In today’s society, the gym has become increasingly popular amongst all ages. People want to look their physical best, whether for athletics, their own pleasure, or even looking good on social media. Unfortunately, everyone has their own opinions on how to “actually” lift weights. The gym is a subjective place with many different ways to exercise your body. However, one consistent factor of exercising and performing is supplements, specifically pre- and post-workout. Just about every person that has experience in the gym knows about supplements and has formed opinions on their benefits and drawbacks. It seems, though, that those who have not used the products themselves often have either little knowledge of what they are putting in their body or misconstrued ideas on the benefits and drawbacks.

Pre-workout comes as either a powder or a liquid and in a variety of flavors. The key of pre-workout is the word pre, meaning it is meant to be taken prior to exercising. The supplement generally includes a combination of caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, amino acids, and more into one powder or drink. Caffeine is a drug that stimulates and increases the activity of your brain and nervous system (BetterHealthCenter). Beta-alanine helps regulate acid in muscles and prevent fatigue and cramping (NLM). Creatine is a compound that your body naturally creates, and it helps to maintain energy supply to your muscles during lifting (ClevelandClinic). Most creatine is bought separately in powder form, though some choose not to use extra since the human body already produce it. While pre-workout is a supplement consumed before exercising that will increase muscle endurance and get you going with explosive energy, post-workout is what you consume after exercise. Protein powder is by far the most popular and beneficial post- or pre-workout supplement in the world, commonly consumed in milkshake form with added flavoring. Protein can also be found naturally in foods like meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products. It is vital to consume protein soon after working out to help repair your muscles and give your body the nutrients it needs to recover and grow. Levi Middleton is twenty years old, and exercises at the gym at least five days a week. “I have been lifting consistently for about seven years now, and I have used pre-workout powder before every lift. I try my best to consume protein from food like chicken, and sometimes protein shakes, after working out.” Levi expressed his dedication to using pre-workout, noting the effects of the caffeine and beta-alanine which give him the drive and energy to be at the gym. Energy is a big factor for many people that choose to consume supplements before lifting; they are like a working person’s morning coffee. “When I don’t have pre-workout, I do not feel like I accomplish the same amount of lifting compared to if I do have it. I noticeably feel sluggish each and every time.” Unfortunately, pre-workout can be an addictive supplement due to the energy, endurance, and focus enhancements they include, like caffeine and beta-alanine. One can build a tolerance to these drugs which causes the user to want more than one serving. This may cause a withdrawal if not operating on supplements, resulting in poor performance at the gym. For Levi, these supplements seem to be a requirement to have an enjoyable and meaningful workout, which is exactly the point of the supplement—when used properly in moderation. Sometimes, however, the risks outweigh the potential gains.

A big concern about pre-workout is the abundance of caffeine within some of the powders and drinks. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), healthy adults should consume at most 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day, which is about four to five cups of coffee. The FDA does note that 400 milligrams is not necessarily a dangerous amount of caffeine, though it might be, depending on one’s underlying conditions and digestive system. Matt Key is a 34-year-old who has more than fifteen years of lifting and training experience. He notes, “Caffeine has always been an interesting battle for me due to the fluctuating amounts of caffeine in all the different brands.” This is important to know, because not all powders and drinks contain the same amount of caffeine. BFit by Bob’s, a local gym in Evansville, carries five different pre-workout drinks, all of whose caffeine content ranges from 100 milligrams to 350 milligrams. Mind you, that is all in one drink, not something to sip on throughout the day. “I had to find the amount that was just right for me and my body. I have experienced consuming too much caffeine in one go, and it has caused me to physically and mentally crash.” Crashing off of pre-workout is a common term around the gym, which refers to the drowsiness and nausea of having had too much caffeine. Your body basically mellows out for you. “If I could give a tip to anyone that is experimenting for the first time with pre-workout, it would be to start with light drinks, with a small dosage, and go from there. It is always better to consume too little rather than too much.”

