What’s Actually In Your Pre-Workout Drink?

I’ve had my fair share of pre-workout drinks (PW’s for short) over the last decade or so. My first PW goes back to my sophomore year in high school where I asked my dad to buy me some basic Creatine-Monohydrate. I mixed it with just water, slammed it down, and I hated the taste and the grittiness of it. In the Marine Corps I really started hitting the weights and experimented with a wide variety of pre-workout drinks and pills. I never cared about what was actually in each of these, nor did I take the time to be educated about them. All I cared about was how it made me feel and if I had a good day or not in the gym. Did it give me that extra boost, that was my measuring stick of the effectiveness of the product.

My drink of choice during my Marine Corps years was the infamous N.O. Explode. I loved the taste, the boost, and the marketing scheme (it was pretty sweet back then for those who remember it).  I loved the stuff. When I was in Iraq I would take this in the morning just to wake up sometimes. It gave me a hardcore rush, tingly skin, and surprisingly some great focus. However, the downside was just as extreme. The drink would give me at times, diarrhea, dramatic increases in heart rate, nausea, and a severe crash. It wasn’t until I attended college that I started digging deeper into what those big words on the back of the label actually mean.

Here is the label for basic N.O. Explode

Some of you may be immune to seeing these labels, but many of you may see this laundry list and be quite overwhelmed. Scientific research has shown that a few of these have been proven to be effective, such as Creatine, Beta-Alanine, and Caffeine. These three have been shown by scientific research to be safe and effective in eliciting greater increases in muscular size and strength (Creatine), work capacity and endurance (beta-alanine and caffeine), and increase in neural drive (caffeine). Another widely associated ingredient in weight lifters is L-Arginine. This ingredient is mostly the selling point of many PW’s as the ingredient that gives you the “PUMP” and can increase your strength. The pump is primarily a vaso-dilation (increase in size) of your blood vessels allowing you to increase blood flow and increase the amount of nutrients the blood can bring to your muscles. The research that has been done on these claims is non-conclusive and generally not supportive of it’s claims.

Another area that is an extreme cause for concern is the Muscle Volumizing Creating Matrix (Patent Pending). The parts of this “matrix” have come under fire recently and a lawsuit has even been brought to the courts. In this area they label claims to have CEM3 (Creatine Ethyl Ester Malate), DI-Creatine malate, Trimethylglycine, Glycocyamine, Guanidino Proplonic Acid, Cinnulin PF® (Aqueous Cinnamon Extract) (Bark), Ketoisocaproate Potassium. The CEM3 was found to not even be in the product itself and that chemists say that this certain ingredient can not even be manufactured. “They claim that CEM3 is far superior to earlier forms of Creatine (such as Creatine Monohydrate and Creatine Ethyl Ester). They state the CEM3 is “acid resistant” and causes less water retention, cramps, and diarrhea, and offers “unique lipid – and water – ‘friendly properties which allow it to quickly enter your bloodstream” and therefore requires no loading (i.e. high doses of Creatine taken for several days)(supplementpolice.com/Complaint.pdf)”

It just goes to show and to reiterate that you must use evidence based practices when choosing a supplement. Read between the lines, research the product,  and read testimonials from qualified experts. I can honestly say that i’ve gone away from these drinks and other types of pre-workout pills. At the current moment I take a basic caffeine pill from Walgreens or CVS. It does the trick for me to wake up or when feeling groggy. Honestly though, on most days, I won’t take anything. I don’t want to be reliant anymore on a substance to increase my performance. I would rather focus on having proper nutrition to fuel me for my workout and my mind in generating the results I want. If you need a bigger pump, lift harder and lift smarter. If you need focus or an increase in intensity, use your mind to generate it.

I am in no way condoning supplements or the use of them. Some items such as Creatine-Monohydrate have been proven to produce accurate results from what they claim. However, just be conscious about what you are putting in your body because in the end, it’s your responsibility! Especially for you athletes out there. If your ever in doubt or question, get in contact with your Athletic Training department or your Strength and Conditioning Coach and utilize the accepted / banned substance list provided by the NCAA every year.


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