Pre-workouts have always been popular among athletes to help boost energy and athletic performance. They typically come as a powdered substance that you mix with water and drink before exercising.
Although pre-workouts are meant to benefit your nutrition and performance, there’s a lot of misleading information about them. This can make it a challenge to decide if you want to take one or even should take one.
Below are 10 myths around pre-workout supplements to help make your decision a little easier:
MYTH #1: Everyone should take a pre-workout
This is false. You should only take a pre-workout if it’s necessary. Always make sure you’re hydrated, well-rested, and eating a balanced diet with the right nutrients to optimize your energy.
MYTH #2: All pre-workouts are created equal
There’s very little consistency when it comes to the ingredients in pre-workouts because the quantities of those ingredients can vary. Also, different companies have different standards. Some rely on a lower quality and purity of raw materials so they can sell their products at lower price points.
To ensure you’re getting a safe, quality supplement, check that it’s third-party certified. This confirms it doesn’t contain any banned substances and that what’s on the label is in the bottle. A couple of reliable companies are NSF for Sport like Proven4 Sport.
MYTH #3: All pre-workouts improve athletic performance
Research on the effectiveness of pre-workouts is very limited. However, there are a couple of ingredients that may actually benefit performance:
- Caffeine: Caffeine is a popular stimulant that’s typically used in pre-workouts to improve energy and focus.
- Creatine: Creatine is stored in your skeletal muscle and helps with energy production and muscular strength.
MYTH #4: Pre-workouts are full of sugar
Pre-workouts don’t actually have sugar in them. Instead they contain artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols to enhance the flavor without adding any calories. The problem with sugar alcohols is they can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. While there isn’t research to support that artificial sweeteners have any side effects, try to avoid pre-workouts with large amounts of them.
MYTH #5: Supplements improve your strength and muscle mass even if you don’t train
While a supplement can help, you don’t want to rely on it as the only solution to whatever you’re trying to accomplish. It’s not going to make your workout better if you aren’t eating enough. A well-balanced diet comes first and supplementing is secondary.
MYTH #6: Everyone will experience the same benefits from a supplement
Nutrition isn’t one-size-fits-all. Just like no two athletes will train the same or eat the same, you’ll find that certain pre-workouts are more effective on others than they are on you. Don’t assume that just because a pre-workout worked well for your friend that it’s going to work for you.
MYTH #7: Creatine usually causes muscle cramps
One ingredient alone doesn’t cause cramps.
A study that looked at athletes who took a creatine supplement found they had fewer muscle cramps, injuries, strains, and muscle tightness. What they didn’t talk about was if those athletes monitored their diet and hydration, which is why it’s important to look at the entire picture instead of just one detail.
MYTH #8: All pre-workouts make you feel jittery
Caffeine is one of the primary ingredients used in pre-workouts and has been shown to increase muscle strength and output during exercise. However, it does have side effects like increased heart rate, anxiety, and restlessness.
Be sure to check that the amount of caffeine in your pre-workout is right for you to avoid getting the jitters. A good range is 3-5mg of caffeine per your weight and then converted to kilograms.
MYTH #9: All pre-workouts give you a tingly feeling
You may experience a tingly feeling if the pre-workout you’re taking contains beta-alanine or niacin. Otherwise, this shouldn’t happen.
Beta-alanine is used to reduce acidity in your muscles during high-intensity exercise. It may also cause a tingly feeling in your hands and feet. It’s a harmless reaction, but some people find it uncomfortable. You can take beta-alanine in small doses or look for a sustained-release formula, which will delay the onset of that tingly feeling.
The ingredient niacin can cause skin flushing. It plays an important role in energy metabolism, but supplementing with it doesn’t offer any additional benefits if you have a balanced diet.
MYTH #10: Pre-workouts should cause headaches
No, your pre-workout should not do this. If you find this is happening, make sure you’re drinking enough water because if you’re not, a pre-workout could worsen dehydration. If you are, you may want to stop taking your pre-workout.
The reason why a pre-workout would cause headaches is because it contains citrulline, an ingredient that boosts the nitric oxide in your blood, which means increased blood flow to your brain. Look for a pre-workout with low amounts of citrulline or avoid it completely if you already struggle with headaches.
As you learn more about pre-workouts, always keep in mind that a balanced diet and eating enough should come first, and a pre-workout helps to enhance your training.
Tony Castillo is a Sports Dietitian and Nutrition coach who helps athletes and active individuals lean out and enhance performance without diets, endless supplements or overhauling their whole life.
Tony’s journey began as an overweight middle schooler. This continued throughout high school until he decided to jump on a “diet.” Unfortunately, this resulted in unsustainable weight loss. His weight fluctuated in college due to lack of nutrition knowledge, but this inspired him to understand how nutrition played a role in the human body.
Tony graduated from Florida International University in Miami with a B.S. in Biology, B.A. in Chemistry, and an M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics. He is credentialed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Registered Dietitian.
Tony’s passion today is to teach others how healthy lifestyle modifications optimize performance in ALL areas of life. After working at the University of Florida and then with the Toronto Blue Jays, Tony focuses on helping you to become an elite performer. Being an elite performer in your field can take many forms, whether you’re a professional athlete trying to become an MVP or a recreational athlete not wanting to be last in class anymore. Tony’s plan is to teach his clients how to sustain their weight goals for life without counting calories or overhauling their whole life.