From physical performance to mental alertness, it can enhance many aspects of your training. But if taken often is pre-workout bad for you? 

When it comes to nutritional supplements, there’s a good chance you’re well-versed in the benefits of protein powder, electrolyte drinks and energy gels. But are you clued up on the best pre-workouts? Pre-workout is often seen as a more ‘specialist’ and ‘serious’ addition to your training. The carbohydrate- and caffeine-packed powder has numerous benefits and is recommended before a session (hence its name) to help improve athletic performance. But is there a risk that even the best pre-workout might be bad for you? 

Benefits of caffeine

“In pre-workout, pretty much your stimulant or kick that you want is coming from caffeine. That usually comes in about 250mg,” says Alex Levington, performance nutritionist at Strength and Nutrition Performance Coaching. “Caffeine is very safe and good for the body. It’s one of the biggest studied supplements in athletes to improve performance, cognitive function, technical skills and concentration, so it’s a fantastic product to have.” 

Benefits of beta-alanine

He adds that most pre-workouts contain the amino acid beta-alanine. “It helps with our buffering systems within the body. Adding beta-alanine will increase the efficiency of buffering and getting rid of any toxins in the body to reduce fatigue. You’re basically able to go that one extra rep without fatiguing. Typically, it makes your fingers and head tingle, and gives you a little bit of spark.” 

Drawbacks of pre-workouts

Levington cautions that pre-workouts aren’t universally great though. “It’s adding a stimulant to the body, so everyone reacts slightly differently. It can be bad for you if you have a poor tolerance to caffeine – so if you get jitters or anxiety.”  

He also explains that, although targeted at the 30-60-minute window before a training session, the caffeine in pre-workout can stay in your system for 12 hours, so can negatively impact your sleep depending on when you’re taking it.

Pre-workout dependency

While pre-workouts are something that he uses and recommends, Levington warns that, similar to other nutritional supplements like protein bars and energy gels, it’s important that you’re not dependent on them to get you through a training session.

“Are you relying on it to get you through a workout? Does that mean that your nutrition is poor and you’re not fueling correctly for your workout? Or you’re restricting yourself from carbohydrates, and therefore lack of energy is probably more likely?” 

He also adds that price can be a negative factor – with some costing up to £2.50 per serving. You can get a similar effect from a very strong coffee. You won’t get the beta-alanine effect, but if you’re looking for a cheaper option Levington says that’s a good alternative.