It would seem that pre-workout has been receiving a bit of the Oreo treatment. That is, like Lady Gaga Chromatica or Peep Oreos, a number of unholy flavor alliances have been struck. It, of course, starts with Oreo — namely, the Ghost Protein Powder that proudly showcases the Oreo brand. But Jolly Rancher has gotten in on the mix, too, with the hard candy’s watermelon flavor (or a flavor that passes as watermelon) added to Beyond Raw’s Lit Pre-Workout.
But besides marketing, does any of this mean anything for your workout? If not from a health standpoint — spoiler alert: Oreos and Jolly Ranchers aren’t necessarily the height of nutrition — at least from a it’ll-help-you-choke-down-pre-workout-easier standpoint.
Hold on, hold on. I’ve never even heard of pre-workout, let alone Oreo- and Jolly Rancher-flavored pre-workout. Is it something I should be taking — with or without Jolly Ranchers or Oreos?
If you’re reading this and you’re past the point of having a competitive fitness goal that is innately linked with strength or endurance — which for most people occurred shortly before they received their high school diplomas on a portable stage set up in the middle of a football field — the answer is almost certainly “no.”
Now, if you believe you do need pre-workout in order to achieve a competitive fitness goal, I want you to very clearly articulate that goal to me in a way that doesn’t make it sound like what you really require is a bite from a radioactive spider. Because pre-workout is best thought of as a tool that will improve your performance by — at most — five percent.
In practical terms, pre-workout might make the difference in whether or not you complete 15 full, strict pull-up repetitions instead of struggling to get 14 and a half. It might finally have you eking out 50 push-ups after several days of barely getting to 48. Unfortunately, though, simply drinking the recommended dosage of pre-workout will not double the weight of your one-rep max on the bench press from 150 pounds to 300 pounds. From a cardiovascular standpoint, pre-workout might help you sustain a more challenging level on the stepmill for an additional minute or two at the tail end of your one-hour endurance session. But again, it won’t transform you from someone barely capable of walking up a flight of stairs into someone able to sprint your way up to the top of the Empire State Building.
With that in mind, if your goal involves weight loss, starting a steady regimen of pre-workout supplementation before you have your diet optimized is like slipping nitrous oxide into the engine of a gas-powered golf cart. You should probably spend more time building yourself into a high-performance vehicle before you invest in maximizing the RPMs you can get out of the engine.
I dunno… It kind of sounds to me like you’re saying pre-workout works.
Saying that pre-workout works all depends on what you mean when you say something “works.” If having something in your system that will artificially get your heart pumping and your senses heightened is a prerequisite to your motivation — in other words, if you require artificial stimulation — then yes, pre-workout “works.”
In the case of the pre-workout that comes emblazoned with the Jolly Rancher logo, its standard serving size contains 250 milligrams of caffeine. If that sounds like a lot for an eight-ounce beverage, that’s because it objectively is. That’s more caffeine than three 8-ounce cans of original Red Bull, or more than one-and-a-half cans of the garden-variety, 16-ounce Monster Energy. Is it any wonder that pre-workout leaves its users feeling hyper alert and ready to move?
Honestly, with that much free caffeine floating through your system, it really doesn’t matter what else is in the pre-workout. Several studies have linked caffeine supplementation with notable improvements in athletic performance. So drinking pre-workout honestly isn’t a whole lot different from drinking a hyperconcentrated energy drink containing anywhere from 50 percent to 150 percent more caffeine, depending on what your energy drink of choice is.
You’re making it sound like I’m better off without it.
Well, there’s a story behind my reluctance. Seeing everyone so quick to indulge in pre-workout makes me remember the day I was asked to help clear out all of the products containing ephedra from the retail refrigerator at the Bally Total Fitness Executive Club during the summer of 1998. At the behest of the club’s manager, the other attendants and I collected all of the 12-ounce plastic bottles — each of which appeared to be rimmed with a crystalized crust that had been forming near their lids — and carted them back to the storage room.
“What’s the deal with these?” I asked our club’s assistant manager.
“They’ve been banned,” she explained. “They have ephedra in them.”
I’m positive I drank at least one of those bottles in the week prior to the official discontinuation. After all, they’d been marked down by a full 50 percent, and I was convinced with the full force of my 18-year-old naivety that those bottles contained the magic that was going to keep me shredded. I had no idea at the time that workout supplements containing ephedra — a stimulant that had already been banned by several countries’ Olympic committees since the early 1980s — had been blamed for the poisoning of thousands of people and the deaths of dozens, including multiple professional athletes.
In my view, modern pre-workout powders are simply the latest in a long line of products that try to figure out where the line of performance illegality is — along with what it will take to create a perception of effectiveness in the person taking the supplement — and market it as a delivery mechanism for a dose of super strength on the level of Wakanda’s heart-shaped herb, Captain America’s Super Soldier Serum or the magic potion of Getafix.
Now I’m legitimately scared. I should probably never use it.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I suppose it’s almost always better to go to the gym and do a safe chemically enhanced workout than to remain on the couch and do no exercising whatsoever. The real question should probably be centered around whether or not you absolutely need pre-workout to give you a motivational push.
But that’s just the thing: What does it mean to “need” pre-workout? If you’re one one-hundredth of a second away from qualifying for the NCAA Track & Field Finals in the 400-meter sprint, and you absolutely need to scrape the most out of every single workout, then by all means have some pre-workout. While you’re at it, shave your head, wear the outfit least likely to produce wind resistance and hire the Invisible Man to provide you with a friendly nudge from behind. (Okay, that last one is cheating — and also impossible).
The point is, unless you have a performance goal that you’re right on the cusp of achieving, and you’re driven by sheer desperation to squeeze every last drop out of your proverbial gas tank, you probably don’t need to resort to the use of pre-workout. Certainly not on a daily basis, and absolutely not one that tastes like a Jolly Rancher.