Pre-workout supplements are gaining in popularity, but are they worth it?

As a firefighter, Kevin Culver has to be in tip-top shape and counts on his workouts to keep him that way.  He also counts on pre-workout supplements.

Culver says, “One is super caffeinated for the days that I'm just dragging my tail and I don't want to be in the gym early morning, five o'clock, and morning workouts.” He says the other helps him focus. 

These supplements, commonly called “pre-workout,” are usually powder drink mixes or capsules. The idea is to take them right before you hit the gym to boost performance. There are numerous brands with their own formulas, most with different ingredients.

Jessica Crandall, RDN,CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, “Some of the supplements that are typically in a pre- workout consist of carbohydrates, proteins that are broken down to what they call amino acids, and the derivatives of those, as well as sometimes electrolytes, or B vitamins, antioxidants, creatine, and caffeine.”

Crandall says some ingredients may be safe and energy-boosting, but others can be pointless, or worse, explaining, “A lot of these are overpriced with potentially some bad side effects that could impact your health negatively”  …including, she says, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and digestive distress.  

Like all supplements, pre-workouts are not regulated by the FDA for safety or efficacy.

Crandall says, “We have these different supplements that are on the market in a variety of forms with really no end to the amount of caffeine or herbal supplement ingredients that they have put in there.”

She explains there are third-party groups that vet supplements, such as Informed-Choice or NSF International, confirming content, purity, and compliance of ingredients listed on the labels. Those products have logos to identify them.

However, Crandall suggests getting what you need straight from the foods you eat.
“I think that food can be our first line of fuel and it's really important focusing on good nutrition to better enhance our cardiovascular and strength,” she explains.

Culver says he will do both, eat right and count on his pre-workout. “I don't think I would ever go back to working out without supplements,” Culver explains.

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