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September 29, 2021 7 min read

We all have those days when we struggle to go to the gym or even simply get out of bed. Manufacturers have taken advantage of this fact and as a result, there has been a huge growth in the market for pre-workout supplements. There is almost every possible flavor you can think of too.

Pre-workout is a great tool for individuals who are seeking an extra boost of energy or struggle to get those last few reps in their strength training routine. However, although pre-workout can provide you with the energy you need to get a workout in, is it harming your long-term goals? Is it making you gain weight?

Every day it seems like there is a new supplement that claims to provide you with increased energy levels, increase fat loss, or increases muscle growth, but is that actually possible?

Keep reading if you want to learn more about what pre-workout is actually doing for your body and how to avoid weight gain as a result.

What Is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout is a supplement many gym-goers take to provide extra energy and support for their workout session. It comes in different forms such as capsules or powder that can be mixed with some sort of liquid. These capsules or powder contain stimulants and nutrients that allow you to have more energy, stamina in focus to kill your workout.

3d render of pre-workout pill with granules isolated over white background

Common ingredients that are found in pre-workout supplements are:

  • Caffeine - can be sourced from coffee, green tea, yerba mate, or guarana seed. Many studies have shown that caffeine can aid in weight loss as it increases your caloric expenditure as well as provide you with extra energy to push harder through your workout sessions.
  • This particular study performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to research the impact of caffeine on weight loss. They found that caffeine can encourage a decrease in weight, BMI, and body fat.
  • Creatine - naturally found in muscle cells but when you supplement it, you are increasing your body's stores of phosphocreatine which is a form of stored energy in your cells that allows your body to produce more ATP (the body's energy currency).
  • Beta-alanine - non-essential amino acid (your body can naturally make it if given enough protein sources with essential amino acids) that prevents lactic acid buildup
  • BCAAs - Branched-Chain Amino Acids provide fuel for your muscles and decrease the chances of your muscles being broken down during training. BCAAs are crucial for muscle fuel, recovery, and growth. They can improve endurance and strength during workouts. They can also improve recovery and increase muscle mass after workouts.
  • Nitric oxide precursors - compounds such as L-Citrulline or L-Arginine increase the concentration of nitric oxide which relaxes blood vessels and increases healthy blood flow throughout the body.

Pre-Workout Side-Effects

In an ideal world, we would be able to do or take anything without there being repercussions. But unfortunately, with the good, comes the not-so-good. Although pre-workout provides you with an extra boost of energy and enhanced muscle recovery, there are side effects associated with taking pre-workout.

1. Increase Cortisol Secretion 

Taking pre-workout can impact your adrenal glands, which are the masterminds for hormone secretion. One hormone you may be familiar with is cortisol or the stress hormone. Our body naturally produces this hormone throughout the day and working out already increases this hormone. 

Cortisol is crucial for your body to function properly but too much of it can lead to issues such as CVD, obesity, diabetes, PCOS, and metabolic syndrome due to the fact that cortisol increases glucose in the body. We need glucose to survive and fuel our brains but constantly having elevated blood sugar levels is harmful.

2. Increases Consumption Of Processed Ingredients

Pre-workout supplements are also loaded with highly processed ingredients such as food dyes, artificial flavoring, artificial sweeteners, and sugar. Commonly used ingredients are sucralose, saccharin, aspartame, maltodextrin, fructose, cane sugar, sorbitol, xylitol, or fructose.

3. May Cause Digestive Issues 

Pre-workout supplements can contain ingredients like sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, creatine, and caffeine that can lead to diarrhea. To avoid these side effects, it is recommended you consume your supplement with 8-12 ounces of water.

4. Can Cause Headaches

The ingredient citrulline is added to some pre-workout supplements and it increases blood flow to your muscles as well as boosts nitric oxide levels in your blood. 

Although this can be beneficial for exercise performance, the increase in blood flow can impact your brain, causing headaches and migraines as a result of blood pressure changes. Try out different supplements to see how your body reacts.

Keep an eye out for supplements that have a stamp of approval from respected testing companies as well as develop a habit of checking ingredient labels. Other side effects associated with pre-workout supplements are high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, heart attacks, or jitters.

Pre-Workout and Weight Gain

If you're eating well, exercising regularly, and drinking the right amount of water but you're still not seeing results, it's completely justifiable to be frustrated. There are numerous factors that could be contributing to your lack of progress. Our bodies are made up of 70 to 90 percent water and some people can even lose up to 15 pounds of weight after a workout. 

