Pre-workout supplements are a popular choice before a workout to boost performance and see bigger gains. But are pre-workout supplements safe to take?
Before hitting the gym, many people have the same routine: change into gym clothes, fill a water bottle, and take a dose of pre-workout. Pre-workouts are wildly popular among all kinds of adults, from bodybuilders and pro athletes to suburban moms who want to see better results at the gym. The industry is booming, too; the market is expected to hit $23.8 billion by 2027, a CAGR of 8.3 percent.
Even so, there remain questions about the safety pre-workout supplements. Unlike medications and food products, supplements like over-the-counter vitamins and pre-workout products are not required to get approval by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that companies can essentially package whatever they want and call it a pre-workout supplement. Despite their touted safety, then, pre-workouts have elicited the safety and efficacy concerns of some experts….
What Is Pre-Workout?
“Pre-workout” refers to any supplement taken before a workout. Pre-workouts are sold in many shapes and sizes, including powders, pills, and shakes. The ingredients in a pre-workout can vary from product to product, too, though most contain some form of protein or creatine. Some also contain amino acids, B vitamins, and caffeine for a more alert, focused workout. Some brands of pre-workout are specific to gender, while others are intended for everyone.
Pre-workout is most popular among those who lift weights and are seeking to maximize performance. While some people who run, do yoga, or attend fitness classes will take pre-workouts, the highest use is associated with muscle-building.
Benefits of Pre-Workouts
Those who use pre-workouts regularly often swear by them, citing gains and performance improvements that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. And while there’s no true consensus among experts, there’s some loose data that supports the use of pre-workouts for heightened performance.
Some common ingredients in pre-workouts have been associated with improved fitness capabilities:
- L-arginine, L-citrulline, and sources of dietary nitrates: Nitric oxide is a compound produced naturally within the body that can loosen blood vessels for improved blood flow. Some research indicates that supplementing natural nitric oxide can increase muscles’ access to oxygen and nutrients.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is regularly consumed by people of all ages in coffee, tea, and soda, but it’s also a key ingredient in some pre-workouts. Some argue that taking caffeine before a workout can improve focus and awareness while in the gym. However, in some supplements, caffeine is a primary ingredient and could contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee in a single scoop.
- Creatine: Creatine can be found in virtually all forms of pre-workout. A chemical compound associated with strength and energy production, creatine enthusiasts believe that supplementation can improve recovery time after a workout, boost muscle mass, and aid in muscle performance.
Some of the benefits of pre-workouts may also be psychosomatic. Those who believe pre-workouts are boosting their performance may go into a workout with a more determined mindset, resulting in better outcomes.
Dangers of Pre-Workouts
While the components in pre-workouts may be safe on a standalone basis, taking these kinds of supplements carries some risk. This leads many people to ask whether pre-workouts are bad.
This answer is somewhat complicated. While most pre-workouts are not inherently bad, they should be treated like any other drug that aims to alter body function. In this sense, the dangers of pre-workout supplements cannot be ignored.
One of the largest risks associated with pre-workouts involves the oversight of these products—or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Pre-workout supplements are not vetted by any regulating agency; the FDA is not involved in the approval of vitamins and supplements. While many companies are honest about the components in their pre-workouts, others may not be so scrupulous.
Harmful ingredients are often packaged into pre-workout supplements, including substances that may be banned in athletic competition. Some brands may also include supplements in doses that exceed healthy limits, under the misguided assumption that higher levels mean better results. Without knowing exactly what’s in a supplement, users run the risk of taking unsafe amounts of unsafe ingredients.
The method of consumption can be dangerous as well. While most users mix powder pre-workout with milk or water, the concept of “dry-scooping” has grown in popularity. With this method, users consume the dry powder under the belief that this can increase effects. However, this is unproven and has been dangerous for some users. There are reports of users experiencing heart problems, trouble breathing, and choking. For those who choose to use pre-workouts, it’s important to only ingest them as directed.
Before using any kind of pre-workout, it’s best to vet the company and the product. Only use brands that are known to be reliable, reputable and from companies that are fully transparent about the ingredients in their products. If side effects of pre-workouts involve any concerning symptoms, like rapid heart rate, fatigue, dizziness, or agitation, discontinue use immediately.
Can You Get Addicted to Pre-Workouts?
Most pre-workouts don’t contain any addictive components, with the exception of perhaps caffeine. However, it’s possible to get addicted to using pre-workouts in the way any behavior or enjoyable substance can become addictive.
Those who get into the habit of regular pre-workout use may begin to feel as though they can’t get a good workout without taking supplements before hitting the gym. Some people may begin taking additional doses of pre-workout, assuming that taking more means better performance, in spite of the risks. This can be very dangerous.
An addiction to pre-workouts can also correlate with a behavioral addiction to exercise. For those with intense fitness goals, like weight loss, muscle gain, or performance in athletic competition, it’s not uncommon to become addicted to working out. On off days or days when getting in a full workout isn’t possible, like when traveling for business, those with a workout addiction may become agitated or distressed in the absence of their normal routine (pre-workouts and exercise).
Managing a Pre-Workout Addiction
Any substance or activity can become addictive with enough use, and that includes pre-workouts. And, as with any addictive substance, getting help can be the only way to break free.
There are numerous ways to get help for addiction, including speaking with a counselor who specializes in addiction or joining a support group. Outpatient rehabilitation programs for general addiction—as there are unlikely to be many, if any, programs dedicated solely to pre-workout abuse—can also be effective. While a pre-workout addiction is probably not severe enough to warrant an inpatient treatment program, this is an option as well. No addiction is safe or healthy, so getting help is imperative.
Addiction can occur in many forms, from drugs and alcohol to fitness and pre-workout use. For those who, because of their use find themselves asking, “Is pre-workout bad for you?,” getting help may be the best step forward. Contact FHE Health today to learn more about treatment options.