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If you have the diet portion of your keto lifestyle nailed down and are now looking to take your workout performance to the next level, you might be considering adding a pre workout to your routine.
So, can you take pre workout on keto? Yes, you can take pre-workout on keto. The majority of pre-workout supplements have no sugar and will not affect ketosis. To be sure, double check the ingredient label to ensure it has ≤1g of sugar per serving. Some companies even make preworkouts specifically for keto-dieters, like Bulletproof Unfair Advantage.
As a supplement store manager, I have the responsibility of helping clients make sure that they don’t unintentionally add something to their diet that takes them out of ketosis, which could result in them losing their hard-earned progress.
In this article, I’ll cover:
- Is Pre-Workout Keto?
- Does Pre-Workout Have Carbs?
- Will Pre-Workout Take You Out Of Ketosis?
- What To Look For When Buying Pre-Workout on Keto
- Keto-Friendly Pre-Workout Recommendations
- Keto-Friendly Pre-Workout Alternatives
What Is Pre-Workout?
Pre workout is the name for a broad category of nutritional supplements that provide performance-enhancing benefits when taken before a workout. The benefits include increased energy, strength, endurance, mental focus, reduced fatigue, and improved recovery.
The supplements are generally available in powder form, meant to be mixed with water and taken 60 to 90 minutes before your workout. They can be purchased as single ingredients (like citrulline or creatine) or as blends of anywhere from 5 to 20 ingredients.
If you are following the keto diet, you might be wondering if pre workout supplements will kick you out of your hard-earned ketotic state.
Is Pre-Workout Keto?
Pre-workout can be keto-friendly (and can even support a keto diet), but there are some things to consider when choosing one that won’t kick you out of ketosis. You want to find a formula with little to no sugar (<1g per serving). Added ingredients like magnesium, MCT oil, and BHB Ketones can help support a keto diet.
The good news is that the list of ingredients that affects ketosis is much smaller than the list of ingredients that doesn’t.
After reviewing the extensive list of ingredients found in pre-workout supplements, the two things I have found that might affect ketosis are the inclusion of sugars and Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs).
There is some variability from person to person as to how many grams of carbohydrates per day will kick you out of ketosis, with some major factors being how much muscle mass you have and how active you are.
To reduce the likelihood of your pre-workout kicking you out of ketosis, look for a formula that has 1g of carbs per serving or less. Finding one that is carb/sugar-free will allow you to easily add it into your day without eating up any of your already small carb allowance.
Fortunately, the majority of pre workout supplements have less than 1g of sugar per serving.
BCAAs are a collection of three specific amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
They have been shown to help decrease muscle damage caused from workouts and encourage muscle building. For this reason, they are included in a lot of pre-workouts supplements.
When paired with a high-fat diet, BCAAs show the possibility of leading to insulin resistance (which is when the body’s tissues can’t effectively take up glucose from the blood). This could have a negative impact on overall health by keeping blood sugar levels high, which could lead to type 2 diabetes long-term.
However, the majority of this research has been done on animals or laboratories and more data is needed to study this effect on humans. For what it’s worth, many popular keto brands like Bulletproof include BCAAs in their formulas, so suffice to say more research is needed.
Due to the lack of comprehensive research on the topic of BCAAs and blood sugar with a high fat diet, my recommendation is to either find a pre workout that doesn’t contain BCAAs or use urinary keto test strips before and after taking a pre workout to see if it affects your ketone levels.
Safe Pre Workout Ingredients for Keto
The following pre-workout ingredients have all been shown not to have a negative effect on blood sugar levels:
- Beta-alanine (improves endurance, may actually lower blood glucose levels)
- Creatine (increases strength, muscle mass, and work capacity. Has potential for management of diabetes by controlling blood sugar)
- Citrulline (increases blood flow, showed to lower fasting blood glucose)
- Caffeine (for energy, has no effect on blood sugar in healthy adults)
There are also several ingredients that can be found in pre workout supplements that can be beneficial to people following a keto diet:
Many foods that are naturally high in magnesium are also high in carbs (like cereals and beans), which makes it likely that someone following the keto diet might be deficient in magnesium.
Magnesium also plays a role in regulating muscle contractions, which is why it’s occasionally included in pre workouts. Finding a pre workout that has magnesium in its formula can help you get more magnesium in your day, avoiding a deficiency and improving muscular function.
Optimum Nutrition’s Pre Advanced offers a 100mg dose of Magnesium (approximately 24% of the Daily Value recommendation) while being keto-friendly and offering clinical doses of ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine.
