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I’ve always believed that the only people who needed pre-workout supplements were lunkheads with lofty #gainz goals. In other words: Big guys with even bigger muscles who typically walk into a gym like they own the place with a pair of over-ear headphones on to block out any and all distractions. While research shows that pre-workout supplements are safe, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed—something that’s always made me feel uneasy. So when a colleague handed me a bottle of the goods before a group training session earlier this summer, I was mega intimidated. With promises of ultimate America Ninja Warrior-worthy performance and workout superiority lingering in my fingertips, I shrugged and sipped it down. (Related: Should You Be Taking Pre-Workout Supplements?)
The tingles started within 10 minutes. First in my face. Then my hands. Then my legs. I felt a prickly sensation that was so distracting, I had to step off to the side to regroup after my first set of sprints across an indoor turf. Looking at the trainer I was working with, I asked if this was normal. She told me it was something that can be off-putting at first, but would subside after a while. We continued with the sweat fest, and thankfully she was right. With about 25 minutes left in my workout, the tingling subsided.
Once it was all said and done: I needed to know more. Is this off-putting sensation something that happens every time, with every brand? Would it be better to use one with caffeine versus without? I decided to do some experimentation. For the following two weeks, I tried pre-workout supplements before a slew of different workouts. Here’s how it all went down.
I felt highly conflicted about taking pre-workout before going to yoga. Because when you think yoga, you think calm. Relaxing. Soothing. The taste of Performix’s blackberry lemonade is refreshing and makes me feel alert. I sip it inside a shaker bottle on the subway, and within minutes I feel some of that tingling feeling I got the first time (which I’d attribute to the combination of 320mg caffeine and beta alanine—a nonessential amino acid). It’s nowhere near as intense and subsides by the time I show up to the studio.
Of course, this class starts with a 10-minute seated meditation which is not typical of my favorite teacher. During the entire meditation, I feel unfocused. I want to skip ahead to the Vinyasa chapter. I hear what he’s saying, but I’m knowingly missing the point. However, once we’re done getting deep with our feelings and intentions, the movement starts, and I am so on my game it’s undeniable. An extra push-up here. A lower lunge there. The alignment is perfection. There’s no shame in my yoga game, and by the end of class, I am sweat-drenched and happy. Note to self: Do not take pre-workout before attempting meditation. (Related: Best Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks for Every Workout)
It’s an early morning and I’ve got 5 miles on deck for my morning run down to yoga. About 30 minutes before I head out, I pour the Revere pre-workout into my shaker bottle and get to mixing. On first sip, it tastes like a delicious light, refreshing alcoholic mixer. I’m now thinking about alcohol, and it’s 6:15 a.m.
I digress. After doing all the other routine morning things (journaling, making my bed, organizing my calendar), I hit the ground running—literally. The heat and humidity have made it almost impossible to feel great mid-stride lately, but this day is noticeably different. The humidity is nowhere to be found. It’s around 70 degrees. And I feel like a gosh-darn superhero. Weaving my way through midtown streets headed toward my class, I realize I’m hitting an 8:05 pace, which is at least a minute faster than my last few weeks of miles. I get to yoga and feel nervous that this pre-workout energy situation is going to make me feel uneasy again. Thankfully, I feel strong and capable—not antsy—to get through the flow. There’s also no meditation this time around.
First things first: I am the worst at Megaformer Pilates. As a big runner and fan of all things high intensity, I show up in front of the machine and instantly feel like a total weakling. Which is why I really hoped that this blackberry basil pre-workout—created by serial entrepreneur Bizzie Gold—would help me really show up for a late afternoon SLT class. Note: this is the only pre-workout I took that had absolutely no caffeine in it. (Related: Your Guide to Pre- and Post-Workout Supplements)
Within five minutes of plank-to-pike movements, I’m impressed with myself. I don’t feel like I want to die and as if I’m keeping up, something I’ve never experienced within one of these classes before. The things that are holding me back are minor injuries I work with regularly (arthritis, nerve damage) and not my muscles fatiguing. I don’t notice a difference in my ability to show up or perform sans caffeine, and ride this empowered, I-can-do-it-all feeling straight through until the final lunge. I instantly make a plan to return to the I-used-to-book-this-class-once-a-year experience the following week.
This was the workout I was looking forward to the most at the start of this experiment. Mixing up the magic in my kitchen, I wondered if I would be able to channel my inner hulk in a CrossFit workout. On deck, a strength portion of overhead presses with a barbell in the front rack position, then a WOD (that’s “workout of the day” in CrossFit lingo) of push presses and over-the-barbell burpees.
The taste wasn’t particularly my cup of tea, and I was instantly aware that my tongue may turn a shade of blue during my commute down to the gym. This was the only pre-workout that I took and noticed that I was sweating before the work even started. I felt strong during the strength component of the workout, and the wired feeling I had on my third set that lasted through the workout portion really rivaled what I experience when I chug down an espresso shot. I felt noticeably more tired than usual once the effort was done, so much so that I needed to take a walking lap around the block to get my heart rate back down.
I am 100 percent going to incorporate more pre-workout into my regular routine, but I really want to keep an eye out for what’s in each of the formulas I reach for (e.g., Revere’s all-natural ingredients label). I learned that I need to make sure to drink it far enough ahead of my workout so it settles in with the body and I don’t need to use the bathroom mid-stride. And most importantly, to use it wisely depending on what activity’s on deck (not meditation). But ultimately, anything that makes me feel like a real-life superhero (in a safe, no damsel-in-distress necessary way) is worth the splurge in my book.