Workout Supplements

Pre-Workout Supplements

Pre-Workout supplements are designed to provide energy and aid endurance throughout a workout. They are typically taken 15-30 minutes before a workout, bur can also be consumed during exercise. Below are common ingredients found in pre-workout supplements that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine have highlighted as having evidence-based uses in sports nutrition. These supplements have been categorized as apparently safe and having strong evidence to support efficacy by the International Society of Sports Nutrition. However, it is important to consult a physician of dietitian before using these supplements, as they are not reviewed by the FDA for the safety or effectiveness.


Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is produced in the liver and also found in fish, poultry, and meat. When dosed at 4-6g/day for 2-4 weeks, this supplement has been shown to improve exercise performance, particularly for high-intensity exercise lasting 1-4 minutes, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or short sprints. This supplement is often combined with sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda, which also reduces muscle acidity. A common side effect of beta-alanine supplementation is paresthesia, or a skin tingling sensation, but this effect can be attenuated by taking lower doses (1.6g).


Caffeine is a stimulant that is often included in pre-workout supplements, as it has been shown to benefit athletic performance for short-term high intensity exercise and endurance-based activities. The average individual who exercises recreationally should consult with a doctor before using caffeine as a supplement. Despite some of the benefits from smaller doses, larger doses of caffeine (>=9mg/kg of body weight) have not been shown to increase performance, and may induce nausea, anxiety, and insomnia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers 400 milligrams of caffeine to be a safe amount for daily consumption, but some pre-workout supplements may exceed this amount in a single serving or fail to disclose the amount of caffeine they contain, so it is important to always review the label of any supplement before consumption.


Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in skeletal muscle that is synthesized in the body from amino acids and can be obtained from red meat and seafood. In the body, it helps produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides energy for muscles. Research suggests that creatine supplementation increases muscle availability of creatine, which in turn can enhance exercise capacity and training adaptations in adolescents, young adults, and older adults. Specifically, these adaptations allow for individuals to increase training volume (the ability to perform more repetitions with the same weight), which in turn can lead to greater increases in lean mass and muscular strength and power. Of note, creatine supplementation has been shown to increase total body water, which causes weight gain that could be detrimental to performance in which body mass is a factor, such as running.

Post-Workout Supplements

A variety of post-workout supplements are marketed to consumers to increase muscle mass through enhanced muscle repair, recovery, and growth. Below is a review of some of the most common ingredients in post-workout supplements. 


Replenishing glycogen stores after a workout with sufficient carbohydrate intake is important for muscle recovery and beginning the next workout with sufficient muscle glycogen stores has been shown to improve exercise performance.


Recommendations for protein supplementation during exercise vary based on the type of exercise being conducted; endurance training or resistance training. Recommended levels of daily protein intake for the general population (about 7 grams of protein every day for every 20 pounds of bodyweight) are estimated to be sufficient to meet the needs of nearly all healthy adults. On the other hand, individuals who engage in high-intensity resistance training may benefit from increased protein consumption to optimize muscle protein synthesis required for muscle recovery and growth. The extent to which protein supplementation may aid resistance athletes is highly contingent on a variety of factors, including intensity and duration of training, individual age, dietary energy intake, and quality of protein intake. For individuals engaging in strenuous exercise to build and maintain muscle mass, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends and overall daily protein intake of 1.4-2.0g/kg of bodyweight/day.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

Three out of the nine essential amino acids have a chemical structure involving a side-chain with a “branch”, or a central carbon atom, bound to three or more carbon atoms These three amino acids are called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). They can be obtained from protein-rich foods such as chicken, red meat, fish, eggs, and are also sold as a dietary supplements in powdered form. BCAAs are key components of muscle protein synthesis, and research has shown that leucine in particular drives protein synthesis and suppresses protein breakdown. Although short term mechanistic data suggest that leucine plays an important role in muscle protein synthesis, longer-term trials do not support BCAAs as useful workout supplements. Studies have generally failed to find performance enhancing effects of BCAAs such as accelerated repair of muscle damage after exercise.


Many supplements include electrolytes, which are chemicals that conduct electricity when mixed with water, and include sodium, potassium, and calcium. Electrolytes are important for hydration and the regulation of nerve and muscle function; for example, calcium sodium, and potassium all work together to help muscles contract properly. The body loses electrolytes through sweating, so sports drinks (which typically contain carbohydratea/sugar and electrolytes) and other electrolyte supplements are often marketed as being necessary after a workout. However,  the American College of Sports Medicine has asserted that there is little evidence of any difference in performance between those who drink beverages containing carbohydrates and electrolytes compared to those who drink plain water after exercising for less than one hour. Sports drinks and other electrolyte supplements are generally only appropriate for people exercising vigorously for more than an hour, especially if [it] causes them to sweat heavily.


Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

What you need to know before taking a vitamin or mineral supplement.

The average American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Research finds our plates lacking in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D. It’s no wonder that more than half of us open a supplement bottle to get the nutrition we need. Many of us take supplements not just to make up for what we’re missing, but also because we hope to give ourselves an extra health boost—a preventive buffer to ward off disease.

Getting our nutrients straight from a pill sounds easy, but supplements don’t necessarily deliver on the promise of better health. Some can even be dangerous, especially when taken in larger-than-recommended amounts. Please consult your doctor to help decide which nutrients you are deficient in before introducing new supplements to your diet. (

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