Pros And Cons Of Using Pre-Workout Supplements

Pre-workout supplements are one of the most debated products on the market right now. With individual ingredients being studied and tested and entire pre-workout formula designs under scrutiny, it can be difficult to tell if the benefits are worth the risks.

In this review, we will cover the claims of these supplements on what they help you accomplish and look closely at the ingredients that help you achieve those benefits.

We will also answer your questions as we examine the pros and cons of pre-workout powders and drinks.

There are a lot of benefits and claims for pre-workout ingredients. Some are backed by science and proven time and again. Others are still being studied but show signs of promise. Let’s dive into these pre-workout pros.

1. Improved Energy

One of the primary ingredients in almost any pre-workout supplement is some form of stimulant. This ranges from natural ingredients like coffee beans or tea leaves to caffeine anhydrous (dehydrated caffeine powder).

These and other stimulants provide the energy boost that is the main focus of pre-workouts. As a result, you can improve endurance.

The level of caffeine included is where the problem comes in. According to studies, the upper limit of daily caffeine intake for a healthy adult should be less than 400 mg.[1]

A single cup of coffee, as an example, contains about 90 mg. However, one scoop of pre-workout mix can contain up to 390 mg (most average around 160 to 190 mg).

Woman ready to workout after having her pre-workout

2. Improved Focus and Alertness

Caffeine and other ingredients are also linked to improved focus. Your mind and body can stay motivated and on task thanks to these supplements.

Tyrosine is one of the most popular amino acids linked to improved cognitive function.[2] You will need 500 mg daily to feel its laser focus effects, though.

Theanine, an amino acid from tea plants, also helps improve performance, focus and promotes relaxation - 50 to 200 mg per day is suggested.

Another amino acid, acetyl l-carnitine, has been called the brain booster. This one, at around 500 mg per day, can help fight off mental fatigue.[3]

3. Increase Strength & Oxygen To Muscles

The vasodilation properties of beta-alanine and nitric oxide also help to improve blood flow, relax blood vessels and bring more oxygen to your muscles.

Other branched-chain amino acids and ingredients also help build lean body mass. So if you want to build muscle, this is where it starts.

Creatine brings oxygen and hydrogen to your muscles and helps it store there. All these ingredients working in tandem can help your muscles work harder, longer, and recover faster. And if you like that muscle pump, this is how you get it from a pre-workout supplement.

4. Reduce Muscle Breakdown

Caffeine, creatine, BCAAs, and beta-alanine all work to get oxygen to the muscles, store hydration in the muscles and keep the pH of your muscles balanced.

Known as nitric oxide precursors, this all works to reduce the lactic acid build-up in the muscles, which causes fatigue and energy loss.

Reduced muscle breakdown only enhances athletic performance and builds muscle mass. More reps and higher energy production are key to muscle growth and physical progress.

With less muscle soreness, your muscle tissues can recover faster and stay stronger longer. Creatine supplementation is important for this step of the process.

Explosive anaerobic power will require oxygen to make it to the muscles. Taking supplements backed by scientific evidence to increase muscle strength will ensure you get that power.

jacked man doing EZ bar bicep curls at gym

5. Reduce Protein Breakdown

Some pre-workouts will use electrolytes or carbohydrates to reduce cortisol levels, slowing protein synthesis breakdown. The longer your muscles can perform at high levels, the more reps, sets, and weights you can push.

Without these nutrients, explosive moves and endurance performance are generally limited to 6 to 8 seconds. With the pre-workouts, some reports show these exercise performance actions lasting 11 to 20 seconds.

To build muscles, you need full breakdown and longer sessions result in better muscle fiber breakdown.

6. Get More Than Just Caffeine

When most people think about a pre-workout routine, they think of high levels of caffeine to boost energy levels temporarily. While they aren't exactly wrong, many other ingredients work together with your body to keep you going and improve athletic performance.

The initial energy boost and motivation may come from a high dose of caffeine, but the amino acids, vitamins and minerals also prolong your endurance levels, fight off fatigue, and speed up recovery time.

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Pre-Workout Downsides (Cons Of Regular Usage)

As with everything in life, you can't have the good without the bad. Not everyone will experience every possible downside, and the ones you do experience may be minimal or temporary.

Let's look at the potential negatives of pre-workout and dietary supplements where high-intensity workouts are concerned.

1. Dangerous and Artificial Ingredients

Some lower-quality pre-workout brands use a lot of filler in their formulas. This will include artificial sweeteners, colors, dyes, and even dangerous amounts of potential carcinogens. You want to avoid any brand that lists the following on their labels.

  • Red #40
  • Yellow #5
  • Yellow#6
  • “Proprietary Blend” without showing exact amounts
  • Artificial sweeteners aspartame, neotame, sucralose, and saccharin

Outrageous claims tend to be marketing ploys designed to get our money. Many athletes find one brand or formula that works for them and then stick with it. A high-intensity exercise training session or a tough workout needs an energizing formula without bold claims. It just has to work.

