We have all heard it, either from your buddy at the gym, fitness crazy co-worker, or countless online videos – you should have a pre-workout drink before you work out. So if you are hearing it this much, it must be true, right? I mean you want gains and improvement, so this is what you do, or don’t you?
As a gym-guy, and certified trainer, I’ve heard this all too, and been asked by clients. So let me give you the answer up front – NO, you do not.
But wait, you say, I want to see results from the gym, don’t I need this? Again, I offer a simple answer – NO.
Humans have been exercising long before science and fitness companies came up with pre-workout drinks, and we seem to have produced plenty of well trained and in shape athletes. So if that is the case, why the hype around this mythical wonder drink, and should you take them?
Let’s start with the science:
Most pre-workout formulas contain some level of caffeine or a caffeine-like stimulant. There is a reason for that. Several studies have shown that taking caffeine can provide a physical boost before a workout. A 2012 study in the Journal of Strength Conditioning and Resistance found that men who took caffeine supplements could lift greater weights compared with those using a placebo. Other studies indicate those that rely on increased cardio output can increase their aerobic capacity with a dose of caffeine. However, studies have also shown the benefits of caffeine decrease as an individual develops a tolerance.
Pre-workout drinks and supplements also likely contain creatine, which assists in energy production in muscle cells. It does this by creating a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions. According to a 2003 study, creatine supplementation during training has been reported to promote significantly greater gains in strength, fat free mass, and performance primarily of high intensity exercise tasks.
Other common pre-workout ingredients include the B vitamin niacin, which can cause sweatiness and blood flow to the skin, and vasodilators, such as citrulline, which widen blood vessels. Although studies don’t show that these ingredients increase muscle mass per se, the increased blood flow to the muscles may provide the user with that “pumped” feeling and look.
The Bottom Line:
Your body, on a healthy, macronutrient balanced diet, will have the energy it needs to power you through a workout. That said, today we try and push ourselves harder, both at work and at the gym. Getting extra fuel into our muscles to get in those extra reps, heavier lifts, and longer cardio sessions can make the difference on how you see results. If you want to always be able to push your workout to its limits, to go further, then I recommend a pre-workout drink. We also need to be honest with ourselves, in that today’s busy world, that an energy booster before the gym after a long day at work can also make the difference in how well we feel about our workouts too. And one thing I have learned working with clients, is staying focused on fitness is mostly based on the positive feeling one has towards it.
So what should you take? Before I get to that, let me start with what to avoid. Keep these out of your system prior to working out:
- Milk based drinks
- Sugar-based fruit drinks
- Carbonated beverages
- Sports drinks
None of these offer anything that is going to fuel your body for a workout, and can have other issues for your health.
As for what to take, I get asked this too. It is usually, “hey, what will work for me?” The answer is surprising to most – all of them, and none of them. Yes, I said all of them, and none of them. While there are many common ingredients to each drink, the specific formulas vary – as does our physiology. So I recommend you try samples of different brands to see how you feel. You should feel energetic, not jittery. If you feel jittery, try another brand, as it is a sign there is too much stimulant for your body. Lastly, what works for you right now, at your age and health may not work at other times. So do not get stuck on one brand over the years – you will need to adjust as your body changes.
I’ve used a few over the years, and offer them as ones that I personally would recommend:
- Mr. Hyde Nitro X Pre Workout
- Pre JYM
- Organifi Red Juice
The last one is a bit of a twist to this. It has 500mg of B12, which helps the body produce glucose – a key energy element for your body, and an endurance blend. Red Juice works for my body, and has other health benefits. I also sip an Xtend BCAA amino acid drink while working out to keep my muscles nourished.
Above all – pre-workout drink or not – stay hydrated with regular old water! It works wonders, and is essential for maintaining overall health and is critical for essential fluid replacement when exercising. Second, read the label of your supplement – most require 30-45 minutes to reach effect. If you drink your supplement walking in the door of the gym, you will be over half way done with your workout before it kicks in – and you’ll wonder why it did not seem to help.