For some people, pre-workout is an unfair advantage and is not seen as a true way of exercising. Kayla Candler is a 26-year-old lifter who is in the gym just about every morning at 5 a.m. “You would think that lifting that early would require something like pre-workout, but for me? I prefer to eat a good breakfast, and then just get in there. There is just something about willing myself out of bed and into the gym to start the day that gives me all of the motivation I need.” Kayla is not alone in this feeling, as plenty of people come to the gym with no extra boost; just their pure will to be there. This often sparks debates within the lifting community, as some people think they will get more done with pre-workout, while the latter feels as if they are the ones better off for only needing their natural energy. “I hear the debates every day on pre-workout or no pre-workout, but I personally try to keep my nose out of that. I think it should be impressive enough to see someone working hard in the gym, whether they are bouncing off the walls or not.” Kayla shows a good understanding and humbleness towards the decisions of her fellow gym members, which is vital to a positive gym etiquette. Just because you do not use pre-workout does not mean you should also avoid post-workout, however. Kayla noted how consuming protein thirty minutes after working out is more important than any choice you make before the gym. “You are going to go to the gym and exercise whether you have pre-workout or not, but one thing that is a common ground for both sides is what you can get out of it afterwards. Why would you want to put in all that effort and then not give your body the nutrients it needs to recover and help your muscles grow and progress?”

According to the FDA, the recommended daily value for protein is fifty grams a day. This is based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet, which is only an average, so your personal intake will depend on your calorie needs. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) claims that you should intake roughly 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Just like pre-workout, everyone has something different to say and recommend—even the big health organizations of the world. Although, some lifters within the gym believe that fifty grams is not nearly enough protein to make timely progress. Chris Nellis, a 28-year-old lifter, believes that you should be eating your weight in grams of protein. “I weigh 145-something pounds, and I by no means am the biggest guy here; however, I have noticed the most progress from a protein overload by eating my weight in grams each and every day. Many of the top performers at this gym will agree with me on that.” Protein is the best resource to not only heal your muscles, but to grow them. Many, including Chris, relate a high protein intake to significant muscle growth and weight gain. “Even on days when I do not work out, I do whatever I can to meet my protein goal. From a physical standpoint, that seems like the only logical and safe way I will reach my workout goals.”

Pre-workout is a highly debated topic within the lifting community. From the different ingredients, varying levels of caffeine and beta-alanine, and the potential health concerns involved, it is easy to see why everyone has their own opinion on supplements. Everyone interviewed for this article has done their due diligence in figuring out what is best for themselves personally, which is the most important advice to keep in mind when using supplements. Pre-workout, on a safe and monitored level, is healthy and approved by the FDA, though it is up to the user to determine whether they should use it or not (basing the amount on their specific needs, as well as the products used, such as caffeine, beta-alanine, and creatine).  Post-workout, like protein, however, is debated more on how much to consume, rather than if you should consume it or not. Protein is a day-to-day nutrient required for humans, and its importance is undeniable in regards to its consumption after exercising. Protein provides a safe and clean method of increasing your body’s recovery rate and muscle gain. Again, the amount should ultimately be based on what your body needs and can handle. It is important to remember the nutrition facts, serving sizes, and other important information regarding whatever supplement product that you use. Some of the products may contain high dosages or serving sizes which can be harmful to your body if not properly consumed. Most pre-workout powders and drinks contain at least 100 milligrams of caffeine, though a large number of them contain 300 milligrams or more. Be mindful of your dosages of beta-alanine, also. It’s not a harmful product, though it is known to make your skin and lips tingle. As stated before, your body already produces creatine naturally; still, watch the amount of extra creatine you consume, as high dosages could lead to kidney issues (Mount Sinai).

Lifting and using pre- and post-workout is a subjective topic which will not have the same impact on every person. As stated from trusted organizations and experienced individuals: if you choose to get involved with these products, do your own research and figure out what best works for you. If used in responsible moderation, the stigma of these products being harmful is simply false. These products are mostly beneficial to the user’s everyday life and have been reported to increase production and gains. If you are concerned about using one of these products, be sure to do further research. Look on the internet, or listen to the advice of people you trust; the information is out there.

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