Pre workout supplements have come a long way since the first product, "Ultimate Orange," was formulated in 1982. Today, the pre workout market is a billion dollar industry, and it's only getting bigger.
And it's no surprise. Products like Red Bull and other energy drinks have also become massively popular, displaying the need most of us have to get a boost of energy to get through the day, or a workout.
What Are Pre Workout Supplements?
Pre workout supplements are a mix of ingredients specifically designed to:
- Stimulate the nervous system (mobilize energy)
- Increase blood flow to active muscles (give you a "pump")
- Delay Fatigue (let you work out harder, longer)
- Make you stronger/more powerful
- Help gain lean mass/lose fat
Do They Work?
The short answer is, yes, they work.. and we'll discuss the specifics later. The problem is that they only work if the correct ingredients are present, and at clinically relevant doses.
Many supplement companies list a "proprietary blend" of ingredients. This allows them to not disclose how much of each ingredient is present. So, they can say: "Proprietary blend: Caffeine, Creatine, Taurine, Beta Alanine."
These ingredients can all have beneficial effects, but only if enough of the ingredient is present. Without the amount being listed on the label, you have no way of knowing exactly what you're taking.
I currently use bulk supplements. They send you pure ingredients, in much larger amounts at a much better price. This way I know exactly what I'm taking and how much.
How Do Pre Workout Supplements Work?
Below are the ingredients shown by research to have a positive effect on your body and your performance, along with the minimum amount needed to create a training effect (clinical dose).
|Caffeine||Improves Cognition and performance |
during endurance, power and resistance training
|Taurine||Improves muscular endurance during resistance training.|
Longer term use improves endurance performance.
|BCAA's||Studies show little performance or muscle building enhancement. |
Can help spare muscle tissue during intense/longer duration training.
|L-Citrulline Malate||Precursor to Nitric Oxide |
Increased blood flow to active muscles.
Increase vasodilation, improved performance in both endurance and high intensity training.
|Creatine||Increase intramuscular phosphocreatine levels by 30%.|
Improved high intensity exercise performance.
Improved gains in lean muscle mass
Proven safe, best taken after workout.
|Betaine||Increased rate of creatine synthesis|
Elevated Nitric Oxide levels (improved blood flow, vasodilation, pump).
Enhances repetitions to fatigue (can do more work).
|Beta-Alanine||Precursor to Carnosine|
Improves high intensity exercise performance.
Acts as a buffer, clearing out acidic byproducts of intense exercise, delaying fatigue.
|4-6g/day for at least 2 weeks|
You'll notice, if you compare these doses to most pre workout supplements, that the only ingredient they're usually giving you enough of is caffeine. You get the energy boost, but never really experience the true benefit of all the other scientifically proven performance boosters.
So, Is Pre Workout Bad For You?
What Research says
Research has been somewhat limited in scope. The FDA does not require studies on the safety of these products to go beyond 8-12 weeks.
There is still plenty of research to look at. Here is what studies say about long term use of pre workout supplements (> 10 weeks).
- Greater increases in fat-free mass
- improved aerobic performance among sedentary and fit individuals.
- Improved force production
- Increased Growth Hormone and Testosterone during training.
- Some may experience side effects (headache, jitters, anxiety, upset stomach.
- Studies have not found a link to kidney or heart problems. Keep in mind the limited scope of current research due to the low level of regulations and safety requirements by the FDA.
- Caffeine and other stimulants do speed up heart rate. This can place extra stress on the heart during endurance type training.
The other dark side of long term pre workout use
Research aside, I think it's important to logically take a look at the potential for harmful effects of chronic pre workout use. There are several reasons why I feel it can definitely be bad for you. Let me explain:
Taking heavy stimulants causes a massive release of stress hormones in the body, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are responsible for releasing energy. It's a survival response.
This causes the body to be in a sympathetic (fight or flight) state. This is more commonly referred to as, "stress." Constantly taking pre workout and other high stimulant energy drinks keeps your body in a sympathetic state.
It is impossible for the body to build muscle, recover or improve while in this state. As a result, I suspect the long term implications can be very negative. Check out this video below by Christian Thibaudeau, one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world.
The Real Problem: Why Do You Need Pre Workout?
The root problem to look at with pre workout use is, why do you need it? If you're using it for long periods of time, why do you not have the energy to work out without it?
The fact that your energy is lagging is a symptom of a bigger problem, and taking energy supplements is masking that problem. You could be training too hard and/or too often. Maybe You're not be sleeping enough. Perhaps you may have too much stress in your life, or are simply not recovering properly.
Either way, masking the problem with stimulants is causing a massive debt to be incurred over time, and sooner or later you're going to have to pay up. Energy will be borrowed from other systems, such as the immune system, your organs, your cognitive function. It's worth taking a look at, and with the right interventions, you may not need the stimulants as often. As a result, you can then use them more strategically for your most intense sessions.
Research clearly shows many benefits to taking properly dosed pre workout supplements, and they aren't inherently dangerous in the short term. However, if you're taking them because you NEED them to work out, then I would definitely recommend taking a step back an analyzing why your energy is so low. There are most likely issues that need to be addressed, and failing to do so may have consequences in the long term.
Thanks for reading! Here are some other articles you may find helpful. Till next time, keep moving towards that best version of you.
- 10 things you must do to improve your fitness
- How HIIT could be sabotaging your fitness
- 6 Habits for Serious Mental Toughness