Look, I get it. You know you’ll feel better if you work out. But maybe your alarm was extra-unwelcome this morning or you’ve had an exhausting day. And you know that with a little bit of a boost, you’re not just more likely to actually feel up to exercising — you’re also more likely to crush that workout.
And that makes a pre-workout pretty appealing, but that quick high comes with some serious lows you need to be aware of.
WHY I DON’T USE PRE-WORKOUT
You all know I take my workouts seriously. So a lot of people are surprised when they hear that I never make pre-workout part of my routine. I mean, it’s a pretty standard part of that fitness lifestyle for a lot of people.
But here’s the thing. Pre-workout is FILLED with synthetic sh*t like artificial sweeteners and untested supplements. Like, you’re truly getting that boost from chemicals paired with a VERY heavy-handed dose of caffeine. And that means it comes with side effects like:
- An energy crash afterward
- Tingling and flushed skin
- Digestive problems
- Water retention (read: bloating)
- Heart palpitations
You might think those side effects would probably be pretty rare — but you'd be wrong. A 2019 study found that 54% of people who took pre-workout experienced side effects, and those side effects were more common in women than in men. That means that if you and your friend both take pre-workout, the odds are pretty darn high that at least one of you will have to deal with feeling sick, getting a skin reaction, or some other issue.
On top of all of this, pre-workout raises your heart rate. If you’re going to be getting into some serious cardio, that can put excess (read: dangerous) strain on your heart.
As we learn more about what pre-workout does to the body, more and more health and fitness experts are coming out against it. And I’m right there with them.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
I’m not saying all of this to freak you out. But I do think that if you’re using pre-workout, it’s important to put some thought into it. Read the label and look up ingredients you don’t know. Here are a few common ones I would steer clear of:
- Excess caffeine: A lot pre-workout products have upwards of 250+ mg of caffeine per serving. Factor your daily cup (or two) of coffee on top of that and you’re quickly hitting or exceeding the FDAs recommended caffeine intake of up to 400 milligrams. It’s important not to shock your system and overload it too quickly.
- Beta-alanine: This compound is supposed to help prevent muscle fatigue and soreness. But it also affects your skin. If you’ve ever felt tingly after taking pre-workout, beta-alanine was probably to blame.
- Niacin: A.k.a., vitamin B3, niacin does play an important role in your metabolism. But if you’re eating a healthy diet, you should already be getting plenty of it. And the high levels of niacin in pre-workout cause skin flushing, so much so that a lot of people get red patches on their skin.
- Creatine: Creatine is a pretty popular fitness supplement because it helps to boost muscle mass and enhance athletic performance. But do you know what else it boosts? Water retention. This is such a common issue that it has a name: creatine bloating.
- Citrulline: This amino acid is supposed to help your body build muscle by supplying your muscles with more blood. But it also increases blood flow to your brain, and that extra pressure can cause headaches.
ALTERNATIVES TO PRE-WORKOUT
I know there are some people who swear by pre-workout, and I get it. I’m not trying to argue against using what’s available to you to feel your best during your workout! All I’m trying to say is that there are some natural, much healthier ways to pump yourself up.
Basically, before you reach for that quick fix, consider what your body really needs. A healthy, varied diet makes a HUGE difference in how you feel, both when you’re working out and in general. And eating right doesn’t have to be hard.