Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Student post on the use of pre-workout supplements

Pre-workout supplements, worth it or not?

Pre-workouts have become increasingly popular in the fitness world, for both competitive athletes and for individuals with varying fitness goals. But are these pre workout supplements worth the money and do the pros outweigh the cons?
            Pre-workout supplements come in a couple of categories and consumers choose their workouts based on their needs and goals. Categories of pre workouts include pump-based pre workouts, stimulant free pre-workouts and thermogenic pre workout fat burners.
Pump-based pre workouts are pre workouts that offer an excellent “pump”. A pump occurs when there is an excessive amount of blood being delivered to the muscle which causes the muscle to “swell”.
            Stimulant free pre-workouts are pre workouts that don’t contain any stimulants but are advertised to make the consumer feel their muscles pump up without the added caffeine which can lead to adverse effects.
            Thermogenic pre workout fat burners are pre workouts which are designed to speed up metabolism and burn an increased number of calories while working it. These are advertised to burn more calories than a fat burning supplement by itself.
            Other than the stimulant-free pre workouts, most products contain 4 main ingredients: caffeine (absent from stimulant free pre workouts), branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), beta-alanine, and creatine monohydrate.  In the table below, I have summarized these ingredients with their primary purpose for being included in pre workouts, their advertised benefits and the optimal dose.

Optimal Dose
Advertised benefits
Primary purpose for being included in pre workouts
200-500 milligrams
-Shown to be an effective performance booster in both endurance exercise and short bouts of maximal exercise
-Shown to increase workloads by decreasing the rate of fatigue
-decreases the perception of effort
Increasing energy
5 grams
-Vital for protein metabolism
-Important role in increasing protein synthesis and decreases protein breakdown
Fostering an anabolic environment
1.50-5 grams
-Advertised to improve overall training volume
-Utilizes the idea of buffering hydrogen ions in order to increase intensity for longer periods of time
-Responsible for the “tingling” sensation experienced by some consumers.
Increasing muscular endurance
Creatine monohydrate
5 grams
-Thought to aid in saturating muscles with the substrate which is needed to product a fast, large energy pump
Promoting “explosive strength”

Next, let’s take a look at common complaints and side effects of taking pre workouts. Common side effects include vomiting, “jitters”, tingling/numbness in the face, lips or extremities, flushed skin, itching, anxiety, increased blood pressure, chest pain and headaches.
These “jitters” may be due to the caffeine in the pre-workout which increases the pace of a person’s heart rate. The pace of one’s heart rate can be increased to a level which may be considered to be within a danger zone. Pre-workouts are not recommended for individuals who have a previous medical history of stroke or heart attack and they, along with anyone else, should consult their doctor before considering a pre-workout supplement as a part of their workout regimen.
I personally find the world of supplementation to be fascinating. There is a whole realm of “science” that self-proclaimed gym rats hold to a high standard. I have personally asked many individuals at the gym their thoughts on certain per workouts they utilize and it is astounding to me the certainty with which they talk about certain pre-workouts supplements. Their sources of information are usually “my friend”, “bodybuilding.com” or “the guy at GNC”.
 Overall, I think it is important to look carefully at the ingredient list before deciding to make it part of one’s pre-workout meal/routine. I have had personal experience with trying a stimulant free and a “pump based” pre-workout and the one thing I wish I had done was actually done my own research on the different pre-workouts and how they work and what effects they could have on my body.


Spradley et al.: Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-Vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-aline before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance. Nutrition & Metabolism 20129:28.

Hoffman JR, Faigenbaum AD, Ratamess NA, Ross R, Kang J, Tenenbaum G. Nutritional Supplementation and Anabolic Steroid Use in Adolescents. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40:15–24. doi: 10.1249/mss.0b013e31815a5181.

Hoffman JR, Kang J, Ratamess NA, Hoffman MW, Tranchina CP, Faigenbaum AD. Examination of a pre-exercise, high energy supplement on exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:2. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-6-2.

Bell DG, Jacobs I, Ellerington K. Effect of caffeine and ephedrine ingestion on anaerobic exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33:1399–403. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200108000-00024.


  1. This article is so interesting to me. As an athlete and gym attender (not quite in the same category as gym rat), I use supplements when I am training heavy for races OR if I know I am lacking in nutritional minerals in my everyday diet. I have had the conversation with my trainer about the science behind supplements and specific ones I ingest. The supplements may not be exactly what we believe, but by standards and what they have to include on the labels, suggest they do have potential to help in my case. I do not believe that loading up on supplements, as hard core body builders, is healthy for our body. I believe there is that happy medium where they have the potential to help in our daily lives.
    The question I have is: are they really as healthy for children as experts say and suggest?? What age would you start? What would be the dose? I have allowed my son to have a protein shake every now and again when his appetite is low and I know he needs nutrients. I calculated the serving based on his weight and he seems to do okay with it. As a matter of fact, he loves the protein shakes I make (chocolate ice cream-like, who wouldn't like that?!). Again, I only make them for him, every now and again. Not everyday or every other day.
    My other question is: what long term effects come from taking supplements? Which supplements? What stack of supplements? Vitamin is a supplement, so what long term effect and what brands are ideal?
    Again, I try to live a healthy life-style which includes eating clean. Thank you for this article. So much food for thought.

  2. Very interesting topic! I think it is very prevalent in today's culture of working out in teens and young adults but I find it shocking how little some know of the side effects when taking the supplements and how they little they are regulated. I also wonder how educated the employees at GNC are in the facts about their products and if it is ethical that they can persuade costumers of the "benefits" without having a full understanding of the side effects or potential risks.

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  4. It could be the major concerns about these supplements is the proper use for different individuals. Proper use includes dose, duration, and different ingredients. If all these factors are adjusted for each individual it is most likely the optimal benefits are achieved with no or minimal adverse effects. Good Job!

  5. Pre workouts are very popular today. I personally have concerns about these supplements but mainly because of the side affects. With high contents of caffeine and other ingredients, these supplements can cause the jitters, skin irritation, anxiety, etc. From personal experience,i don't believe the side affects are worth using for the enhancement to burn fat. Maybe if these supplements were more closely regulated, they would be more appealing to buyers.

  6. This is really interesting. I have literally no knowledge of pre-workouts but I do see my brother with all of these powders and stuff when I go home. When I ask him about them he always spouts off some random stuff about the science but like you mentioned he hasn't got any reliable sources to back him up. Good job!

  7. Some supplement may not affect building muscle directly, but may affect mood, digestion... then how to accurately assess their effect on muscle building? Also do we have to use supplements in combine to get better result?

  8. As we talked about in class, the ingredients in supplements are not regulated and the ingredient list isn't even verified by a government source. Taking such products leave the consumer at a huge risk. I'm sure some of these products are real and possibly help for workouts, but I don't think it's worth the health risk or possible waste of money if all the product contains is wheat and sugar, although the "ingredients" say otherwise. Nice post, I usually never think about these kind of products.

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