Do pre-workout drinks really give you a boost?

Pre-workout drinks are popular and many people, especially men, rely on drinking them so they can get the most out of their exercise.

But what is in them, and are they worth it?

"I work out a few times a day, it is the only thing that gets me through my workout," said Som Safivi.

Josh Davis of Manayunk agrees: "I think it's all mental, but I can't get through my workout with it."

To find out what is really inside pre-workout drinks, we brought samples to herbal medicine expert Ara DerMarderosian at the University of the Sciences.

DerMarderosian said most of the ingredients fall into three categories: caffeine or another stimulant, an amino acid, or a vitamin. And although there is nothing wrong with that, he said with regular healthy meals you are probably already getting your vitamins.

Other ingredients in the drinks such carnosyn or alanine are amino acids. DerMarderosian said for the elite athlete, they may be beneficial but there's no real evidence they'll help the average exerciser.

"It will not build muscle, none of these will build muscle," he said.

DerMarderosian adds, "If you are going to build muscle the only way you are going to do that is good nutrition coupled with good exercise."

Many products also tout a proprietary blend but DerMarderosian said it's mostly a marketing ploy.

"You don't know what's in there. They're generally too small in any amount to do any good and they are very costly. You don't need them," he said.

There are other exotic botanicals such as Yohimbe. It has been shown to be a fat burner, but only in animal cells in the lab, and the science is iffy.

But as for the caffeine boost, one common ingredient is caffeine anhydrous.

"Anhydrous doesn't mean much, it just means it's the pure caffeine," he said.

DerMarderosian said although it can help get you going, too much caffeine can be dangerous for some and for others make them feel jittery or unable to sleep.

Carlos Bradley, a head trainer at the Aquatic and Fitness Center, said for the most part, he relies on water and good nutrition to get an extra boost, but admits that occasionally even he needs a pre-workout drink.

"Low sugar is key, not an extremely high amount of caffeine," Bradley said.

He also looks for the most natural ingredients.

"So if you can't pronounce it, I say we probably don't need to drink it," he adds.

But both experts agree, there still no magic potion to help you get in shape faster. It still comes down to healthy eating and exercise.
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