Pre-workouts – Safe or Dangerous?
The topic of pre-workout supplements can be a controversial one. Bodybuilders swear by them and holistic nutritionists think they are the devil. So who’s right? Well both sides make good points. Lets examine first what a pre-workout is. Then lets delve into the controversy.
Let me start by stating that I am a whole foods advocate and I hate synthetic vitamins. Click here to read my blog on whole foods vs synthetic vitamins. However I love my pre-workout supplements. I realize these two things conflict with one another but I don’t care LOL.
So what is a pre-workout?
Pre-workout supplements are usually comprised of various ingredients but the four staples are
- Creatine: Creatine is an essential amino acid found in many protein-rich foods, and can be taken in higher doses to help boost performance. Creatine aids in the production of ATP, your body’s main energy source for short, intense activities, and also helps to buffer lactic acid. Click here for more information on creatine
- Caffeine: Many people use caffeine as an ergogenic aid or performance enhancing substance. While it is safe to consume caffeine year-round, MayoClinic.com advises curtailing your intake if you consume more than 500-600 mg per day or start to feel jittery. Most pre-workout supplements contain less than 300mg per serving so you should be fine unless you consume other sources of caffeine in your daily diet such as coffee, tea, or even chocolate.
- Nitric Oxide: Yes it sounds like a scary word but don’t fear it. Nitric oxide is a chemical signal that regulates the dilation and tone of your blood vessels. Your body manufactures NO from amino acids. Nitric oxide is beneficial for workouts because it causes blood vessels to dilate, or expand, which helps pump extra blood to muscles during exercise. This not only helps a person get more pumps, or reps, during their lifts but it also allows nutrients to flow into the muscles. This allows a person to not only lift more during their workouts but also encourages faster recovery times for the muscles.
- Beta Alanine: Beta alanine is an amino acid and is known for its ability to improve workout performance, by delaying the accumulation of hydrogen ions in your muscles, helping to decrease soreness. Beta Alanine is responsible for the tingly sensation many people get from a pre-workout supplement.
A clinical study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine studied the effect of beta alanine supplementation on carnosine levels. The results reported that continual oral ingestion of beta alanine was associated with an 80 percent carnosine increase in skeletal muscle. Elevated muscle carnosine levels was shown to improve physical performance during high-intensity exercises. Another review published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal found that beta alanine supplementation delays the onset of muscle fatigue normally associated with high-intensity anaerobic exercises. The review concluded that beta alanine supplements can be safe and effective for performance if used properly.
So among other things these four ingredients are in most pre-workout supplements. In my experience they will give you added focus and energy during your workouts. They help push you to squeeze a few more reps or run a little further when you would normally stop. Can you get results without them? Sure you can. But they will help you get to where you want to go faster and as stated above have many benefits.
So why the controversy?
Well one reason is due to the fact that the FDA has very little oversight of the majority of companies making supplements. This topic could really be a blog of its own so I won’t go into it. Just know that the companies making these products do not have to list all the ingredients. A lot of them load their product up with fillers and hide behind the term “proprietary blend”. So while I do disagree with people who think Creatine, caffeine, NO, and Beta alanine are harmful I do concede that there may be chemicals in these supplements that we don’t know about. In a recent consumer reports study traces of metal were discovered in the popular Muscle Milk protein powder. Muscle Milk has since changed there formula but still scary nonetheless.
A topic of debate on our facebook page is the fact that these pre-workout supplements cause adrenal gland damage due to the amount of caffeine. As with anything moderation is the key! I agree that excessive amounts of caffeine can cause damage to your adrenal glands. However, the amount of caffeine in a preworkout supplement is equal to about 2-4 cups of coffee. This amount of caffeine is not going to damage your adrenal glands. That being said the caffeine from my pre-workout is the only caffeine in my diet. I am sure there are others who drink coffee regularly and also take a pre-workout.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, fool the adrenal glands into cranking out large amounts of adrenaline, effectively producing more energy. Long-term usage can lead to dependence, as the adrenals down-regulate and function poorly without the use of the stimulant. In the proper amounts, stimulant use is safe for most users though.
The other pre-workout ingredients all have studies showing many many benefits with little or no side effects to healthy individuals and when used in moderation. Healthy being the operative word. Obviously anyone taking a pre-workout supplement should check with their doctor first. The only concern is that pre-workout supplements are relatively new and there hasn’t been a lot of long term studies on them.
I think the important thing to note here is to use these products in moderation and cycle them. Most anything in excessive amounts will probably have harmful side effects. Cycling the above ingredients and using them in moderation takes care of every concern that surrounds them. I recommend two months on and one month cycling off. Just be aware of your body and any side effects you may experience while taking them. I have been taking pre-workouts for nearly a year and I have had zero side effects. In my last physical my blood pressure was perfect, my cholesterol was 123, I’m not on a single medication, and my doctor tells me I’m one of the healthiest 35 year olds she knows. So while some might be totally opposed to pre-workouts I love them and will continue to use them in moderation.