Pre-Workout Supplements: Are They Really Good For You?

Before you head to the gym for a workout, you may be tempted to chug a pre-workout supplement to boost your energy and performance. But depending on what you're mixing into your water bottle, you may be doing more harm than good. While some supplements — like a pre-workout shot of espresso — have largely positive benefits and very few down sides, others that contain a wide variety of ingredients may not be the safest option for you.

Creatine, beetroot juice, caffeine, carbohydrates, and B vitamins are some of the more common ingredients in pre-workout supplements (via Self). And while caffeine can certainly boost energy and sport performance, and carbohydrates can help top off muscle glycogen stores before you get started on your gym session, a cup of coffee and a banana might be a cheaper, simpler way to get ready for a workout. Creatine, while well-researched, can be taken anytime for performance benefits. "Most of the other ingredients in pre-workout supplements are unlikely to make a meaningful difference," Georgie Fear, a board-certified sports dietitian, told Self.

Is there anything dangerous about pre-workout supplements?

You may be better off sticking to a pre-workout coffee and adding in other supplements at other points in the day. Other than caffeine, the rest of the common ingredients in pre-workout supplements generally won't immediately go to work to boost your performance. "Other common ingredients such as creatine, beta-alanine, and various amino acids do not necessarily function well as a pre-workout since they are not stimulants, but they may be effective at improving performance if they are supplemented over time consistently," Edward Jo, director of the Human Performance Research Lab at California State Polytechnic University, explained to Vice.

And because supplements are largely unregulated — like protein powder — you may be getting more than you bargained for. Supplements may contain off-label ingredients, including banned stimulants, steroids, or dangerous weight loss drugs. So if you are considering a supplement, look for one that's been third-party certified, meaning it's been tested by another company to ensure that it only contains the ingredients listed on the label (via National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International).