You’ve got your goals for the year – and one of those is getting back in shape. You sign up for a new gym membership, start doing some meal prep, and even got a new playlist to blast during your next sweat session.
Are you missing anything? What about those pre-workout drinks or powders you’ve heard about – are they really worth it?
You no longer have to be a hard core athlete to use them. These supplements have become readily available for the average person, and the industry is expected to keep growing over the next few years (1).
Commonly found in powder form, these supplements claim to offer some performance-boosting benefits. But there is concern that not only are they unnecessary, they could be dangerous.
Let’s explore the pros and cons, as well as natural alternatives.
The point of a pre-workout in the first place is so you have more energy going in, and recover faster coming out of an intense workout.
And that makes sense, because when you exercise there’s a lot going on inside your body (2), like:
- Heart: Increased activity tells your heart to beat faster. Blood vessels and capillaries dilate, allowing oxygen and nutrients to reach your muscles and organs faster. Exercising is also great at lowering stress, which can reduce your risk for developing heart disease (10).
- Lungs: Moving your body causes your diaphragm to pull in more oxygen than it does when you rest. Breathing faster and deeper, your circulation is increased throughout your body (11).
- Hormones: Your brain sends out hormones that help turn fat into glucose, reduce some sensations of pain, and even improve your mood (12).
- Muscles: As your arm and legs muscles contract and expand, they are strengthened (13).
- Brain: Improved memory and feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin are produced when you work up a sweat (6).
- Skin: Heat generated from exercise increases circulation to the skin. Your pores begin to open, allowing sweat and minerals out. This prevents overheating by keeping your body cool (8).
- Bones: Lifting weights can help your bone formation, as well as prevent calcium loss as you age (7).
With all that going on at once, you'd want to have something to give your body a boost, right?
Researchers have observed that many pre-workouts contain ingredients like caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, different amino acids, B vitamins and nitric oxide. These elements promise energy, reduced fatigue, better focus, and muscle gains (3).
In moderate doses, these aren't necessarily bad. But while these may provide some benefits, the associated side effects might make your efforts futile.
Even though it offers promising fitness support, some of the downsides to pre-workouts are (4):
- Artificial ingredients: Because supplements aren't FDA regulated, there's no guarantee that what's on the label is what you're actually getting. Dosing is important too, especially if you have medical conditions or are taking certain medications
- Dehydrating: Some ingredients like caffeine and creatine can act like diuretics, causing you to flush out water quickly. It may help you lose "water weight", but being dehydrated can slow your progress and cause other problems as well.
- Excess sugars/sweeteners: It's hard to make a lot of sales if your product doesn't even taste good. Many pre-workouts are flavored, which can add more calories. This can contribute to unwanted weight gain. If the sweeteners are artificial, it can disrupt normal insulin processes, digestive microbiome, and mood (14) .
- Overstimulating: Because caffeine is a popular ingredient in pre-workouts, too much can cause jitters, trembling, heart palpitations, anxiety, and even insomnia.
If you're sensitive to these types of things, it may not be worth the risk. What other options do you have?
Is there a natural way to boost your workout efforts, without the unwanted side effects? You bet.
Taking a whole food approach is always better for your body. Choosing a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates can help fuel your body before you work out. Reach for foods like:
Pro tip: skip the heavy fiber foods like beans, lentils or cruciferous vegetables until after you work out (5). This can put too much strain on your digestive system and may cause cramping.
Your body spends an incredible amount of energy simply doing everyday tasks. Add some cardio or weight lifting to the mix, and you'll be looking for an extra boost real quick.
Pre-workout supplements are gaining popularity among both the avid athlete and the fitness newbie. They contain ingredients like caffeine, amino acids and b vitamins in order to give your body energy, focus, and muscle-building assistance.
Are they necessary? Not really. Are they worth it? That's up to you to decide.
We believe the body thrives best when we operate as nature intended: eating real food that has real nutrients.
And if you're going to supplement, use ones that have real, food-based ingredients.
Do you know someone who might benefit from this info? Be sure to share with a friend today!
References & Disclaimer
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author