Every person is built differently and body water content can vary but taking a pre-workout supplement can increase the amount of water in your body which could be discouraging when you see the scale go up. It is not uncommon for individuals to see weight gain as a result of post-workout factors such as post-workout hydration, increased blood volume, and muscle inflammation.

Like anything in life, it is all about balance. Anything can cause weight gain or weight loss depending on how it is used.

How Are Pre-Workout Supplements Regulated?

I hate to break it to you but pre-workout supplements, similar to vitamins, are not well regulated. This allows companies to inaccurately label their products and give false promises such as "weight loss" or "reduced belly fat".

I highly recommend doing your research and sticking with companies that you are familiar with prior to taking any supplement whether it is a pre-workout supplement, a post-workout supplement, or simply a vitamin. At the end of the day, your body is all that you have and it deserves to be treated properly.

If you aren’t sure where to start, check out our Pumped-AF pre-workout that will provide you with an increase in muscle fullness, muscle hydration, and endurance.

Pros of Pre-Workout Supplements

Our bodies are complex mechanisms and there is a lot more going on that can lead to weight gain but essentially, as long as you are not consuming more calories than you are burning, you should not be gaining weight. 

However, taking pre-workout supplements can either positively or negatively impact those mechanisms that can make you lose weight, maintain your weight or lose weight depending on how you react.

Caffeine is a great stimulant when it comes to improving focus, reducing fatigue, and improving exercise performance.

Creatine does provide you with more ATP that can improve your exercise performance which can allow you to participate in more high-intensity workouts that include cardio and fat-burning exercises.

Cons of Pre-Workout Supplements

Since I mentioned earlier, pre-workout supplements increase your cortisol levels which increases the glucose in your blood. When your blood sugar levels are jacked up, your insulin sensitivity decreases which makes you more prone to overeating or craving unhealthy foods that eventually lead to belly fat and weight gain.

Pre-workout supplements can alter your body's water content and cause high water retention. People typically lose water weight after exercise but creatine and caffeine can mess with your weight.

Although creatine provides your body with extra ATP, it can also lead to increases in body mass to the fact that it increases the volume of water that is pulled into your muscles. Some people also mentioned that they struggle to build muscle while taking creatine supplements.

Pre-Workout for Weight Loss

Here are the steps for using a pre-workout for losing weight.

1. Track Your Macros

Whether you are bodybuilding, weightlifting, or simply workout for general health and wellness, tracking the food that you are eating and monitoring your caloric intake is crucial to avoid weight gain. There are numerous applications out there that can help you calculate and keep track of your caloric intake to avoid weight gain.

A control panel with three knobs each controlling one macronutrient type

The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. It is important that you are getting enough of the three macronutrients daily to reach your goals. Food is fuel and at the end of the day, you should focus on getting your energy from the foods you eat throughout the day to prevent mid-day energy slumps.

Your body is continuously communicating with you and drops in your blood glucose levels could mean you aren't getting enough carbs, protein, or fat in your diet. Pre-workout supplements should be supplementary to your diet, not replacements. 

If you'd like to learn more about macros and what they are, check out this article.

2. Select A Pre-Workout Supplement Without Creatine 

There are many different workout formulas out there and if you find yourself constantly gaining weight or body fat, it might be a sign that your body is not reacting well to the particular blend.Since everyone's body reacts differently to creatine, it might be better to simply avoid it to avoid high water retention. Prioritize getting familiar with reading ingredient labels so you can select a supplement that does not contain creatine in it.

3. Listen To Your Body

Last but not least, you just need to get to know how your body reacts to things. If you are taking a supplement with creatine in it and you find that you have extra energy without losing weight, then clearly your body is reacting positively. Everyone's different so if you like the supplement you are taking and the results it is providing you with, then there is no harm in containing its use. 

If you find that your body is not reacting well to pre-workout supplements, you can use pre-workout supplements that contain caffeine such as green tea, black tea, or a cup of coffee.

If you still are unsure as to where to start, it might be beneficial to seek out medical advice from a nutritionist or registered dietitian who has a background in sports nutrition to help you find the right pre-workout supplement that is fit for you.

Registered Dietitians go through in-depth schooling to learn about the complex mechanisms of the body and how it reacts to certain substances so they will be able to help you reach your goals.

Take Away

Pre-workouts can be a great component to add to your routine as long as you are using them correctly. It is important to listen to your body and observe how it is reacting to particular ingredients. 

What works for you might not work for your gym buddy and vice versa. Don't let one failed pre-workout supplement discourage you. Once you find the perfect supplement for you, you will be able to reach for the stars and kill your fitness goals.

If you're feeling super pumped and full of energy, it sounds like you are ready to get up and check out thethis article.