Every day I see young men ingest pre workout supplements as they enter the gym.  It is my job to have their best interest, with regards to nutrition, at the forefront.  I am often asked about these products as they continue to grow in popularity.  For this reason, I decided to do a little research on common products on the market.  After researching the industry standards (as well as other factors), I have written this post to inform people of the ingredients of these products and the associated risks; even more pressing is the obvious lack of need in the adolescent population.

First of all, what is a pre-workout supplement?  It is a product that helps you to increase blood flow and oxygenation to the working muscles.  It does this by mimicking the sympathetic nervous system which increases heart rate and blood pressure; because of this effect, these drugs are referred to as sympathetomimetics.  I want to set the record straight on a few things.  Should your heart rate and blood pressure increase as you exercise? Yes.  Is ingesting caffeine prior to a workout beneficial? Yes.  However, these supplements are a slippery slope as they take copious amounts of the drugs and combine them to synthetically alter your physiology to effectively “cheat” your workout.

You may be shocked to realize that some of the active ingredients are actually banned supplements.  A primary ingredient is known as DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine).  This product was formerly used as a party drug and has led to at least 5 recorded deaths.  It gained momentum after ephedrine was banned in the United States as a popular replacement to continue the big business of supplements.  Over the past few years, many organizations and countries have taken an active role in removing it from the market.  The International Olympic Committee disqualified three athletes in Sochi for testing positive for DMAA.  In 2010, the US military issued a recall of all products containing DMAA and in 2013, the FDA stated that it was illegal to market products with this ingredient.  Known supplements containing DMAA include the often ingested Jack3d.

Another prominent ingredient in these supplements is caffeine.  However, it isn’t consumed in proper doses.  For example, the average cup of coffee contains about 85-100 milligrams of caffeine and most teas/sodas top out at 80 milligrams.  The pre workout supplements pack a whopping 200-300 milligrams per serving.  This is a problem for an adolescent male who makes the jump from a can of soda (containing 35 mg of caffeine) to the overwhelming amount contained in supplements.  It must also be understood that ingesting caffeine in conjunction with DMAA can have serious adverse effects of cardiac issues including but not limited to symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath.

And finally, I’m willing to bet that you didn’t believe pre workout supplements contained amphetamines.  That is correct; the same class of drugs that leads to addiction, withdrawal, and serious health side effects is present in these over the counter products.  It is the amphetamines that may cause itchy or tingling sensations on your skin.  It is also the amphetamines that will lead you to crash after a workout session.  This is similar to the “comedown” from serious drug use.

Even with the backdrop of such problematic ingredients, these products can still be bought freely by unassuming youths and avid exercisers.  Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t regulate pre-market approval of supplements as they do in the drug industry.  For this reason, it is difficult for the FDA to openly ban a supplement.  They can, and have, issued statements recalling certain products.  The problem remains that young males are able to purchase a product that can lead to addiction and other serious health risks as easily as a candy bar.

I want to close with a few take-home points about these products.  First, adolescence is a time where energy is abundant and your body yearns for activity.  If you cannot mentally and physically prepare yourself for exercise, then you should consider your nutritional plan as a means of proper sources of energy.  Also, try a dynamic warm-up before you begin your exercise session.  This will help gradually prepare the body for activity instead of kick starting the session with a jolt of caffeine, sugar, and amphetamines.  Secondly, using a pre workout supplement may lead to dependency.  You won’t be able to work out without it and other actions where you need to perform (work, school, and athletics) will suffer because your body will yearn for large amounts of caffeine and stimulants.  And finally, the ingredients contain banned substances.  Are you willing to risk you job or even your scholastic career on this product that contains illicit drugs?