Pre-workout supplements seem to be all the rage. I’ve heard about them on dates, from friends, and of course, seen the brightly colored liquids at the gym.  Last week, on the radio a guy even used a pre-work supplement before his “date.” But nevermind that, I want to examine what pre-workout supplements are and potential issues.

Definition: Pre-workout supplements (aka “preworkout”) are typically powered drink mixes with (supposedly) performance enhancing ingredients. Some common ingredients are caffeine and amino acids such as arginine and citrulline. In general, there does not seem to be clear definition of what a preworkout is. But all preworkouts are some ridiculously bright color that reminds me of Koolaid!

Potential Issues: 

  • Unregulated: The supplement industry is mostly unregulated; supplements are not regulated like drugs or food. Defined by the FDA, supplements are these are edible things “not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases.” Supplements often go to market with no testing. The FDA can remove or restrict the sale of a supplement, but only after it has been on the market and been shown to be unsafe or mislabeled. (This typically means after a class action lawsuit and severe injuries or death). Feel free to Google Herbalife and liver injury . Or Google Heavy metals and protein supplements. In short, you have been warned, you don’t know what you’re actually getting in a supplement when you take it! The need for more supplement regulation and labeling is seemingly obvious to me, but it will take time for legislature to get there.
  • Unproven- Is there even research behind the suggested ingredients? Primarily, in my opinion and looking at unbiased evidence-based research, few ingredients can be considered proven to enhance performance. My favorite ingredient (and the most common) proven to enhance performance is caffeine. Some companies tout there is research behind their products, but if you look closely the company performed the research. This can be a major issue leading to bias as it’s in the company’s best interest to have good outcomes in the research.
  • What’s Missing?! Sadly missing from most Preworkout is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for our bodies and help fuel our muscles during workouts. Ideally, a snack should be consumed <2 hours before a workout or a meal around 4 hours prior to a workout.
  • Need- Let’s reverse this process. Why do you feel like you need a preworkout? My guess is that most of you will answer one of 2 reasons- either to enhance performance or you’re tired. If you’re tired, try to look reason why you’re tired i.e. did you get enough sleep, have you eaten today, etc. For enhancing performance, a few ingredients have been proven e.g. caffeine, beet root juice, and amino acids (look at this review article for more info).


Suggested Alternatives/Considerations: 

  1. Cold brew coffee and snack bar (caffeine and carbs)
  2. Coffee and PB toast (This old standby, still holds value!)
  3. Beet Smoothie (with beet root juice supplement, greens, oatmeal) This one is y’all dying to try beet supplements, but can’t do it alone!
  4. Matcha tea* (or latte for extra carbs) and tea cookies *Quick note on matcha. Matcha is powdered green tea, therefore it has about the same amount of caffeine as coffee.

Snacks with a carbohydrates and some protein and or fat can help provide a necessary “energy boost” when consumed around 30 minutes before a workout. You do not have to overthink your “preworkout.”

Side note/Poop warning: If you do choose, caffeine as part of your preworkout regiment, don’t forget caffeine is also proven to move the bowels. So allow time for your poop process.

Insistent that you still need a specific preworkout, here’s what to look for:

  • A brand you trust. This one is tricky, but read about the company, look at their research, etc.
  • Third-party testing- NSF and some organizations test supplements. Look for a seal or certificate.
  • Look at the ingredients. While not all the ingredients may not be listed, still look at them and if you don’t know what they are, look them up.

Try to be smart about your preworkout, whether you are choosing a labeled preworkout or consuming a snack before your workout, make smart decisions to enhance your workout and your health.


Published by

Kean Nutrition

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Emily’s passion for nutrition began in middle school along with the interest of vegetarianism. Originally from Pennsylvania, Emily Kean earned a Nutrition and Food Science with an emphasis in Dietetics from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. Kean completed her MBA at Dominican University in River Forest, IL while simultaneously completing the requirements for a dietetic internship. In her free time, Emily enjoys running, doing yoga, and researching nutrition topics. Combining healthy eating and running is passion of mine. Join me on this journey!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s