We all have those days when you’re just not feeling it. You’ve been dragging ever since you stepped out of bed and the thought of dragging your butt to the gym for boot camp or a personal training session doesn’t even seem like a plausible option. On days like this, it’s not uncommon to reach for a little “pick me up” just to get you through the workout. In today’s fitness world, the growing trend has been the use of pre-workout supplements as the much needed “pick me up” or even as a necessity or routine that you do on the way to the gym. While these supplements may be able to give you boost during your workout, when taken very frequently over time and in improper doses these supplements have some very detrimental effects.
Let’s start with the basics here, what exactly is a pre-workout supplement? According to dashofwellness.com, a pre-workout supplement is “a supplement that is designed to make you more energized for your workout”. This energy boost is achieved through the unique combination of elements found in nearly all pre-workout supplements, just in varying quantities. HealthyLiving.com lists these common ingredients as: caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and branched chain amino acids (BCCAs). You’ll often see other less known or proprietary ingredients that can include dangerous stimulants with unpredictable effects. The high amounts of caffeine act as a stimulant to increase your energy levels which help you to get a quick energy boost for your workout. Creatine is present in high amounts in order to supply the muscles with energy to lift heavier and push harder. Beta alanine and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) work together to help repair muscle proteins that may have become damaged from previous workouts which, in theory, helps you to recover faster and keep your intensity higher for longer throughout your workout.
When looking at this list of ingredients and the purpose of each you may be thinking to yourself: this sounds like just what I need! What could possibly be wrong with a supplement that makes me recover quicker and workout harder for longer? HealthyLiving.com explains that there is, in fact, another side to this oh so pretty story. The high amounts of caffeine in pre-workout supplements acts as a diuretic which pulls water from your body’s cells causing increased urination and ultimately severe dehydration which can cause some VERY painful cramps which are never much fun to have. The caffeine stimulation can also wind your body up so much that you experience high blood pressure during your workout which can cause you to pass out if blood pressure levels surpass a certain point. Ever take a pre-workout and immediately feel jittery, dizzy or even sick to your stomach?? This is what we are talking about. Creatine (which is present in very high amounts in these supplements) is also produced naturally within your body to aid in allowing the muscles to meet high energy demands. When ingesting higher amounts of creatine from pre-workout supplements than your body is able to absorb or use, the excess creatine is sent to the kidneys to filter and remove from the body. However, when excessive amounts of creatine are constantly being consumed from pre-workout supplements, this becomes very hard on the kidneys which can lead to kidney damage over time. This can also cause your body to stop producing creatine naturally since you are constantly taking in more than it needs or can use.
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With all of this said, it is still important to note that pre-workout supplements are not the devil incarnate which should be avoided at all costs. Like most supplements, pre-workouts “can be helpful when used in the correct dosage and in the correct situations” according to the above source. The only real issue with this is that most people in the general public aren’t aware of the correct dosage of pre-workout supplement they should be taking for their size and energy demands or the fact that pre-workout supplements are not meant to be taken before each and every gym trip. For this reason, it is very important to consult a physician, dietician, or any other licensed and trusted health professional before selecting a pre-workout supplement and adding it to your workout routine. Another important fact to be aware of when selecting a pre-workout supplement is that these supplements are classified by the FDA as “food” and not a “drug,” so they are not held to the same regulatory guidelines as medicines, so some brands of pre-workout supplements are able to include ingredients that may not be best or safest for us to consume regularly. These ingredients may not mesh well with any current medication you are taking, potentially putting you at risk. Several of these ingredients are also found in energy drinks and we currently lack the research to understand what these things are doing to our bodies long-term when consumed in large quantities.
If you’re like most people and like the sound of what a pre-workout supplement can do for you, but you aren’t really thrilled with some of the potential side effects or confusing dosage information, I recommend some natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements which can give you the same energy boosting and increased recovery effects without the cramps, stomach/headaches and potential health risks. Green tea during the day or prior to beginning your workout may give your body a slight caffeine boost and a rush of antioxidants which will serve as an effective “pick me up”. When consumed, fish oil and coconut oil are also very effective for reducing muscular inflammation following a workout which will leave you feeling less sore and stiff the next day. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) when consumed alone, during and after your high-intensity workout, can have the same recovery benefits without the presence of all that other stuff AND finally my old stand by… a cup of black coffee to do the trick. Now, I am not condoning the 2-pot a day habit, cause we don’t want too much caffeine on a daily basis, but a cup of black coffee sparingly may give you a natural caffeine boost you need prior to your workout. However, if you are eating a healthy diet, providing your body with the carbs, fats and protein it needs, you will not be lacking in energy! Remember, there is never a pre-workout or supplement that will EVER replace proper nutrition. So maybe that 3pm wall you hit towards the end of your workday is because you skipped a meal or a snack??
The important take home message from this post is that when used correctly and supervised by a physician or health professional, pre-workout supplements may help you sustain the intensity during your workout. But most of all, let’s not forget that before pre-workout supplements came into existence good ole fashion internal motivation and food was all that we had and all that we needed to push ourselves to the next level, so don’t let that fall by the wayside.
In hopes you keep it safe, that your Tip from the Trainer!