It’s not always easy to conjure the energy for a workout every day, whether it be a long day of studying or a particularly early morning that leaves you drained. That’s the idea behind pre-workout, the term that refers to a trending energy supplement. While it does boost gym performance for some, these products can also come with a second scoop of side effects.
The difference between a good and bad workout can come down to one thing: energy. Without natural motivation to go to the gym, it’s easy to skip a day or two in the weight room. Whether it’s due to restless nights, a rough day of classes or just plain exhaustion, energy can be a rare luxury for college students. Luckily, it can be found in a container. Enter pre-workout.
This caffeine-packed supplement, usually consumed 15 to 30 minutes before a workout, can be chugged, scooped or sipped. Its most common forms are pre-made canned drinks, dissolvable powders and even pills.
“The goal of most of these pre-workout supplements is to increase your energy level, improve the quality of your workout and perhaps to improve muscle blood flow and muscle protein synthesis,” said Kevin Jacobs, an associate professor in UM’s department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences.
For Liv Carbonero, a University of Miami sophomore and personal trainer at the Herbert Wellness Center, they’re a daily staple in her diet.
“I take it pretty much before every workout, so five to six times a week,” she said. “I usually do a half scoop for when I don’t feel like I need it as much or am trying to lay off caffeine, and full scoop for leg days or if I’m really tired.”
Freshman Sierra Hawker said the supplement has been helpful for her, too.
“Basically it just makes you feel a rush,” said Hawker. “Once you start your lift, if you take the right amount of pre-workout, it’ll make you feel like you’re on a bit of a high and you’ll get a really good pump going. Sometimes it makes you feel stronger too, which will enhance your performance since you’re so worked up.”
The specific ingredients of each pre- workout depend on the brand, but most products share caffeine, carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, amino acids and varying vitamins in common. These components have a variety of benefits, including boosting energy, reducing fatigue and increasing strength performance. But athletes who eat balanced diets can just as easily leave it on the shelf.
Arlette Perry, a professor and chair of the department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, said those benefits are debated.
“In many instances, they [pre-workout supplements] have been shown to be more beneficial if one is not used to taking supplements. Results are controversial when compared to individuals eating healthy, unprocessed whole foods consisting of vegetables, fresh fruits and high-quality protein but not taking supplements,” Perry said. “Individuals who are used to high levels of caffeine, who are already well-trained and who already eat healthy well-rounded diets, may not derive any additional benefits.”
In fact, there are a handful of side effects that can come along with these products. According to Jacobs, after single and long- term use, pre-workout can cause “excessive alertness, anxiety, sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating on tasks such as schoolwork and, more seriously, adverse cardiovascular effects such as hypertension and arrhythmias.” It’s even common to feel tingling or itching in the hands and feet due to an ingredient called beta alanine.
Powder supplements are meant to be diluted into water and sipped throughout the workout. Yet recently, a trend
called “dry-scooping” has circulated the internet. This is when someone ingests (in a similar fashion to knocking back a shot) pre-workout directly from its scooper all at once. It’s much faster than the recommended method
of mixing it with six to eight ounces of water, but so much caffeine all at once can strain your ticker by raising your pulse suddenly.
“I understand why people dry scoop because it’s faster, but it’s so gross,” said freshman lifter Joie Christensen. “I’d much rather just drink it normally.”
For many gym-goers, pre-workout is a means to an end. Sure, it will give you a bigger boost than a banana or cup of coffee. But the bottom line is that for long-term health, said Perry, the most productive way to elevate your energy is with a balanced diet.
Perry advised athletes to “focus on eating unprocessed whole foods high in complex carbohydrates, because that’s the body’s preferred fuel source for high intensity workouts.”
These are the most common ingredients in pre-workout supplements, what they are and what they can do to your body. If you are pregnant or have a pre-existing condition, you should consult your doctor before taking a pre- workout supplement.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that increases brain activity as well as adrenaline and cortisol levels. Caffeine might help you perform endurance activities faster and with less muscle pain. And some studies show that caffeine can help your body recover more quickly after hard exercise by making and restocking a stored form of fuel called glycogen. But too much can make you anxious and jittery, giving you shaky hands, stomach or head aches and a rapid pulse. Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults. One serving size of brands like AlaniNu an Optimum Nutrition, for example, will give you about half of that. (Source: WebMD)
Creatine is an amino acid that’s made naturally in your body for muscular energy use. Consuming synthetically-made supplements of it, like in pre-workout, can improve athletic performance, increase muscle mass and reduce the frequency of dehydration, muscle cramping and injuries. Taking creatine might not help all athletes, but it generally won’t hurt if taken as directed. (Source: Mayo Clinic)
Beta-alanine is an amino acid made naturally in the body. Muscles contain carnosine, a compound that plays a role in muscle endurance in high-intensity exercise. Carnosine does this by helping to regulate acid buildup in the muscles, a primary cause of muscle fatigue. Beta-alanine is one of carnosine’s main ingredients, and supplements containing it are thought to boost the production of carnosine and, in turn, boost sports performance. Some people have reported tingling of the skin after taking large doses of beta-alanine. (Source: WebMD)
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