Many people find it difficult to get active and stay active. A lack of energy is a common barrier. As a dietitian, I try to find the underlying reason before recommending any type of supplement. Is the person getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, managing stress, overtraining, etc. Pre-workout debunked.
Pre-workout supplements usually contain a blend of ingredients. While supplement companies will claim that their unique blend is responsible for the energy boost, it’s typically due to the caffeine content. Some top-selling brands contain around 400 milligrams per dose. That’s equal to drinking four cups of coffee prior to a workout. Yikes! Many leading brands range anywhere from 150 mg to 300 mg per dose.
Caffeine is perhaps the most socially acceptable and frequently used drug. Yes, caffeine is a drug. More specifically, it’s an ergogenic aid, meaning caffeine may help the body perform better during physical activity. The ergogenic effect of caffeine occurs because it changes a person’s perception of how much effort an individual puts forth while exercising. In other words, caffeine gives exercisers a boost in energy so they push themselves harder.
Caffeine occurs naturally in some seeds and plants, the most common being coffee and cacao beans.Most people are familiar with energy drinks, which may help to reduce fatigue and improve physical performance. Many individuals now also consume caffeine pre-workout, predominantly through energy drinks or gels, to reap the benefits of a more exerting workout.
How Does it Work?
Caffeine acts as a stimulant on the nervous system (including the muscles, heart and other organs) by binding to certain receptors and blocking a chemical the body produces more of during stress and trauma.
Research seems to consistently support the positive role of caffeine on physical performance, however it doesn’t appear to affect everyone the same. Those participating in endurance activities, such as running or playing sports, may see more benefit than those doing resistance activities, such as weight lifting. Individuals who aren’t used to consuming caffeine on a regular basis also may see more benefits than those who do.
How Much Caffeine is Healthy?
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults who choose to include caffeinated beverages in the form of coffee should not consume more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. A shot of espresso has about 75 milligrams of caffeine, whereas energy drinks can range from 47 to 163 milligrams of caffeine per eight fluid ounces.
It is not recommended that people start consuming caffeinated beverages if they are not currently doing so. Used properly and within the recommended amounts, caffeine may have positive outcomes. However, it also is important to make wise choices, as many caffeinated beverage also are sources of calories from added sugars.
Pre-workout supplements contain other ingredients that some athletes and bodybuilders regularly turn to, including creatine, L-arginine, β-alanine, taurine, and betaine. Guarana a plant-based stimulant, is also common and contains twice the amount of caffeine per gram compared to coffee beans.
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements and actually backed by an increasing body of evidence. Creatine is synthesized from amino acids and concentrated in muscle tissues to enable quick bursts of energy. According to a review of studies published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine supplementation is effective in promoting muscle growth, strength, and performance during high-intensity interval training.
Creatine is one of the most widely research and supported sports supplements. 5-10g of simple creatine monohydrate is a general guideline for dosing. You don’t have to take it pre or post workout, just daily and it will replenish your stores (would be easy to remember in your protein shakes if you use those routinely).
While there is evidence supporting the use of some of the ingredients, most supplements do not have evidenced based research behind their eye-catching claims. So, before you skip right to the pre-workout powder or pills, assess why you need the pre-workout and create better habits or try a cup of coffee or tea. Don’t overdo it!
Looking for a natural approach?
- Focus on the day before eating balanced quality meals.
- Limit food intake to about an hour before working out for proper digestion.
- Consume lower fat and fiber snack to avoid stomach issues.
- Drink your water to ensure proper hydration pre-workout.
- Focus on carbohydrates + protein pre-workout.
- Only rely on a supplement if you are unable to meet your needs through food, you are training at a more elite level, AND you should talk to a professional about it. Check out my tips for buying quality supplements.
- If you train first thing in the morning, it’s okay to be fasted, but ensure you eat enough the night before and listen to your body, ideally I would often recommend a protein and carb source.
- Having a small snack before may improve certain individual’s performance.
Pre-Workout Snack Ideas:
Banana with ½ protein powder serving (shake), small turkey sandwich with an apple, sweet potato with Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese with berries, 1/2 smoothie with protein, orange with low-fat string cheese
If you don’t tolerate food before activity, a protein shake with a simple carbohydrate source (juice, gatorade, etc) or my homemade electrolyte drink may be better digested. Pre-workout debunked.