If there’s one thing us gym junkies love, it’s the promise of a fast-tracking our fitness goals. Getting the best out of our sessions and performing at our peak is the aim of the game, after all. That’s probably why pre-workout mixes have been so successful and the products claiming to increase your endurance, focus and strength have proliferated. But what do pre-workout mixes really do to your body?
To understand the pre-workout phenomena, it’s useful to understand their sketchy past. Originally formulated for bodybuilders, the first pre-workout mix, ‘Ultimate Orange’ was launched in 1982 in Venice, California. Implicated in a spate of heart attacks linked to one of its ingredients, ephedra, Ultimate Orange ultimately failed, but not before other manufacturers saw an opportunity to capitalise on a market ever eager to go from strength to strength!
Subsequent pre-workout manufacturers have crossed scary things like ephedra off the list, but they still contain some iffy ingredients and make even iffier claims. Nowadays, Australian made pre-workout mixes are filled with hyperbole more than anything else - and while that’s not dangerous in itself, it is a waste of money.
Typically a pre-workout mix will rely heavily on caffeine as its main ingredient to lay claim to the boast that it ‘boosts energy and performance.’ As anyone who likes a coffee understands, caffeine can and does increase alertness and can even aid performance, mentally and physically. Where pre-workout mixes overdo it is in the quantities of caffeine added - sometimes equal to 3-4 cups of coffee in one jittery hit. Depending on your sensitivity to caffeine the results can be mixed, making you either a bit jumpy or cause a racing heart and insomnia. The real danger is if they are inadvertently coupled with a slimming formula also containing caffeine - increasing the adverse effects and dangerously affecting the heart.
But what the pre-workout mix marketers want you to believe is that the jolt from caffeine is only a fraction of the benefit derived from using their products. They claim that their star ingredients - among them normally Creatine, Arginine and Betaine deliver powerful benefits pre-workout and can increase everything from muscle mass and protein synthesis to decreased muscle breakdown. Unfortunately these claims don’t have a scientific basis, with the International Journal of Medical Sciences publishing a research paper that found that pre-workout mixes didn’t deliver on any of their claims. Well, all except one that is - the research subjects reported feeling more alert throughout their workouts - doubtless thanks to all that caffeine!
Finally, it’s the additives to pre-workout mixes that make them an unhealthy addition to your workout routine. Emulsifiers are commonly used in pre-workout mixes as a stabiliser. They don’t contribute to your health in any way and can, in fact, cause diarrhoea, abdominal pain and nausea. Artificial sweeteners and dyes are also often included to make pre-workout mixes more palatable. These additives are hardly the stuff of natural good health, and they are nutritionally void - something you just don’t need in your diet!
So, what does this mean for you and pre-workout mixes? That a strong cup of coffee before your workout might be all you need to put some pep in your reps!