Do pre-workout energy drinks actually provide fuel for exercise?


Welcome to Beneficial Or BS?, where we examine the health and fitness trends all over social media to determine if they’re actually worth trying.

“Optimizing your training” is a phrase often used to sum up getting the most out of training, whether that means running faster or more efficiently to target a specific muscle group.

One way some people try to optimize their fitness regimen is through the use of pre-workout energy drinks from brands such as Celsius and C4 Energy, which claim to be healthier than regular energy drinks and help you get your best workout after have drunk them. Specifically, Celsius says it “accelerates metabolism” and “burns body fat.” Many people also use them to feel more alert and focused during exercise.

But can a drink really do this? Or is it just the exercise itself that contributes to these changes in your body and mind? Are there any downsides to these drinks?

Here, experts share what to know and some of the dangers associated with them.

What is a workout energy drink?

These training drinks are “popular with fitness enthusiasts and elite athletes looking to improve their strength, power, agility or speed,” said Emma Laing, director of dietetics at the University of Georgia.

While this is the traditional use of these drinks, they are also consumed as a thirst quencher by people who like the taste and the energy boost they get after a few sips, she added.

The exact composition of these workout energy drinks varies by brand, but Dr. Scott Jerome, whoport’s cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, noted that they often contain some mixture of caffeine, green tea extract, guarana (which is like a natural form of caffeine), and taurine (which supports the heart and brain and can help nerve growth).

The amount of each additive is generally not indicated on the label, but most of these drinks advertise that they have about 200 milligrams of caffeine. For reference, an eight-ounce cup of coffee has 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. So you get much more of an energy boost after drinking one of these.

What do these drinks do?

Exercise energy drinks claim to provide a competitive advantage that leads to improved energy levels, metabolism, body composition and athletic performance, Laing said. All in all, they claim to make you a better athlete during your training.

People who use them to get that workout boost generally drink them 30 to 60 minutes before exercise to give the ingredients time to fully kick in.

Many companies claim that their workout energy drinks can make you a better athlete, but experts say that's probably not entirely accurate.

Westend61 via Getty Images

Many companies claim that their workout energy drinks can make you a better athlete, but experts say that’s probably not entirely accurate.

Do these drinks really work?

Yes and no. The high caffeine content may mean you’ll have a little more energy during a run or weight-lifting session, Jerome said, but any claims of increased weight loss are likely not accurate. Weight loss comes from the actual exercise, not the drink.

In addition, Laing said that while many of the ingredients in these beverages — such as antioxidants, amino acids, creatine, vitamins and minerals — are associated with improvements in athletic performance in adults, “the amounts of these ingredients vary widely between products and are unlikely to offer much benefit beyond what an overall nutritious eating pattern provides.”

She noted that you can get your daily allotment of these ingredients by eating protein-packed foods, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And eating a balanced diet will fully fuel your workout.

Pre-workout beverages can be expensive and are not necessarily more beneficial than whole foods when it comes to supporting athletic performance,” added Laing.

Plus, these whole foods don’t come with any of the risk factors that exercise drinks unfortunately do.

There are heart health risks for those who consume these beverages.

According to Jerome, these energy-training energy drinks increase heart rate and blood pressure, making them a risky drink for many people—especially for someone who has high blood pressure or a history of heart problems.

Increased heart rate and blood pressure can lead to dysrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm) or atrial fibrillation, which can cause blood clots in the heart, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Nor do these problems only occur in older people with heart problems. Young people have also reported problems after drinking these beverages. A few years ago, a 26-year-old suffered a heart attack after drinking several energy drinks in one day, and people have reported on TikTok that they experienced heart problems after drinking them for a long time..

From a heart standpoint, these are not great,” Jerome said.

And there are other risk factors as well.

In addition to heart problems, these drinks are also linked to other worrisome problems.

“Adverse effects of pre-workout drinks may occur among those who consume more than the suggested amount, if they take other performance-enhancing supplements, or if the ingredients in the pre-workout drink interact negatively with their medications,” Laing said. So it’s important to keep this in mind before chugging a workout drink.

If you’re going to drink one, stick to the serving size and take a moment to consider whether any medications you’re taking might be adversely affected by this drink.

Laing added that you should also keep the caffeine content in mind when deciding to have one of these drinks. “ONE limit of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is recommended for most adults,” said Laing. So just one of these drinks makes up half of your daily caffeine allowance.

When you consume too much caffeine, you can deal with disrupted sleep and increased stress, Laing said.

Even as you weigh these risk factors, keep in mind that you can get the nutrients these drinks say they provide elsewhere — through vegetables, whole grains, fruit and more.

Diet and exercise remain the best ways to achieve what energy-training drinks promise, Jerome noted. And while some of his patients use these drinks, Jerome said he doesn’t recommend them.



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