This article is by no means saying that consuming various types of pre-workout supplements are ineffective, overly expensive, or not worth-your-while. It is simply saying that there may be some wiggle room in your supplement choices if you need more wiggle room in your budget.
Who is Buying Supplements?
More than half of American adults have taken- or are taking supplements, spending $26.7 billion dollars in 2009 (What’s behind our dietary supplements coverage, 2011). These supplements include, but are not limited to energy drinks, pre-made preworkouts, and “make your own” preworkouts. Interestingly (but not so surprisingly), most of these supplements are fads supported by media hot-shots, with unfounded claims and minimal- to no research to justify these radical promises. To make matters worse, you can’t go anywhere without seeing some advertisement with a size-0 supermodel, or a muscle head with small calves conveniently posed next to a bottle of miracle pills promising that you will look like them in “just 2 weeks” (“no exercise or nutrition adjustments required”). In total, the majority of supplements contain unreliable, unfounded information made tasteful to sucker consumers into investing. However, not all supplements fall into this unfortunate misnomer classification. There are few supplements that have been extensively lab-tested and shown to effectively aid in improving performance and body composition.
What are Consumers Buying?
Examples: Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar, NOS, Amp, Full Throttle, Venom
Pros: Energy drinks are convenient to grab-and-go and they generally taste good.
Cons: They are expensive, filled with artificial flavors, may contain excessive amounts of caffeine, sugar, and other ingredients that may leave you to crash early during your workout.
Examples: C4, Mr. Hyde, N.O. –Xplode, Jym Pre Jym
Pros: Pre-made preworkouts are convenient and easy to consume, some products contain creatine, beta alanine, caffeine, and BCAAs which saves you the time of having to shop around. They are easy to put together because you just need to measure out 1-2 scoops.
Cons: Companies that use proprietary blends make it difficult to know if you are getting the right amount of each ingredient for the product to be efficacious. Some blends are missing some of the important ingredients proven to improve strength, performance, and training volume. They can be more costly than making your own pre workout (include average serving cost), and some of them are distasteful.
"Make your own" preworkout:
Examples: Mixing together your own concoction of ingredients such as branched-chain amino acids, arginine, taurine, beta alanine, etc…
Pros: With these concoctions, you know the exact amount and ingredients. It can be more cost effective than purchasing a pre-made preworkout.
Cons: Making your own pre workout takes up more shelf space (with multiple containers), takes a little more time to put together (albeit MAYBE 15 seconds), and you have to do a little more research to determine the optimal dose for each ingredient.
The Fantastic Four
But, are all of these preworkouts worth it? Vince Kreipke recently wrote about the four key ingredients for your pre-workout supplement: caffeine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), beta alanine (BA), and creatine (“Bodybuilding.com - 4 Key Ingredients For Your Pre-Workout!,” n.d.).
These simple, basic ingredients have been shown to help with a number of things:
1. Decrease the “burning sensation” in muscle with the onset of intense exercise by improving hydrogen ion buffering (Hoffman et al., 2008)
2. Maintain strength, power, and muscle mass with periods of caloric restriction (Mourier et al., 1997)
3. Increase training volume (Hoffman et al., 2008)
4. Reduce fatigue (Hoffman et al., 2008)
5. Increased power and repetitions performed (Hudson, Green, Bishop, & Richardson, 2008; Stuart, Hopkins, Cook, & Cairns, 2005)
…just to name a few.
Even with the extensive research on the effectiveness of these four ingredients, the use of other preworkout supplements with extraneous ingredients is drastically increasing. Use of supplements (including all of the aforementioned) has increased by 64% in young athletes from 2011 to 2012 (Hoyte, Albert, & Heard, 2013). That is ONE year! The supplement industry is exploding like biceps on arm day! That’s great, right? Right! So, what’s the problem?
