My daughter came home from college the other weekend and we were talking about health and nutrition (thankfully my children are also interested in this topic). We were talking about workouts and exercising and she mentioned how many college kids are drinking pre-workout drinks in an effort to 'get in a better workout' and wanted to know what I thought. After much
discussion, my daughter suggested I write a blog about the topic in order to inform others. So....here's my take!
First let me say that I am not a fan of consuming a lot of supplements - of any kind. I'd prefer to try to get my nutrients from fresh, whole foods. This is not to say that I don't on occasion use a vegan protein powder or eat a bar at times when I am running around and just don't have time to make all of my meals properly. However, these are rare occasions and not the norm. The pre-workout drinks people are using and that have now become so popular look to be more of a money maker for the businesses making these products than a benefit to those consuming them. And if people are not careful, these drinks can be somewhat dangerous.
The main ingredient in most of these drinks is caffeine, and we are talking a lot of caffeine, not just one cup of your organic, non-GMO, fairly traded, French Roast coffee. We're talking roughly 200-400mg of caffeine per serving, thats approximately 2-4 cups of coffee in one serving! This alone can cause some pretty significant side effects such as irritability, anxiety, feeling jittery, heart palpitations and even stroke. Other common ingredients are beta alanine and alpha keto-glutarate, both of which are vasodilators that open up blood vessels and increase blood flow. At first this seems to be fairly innocent but over time, when combined with vasoconstriction and central nervous system stimulants such as caffeine and 1,3-dimethylamylamine (to be talked about in next paragraph), the contradictory combination of vasoconstriction and vasodilation can be extremely stressful on the heart as well as the rest of the body. The adrenal glands also get hit hard with big surges of adrenaline, which could lead to adrenal fatigue and a host of other issues. Immediate reactions could include nausea, vomiting, tingling, cramps, headaches, flushed red skin, trouble sleeping, and itching. Over time regular consumption of these drinks could lead to things like adrenal fatigue, kidney damage, heart attacks, and stroke.
Another ingredient that has gotten attention, and is still listed in some pre-workout drinks, is an ingredient called 1, 3 -dimethylamylamine or DMAA. DMAA is considered a vaso-constictor, which can increase blood pressure leading to shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, and possible heart attack. Some liken this ingredient to speed or the prescription drugs Adderall and Ritalin. DMAA has been banned by several sporting authorities as well as for use in the military. Two soldiers in the military died of heart attacks during training after reportedly consuming pre-workout drinks that contained DMAA. Their families have filed lawsuits fearing DMAA may have contributed to their deaths. The U.S., among other countries, has banned the use of DMAA as a dietary supplement out of concern for its safety.
Pre-workout drinks also contain ingredients that in the long run could be dangerous to your health, such as artificial sweeteners, fillers, preservatives and the oh so benign 'natural flavors.' A couple of brand ingredient labels I looked at said "Explosive Energy Blend" and "Ripped Blend" - what the heck is that? Amazing that the FDA does not require these companies to actually list the ingredients in those blends - but that is a whole different story.
All in all these drinks have risks, as well as very little nutritional value. I understand wanting to get the most out of a workout, and I understand wanting to use your muscles to their utmost capacity, but when we have to drink a potentially dangerous supplement in order to do so, THIS is where I believe the problem lies. When we feel we need to consume a potentially dangerous supplement in order to enhance our performance, well to me that is no different than 'needing' to smoke, or 'needing' to drink, or 'needing' to take recreational drugs. The 'needing' is the problem, and taking the time to look deep within ourselves should be the start of trying to find the answer.
Wanting to be the best we can be is a great quality, but at what cost? For me, I want to hang around for as long as I can by consuming the most wholesome, natural, organic, nutrient dense foods I can find, and by exercising and using my own abilities for that day and time. I want to challenge my mind on a daily basis, and embrace life and spirit. This is my best. This is all I can ask. Oh... and no supplements needed.