If you’ve been going to the gym for any length of time, you’ve experienced days when you just didn’t feel like you had enough energy for your workout – especially if your routine is to hit the fitness center early in the morning. Times like these, it can be tempting to reach for a pre-workout supplement that promises to boost your energy levels, give you greater endurance, and help you power through to better results. Before you do, ask yourself these questions.
1. Is the pre-workout formula full of potentially dangerous or high-dose ingredients?
Doctors consider supplements like creatine, beta-alanine or whey protein relatively harmless, but some pre-workout blends contain energy boosters and stimulants that haven’t been fully tested, or are linked to health risks. Subjecting your body to these substances places your heart and other body systems in danger, so question anything you aren’t familiar with.
Caffeine is another common ingredient in pre-workout formulas. Although many consider it a safe and effective stimulant, it can still be overdone. Doctors recommend limiting your daily caffeine intake to 400 milligrams, and many formulas exceed this in one dose! Finally, watch out for high doses of calories from sugar (even from “natural” sources) that will sabotage your weight loss goals.
2. Do you even need a pre-workout supplement?
Pre-workout formulas promise a lot, and some studies show they can deliver what they say – in certain circumstances. For instance, taking supplements that contain creatine, a natural substance found in the body, can help athletes who perform repeated bursts of high-intensity activity, such as sprints or heavy weightlifting. Another supplement known as beta-alanine is often used by endurance athletes to increase the number of reps they can do by reducing the “burn” created by lactic acid buildup.
The catch is that most studies show that the benefits of pre-workout formulas aren’t that significant. Even when they are, it tends to be mostly in high-level athletes who are pushing themselves to the limit of their natural energy and endurance levels.
If you’re not pushing yourself to the max (do you even know what your max is?), chances are you don’t need a supplement. The best way to boost your natural energy and endurance levels is to keep working out. As you get more fit, the easier your workouts will seem and the greater intensity you’ll be able to put into them.
3. If you just need an energy boost, are there other (safer and cheaper) alternatives?
At this point, you might be arguing that your energy booster does make you feel more focused and capable of tackling a hard workout, and that makes a difference in your results. The truth is that, yes, energy boosters can change how you feel by increasing your heart rate and the blood flow to your muscles and brain – but they don’t automatically improve your results. Pre-workout formulas are enhancers of what you already have going, not initiators of results. As always, the results you can get from your workouts depends on the effort and consistency you’re willing to put in.
If you’re looking for that kick of energy or feeling of being “pumped up” and ready to workout, consider some cheaper and safer alternatives, such as a cup of coffee and a nutrition-packed breakfast with a balance of carbohydrates and protein. You’ll save a lot of money while giving your body the fuel it was designed to use.