This article will discuss the key differences between pre-workouts and energy drinks along with their distinctive benefits.
Since all you need to last longer at the gym is energy, it apparently makes sense to use pre-workouts and energy drinks interchangeably before your workout sessions.
But in reality, manufacturers have designed these two beverages with individual concepts in mind.
For this read, I have highlighted the critical differences like ingredients, benefits, and side effects to give you in-depth knowledge regarding these performance-boosting potions, which will help clarify the confusion between them.
I have also addressed the positives and negatives of the two products so that you are aware of the impact of whichever drink you choose to guzzle down into your system.
So, keep reading to find out the details.
Table of Contents
Is Pre-workout Healthy?
Yes, pre-workouts are usually deemed safe and healthy, but because we don’t have reliable research or FDA regulation that can help to conclude this case so, there are certain factors that you need to look out for to ensure it yourself.
I probed into the components of multi-ingredient pre-workouts to judge their safety and efficacy just to find out that most pre-workout options available in the market are loaded with sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors, traces of banned stimulants, and other filler ingredients.
And on top of this, manufacturers may also hide pre-workout contents behind the suspicious ‘proprietary blend’ tag.
If you look at this side of the picture, pre-workouts do have their fair share of risks.
But on the flipside, pre-workouts don’t necessarily have to be the powdered formulations you pitch upon your regular grocery raids.
And instead, you may cull out well-researched pure, singular, and approved supplements that may actually enhance your workout progress.
According to a review published in the Human Kinetics Journals, the International Olympic Committee has acknowledged the abundant evidence available on caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, sodium bicarbonate, and nitrate, declaring them safe and efficacious for consumption by athletes.
You may incorporate individual doses of these supplements or combine them to make your own pre-workout that may considerably be harmless for your health.
I get that buying multiple supplements would be heavy on the pocket, so if you want to be assured of the quality of the pre-workout.
So, in that case, you should invest only in third-party verified pre-workouts such as BSCG Certified Drug-Free, Informed-Choice/Sport certified, NSF Certified, ConsumerLab approved, or USP Verified.
Healthy or not, you can not consume pre-workouts for an extended period; 8 to 12 weeks is the most that you can pursue your performance drinks because we don’t have safety studies after it, and in addition to this, the stimulants start losing their effectiveness as the body get used to them.
The caffeine content plays a pivotal role in pushing the pre-workout out of or pulling it inside the safe zone.
The safe dose of caffeine is 400 mg; if the caffeine content of pre-workouts is near to or exceeds this dose, it may cause lethal and damaging consequences.
Some side effects of over-caffeine consumption are jitters, anxiety, high blood pressure, or heart attack.
Pre-workouts with a low or moderate dose of caffeine which ranges from 100 mg to 350 mg, are considered safe.
Moreover, pre-workouts containing a recently discovered botanical ingredient EnXtra as a caffeine source, are considered safer and more effective.
This clinical trial has proven that EnXtra does not increase the heart rate or blood pressure, preserves the calm, does not cause energy crashes, is jitter-free, and induces mental alertness and focus for up to 5 hours.
Now you might be wondering if you could just gulp in an energy drink to make up for the need for pre-workouts to supplement your performance since there is so much to be wary of before buying the latter.
So, hop on to the next section to know if it will actually benefit your purpose and serve as an effective substitute or not.
Energy drink before workout good or bad?
Taking energy drinks before your regular pre-workout session has its benefits.
But then again, there are things that you need to look out for with regards to this beverage as well because ‘proprietary blend’ is one of the many things that remain constant between the two.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) evaluated the safety and efficacy of energy drinks reported in the literature and issued their position statement in this review.
The conclusions that they drew on the benefits of energy drinks regarding workout performance report that consuming energy drinks 10 to 60 minutes before exercise help to improve mental focus and alertness and can amplify the anaerobic and endurance performance.
However, ISSN stated that further research is needed to merit their safety and potential in physical and mental performance.
On the same note, the limited evidence vouches for low-calorie energy drinks for their ergogenic benefits and potential to promote fat loss.
But athletes need to be cautious of the high-calorie energy drinks as these pose a risk of weight gain if the energy consumption from other sources with them during the day is not carefully monitored.
Moreover, ISSN has warned against the high glycemic index and excessive caffeine in energy drinks, especially when consumed more than one time a day, which may negatively impact athletes’ metabolic health, blood glucose, insulin levels, and motor skills.
