Smartphone, smart keys, smart cards — you wouldn’t leave home without them (assuming you’re leaving home at all these days). We live in a world of next-level products designed to help us live more efficiently and realize our goals more effectively. Why shouldn’t that extend to what we put in our bodies before a workout? If you’re trying to decide between an energy drink or a pre-workout formulation, it’s important to know which one is the smartest option. Is pre-workout the same as energy drinks? Let’s find out.
What’s the Difference Between Energy Drinks and Pre-Workouts?
The main difference between energy drinks and pre-workout supplements is their goals. Energy drinks are designed to give you a quick pick-me-up, while pre-workouts are specifically designed to make your workout more effective.
“Generally, both products will energize, but pre-workout [formulas] are more poised for endurance and extending time to fatigue,” says Katie Webb, an ACE-certified fitness trainer in New York City.
Pre-workout formulas, Webb adds, are not solely focused on stimulation from caffeine.
“For example, ingredients like beetroot in pre-workout powders are used to help with muscle endurance as they’re rich in nitrates (dilators of blood vessels), which help blood travel through the body more easily,” she says. “Cognitive ingredients like L-theanine (found in green tea) are also often included to provide a more alert focus.”
Which Should I Use Before I Work Out?
The answer to that question is like choosing a pair of sneakers to wear out of the house. A pair of slip-ons are a comfortable way to walk from point A to B. But if you’re going on a five-mile run, you’ll get better support from a pair of running shoes.
It makes sense that if you’re working out, you may want to consume the beverage that’s tailor-made for exercise, but let’s look at some specifics.
What Are the Benefits of Pre-Workout vs. Energy Drinks?
Pre-workout drinks are specifically designed to help maximize your workout.
For example, Beachbody Performance Energize includes:*
Beta-alanine, which helps delay muscle burn and reduces fatigue.
Low-dose caffeine to help improve reaction time and focus.
Quercetin to help improve endurance and delay exercise-induced muscle fatigue.
When taken as directed, Energize pre-workout “contains about as much caffeine as you’d find in a cup of coffee,” says Trevor Thieme, CSCS, senior director of fitness and nutrition content at Beachbody. “Caffeine is one of the few well-researched performance-enhancing aids, but you don’t need it in high doses.”*
Another advantage of pre-workout formulations is their versatility — many are designed to be taken alone (mixed into a glass of water) or added to your favorite recipes for smoothies. If you’re looking for some tasty inspiration, try this pre-workout gummies recipe with Beachbody Performance Energize.
Energy drinks’ sole concern is amping you up.
To that end, they may include significantly more caffeine and sugar, which focus on energy — not muscle response — plus artificial colors and other chemicals.
Can You Use Energy Drinks for Workouts?
You can, but they may not be as effective.
The difference between a pre-workout and an energy drink is that a good pre-workout should have some nutritional value, meaning it has additional nutrients intended to power the workout, says Robert Herbst, a 19-time champion powerlifter and an official at the Rio Olympics. “It should not rely just on caffeine.”
According to the FDA, 400mg of caffeine is a safe daily limit for healthy adults. That’s about as much as four to five cups of coffee.
Many energy drinks contain significantly more caffeine, in addition to sugar, which means they can set you up for a quick energy spike but then can lead to a crash. Many pre-workouts are formulated to avoid that crash and contain ingredients to help you get the most out of your workouts.
“An energy drink usually just has caffeine and maybe sugar,” adds Herbst. “Some have B-complex vitamins, although those alone without a meal are basically useless. The key with both is that if they contain caffeine, you have to watch your total caffeine load for the day as you may have caffeine from other sources.”
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.