Are pre-workout supplements really worth the hype? With the rise of sports nutrition supplements, many fitness experts are beginning to question their effectiveness. While research suggests that certain ingredients in pre-workout supplements may improve exercise performance, it is important to understand what these products contain and how they affect your body. Pre-workout supplements are primarily used to boost physical performance and energy levels. However, research does not support many of their purported benefits.
Most pre-workout supplements contain high levels of caffeine, which can improve exercise performance. But there is no evidence that the combined use of ingredients increases performance in a way that improves your physical or health outcomes. A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that 400 mg per day, or about two or three cups of coffee, are the maximum limits for adults. So be sure to check the caffeine content per serving of any pre-workout supplement before taking it.
Jaydeep Tripathy, a primary care physician at Doctor Spring, explained that he does not personally recommend supplements to patients before training. But if a patient wants to try a product, they will analyze the ingredients together to decide if it is suitable. There are some common ingredients in pre-workout supplements that have been shown to improve exercise performance, such as carbohydrates, caffeine, beet juice, creatine monohydrate and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB). There is evidence that these improve recovery, but it is not clear if consuming them as a supplement before training helps improve performance or build muscle.
For most people, pre-workout supplements are safe to take on a regular basis if you follow the manufacturer's instructions. However, side effects such as nervousness, itching and sleep interruptions can occur even at the safe end of the spectrum. Some experts I spoke to said that they added a spoonful of powder (such as Vital Proteins) to water before exercising and noticed a difference in energy levels, endurance or speed. But most pre-workout supplements are unnecessary at best and harmful at worst.
Carbohydrates can be beneficial before any type of workout, so some pre-workout supplements include them. But overall, if you don't routinely push your body to the point of exhaustion or work out for a couple of hours every day, you probably don't need a supplement before training and you might not even notice the difference.