Pre-workout vs Energy drink – key differences?
In this section, you will find out how pre-workouts and energy drinks differ based on their purpose, ingredients, and side effects and what are the best options available in their respective categories.
So, hurry to the next section to know more about your favorite supplements.
Manufacturers have developed pre-workouts to heighten the overall exercise performance and fuel your workout.
And thus, the ingredients chosen for the formulation promote muscle growth, recovery, and hydration. It also boosts stamina, strength, and brainpower (cognition).
Like pre-workouts, energy drinks also boost energy, delay fatigue, and increase mental focus, alertness, and physical performance.
But unlike pre-workouts, these drinks don’t play a significant role in increasing hydration or muscle growth. In addition to this, these drinks are more popular among teenagers and adolescents rather than gym fanatics.
According to this review, the ingredients that distinguish pre-workouts from energy drinks are creatine, branched-chain amino acid, betaine, Nitrogen Oxide boosters, and beta-alanine.
Most pre-workouts contain an optimum concentration of 3-5 grams creatine in their formulations.
Creatine is a naturally occurring nitrogenous organic acid present as intramuscular phosphocreatine stores in different animals.
The phosphocreatine aids the generation of ATP (energy), enhancing brain and muscle function.
Creatine supplementation has been proven by research to augment high-intensity workout performance and help in bulking.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Pre-workouts contain Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAS) in either maximal effective concentrations of 5 to 6 grams or within the recommended doses of 2 to 5 grams.
These are mostly present in the ratio 2:1:1 of leucine, isoleucine, and valine, respectively.
BCAAs are a group of three essential amino acids that I have named above, and research has proven their role in protein synthesis.
Thus, BCAAs help improves muscle mass, reduce post-workout muscle damage and lessen fatigue.
The concentration of betaine in pre-workouts varies between 1.2-1.5 grams or sometimes maybe even higher.
Betaine is a derivative of the amino acid glycine, and it promotes creatine synthesis, increases the nitric oxide levels in the blood, and regulates fluid and thermal homeostasis.
And thus, betaine helps to enhance endurance during resistance training, delays the onset of fatigue, and increases muscle mass and hydration, which positively impacts exercise performance.
- Nitrogen Oxide Boosters
Pre-workouts use a variety of Nitrogen Oxide boosters like arginine, nitrosigine, citrulline malate, etc.
Nitric Oxide is a signaling molecule that vasodilates the blood vessels and increases blood flow to the muscles.
NO boosters are ingredients that act as direct precursors of nitric oxide like arginine. Or they may work indirectly by increasing and maintaining the level of arginine, for example, nitrosigine and L-citrulline.
An increase in blood flow to the muscles is linked to better availability of oxygen and nutrients, which reduces muscle fatigue and soreness and helps to enhance exercise performance.
Beta-alanine is one of the most commonly occurring ingredients in pre-workouts, and its concentration ranges between 4 to 6 grams.
Beta-alanine acts as a precursor of carnosine which acts as an intramuscular buffer and removes lactic acid from the muscles.
Beta-alanine works by increasing carnosine levels in muscles, which helps reduce the onset of muscle fatigue and soreness during high-intensity exercise.
Energy drink ingredients
According to this review, the common ingredients in energy drinks that are not compulsorily present in pre-workouts are caffeine, sugars, B vitamins, and taurine.
Caffeine is also a primary ingredient in pre-workouts but is substituted by its other versions that act as stimulants.
And thus, it makes caffeine one of defining ingredients in energy drinks.
According to NIH, the caffeine content of energy drinks varies between 70 to 240 mg in 16 oz bottles, whereas it is between 113 to 200mg in energy shots (2 to 2½ oz bottles).
Since caffeine is notorious for its ergogenic effects, its occurrence in energy drinks makes them a desirable option for enhancing aerobic endurance. It also stimulates the central nervous system to improve mental performance.
Caffeine is added to energy drinks keeping in mind its potential to improve mood, and memory and, most importantly, give an energy boost.
Energy drinks have a high quantity of added sugars in the form of high fructose corn syrup, sucralose, or acesulfame potassium.
This is another point of difference between them and pre-workouts, as the latter does not compulsorily contain sugars.
According to NIH, the added sugars in a 16 oz container of an energy drink are 54 to 62 grams.
