Pre-workouts are marketed as supplements said to improve your performance on the gym floor by boosting your energy to power through a session. The first supplement, coined “Ultimate Orange,” was developed in California by bodybuilder Dan Duchaine in 1982 and was a hit among the bodybuilding and weightlifting communities. From humble beginnings to the present day, they're now an inclusive fitness ‘must-have’ for many and are available in an assortment of forms.
In fact, so popular are pre-workouts that the global market is expected to reach an impressive $23.8 billion by 2027 (according to Grand View Research, Inc.).
For those who are not in the know: “Pre-workout supplements are multi-ingredient dietary formulas, often including amino acids, B vitamins, caffeine, creatine (said to improve physical performance), and artificial sweeteners,” says Director of Colon and Rectal Surgery of New York Lynn O'Connor. Other common ingredients include 5-HTP, spike serotonin levels, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to reduce pain and aid a speedier recovery, and electrolytes, which provide sodium, potassium, and magnesium to support optimal hydration.
But, proceed with caution. Pre-workouts aren’t a necessity for everyone. In fact, some carry a few risks. We asked the experts for the full download on pre-workout supplements, specifically how alcohol might impact your pre-workout. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
- Lynn O'Connor, MD, MPH, is the Director of Colon and Rectal Surgery of New York.
- Christina Campbell, DO, is a functional medicine physician specializing in lifestyle medicine, including nutrition and supplementation.
What Types of Pre-Workout Are Available?
Pre-workouts are designed for various purposes, whether it’s to power through a routine, improving your endurance, or enhancing your mind/body focus. “They come in various forms too, from powders, capsules, and chews, to canned drinks, liquids and shakes, most often packing carbohydrates, beet juice, caffeine, and creatine monohydrate,” says O'Connor. Such ingredients supposedly improve exercise performance by providing the body with additional carbohydrate energy sources.
As trendy as pre-workouts have become, many of us are spending unnecessary dollars on products we don’t need. “Whilst there are many types and options for pre-workout supplementation, they depend on a person’s goals and personalized needs, such as someone who is dealing with chronic fatigue who may require a supplement for additional energy and the muscle's ability to utilize nutrients to perform,” explains Christina Campbell, a functional medicine physician. Another example is someone taking a supplement for joint pain. “This can help with pain and recovery and may be the best option before exercising.”
Can Alcohol Interfere With Your Pre Workout?
“I get it; alcohol makes you feel amazing sometimes,” says Campbell, but mixing happy hour with a pre-workout may negate the effect of the supplement itself. “As soon as the alcohol hits the bloodstream, the liver begins its detoxification process to clear it out, and whilst it’s busy doing so, it’s unable also to help your body utilize the nutrients in your pre-workout.
Additionally, she explains that supplements such as B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, alpha-lipoic acid, and more will be utilized by the body and the cell’s mitochondria to detox the alcohol, rather than being used to improve the quality of the workout.
“Also, if your pre-workout supplement contains caffeine, it will compete with alcohol in being cleared from the liver, and can increase both alcohol and caffeine levels in the bloodstream, slowing down the process of detoxification,” Campbell adds. And, in case you didn’t know, increased heart rate can not only worsen your performance but may become a danger to the body.
The Downsides of Mixing Alcohol With a Workout
While alcohol can lower our inhibitions, there are many drawbacks, including an increased risk of injury. But these inhibitions are there to protect us from making choices that may lead to injury. Alongside this, alcohol’s pro-inflammatory effects will also hinder recovery. “In the best-case scenario, your supplement will be negated by the alcohol. “You would be better off avoiding the combination of these two before your workout,” suggests Campbell.
On a more serious note, mixing your alcohol with a side of pre-workout can lead to more serious implications. O'Connor explains: “Some supplements are metabolized by the liver, and this effect, combined with alcohol, can theoretically lead to or worsen liver damage.” She also recommends doing your supplementation research, given many products on the market are not regulated by the FDA.
Pre-workout or not, alcohol can have detrimental effects on our workout as a whole. “Alcohol is a diuretic which causes dehydration, and as dehydration is intensified after working out from sweat, alcohol can further dehydrate you.”
As such, Connor advises leaving ample time between drinking alcohol and exercising. “In addition, the body recognizes alcohol as a toxin and immediately wants to break it down - the role of the liver, which prioritizes metabolizing the alcohol over fat.” This leads to a build-up of fatty acids, now used by the body instead of burning body fat for fuel. If that wasn’t enough, alcohol may also interfere with muscle protein synthesis, and therefore impact repair and growth of muscle, negating the effect of the workout itself.
The Bottom Line
Both experts agree that avoiding drinking alcohol too close to your pre-workout is your safest bet and to leave sufficient time for metabolization between the two. “Make sure you are well hydrated before exercising to prevent muscle cramping or, worse, passing out,” says O'Connor. “It takes roughly a minimum of two hours to process a unit of alcohol in a healthy individual, with the rate of metabolism depending on several factors including how much you drink and medication taken that may increase the time to process alcohol.”
Of course, alcohol is an integral part of our social lives, and if you can’t skip the beverage, stick to one or two if you still want to hit a high note in the gym later in the day. “Pick your beverage based on your body's personal needs and have one or two along with lots of clean water,” Campbell adds, “and enjoy your drink alongside food to slow down the absorption and the blood sugar implications of drinking on an empty stomach.”