Should You Use Pre-Workout?

Back in April I began to seriously work out. I’m talking six days a week, in addition to two hours of practice per weekday and a job on the weekends. When I told a few of my friends, they were shocked, and asked if I was using pre-workout. I had heard of the stuff before but figured it was more of an accessory, so I never got into it. Now that I’ve been struggling to keep up that six days a week workout routine, the idea of that caffeinated motivation has become much more enticing. As a result, I did a little research to see if it was worth all the hype.

What Is Pre-Workout?

Since it’s conception in 1982, pre-workout has had one main purpose: to help you get a better pump. The performance-enhancing benefits are often attributed to whatever proprietary blend the company has, but you’ll notice a couple main overlapping ingredients: Caffeine and Creatine. There’s a bunch of other “ines” I’ll elaborate on later, but those two are responsible for most of the effects felt from pre-workout. This can come in the form of a pill (though I’ve never seen one) or more commonly a powder.

What’s In My Preworkout?

While most sensible human beings would mix this powder with milk or water, I’ve seen a trend called “dry scooping”. This involved dumping a serving (or several) of the powder directly into a person’s mouth because it was supposed to make the supplement work better?

Word to the wise, it didn’t, let me explain why. The trend landed several people in the hospital, some with minor issues breathing, others with full on heart attacks. In one very tragic case, a fitness influencer even suffered near-fatal brain swelling as a result. So what on earth is in this powder that can cause these negative effects, and why would people take it anyways?

Here are the most common ingreditens:

  • Caffeine – I mean, do I really need to tell you what caffeine does? It is the main agent in keeping your fatigue at bay and is often a main reason gym-goers buy the product for. The only issue is with how much is actually in a scoop of pre-workout. Some brands have as much as 300 mg per serving! That’s three cups of coffee! For even the most avid coffee drinkers, high doses can still cause chest pain, anxiety, vomiting, and much more. After frequent consumption, higher and higher doses of caffeine will be required to feel the same effects. Even though it may be harder to feel the effects after a while, the dosages still impact your body, so make sure to not lose track of how much you consume.
  • Beta-Alanine – It increases levels of carnosine in your muscles. This helps control lactic acid production, which you feel by not feeling the burn. Lactic acid is responsible for the burning sensation you feel while finishing a set as well as the soreness you feel after. 2-5 grams daily is the recommended amount, anything greater than that may cause skin tingling. Aside from that though, there are no reports of other side effects.
  • Creatine – It may help muscles make and circulate adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This compound aids in muscle contractions, which you’ll feel the most when doing explosive movements. While some may experience slightly more water retention, creatine has no negative health effects.
  • Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) – These essential amino acids: l-leucine , l-isoleucine and l-valine are important for protein synthesis, but not naturally made in the body. In other words, these just help your muscles repair themselves better after the workout.
  • L- Citrulline – Its main function is the production of nitric oxide, which helps your blood vessels to expand, improving blood flow during your workout. Too much of this can result in headaches though, as increased blood flow reaches the brain just like any other organ.

So Should I Be Taking It?

I found an interesting excerpt from the conference proceedings of the Annual Scientific Meeting, November 2nd – 3rd, 2018. Feel free to read the rest, but I found one line particularly interesting:

“…consumption of pre-workout supplements does not significantly increase performance.”

If the supplement doesn’t do much to help performance, the risk really isn’t worth the minimal reward. In a mix like pre-workout, there’s always the possibility that you have a negative reaction, since there’s no way to know exactly how all of the compounds will interact with each other once in your system. If you’re taking this risk just to increase your bench by a measly 2.5lbs, you do you, but I wouldn’t.

One ingredient in particular, caffeine also poses the risk of dependency. The widespread usage of it just makes reliance on the substance seem like the norm. According to the Journal of Caffeine Research, “In the United States, it is estimated that 80% to 90% of children and adults consume caffeine regularly.” Of this population, 28%, or a little over 8.2 million people were estimated to have a dependency. I get it, some people just need that extra kick to get their workout going, but don’t rely on a compound for motivation. As cheesy as it is, I think motivation should come from within. Not to mention motivation from within doesn’t have any of the side effects that pre-workout has.

So to answer the original question, no. If you need that caffeine boost, just drink a cup of coffee. If you want creatine to be a part of your diet, mix it in a protein shake. The benefits can be reaped individually without the risk that a pre-workout compound poses. While it may seem like a good idea to have everything you need in one scoop of powder, it is neither cost effective nor wise.

I am not a professional by any means, and this is not medical advice. Please consult your doctor before taking any supplements.