Fitness Education: Performance Enhancing Supplements Series: Misconceptions and Truths – Pre-Workouts
Sports medicine professionals get a lot of questions from our former athletes and participants of Home Base Warrior Health and Fitness about supplements, primarily protein powders, creatine, and pre-workout, among others. Given the amount of questions and knowing that RDs (Registered Dietitians) are nutrition experts and are best resource for supplement guidance, we decided start a series to debunk a few myths while also providing some truths about these supplements that are supported by evidence based research. Home Base’s Athletic Trainer and Strength Coaches interviewed and collaborated with Home Base’s Emilie Burgess MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN for expert advice on how to best approach the most popular performance enhancing supplements.
We want to make it clear that we believe that performance enhancing supplements are exactly what they sound like: supplements. They are designed and manufactured to supplement, or support, your current exercise, nutrition, and sleep plans. They are not primarily made to substitute proper whole food nutrition and proper exercise and rehabilitation programming, or to make up for lack of adequate and quality sleep. With that being said, there is a place for these wildly popular and commercially available products to assist you in reaching your health and wellness goals.
Pre-workout powders are common in the fitness industry; they are popular for many reasons, one of which is that you feel immediate effects after taking it. Like all the supplements discussed, pre-workout does have a place as it has shown its effectiveness, but it is important that it does not replace quality sleep and proper nutrition.
Misconceptions and Truths
The Misconception: You should take pre-workout before every workout!
The Truth: Understand why you are consuming your pre-workout. Think of the type of training you are planning on doing, how do you feel that day, did you eat already or are you exercising on an empty stomach? These are the types of circumstances that will help you decide if you even need it for that workout. It is also more beneficial to take during times of low energy such as early morning before a full breakfast, or late afternoon after a long day of work and before dinner. You’ll likely see more positive effects during these times but remember to test it out and see what works for you!
The Misconception: One serving doesn’t work so I have to double it!
The Truth: It is important to make sure that you do not overdose yourself with pre-workout. Typically, pre-workouts’ primary stimulant is caffeine. Just like all stimulants, caffeine is an addictive substance and can be unhealthy and potentially dangerous when consumed in excess. Your body’s tolerance for caffeine will gradually build and you will become accustomed to a single dose and may not feel any effects. Take that as a cue to begin “cycling off” your pre-workout by gradually decreasing your dosage over the span of 1-2 weeks; then do not take pre-workout for 1-2 months to allow your body to reset its tolerance. That way when you begin “cycling on,” you will have a lower tolerance meaning a single serving will feel more effective.
The Misconception: This store sells this pre-workout so it must be safe!
The Truth: Unfortunately, there are a lot of retailers that sell unsafe supplements with pre-workout being a main culprit. Almost anyone can manufacture and sell a product to the masses without it be tested for safety, which usually leads to unnecessary substances (“fillers”) in your pre-workout that can be detrimental to your health. Always do your research on supplement brands by searching through reputable organizations perform tests on these products. Look for products that have certified labels verifying their safety (examples such as: NSF Certified Sport, USP Dietary Supplement Verified, Informed Sport, etc.).
How to incorporate pre-workouts into your plan:
Find a pre-workout that you enjoy that is made from a reputable brand that you have researched. If you are sensitive to caffeine, consider starting with tea or coffee, and if you still aren’t feeling the effects or seeing results, start with half servings of a commercial pre-workout. If you have a sensitive gastrointestinal system, consider a pre-workout with limited artificial sweeteners. Slowly increase your servings to one full serving and try this for a few weeks. If still no results, consider decreasing the over amount of caffeine you consume during the day from other sources. Though pre-workout has proven to have positive subjective effects, it is only necessary if you feel lethargic or less motivated; it does not have to be taken before every workout. Remember to test out the best timing and other factors (taking it on an empty stomach versus a full stomach) because your response and effect to stimulants is unique to you and will be different from others.
Make sure you discuss with your doctor about your health and a registered dietitian before buying and taking any supplements. Do your research before buying and trying a new supplement, stick to reputable brands that use quality ingredients, and that have been vetted by certifying organizations. Create goals, understand them, and ask yourself if a supplement will help you towards your goals. Each supplement with affect you differently so find what works best for you with trial and error. If you have any questions about supplements or questions regarding enhancing performance, feel free to reach out to our Registered Dietitians and our Warrior Health and Fitness professionals.