Here's How to Tell if You Should Be Taking Pre-Workout Supplements

A mix of sweeteners, caffeine, or other stimulants, there is no question pre-workout drinks can rev you up for some serious effort in the gym. When it comes to how healthful these powders and pills actually are, Luke Guanzon, owner of Refinery Strength and Conditioning in Rye, recommends you stop to consider just what you may be putting in your body.

“What your goals are, and what your current health status is, should determine whether or not you should be taking a pre-workout supplement,” says Guanzon. “Supplement being the key word, because you can get some of the pre-workout ingredients naturally. This being said, unless you want to be a bodybuilder, figure model, or power lifter I would not recommend taking one.”

Coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit, and nuts can all provide the balance of pep and quickly available energy that pre-workout drinks offer. Guanzon, for one, generally does not see a need for such supplements. “I train many professional and elite level athletes and I have never once recommended a pre-workout supplement to any of them,” says Guanzon.

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Guanzon feels the prevalence of pre-workout drinks is largely a product of misinformation among consumers. “Many people in the general public are often confused about what pre-workout drinks or powders are used for and what they are made of,” explains Ganzon. But why are such drinks possibly harmful?

“Many drinks and powders are unregulated by the FDA, so you have no clue what you are actually putting into your body,” says Guanzon, who notes that many ingredient lists include mysterious additives often without the amount per serving. “Even regarding the ingredients with the specific amounts [listed], a lot of people do not know how their body will react to them. Such ingredients that may have negative side effects are caffeine, niacin, L-arginine, creatine.”

Guanzon warns that these possible drawbacks include “negative effects on your kidneys, liver, and heart,” since the body may struggle breaking down the influx of chemicals, creating high liver enzymes. “Increasing caffeine and other amino acid amounts could lead to a dangerously high heart rate, as well as cold sweats and overheating,” he adds.

Additonally, Guanzon adds that the only scientifically proven performance enhancers found in such supplements happen to be caffeine and creatine, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning NSCA.

The possible benefits of consuming these supplements “could be increased focus and energy due to the caffeine and other amino acids, increased blood flow to muscles due to L-arginine and niacin, and increased strength due to the extra intra-cellular water caused by creatine. Although many studies have concluded that much of the benefits or perceived benefits have been a placebo effect.”

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Guanzon notes that he “would only recommend a pre-workout where all the ingredients are listed and you know how your body reacts to all ingredients within it. One pre-workout that I know has been studied and made by a doctor in nutrition is JYM by Dr. Jim Stoppani. Although it does contain creatine, which makes you retain water,” Guanzon says. “So again I would not recommend this to any of my clients.”

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