Does Taking a Pre-workout Actually Work?

Are these energy-promising powders all they’re cracked up to be?
Man and women taking advantage of pre-workout drinks

If you’re a regular gym goer or athlete, you’ve likely heard the buzz around pre-workout supplements. These products typically come in pill or powder form and promise to boost energy and enhance workout performance.

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But before you gulp down that pre-workout, it’s important to know what’s actually in it and how it affects your body.

Pre-workout buzz: caffeine

The main ingredient in most pre-workout products is caffeine. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Caffeine can be great in the appropriate amount, says Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CCSD, LD. It stimulates the body’s central nervous system, improves reaction time and can reduce fatigue.

All these things sound great for a workout or hard training session, right?

“Keep in mind that having too much caffeine can have serious side effects,” says Patton. “You can experience things like a racing heart, tingling, high blood pressure, GI issues and even nausea.”

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Most brands of pre-workout range from 150 mg to 300 mg of caffeine per serving. This roughly translate as one to three cups of coffee.

So that label promising increased energy, focus and performance is usually made possibly through a jolt of caffeine. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, it’s wise to read the product label and proceed with caution.

Not all bad news, but focus on real food

Pre-workouts can be beneficial and safe to take if the ingredients are correctly listed on the label and the company is credible, says Patton. She also says that many of the safe, natural ingredients typically found in pre-workouts can be obtained through eating real food instead.

“You don’t always know what other ingredients are packaged into some pre-workout supplements,” says Patton. “But with whole foods you know what you’re getting.”

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Some of the best ways to fit in pre-workout ingredient-filled food include:

  • Coffee (with even adding a teaspoon of sugar).
  • Whole-grain sandwich with lean protein.
  • Turkey.
  • Yogurt.
  • Cheese.
  • Eggs.

Take a deeper look at some typical pre-workout ingredients, what they do and how to get them naturally in your diet:

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