If you go to the gym, you will probably have seen guys and girls putting a bright colored powder in a shaker, mixing it, and chugging it. More than likely, this was a pre-workout supplement.
The purpose of pre-workout is to give you an energy boost before your gym session. The common ingredients are caffeine, beta alanine, L-Citrulline, and often a magnitude of other ingredients. It is not the ingredients that are the problem. We all know caffeine is safe and has proven benefits for athletes, but in small doses. The same goes for beta-alanine. It can be a useful supplement especially for footballers as it acts as a buffer for lactic acid which can help prevent cramp.
However, it is all of these combined together, in high dosages, which causes problems.
Let me tell you my story with using pre-workout supplements.
First off, let me be clear that pre-workout is a legal supplement. It is not a steroid, and you are not breaking the law by using it. My first experience with pre-workout came during my college soccer days, when I got a free sample of C4 from GNC. I tried it, and after a couple of minutes I got a tingly feeling (the beta alanine) and I definitely did feel a surge of energy and focus. That was in about March of 2016. When we broke up for the summer, my aim was to get as fit and strong as possible for next season. I spent a few weeks training in Ohio where I only used creatine, and when I got back to Ireland in mid June, I decided to give pre-workout a try.
I definitely noticed a change in my focus and intensity in the gym. I was lifting heavy, and frequently. When I got back to the US in August, I continued to use pre-workout before my gym sessions. It was around this time that I really become committed to the gym. I was in there 6 days a week, working hard and seeing results.
However, the problem was, I was using pre-workout as a crutch instead of listening to my body. If I was tired, instead of easing off or taking it easy, I would take pre-workout, which was only going to damage my body in the long term by hindering recovery.
My pre-workout routine continued when I got to Germany in 2017, and when I returned to Ireland that summer. I think my use of pre-workout really peaked when I started working in a sports supplement store in Dublin. I was able to try samples of all pre-workouts, and any new ones that were released. It was during this time, it’s no exaggeration to say I tried almost every pre-workout on the market.
The problem was, I couldn’t do a gym session without taking it. I would finish work at 8pm, chug a pre-workout shot and head straight to the gym. How I managed to sleep that night I’ll never know!
This wasn’t the only problem. As my body had adapted to pre-workout, it no longer had that energy boosting effect. This meant having to use the very strongest pre-workouts out there, sometimes using more than the recommended dosage. It was a slippery slope.
I have seen people mix cans of Monster with pre-workout powder, which is sheer madness. Again, because their bodies had adjusted, they needed to keep taking stronger and stronger doses.
I found that taking pre-workout also had an impact on my mental state. Like I said, I was going to the gym 6 days a week, which as a footballers is unnecessary. I was almost going to the gym just so I could feel the buzz associated with the supplement, and the sudden boost of energy. Many pre-workouts also contain L-arginine, which promotes blood flow and gives you a tremendous “pump” when working out.
I knew that taking pre-workout would have to stop at some stage. My body was becoming adjusted, and it no longer provided the desired effect. But again, I just needed to take it before any gym session.
It was then in very early 2018, that I decided there and then to finish with pre-workout. I was in the gym one night after work, having consumed pre-workout, and I got this really bad chest pain. It lasted only a minute or two, but during that time it made me think about what if I did actually get a heart attack, all because of pre-workout.
My girlfriend (now my wife) had always tried to persuade me to quit pre-workout, and finally I listened. I also decided to change up my gym routine. So instead of banging out bench press reps at 225lbs, I was now working on my mobility, clearing up any long term injuries, and focusing on my football specific fitness.
I haven’t used pre-workout in over two years, and honestly I’ve never felt better. Before a gym session or training, I now just have a coffee, which is something I truly enjoy. Pure and natural.
There is such differing research on pre-workout supplement and energy drinks. However, all I’m providing is my experience and whether you take it on board is up to you. Like I said earlier, pre-workout supplements are not illegal, and I just want to make it clear I have never taken and will never take any illegal substances.
There has been a huge gym boom in the last few years. That is, the gym has almost become a social place, and also a fashion show. You only have to walk a public gym to see girls head to toe in Gymshark gear and full makeup, or guys in tiny shorts and flexing their muscles in the mirror. On Instagram, these same people will have boomerangs of them taking their pre-workout and tagging the brand, in the hope of getting sponsored.
These supplements are branded in such a way to lure people into thinking they will become shredded and lean. Do not fall for the marketing, and be smart on why these companies are advertising products in such ways.
Feeling chest pains was a big wake up call for me. It was also the wake up call to get my football training back on track, and do work that would actually benefit me on the pitch. There was no point chasing bigger numbers on the bench press if it meant that I was too big, less agile, and more injury prone.
Like I said, all I use as pre-workout now is caffeine, and it works great. Sure, I might not be able to lift as heavy, but who cares…I am so much happier and healthier now, and I have my priorities straight when it comes to my training.
My whole aim with this blog, 90 Minutes Fitness, and my podcast, is often to tell people the mistakes that I have made. As a young player, sometimes you just don’t know if something is good for you or not. One of my favorite quotes is “there is no point having your ladder up against the wrong wall”. If football is your focus, but you spend most of your time in the gym, then your ladder is not up against the right wall.
Take pre-workout if you wish, but please take into account everything I have just shared. Then make your own decision.