The only problem is that most of the preworkout supplements is that consumers are buying contain none- to very few of the four ingredients that are lab-tested to be effective. Further, aside from the fantastic four, a recently published review by Allman et al (2015) found that many of the added supplements have no scientific evidence to back their efficacy in improving performance, and some ingredients have some nasty side effects (Allman, Kreipke, & Ormsbee, 2015). Further, this review reported that if there was data to substantiate performance improvement claims with these individual ingredients, it was more-often-than-not in novice exercisers or aerobically-trained athletes with no- to minimal resistance training experience (Allman et al., 2015).
The Potential Problem
We may be spending extra money on preworkout supplements (energy drinks, pre-made, and make your own) that aren’t backed up by scientific research, without knowing the exact amounts, composition, or safety of them. But, how much as we actually spending? Post hoc analysis of the top 62 preworkout supplements revealed some pretty staggering financial statistics.
The average price per serving of pre-workout supplement is $1.33. Let’s face it, though: most gym enthusiasts don’t just take one scoop. It’s like Girl Scout cookies: you can’t just have one (or 15 for that matter, when you’re carb backloading). So, with two scoops, the average price per serving becomes $2.65. The caveat: these supplements are commonly sold with a measly average 30 servings. So, let’s extrapolate this a little further.
Let’s just say you are working out 6 days per week, and taking 1-2 scoops of pre-workout per day. That means you are working out 313 days per year, minus some vacation days, sick days, and when your whole body aches from the bar-bending heavy squats you did the day before. So, let’s assume that number is somewhere around 280 workout days per year. After supplementing 280 workouts per year with pre-workout, at an average $1.33 per serving size, taking one scoop per day would run you $371, while taking 2 scoops would run you $743!!!
The Silver Lining
Now, after analyzing the average prices of the top creatine, BA, BCAA, and caffeine products (the fantastic four previously mentioned), and extrapolating the data if you consumed these ingredients with the same frequency (280 days) as pre-workout, the price per year turns out to be much cheaper. Creatine - $64 per year, BA - $68 per year, BCAA - $129 per year, and caffeine - $31 per year. For a grand total of $292 per year!
If you compare that price to the $743 per year that you could potentially spend on preworkout supplements, it equates to about a $450 price difference. That’s almost 8 months of the average gym membership ($55) (“Statistic Brain: Gym Membership Statistics,” 2014). Or for the ladies, that’s about 9 new pair of heels to show off the legs that you just squatted and lunged for. For you guys, that’s a year of a tanning salon membership and a couple muscle tanks on top. Or you could always use it to invest in the fantastic four supplements or protein powder that are tested and shown to be effective!
Allman, B., Kreipke, V., & Ormsbee, M. (2015). What else is in your supplement? A review of the effectiveness of the supportive ingredients in multi--ingredient performance supplements to improve strength, power and recovery. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 37(3), 54–69.
Bodybuilding.com - 4 Key Ingredients For Your Pre-Workout! (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-key-ingredients-for-your-pre-workout.html
Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Faigenbaum, A. D., Ross, R., Kang, J., Stout, J. R., & Wise, J. A. (2008). Short-duration beta-alanine supplementation increases training volume and reduces subjective feelings of fatigue in college football players. Nutrition Research, 28(1), 31–35. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2007.11.004
Hoyte, C., Albert, D., & Heard, K. (2013). The use of energy drinks, dietary supplements, and prescription medications by United States college students to enhance athletic performance. Journal of Community Health, 38(3), 575–580. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-013-9653-5
Hudson, G. M., Green, J. M., Bishop, P. A., & Richardson, M. T. (2008). Effects of caffeine and aspirin on light resistance training performance, perceived exertion, and pain perception. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 22(6), 1950–7. http://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818219cb
Mourier, A., Bigard, A., de Kerviler, E., Roger, B., Legrand, H., & Guezennec, C. (1997). Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 18(1), 47–55. http://doi.org/10.1055/s-2007-972594
Statistic Brain: Gym Membership Statistics. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/gym-membership-statistics/
Stuart, G. R., Hopkins, W. G., Cook, C., & Cairns, S. P. (2005). Multiple effects of caffeine on simulated high-intensity team-sport performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 37(11), 1998–2005. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16286872
What’s behind our dietary supplements coverage. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/04/what-s-behind-our-dietary-supplements-coverage/index.htm