Ask the Doctor: The Pros and Cons of Preworkout Supplements

October 08, 2019
Ask the Doctor: The Pros and Cons of Preworkout Supplements

Dr. Michael Emmer“For both the average individual and elite athlete, a preworkout supplement can make quite a difference. When you try them, don’t be surprised if you experience more energy, better workouts and more focus,” says Internal Medicine Physician Michael Emmer, MD. But these supplements aren’t for everyone.

Q: What are the benefits of​ preworkout supplements?

The first benefit is that you are improving your workout habits. There are a variety of preworkout supplements, all of which help your body in different ways. One of the more popular is caffeine, which can be found in many​ preworkout supplements. Having caffeine before a workout can help improve performance by increasing adrenaline levels, which readies the body for intense physical activity.

Q: How do the supplements work in the body?

Supplements work in several different ways. For example, branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) have been shown to enhance postworkout recovery and decrease muscle soreness. Creatine is a supplement popular with bodybuilders and it helps the body create short-term energy. Other types of supplements work by delivering more micronutrients to muscles, delaying exhaustion, reducing fatigue and preventing acid buildup in the muscles during longer workouts. Start out with small doses, stay hydrated and consume supplements 30-60 minutes before starting exercise.

Q: Are any of the common supplements dangerous?

Supplements don’t work the same for all and not everyone should take them. Children, adolescents, the elderly, or people with heart problems, hypertension, anxiety, kidney or gastrointestinal illness should avoid or limit use of supplements. Common side effects can include insomnia, overstimulation or anxiety, gastrointestinal symptoms and a sensation of skin “crawling” or “burning.”

Q: What do you recommend as preworkout fuel?

When searching for a preworkout supplement, avoid off-label brands or supplements originating in foreign markets where the FDA could have less influence and oversight. If doing short, intense activities, caffeine, citrulline, niacin and beta-alanine are common desired ingredients. If doing longer-lasting endurance training, look for nitrates, l-arginine, taurine and BCAAs. As with any medication or workout regimen, seek a physician’s advice and guidance before starting any supplements.