Is Pre-Workout Bad For You? Experts are looking at powdered supplements.
Pre-workout powders are booming on social media.
From influencer-promoted brands to viral dry-recovery techniques and more, the powdered supplement that gym goers mix into their drink of choice are everywhere online – but are they necessary?
Google Trends shows an increase in searches for pre-workout powders in 2021 compared to previous years, and the hashtag #preworkoutpowder has been used over 38 million times on TikTok.
“Everyone is looking for that next benefit to help them with their fitness … and (pre-workout powders) are just one of the things that are marketed to speed up this process a bit more,” says Jonathan Purtell. , registered dietitian. with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “With the rise of Instagram and fitness influencers and these companies that take advantage of these influencers, we are finding that these pre-workouts are strongly endorsed all the time.”
But are these supplements just a heavily marketed fad or serious fitness fuel? We asked experts to determine if it was necessary to start your routine with them.
Do you need pre-workout powder?
Although pre-workout powders ‘explode’ on social media, they are ‘absolutely not’ necessary for training, says Dennis A. Cardone, sports medicine expert and physician in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at NYU Lagone Health .
While extreme athletes may need more supplements, he advises the average person to avoid powders that could have “potential harmful effects” and instead get their energy from food.
“We can save our money,” he says. “A regular diet will be more than enough. We can get whatever we want from it – our protein, our carbs, our caffeine if we want – so there really is no need to supplement a well-balanced diet.
By focusing on food, people can “control and know exactly what they are getting into their bodies,” he adds.
Purtell agrees that good nutrition and a strong workout routine are most important.
“Not all of these supplements are necessary at all. That’s what the name suggests, they are there to complement a healthy lifestyle,” he says.
But, pre-workouts can be beneficial in some cases, says Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, associate professor of exercise physiology in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at UNC Chapel Hill and an active researcher in sports nutrition and physical performance.
“Do you need it? No, probably not. Does that increase performance? Potentially,” she says, adding that many people are looking for ways to combat fatigue with the stimulants in these powders. “So it might help, but I wouldn’t say it’s necessary.”
She says that a well-designed pre-workout can not only give you an energy boost, but “can help with recovery and fatigue over time.”
“Other ingredients in pre-workouts also provide lower fatigue and higher intensity, with the idea that you can exercise harder and for longer and then indirectly see better results over time. “, she says.
Risks and tips for staying safe
But not all pre-workouts are the same, and some could do more harm than good.
Over the years, companies have made headlines for equipping their pre-workout supplements with chemicals and dangerous ingredients. The Food and Drug Administration has also issued warnings against certain, sometimes illegal, ingredients that appear in these products.
Cardone shared his concern about pre-workout powders not being transparent with their ingredients.
“They are not controlled by the FDA, so we really don’t know the substances or the ingredients,” he says. “So while something might say ‘performance enhancement’ they have their own proprietary blend of whatever it could be.”
Fortunately, Smith-Ryan says there is more regulation than most people realize.
“You want to look for a seal that has been tested by a third party,” she advises.
These companies will measure the content of the product to make sure it matches what is on the label. Some even check for banned substances. Common certifications include NSF Certified for Sport and Informed Choice.
“I want to know what I’m buying is actually what it says, so the third-party tested seal is really important,” she says. “It costs these companies a lot of money, which also shows that they are spending time and money on their product.”
Even for pre-workout powders with that added seal of approval, consumers still need to be hyper aware when using them.
Caffeine, for example, a popular stimulant ingredient used in pre-workout powders, could lead to potential side effects if taken in excess.
“It can make them nervous and make their hearts beat a bit,” says Cardone. “And if someone has heart or heart problems, it could even potentially lead to other possible side effects.”
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Smith-Ryan says some people may also take more than they need.
“Most people think more is better, and that’s not always the case,” she says, explaining that someone can take three scoops when the serving is one. And with caffeine, for example, “you worry about that overstimulation.”
Purtell adds that “too much of one thing can certainly be dangerous” and advises people to be aware of the correct dosages.
“Follow directions because if you take too much caffeine at one time you can have serious complications… We don’t want to have a heart attack. “
Thanks in part to social media and fitness influencers, teens are turning to pre-workout powders, but Smith-Ryan cautions young people taking them.
“Most of the time their diet is so poor that the first thing they should do is watch what they are actually eating. Because a lot of times the fatigue comes from eating too much sugar and not having them. proper nutrients throughout the day, ”she says. .
In our busy and stressful world, it’s no surprise that some people are looking for a boost before their workouts, but there are alternatives to pre-workout powders.
“Everyone is so tired right now, and it’s because of poor sleep and poor diet,” says Smith-Ryan. “Often times, one of the best ways to prepare for exercise is to get your blood flowing, so move around and do a dynamic warm-up.”
If you are looking to fuel your workout, eat carbohydrates and protein.
Purtell suggests lean meats like chicken breast, ground turkey, and fish or plant proteins like tofu and tempeh. And if you are looking for some energy, you can just have a cup of coffee or tea.
Finally, keep a balanced diet and a good sleep routine.
For the average gym hobbyist as well as young people interested in fitness, Purtell recommends “focusing on a good routine and following a healthy diet and exercise habit before even considering taking a pre-workout. “.
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