2. Overstimulation

Too much caffeine or stimulants can lead to overstimulation. Especially for those that are hypersensitive to the stimulants, headaches, nausea, upset stomach, intestinal pain, insomnia, and a host of other side effects can occur.

If you feel this is happening to you, you should stop your pre-workout routine for at least a week to flush your system. Then, either start using a non-stimulant pre-workout or reduce the dosage you take until your tolerance to the new levels increases.

3. May Cause Headaches

Taking a lot of caffeine, which is a diuretic, as well as working out harder and sweating more, will lead to rapid water loss. In turn, you may become dehydrated. When you get dehydrated, the blood-brain barrier thins, and your brain can contact the skull or swell, causing a headache.

Being overstimulated and pushing too hard can also cause high blood pressure leading to headaches and even chest pains.

women with a headache at work desk

4. May Make You Feel Jittery

Beta-alanine and niacin are both known to cause tingling or burning sensations. Your face, hands, feet, back, or chest can feel like pins and needles, and you can become jittery and even flush for up to an hour.

Some of this (with niacin) is by design, and many think it tells you the pre-workout is working. You can drink more water to dilute the powder dose, use a half scoop instead of a full scoop or find pre-workouts that don't include niacin to help minimize these jittery feelings and flush side effects.

5. Can Upset Digestion

Caffeine and creatine monohydrate are both commonly found in pre-workout formulas. Taken in excess, they can lead to digestive upset. This can be as minimal as a slight cramp for a moment, or it can send you running for the bathroom mid-rep with diarrhea.

Drink more water with your supplements (and throughout the day), and if the side effects don't go away, limit your intake levels or stop using the pre-workouts altogether.

6. Could Cause You To Gain Weight

Creatine and other ingredients like the BCAAs can absorb and retain water in the body. Moving to the muscles and organs as they are designed to do, they carry this water with them, and it is stored instead of released.

Bloating or water retention can lead to a temporary weight gain until the water is released. Continued use and dosage of the ingredients can prolong the bloating and make your scale read much higher than it should.

Related Article - Does Pre-Workout Make You Gain Weight? (What To Look For)

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What Exactly Are Pre-Workout Supplements For?

Taking pre-workout supplements has a lot of purposes. First and foremost, they are designed to help you raise energy levels and provide motivation to start working out or to make it through your workout routine.

Secondly, they provide ingredients to help round out your sports nutrition diet and provide you with speedy recovery times, delay muscle fatigue and breakdown and keep you going for the next gym session.

They are not a meal replacement or weight loss supplement. Instead, they help your muscles perform better, increase your physical performance, and enhance your overall athletic performance.


How Do You Choose The Right Pre-Workout For You?

Gym goers know that choosing the right pre-workout can be a lot of research and guesswork. However, it will always come down to trial and error, plus your workout intensity. You know the side effects of a pre-workout and the potential downsides.

Knowing what your body can and cannot tolerate will help you narrow down your list of ingredients to avoid. This will help you find the right brand and formula to match your needs. Whether you want more caffeine or are looking for a keto-friendly option, they are out there.

You just have to find them and try them out to see which ones work best for your specific needs. Following labeling and advertising guidance will get you so far. But you also need to understand the ingredient lists, amounts, and how they affect your body composition in particular.

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Frequently Asked Pre-Workout Questions

What are the pros of C4 pre-workout supplements?

Cellucor C4 has a few different dietary formulas. The standard formula has less caffeine than the Ultimate. All of their formulas, though, provide long-lasting energy, focus, alertness, and reduced fatigue during a high-intensity workout. Many users of this popular pre-workout also find they have reduced recovery times and more endurance throughout their routines.

Does C4 pre-workout have any negatives?

C4 doesn't have any more or less negatives than any other pre-workout. When taken incorrectly, you can get jittery, nervous, nauseous, and even become anxious. You also may experience headaches, dehydration, or an upset stomach.

Do pre-workout supplements have long-term effects?

The best pre-workout supplements, and their individual ingredients, are still undergoing constant study and evaluation. However, to date, no ill long-term side effects have been discovered. For healthy adults taking pre-workout drinks properly, they are safe short and long-term and even for consistent, daily use.

Are pre-workouts addictive?

Pre-workouts do not contain any addictive chemicals or compounds. There is a psychological side that may make you dependent, but you won’t become addicted.[4]


Conclusion

The pros and cons of pre-workout supplements come with a long list of possible benefits and positive side effects. They can help you maintain mental focus and agility, reduce recovery time and keep you going throughout your entire workout with increased muscular endurance.

Most pre-workout supplements also have some possible negative side effects and downsides. They can cause dehydration, headaches, upset stomach and nausea, among others. It is important to note proper dosage and hydration levels when taking pre-workout supplements.

You also need to listen to your body and adjust your intake levels as needed to maintain performance and overall health. Following these pre-workout tips and avoiding artificial and dangerous ingredients will soon have you on your way to more muscle mass and higher training volume.

References:

1.https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678
2.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2736402/
3.https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2004/03000/Exploratory_Open_Label,_Randomized_Study_of.17.aspx
4.https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3976&context=ijesab

Last Updated on September 29, 2022