7 Hidden Dangers of Pre-Workout Drinks & How to Avoid Them

Whether you’re a veteran athlete or just starting a fitness habit, you’re no doubt aware of the sheer volume of pre-workout drinks available. Grocery stores have entire shelves dedicated to them. Gas stations have row after row of refrigerators filled with bright colored cans with names like Monster and Red Bull and Rockstar and Celsius and Zoa. And while there is no set definition of what a “preworkout drink” is, many of them offer the same promises to those who drink them. Namely, improved energy, increased focus, and a physical boost to help you reach peak performance during your training sessions. 

Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, despite their popularity, there are some pervasive myths and misconceptions about energy drinks that we’d like to cover in this article. Read this before you begin to rely on an energy drink for your prime energy needs:

1. All Pre-Workout Drink Ingredients are the Same

While many of the more popular energy drinks have common ingredients like caffeine, taurine, beta-alanine, BCAAs and creatine, the amount of these ingredients (and their overall quality) can vary widely between drinks. Even worse, many pre-workout drinks include “proprietary blends” which means the company doesn’t have to divulge the list of ingredients or vouch for their quality.

2. Know the Exact Amount of Caffeine You’re Consuming

Here’s an example of how this can be tricky:

Say you’re comparing two pre-workout drinks and they both list that they use green coffee bean extract as a caffeine source. One drink only uses green coffee bean extract as its caffeine source and it provides 100 mg caffeine per 16 ounces while the other drink uses that in addition to other caffeine sources and provides 300mg of caffeine per 16 ounces, that is a 3x difference. 

If you don’t look at the amount of caffeine on the can, you may be consuming far more than you think from the ingredient labels. 

3. Know the Serving Size

Let’s say you’re looking at a 16 ounce energy drink can and there’s a shiny callout sticker on the label touting 150mg of caffeine per serving. Psychologically, you’re going to assume that means that the can you’d purchase has 150mg in it. If you assume that, you’d be wrong. Most 16 ounce cans contain two full servings, meaning once again you’d be drinking 300mg of caffeine in one sitting as opposed to 150mg, which is a huge difference if you’re at all sensitive to it.

4. Watch the Sugar

While nearly every pre-workout drink has a low-sugar or no-sugar option, some of the more popular brands of energy drinks contain a whopping 37g of sugar in as little as 8 ounces, which translates to over 70g of sugar in a sixteen ounce can. It would take a whole lot more exercise than you intended to burn that off.

5. Pre-Workout Drinks are NOT a Substitute for a Good Night’s Sleep

The best pre-workout you’ll ever find is a solid 8 hours of great sleep the night before. Prior to consuming energy drinks or pre-workouts, consider why you need one in the first place. If you’re burning the candle at both ends or you’re streaming TV late into the night and you feel groggy the next day, no amount of caffeine or sugar is going to make up for poor sleep habits in the long run. Fix your sleep, your energy will return and great workouts will follow.

6. Time Your Pre-Workout Properly

Far too many people begin consuming their pre-workout drink 5-minutes or less before they start exercising. This is a mistake. If you want to enjoy the benefits and boost of a pre-workout, you’re going to want to give the caffeine and other ingredients time to kick in. In order to maximize their effectiveness, try taking your pre-workout 30-40 minutes before you exercise. Otherwise, you’ll be feeling the effects if you drink just as you finish your workout.

7. Early Risers Likely Don’t Need a Pre-Workout

If you exercise first thing in the morning at 5AM or 6AM, you probably think that you’d barely get out of bed without your pre-workout. You’d be wrong. By getting out of bed, moving and exercising right away, your body’s natural waking hormones take over, giving you what amounts to a natural pre-workout. Many veteran early morning exercisers have discovered that the most effective time for a caffeine boost is a few hours after their workout has ended. That’s when the adrenaline of the workout has worn off and you may need that little kick.

To summarize, pre-workout drinks have their time and place and when used properly, they can provide a jolt of energy, focus and a bump in performance. Just remember to hydrate often, drink electrolytes and pay attention to what your body responds to. This way pre-workout drinks can continue to be your friend rather than your foe.

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