Taking a Powder: The Benefits And Risks Of Pre-Workout Supplements

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Today’s athletes can choose from a variety of pre-workout supplements and nutritional products in their quest to squeeze the most potential out of a workout routine. The wide array can be incredibly tempting, as powders and pills promise next-level workout results.

As potentially useful as they might be, supplements are not without serious risks. Tragic news recently broke in the United Kingdom about a personal trainer who died after taking an accidental overdose of a pre-workout supplement that contained an amount of caffeine equivalent to 200 cups of coffee. 

Of course, this is an extreme case, but Premier Health Now spoke with sports medicine specialist Aloiya R. Kremer, MD, to learn about the benefits and risks of using pre-workout supplements, and how to take them properly.

Proceeding With Caution

Essentially, pre-workout supplements containing caffeine can provide a boost of energy and motivation before a workout. Caffeine is also a known ergogenic aid, meaning it can help enhance exercise performance and stamina. Before weightlifting, for example, a pre-workout supplement may help you lift more weight, endure more repetitions, or both.

“Though they can be effective, pre-workout supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so the ingredients and dosages listed on the nutrition label are not guaranteed to be accurate,” Dr. Kremer cautions.

The unregulated nature of the supplement business can be a legitimate cause for concern, so Dr. Kremer offers a few simple tips to lower your risk:

  • Check with your doctor. Talk with your physician prior to using a new supplement or embarking on a new fitness routine. Your health care provider can help you review a supplement’s ingredients and advise of possible risks.
  • Read the label. For competitive athletes, supplement labels should be checked for the "NSF Certified for Sport" designation, meaning the supplement does not contain banned substances.
  • Avoid if pregnant or underaged. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should not take pre-workout supplements. Anyone under the age of 18 should not take supplements without discussing with their doctor first.
  • No “dry-scooping.” Dry-scooping is the practice of swallowing supplement powder without mixing it with water or other liquid as recommended. This increases the risk of the powder getting into your airway, which could potentially cause an infection or swelling of the airway.

Dr. Kremer says it is also important to have a clear understanding of your workout goals and to tailor your supplement use to meet them. 

“Some pre-workout supplements contain creatine, which can help with weightlifting and fast, explosive sports activities,” says Dr. Kremer. “However, creatine can also contribute to water weight gain, which would not be ideal for a bodybuilding competitor who is judged on aesthetics, or for a runner or swimmer where the extra weight gain prior to competition may impede performance.”

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.