodium and potassium. Other pre-workout products offer “fluids, carbohydrates and electrolytes,” says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RDN, a sports dietitian for the Kansas City Chiefs and founder of Active Eating Advice. Most brands contain a variety of any of the above ingredients and more.
But perhaps the most desirable ingredient in most pre-workout brands is energy-boosting caffeine; “which is often included in very high amounts,” says Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the author of “Calm Your Mind with Food.” pre-workout brands (Onnit Alpha BRAIN Pre-Workout) pack 200mg of caffeine – half the maximum amount of caffeine that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying under. per day
What do pre-workouts do?
This does not mean that all ingredients in pre-workouts are problematic. When taken in recommended daily doses, many pre-workout ingredients have proven health benefits. Vitamins, minerals, proteins and amino acids, for example, are certainly important parts of a healthy diet.
And Bonci says that some pre-workout supplements, “could be beneficial for endurance activities or exercise.” Certain ingredients can also “optimize strength, speed and endurance,” and “provide an exogenous source of fuel so the body doesn’t have to use protein as a fuel source during exercise,” he says. The electrolytes in many pre-workouts can also help with hydration.
“For some people, taking pre-workouts can improve focus, concentration, and provide increased energy and better muscle development,” says Naidoo.
Are pre-workout supplements safe?
But it is not all good news since some ingredients in pre-workouts are less studied, unsafe or included at levels that exceed the recommended daily allowance. This can happen because dietary supplements are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration like foods and drugs. And no supplement can take the place of eating well. “In general, I warn people about the safety of pre-workout supplements,” says Naidoo. “While some of these supplements contain healthy vitamins and amino acids, many are also loaded with sugars and artificial sweeteners and extreme amounts of caffeine that can be detrimental to mental health and gut health.”
Anastasi agrees and recommends for “everyone to pay close attention to what ingredients are actually in pre-workouts since they can vary a lot.” In high doses, some ingredients in pre-workouts can cause digestive problems, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats. Certain ingredients can also compensate for the individual work done to excel in athletic endeavors. “It’s critical to test all pre-workout drinks and powders before using them before a big race or other competitive venue,” he says.
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