In a recent conversation I had with some lifters I knew, I had mentioned that I don’t touch pre-workout supplements. My heaviest lifting days are normally Saturdays. By heavy day, we’re talking 32kg swings set up as intervals, lots. .. LOTS of deadlifting and my weighted pull up practice. I dig it, but never did it cross my mind to take a number of pills or powders to get through these sessions. To be perfectly honest, the only thing I ever have prior to a super heavy workout is a cappuccino. I will not apologize for a solid espresso drink. Me + cappuccino = WIN!.
However, I was surprised and down right shocked to have learned that some of these peeps were taking pre-workout supplements that were loaded with stimulants far beyond just the usual caffeine kick you may get from a cup of coffee.
These days, I don’t touch the overly marketed pre-workout supplements because honestly, I don’t even believe in taking a lot of supplements anymore. Of the supplements I DO take, its’ fish oil (Fermented cod liver oil to be exact. Here’s why), vitamin D (because OMG NO SUN IN PITTSBURGH DURING WINTER), selenium (happy happy thyroid) and Formulx Protein (because sometimes, I don’t have time to cook). In my past, I have taken some branch chain amino acids (BCAA’s) if and only if I was forced to train in a fasted state, but truth be told, I had mixed results with them. Most of my workouts now are mid-day, so.. .um. . I just don’t use the BCAA’s anymore. I fuel my workouts more so with food than a workout stack. Currently, I take no pre-workout supplements of any kind because I don’t see a use for them. The supplements I take that are listed above are for my overall general health and convenience, not to enhance my performance. I believe in whole food nutrition, quality sleep and greasing the groove in my training for performance enhancement. Case closed on that one.
Having the opportunity to take a look at what these pre-workout supplements are loaded with really opened my eyes to a serious dilemma in the fitness world. If you’re a pre-workout user, you may not like what I have to say in this article. I’m not apologizing for my opinion on this issue. Besides, when you overhear phrases such as “this is as close to ephedrine you can get without the FDA ban”, I’m sorry, it’s time to voice your concerns.
First, let’s dive into an example supplement called Craze. Craze was pulled from the market because “it contained properties similar to methamphetamine”. Don’t believe me? Read this! Apparently this was not the first time a supplement had been pulled from the market for having questionable and dangerous ingredients. In 2012, the FDA had issued a warning on 11 other companies to remove products form their business line containing dangerous stimulants that were similar to amphetamines. The specific ingredient named dimethylamylamine, (DMAA for short) is marketed as a natural supplement, but is in fact a stimulant DRUG. In fact, you can expect a lot of “jacked up feelings” from this bugger such as increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, possible heart attacks and strokes. You’d think the side effects alone would be enough to warrant the fitness buffs to just say no to these pre-workout stacks, but alas, the temptation to be the best, the strongest, the person who gets the most reps in that workout and works the hardest seems to outweigh the possible dangers of these supplements. The temptation to push your limits for that self glorification can seem. . well. . .too tempting to pass up.
But. . . is the new personal record (PR), increased work capacity, or number of reps completed REALLY worth risking your entire health in order to achieve it?
DMAA may already have been banned by some sports agencies, but what about the fact that it STILL SHOWS UP IN SOME SUPPLEMNTS? And what of other supplements that are chemically related to steroids, but get around the FDA hand slap since they aren’t “technically” steroids? What is the point here. . .really. . .of taking things that may give us some energy, strength, and certain physique enhancements if we risk internal damage to ourselves over the long haul?
I’m siding with the wisdom of Jen Sinkler on this one. In an article titled “Why You Don’t Need to ‘Go Big or Go Home’ At the Gym”, Sinkler states that we have some sort of cultural issue with going Beast Mode all the time. To quote her directly. . .
“There is a sense that maybe people are trying to prove how hard they’re trying—possibly to themselves, possibly to each other—in the hopes that it might count for extra. And while occasionally we can reach greater heights when we overreach a bit, consistent progress that’s within our current limits is a safer, smarter strategy for making progress in the long run.”
Agreed! With this whole pre-workout craze (pun intended :-D), I too wonder if there is some sort of cultural phenomenon with taking short-cuts for hitting personal records in our lifts, hitting a certain body fat percentage, getting through our beast mode workout, or whatever the case may be. The truth is that long term, sustainable results for your performance or physique based goals take TIME and PATIENCE. As an example, it’s been about 3 years of work on my Iron Maiden Challenge, and I still train regularly to get my pull up where it needs to be consistently (giving up is stupid in my mind). I’m dialing in my training, greasing the groove, but you won’t see me popping pills or sucking down gobbly gooks of powder trying to jack myself up for the feat of strength.
Strength is a skill. You can’t short-cut that sort of skill. Period.
I’ll end this long rant today with this. A few months back, I had a conversation with an instructor friend who has a student wanting to do the Iron Maiden Challenge herself. He gave me a phone call to discuss a “troublesome question” his student had asked him regarding the training for the competition. His student had asked him a particularly dangerous question that brings this whole supplement stack to light. The question: “What’s the fastest way possible I can win the competition?” The answer to that is to take drugs, risk serious damage to your health, and lose all your credibility as an instructor, which is what I told my friend to tell his student. There’s no sugar coating that answer. If you aren’t willing to dial in the time to do the task at hand, ask yourself why you want to win the competition in the first place. I’d suspect you’re trying to prove something to someone . . . and that can be a risky line of thinking in it of itself.
We have nothing to prove to the world at large. We are already loved and appreciated for who we are in real time. Training for a competition should be a sort of long road trip where we stop to enjoy the scenery every once and a while. It isn’t a sprint to the finish line. Patience is a virtue after all, and our strength requires patience and persistence to acheive it and refine it. Are all pre-workout supplements bad? No, but I stand by the fact that there are more questionable formulas out there on the market than there are safer ones. I’ll stick to my natural state, with the occasional hint of espresso 😉
Train to live and live well. Refine your skills to help those in need who desperately need your advice. Share the gift of movement and strength with others and be willing to humble yourself to teach people the sustainable way of achieving their results. There are no short-cuts. Really, that’s what this is about!
Master your instincts!