The Truth About Pre-Workouts: Are They Risky?
The global sports nutrition market was worth over $15 billion in 2019. Pro athletes and gym-goers have access to a wider range of products than ever before, from protein powder to fat burners.
Pre-workout supplements, for instance, work to increase energy and mental focus. Some contain green tea, caffeine, HMB, and other ingredients that promote fat loss. Others boast a combination of amino acids, creatine, and nitric oxide precursors for bigger pumps.
Whether you're looking to get a few more reps, maximize your workouts, or last longer in the gym, these supplements can help. But not all pre-workouts are created equal. Their safety and efficacy depend on the ingredients used.
Interested to find out more? Here's what you should know about pre-workout supplements, their safety, and how to choose one that meets your needs.
What Is a Pre-Workout?
Pre-workout supplements are designed to maximize your energy during training so that you can work out harder for longer.
Depending on their composition, these products may delay fatigue, increase alertness, or boost muscular endurance. They usually come in powder, pill, or liquid form and should be taken about 30 minutes before hitting the gym.
A quality pre-workout can make it easier to gain lean mass and torch fat. You may feel stronger and more energized, achieve consistent pumps, and find it easier to complete those last few reps.
These factors can improve your ability to build mass and strength—assuming that your diet is also in check.
Note that sports supplements, including pre-workout formulas, are not magic pills. Their role is to complement your diet and bring you closer to meeting your training goals. They cannot transform your body overnight or compensate for poor nutrition.
So, why should you take pre-workout supplements? Are they safe? Let’s find out!
Do Pre-Workout Supplements Work?
No matter how much you enjoy working out, there are days when you may not feel like hitting the gym. Stress, burnout, and sleep deprivation can make it difficult to keep up with your training routine.
Even if you manage to get some exercise, you might not be able to give your best. That's where pre-workout supplements can make all the difference.
These products not only enhance alertness and mental focus but also increase physical endurance. At the same time, they increase blood flow to your muscles, leading to greater energy and reduced fatigue. As a result, you'll get a better workout and make the most out of your gym time.
Studies show pre-workout supplements can delay fatigue, increase fat burning, and facilitate muscle growth. Researchers tried to determine how these products affect recreational athletes.
Subjects who took a pre-workout formula experienced the following:
- 10.3% increase in maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max)
- 10.5% increase in anaerobic running capacity
- 19.3% reduction in body fat
- 52.9% increase in lean body mass
These results occurred in just three weeks. The pre-workout drink contained whey protein, arginine, citrulline, caffeine, B-complex vitamins, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).
Caffeine alone may increase exercise duration by up to 50%. Other ingredients, such as creatine, help build and preserve lean mass while facilitating post-workout recovery.
What Does a Pre-Workout Contain and Is It Good for You?
Most pre-workout supplements boast a combination of stimulants, amino acids, and vitamins or minerals. If you're sensitive to stimulants, look for a pre-workout with no caffeine.
Note that some formulas are high in sugar, whether it's dextrose, fructose, or glucose. Ideally, choose a product with "clean" ingredients and no fillers or hidden sugars.
So, what does a pre-workout contain—and is it good for you? The best pre-workout formulas contain one or more of the following:
- B-complex vitamins, especially vitamin B12
- Natural stimulants, such as caffeine
- Ashwagandha and other adaptogens
Caffeine, for example, can significantly increase time to exhaustion and reduce fatigue.
Researchers recommend using at least 3 to 9 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight (or 6-13 mg per lb), though smaller doses can be effective, too. Higher doses don't necessarily cause additional improvements in sports performance.
Creatine, a key ingredient in pre-workouts, may help increase muscle size and strength when used as part of a strength training program. It's particularly beneficial for bodybuilders, powerlifters, and athletes who engage in high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting and HIIT.
Some of the best pre-workout formulas also contain l-arginine and citrulline. These amino acids raise nitric oxide levels in the body and increase blood flow while supporting heart health and immune function. When combined with regular exercise and clean eating, they may improve sports performance.
Why Should You Not Take Multiple Pre-Workout Supplements?
While some supplements can be stacked together, you’ll want to be cautious when stacking pre-workouts. As mentioned above, pre-workout products typically contain green tea extract, caffeine, or other stimulants. Stacking multiple pre-workout supplements could lead to caffeine overdose.
The FDA recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. Pre-workout formulas typically contain anywhere between 150 and 300 milligrams of caffeine per serving. Therefore, it's easy to go overboard with caffeine when you use multiple pre-workout formulas at once.
When consumed in excess, this stimulant may cause anxiety, jitters, arrhythmia, nausea, and indigestion. Extremely high doses of caffeine can be toxic.
In addition, beta-alanine, niacin, and other pre-workout ingredients may cause tingling, itching, or flushing after ingestion. Taking multiple pre-workout supplements in one sitting can increase these side effects.
While most pre-workout formulas are likely safe, mixing them up without doing your homework can be harmful. By disregarding the ingredient list, you may end up overdosing on one or more ingredient, which can lead to migraines, dehydration, jitters, high blood pressure, or stomach pain.
Why Should You Take a Pre-Workout Formula?
A quality pre-workout supplement might be exactly what you need to get that extra boost of energy and crush your workouts. When used as part of a balanced diet, these products can improve physical performance and speed up recovery.
Consider your needs before choosing a pre-workout. If, say, you're sluggish at the gym, look for a product with higher doses of caffeine. A pre-workout with ashwagandha, ginseng, and other adaptogens, on the other hand, may come in handy when you're stressed or burned out.
To get leaner, opt for a formula with capsaicin, cayenne pepper, and other thermogenic ingredients. A pre-workout supplement with citrulline, arginine, or beta-alanine will give you lasting pumps.
As far as safety goes, these products are unlikely to cause any issues when used in appropriate doses. Just make sure you choose a high-quality pre-workout. Read the label, research the ingredients used, and stick to the recommended dosage.
So, are you ready to take your workouts to a whole new level? From pre- and post-workout supplements to protein powder and fat burners, we’ve got you covered.
Our pre-workout formulas are third-party tested and contain science-backed ingredients, like creatine, l-theanine, and l-citrulline. Browse our online store and take your pick!