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Is Pre-Workout Necessary, Dangerous, or Just a Hoax?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Pre-workouts are dietary supplements targeted to enhance athletic performance. The substance often comes in the form of powder to mix into drinks but it can  also be found as tablets or capsules. Pre-workout contents differ greatly from brand to brand, but most types contain a combination of amino acids, caffeine, and creatine. Ingredients such as electrolytes, nitrate, and proteins are also commonly found in these products. 

Pre-workout is becoming progressively popular amongst fitness enthusiasts, from professional bodybuilders to occasional gym-goers. We can partially attribute the recent rise of pre-workout to TikTok, which features increasing amounts of videos showing users throwing back spoonfuls of supplements before hitting the gym. Some of these posts even advertise specific pre-workout brands. However, can this kind of promotion be harmful? Is pre-workout dangerous? And, ultimately, do the potential positives outweigh the costs?

Are pre-workouts Dangerous?

The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, such as one’s age, how regularly and how much pre-workout one is ingesting, and more. Most of the energy-boost that pre-workout provides comes from caffeine, and, unfortunately, excessive intake of caffeine can have numerous negative effects. Commonly, too much caffeine can lead to insomnia, high blood pressure, and stress. In severe cases, excess caffeine can result in death by kidney failure. 

Importantly, not all pre-workouts have been third-party tested, meaning that one can run the risk of consuming dangerous chemicals or unsafe amounts of certain compounds. Even for FDA-approved pre-workouts, improper usage can have serious consequences. For instance, “taking a combination of supplements, using these products together with medicine, or substituting them in place of prescribed medicines could lead to harmful, or even life-threatening, results.” Indeed, the FDA warns consumers to be cautious when consuming pre-workout.

And, even if used accordingly and in moderation, some individuals have found that Pre-workout still has downsides: a study from 2019 found that 54% of participants who used Pre-workout regularly reported side effects such as nausea, skin reactions, and heart abnormalities.

are pre-workouts necessary?

Although many individuals have found that pre-workout has helped them improve their athletic performance, it is overwhelmingly clear that pre-workout isn’t necessary. As authors at Healthline write, simply put, “most pre-workouts are considered safe for healthy adults, but they aren’t essential for health or performance.” There are many safer alternatives to Pre-workout, such as regulated caffeine sources, naturally occurring proteins, and approved supplements to support immune or metabolic functions.  

conclusion

In summary, pre-workouts are simply a combination of chemicals aimed at increasing energy and general athletic ability short-term. Used properly, these substances can effectively provide a performance boost. However, being aware of the negative side effects of pre-workout is extremely important, and advertising them as anything but artificial, chemical, energy-enhancers is misleading and potentially dangerous.  

Additional “enhancers” aside, to improve one’s performance in the gym, it is recommended that individuals focus on the basics first: stretching, drinking enough water, fueling oneself with proper nutrition, and getting enough sleep. If there’s still an issue with lacking athleticism or inadequate energy in the gym, one can find many of pre-workout’s performance-enhancing ingredients in natural sources like fish and poultry. Experts also suggest eating a meal within 2 hours of a workout, eating complex carbohydrates and protein beforehand, staying hydrated throughout the day, and eating a balanced meal after a workout. Plus, if you need extra stamina support, you can always rely on more common (and often less expensive) energy sources, like a cup of coffee or some complex carbs (think fruit, oats, or sweet potatoes). 

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Alice Rodi

Columbia Barnard '25

From Lyme, New Hampshire, Alice is a first year at Barnard College hoping to study linguistics and anthropology. She loves reading, spending time outdoors, cooking, petting dogs, and, of course, writing!
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