Pros vs. Cons of Taking Pre-Workout Supplements

Whether you are an early bird gym-goer who gets out of bed at 4am to hit the weights or bring a gym bag to work so you can get in your workout after a long day at the office – you might occasionally need an extra boost of energy to get you through your workout. This is where pre-work comes in.

There is a long-standing debate in the fitness world if pre-workout is good or bad, or worth the side effects or not. In this article we’ll take a look at the pros vs. cons of taking workout supplements so you can decipher for yourself.

What is pre-workout exactly?

Pre-workouts are dietary formulas designed with multiple ingredients that enhance exercise performance and boost energy.

They are commonly sold in powder form and mixed with water taken 30 minutes before a workout. They can also come in pill form or liquid form.

Ingredients typically found in pre-workout supplements include:

  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Artificial flavors/sweeteners
  • Creatine
  • Amino acids
  • B vitamins
  • Beta alanine
  • Nitric oxide agents (such as arginine and citrulline)
  • Taurine

The amount of each ingredient varies among the hundreds of pre-workout products and has gone highly unregulated. This poses many potential risks as some added ingredients may even be illegal and cause harsh side effects. 

If you have decided to try pre-workout supplements, make sure you read over the list of ingredients it contains and check for third party testing.

Pros vs. Cons of Taking Pre-Workout Supplements


Certain Ingredients Enhance Exercise Performance

Scientific research is limited on the effectiveness of taking pre-workout supplements. However, the research that has been conducted has shown that certain ingredients can enhance exercise performance. 

The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a study that concluded that pre-workout supplements enhanced the exercise performance of moderately trained athletes. 

This study was able to show that caffeine acted as a central nervous stimulant and increased focus during workouts. It also boosts fat metabolism which added to improvement in exercise performance. 

Creatine helped aid in muscle recovery after exercise and improved muscle buffer capacity – meaning that it helped to eliminate waste that builds up in your muscles during anaerobic activity. 

Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs; valine, leucine, and isoleucine commonly found in pre-workout supplements) were found to improve muscle recovery through improvement in protein synthesis and reduction in protein degradation. 

Benefits of Nitric Oxide Agents

Nitric oxide is a compound that your body produces naturally to relax blood vessels and improve circulation. 

Some pre-workouts contain nitric oxide boosting agents called arginine and citrulline. Beetroot juice is also a commonly added ingredient for this reason.

Some small studies conducted have shown that these ingredients enhance exercise performance due to the increased blood flow which increases levels of oxygen and nutrient transports to your muscles. 


Artificial sweeteners and sugar

Many pre-workouts contain high amounts of sugar to help boost energy levels before a workout. Those that do not contain sugar may contain artificial sweeteners for added flavor without the added calories. 

These artificial sweeteners can cause uncomfortable digestive issues, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea.  

Too Much Caffeine

Caffeine is the most important ingredient in many pre-workout supplements for energy boosting. Most pre-workout formulas contain about as much caffeine as you would get in one to two cups of coffee (200-400mg). According to the Food and Chemical Toxicology, the caffeine intake limit for adults is about 400mg. 

If you are getting caffeine from multiple sources, it is easy to go over the recommended limit and experience the negative side effects of too much caffeine. These include increased blood pressure, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

Furthermore, there are some brands of pre-workout supplements that go over the daily recommended limit in one scoop. This is why it is so essential to read over the list of ingredients before trying a new product. 

Quality and safety 

Dietary supplements are not closely regulated in many countries, including the United States. This makes it so product labels may be inaccurate or misleading. 

This poses risks to taking pre-workout supplements even if you carefully read over the list of ingredients. You may accidentally consume banned or dangerous amounts of certain ingredients. To avoid these risks, only buy supplements that have been tested by a third party, such a NSF International or USP.

Some annoying side effects

There are other side effects from pre-workout supplements that cause no real harm, but can be annoying to deal with. These include the jitters, all over body itches, and difficulty sleeping. Many athletes are willing to live with these side effects in order to improve their exercise performance.

For those that would rather boost their exercise performance naturally, there are other options.

Natural Ways to Boost Exercise Performance

Pre-workout is not for everyone. If you lack energy to get you through your workout, there are other ways to improve this that are natural and safe.

Making sure you are getting enough water to stay hydrated is one of the most important factors to consider. This, alongside a healthy and nutritious diet.

Getting enough sleep is also important to maintain healthy energy levels.

Before your next workout, if you decide to pass on scooping a pre-workout powder to mix in with your water, you can instead grab a cup of coffee and a banana. Both will provide you with an energy boost and plenty of nutrients. 

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