The high calories contributed by different sweeteners in energy drinks are a source of carbohydrates and yield energy per gram.
So, sugars and sweeteners are added as a source of energy to energy drinks and impart taste to them.
Most energy drinks list around 2000 mg of taurine in their nutritional content.
Taurine is a sulfur-containing amino acid that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential.
It also promotes heart and brain function and supports nerve growth.
Manufacturers add taurine to energy drinks because of its potential to enhance muscle contraction, speed recovery, delay muscle fatigue, and improve focus. It also helps to neutralize the caffeine content in energy drinks.
- B vitamins
In contrast to pre-workouts that may or may not list a vitamin profile in them, nearly all energy drinks will include one or more B vitamins.
The three common B vitamins in the four energy drinks evaluated in the review I mentioned above are vitamin B6, B12, and niacin.
All B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism from carbohydrates, protein, and fats and help to produce energy in the body in one way or another.
And this is why manufacturers add B vitamins in the product for giving you an extra energy punch.
As I have already made you aware of the high sugar content of energy drinks, these B vitamins are the ‘key’ to unlocking and accessing all this energy in those simple sugars.
Pre-workout side effects
Although the side effects that occur due to excessive caffeine are common in both pre-workouts and energy drinks, here is a list of some side effects that are reported most commonly due to pre-workout consumption:
- In pre-workouts, ingredients like niacin and beta-alanine may cause paresthesia, skin flushing, and tingling.
- Nitrogen Oxide boosters and stimulants like caffeine may increase your risk of developing heart problems by causing fluctuations in blood pressure.
- Both creatine and caffeine may exert their combined effect to cause renal distress, dehydration, and cramping.
- Drug-induced Liver Injury (DILI) due to a pre-workout was recorded in this case report.
Energy drink side effects
Here are some side effects that are reported due to certain different ingredients that are used commonly in energy drinks:
- According to this 2015 review, the high sugar content may increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
- This case report has also recorded the incidence of hemorrhagic stroke linked with the consumption of energy drinks.
- This research insight published in the British dental journal has listed the high pH and high glucose content of energy drinks as a major contributors to dental erosion.
- This review of available data has found a positive correlation between high risk-taking behavior and energy drink consumption.
Best options – Pre-workouts and Energy Drinks
Crazy Nutrition Pre-train Pre-workout
As someone who is always looking for an edge in the gym, I was intrigued when I heard about Crazy Nutrition’s Pre-train pre-workout.
According to the company, Pre-train is designed to help you max out your workouts and see better results.
Intrigued, I decided to give it a try. After just one week of using Pre-train, I was blown away by the results. Not only did I have more energy and stamina during my workouts, but I also saw a significant increase in my strength and endurance.
For athletes and bodybuilders, finding the right pre-workout supplement can make a big difference in their performance.
Crazy Nutrition’s Pre-train is designed to give users a boost of energy and focus, helping them to push themselves harder and achieve better results. Pre-train contains a variety of potent ingredients which work together to improve energy levels, increase alertness, and reduce fatigue.
Lucozade Energy drink
Lucozade Energy is a popular energy drink that has been on the market for over 25 years.
The drink is available in a variety of flavors, and it provides a quick and easy way to boost your energy levels. Lucozade Energy is also low in calories and sugar, making it a healthier option than other sugary drinks.
The drink is also vegan-friendly, and it contains no artificial colors or flavors. While Lucozade Energy is not cheap, it is a convenient and effective way to increase your energy levels.
If you are looking for an energy drink that will give you a boost without being too sweet or heavy, Lucozade Energy is a good option.
Final Thoughts – Pre-workout vs Energy drink
To wrap it up, although energy drinks and pre-workout may contain some overlapping ingredients, they are not the same thing. The two have substantial differences in composition, purpose, and purported benefits.
Energy drinks are more popular among the youth and athletes for improving their energy levels and mental focus to fulfill their everyday tasks.
For an adult whose motivation is driven by fulfilling workout goals and muscle building, pre-workouts are the right drink due to NO boosters, branched-chain amino acids, betaine, etc.
Nonetheless, you can use energy drinks as a convenient substitute for the powdered pre-workouts on days you don’t want to take out a shaker and prepare them.
But if you want to take the edge on your workout outcome, I’d recommend you to stick to your pre-workout supplements.