Exogenous ketones are ketone bodies that are consumed through nutritional supplements. You can find them listed in supplements most often as ketone salts, written out in one of the following ways:
- Beta-hydroxybutyric acid
- Paired with a mineral like Calcium Beta Hydroxybutyrate, Magnesium Beta Hydroxybutyrate, Sodium Beta Hydroxybutyrate
- Short-formed to BHBs
Supplementing with BHBs can help improve cognitive performance, reduce hunger, and can be used by the muscles for energy during physical activity.
A common misconception is that supplementing with ketones will put the body into ketosis. While this isn’t true, they are a keto-friendly addition that can help with workout performance, energy, and mental focus.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are fats that are isolated from coconut and palm kernel oils. Their unique chemical structure allows them to help with calorie burning, fat burning, and improved exercise performance.
MCTs are commonly consumed alongside a keto diet as either powders added to coffee or smoothies, or as cooking oils.
Because studies have reported an increase in energy output and improved mental focus with MCT supplementation, some pre-workout companies have begun adding MCT powder to their formulas for a natural performance boost.
Does Pre-Workout Have Carbs?
Most pre-workouts do not have carbs, and the good news is that supplement companies have to label their products if they do. As per the FDA Code of Regulations, companies must label total calories, total sugars, and added sugars if they are present in a dietary supplement.
If a pre workout does not have a clear nutrition facts panel, then it’s likely that it is sugar and calorie free, and safe for keto dieters.
Because some other ingredients also need to be labeled as per the FDA guidelines (like calcium and potassium), some companies will have a nutrition facts panel for those items.
If you find a facts panel that lists these minerals, but doesn’t contain any information about calories or carbohydrates, it is likely sugar and calorie-free.
The best case scenario is that you find a pre-workout supplement that clearly states that it has zero calories and zero sugar.
For example, Cellucor C4 Original pre-workout has a nutrition facts panel that clearly states that it contains zero calories and zero grams of sugar per serving.
One more thing you can do is to check the ingredient list for any sources of sugar that aren’t clearly labeled. You want to look for things labeled as “juice” or “juice extract”, “syrup”, or words ending in -ose (glucose, fructose, dextrose, etc).
Ultimately, if you don’t see a nutrition facts panel on your product and you don’t see any of the forms of sugar listed under the “non-medicinal ingredients” portion of your label, then you can be confident that your pre-workout does not contain carbs and won’t affect ketosis.
- Related Article: Does Pre-Workout Help You Lose Weight? What Science Says
Will Pre-Workout Take You Out of Ketosis?
The majority of pre-workouts will not kick you out of ketosis because they are sugar and calorie-free. The most commonly used sweeteners (sucralose, stevia, acesulfame potassium) and ingredients (creatine, citrulline, beta-alanine) found in pre-workouts are non-glycemic and won’t raise blood sugar levels.
Pre workout supplements use artificial sweeteners to flavour their products. The most commonly used sweetener is sucralose, but you might also find stevia and acesulfame-potassium used.
Sucralose is created through a manufacturing process that chemically alters a sugar molecule, making it 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Stevia is derived from a plant (Stevia rebaudiana), and is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
The majority of both sucralose and stevia are non-digestible by the body which results in them being calorie-free and classified as non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS).
In a 2018 meta-analysis, it was found that NNS consumption does not raise blood sugar, which makes them an acceptable alternative to sugar for keto dieters.
The other key ingredients found in pre-workout supplements like creatine, beta-alanine, and citrulline are all calorie-free and sugar-free ingredients which won’t affect ketosis.
- Getting sick from pre workout frequently? Try one of our pre workout alternatives.
What To Look For When Buying a Keto-Friendly Pre-Workout
Nowadays there are a lot of products marketed towards keto dieters, but not all of these products are actually designed to support a keto diet.
Knowing what to look for in a keto-friendly pre workout can help ensure that you buy a product that is effective, and not simply using misleading marketing tactics.
Here are some things to look for when picking a keto-friendly pre workout:
- A Nutrition Facts Panel that clearly states that the product is fewer than 10 calories and has 0 to 1g of sugar per serving
- Focused primarily on ingredients that have been proven not to raise blood sugar levels like creatine, citrulline, and beta-alanine
- Does not have sugar, juice, or syrup listed in the non-medicinal ingredients
- Bonus: Contains ingredients which benefit keto dieters like Magnesium, BHB, or MCT powder
Keto-Friendly Pre-Workout Recommendations
While the majority of pre-workouts will be safe for someone following the keto diet, here are three recommendations that offer a variety of benefits and caffeine levels to suit nearly every kind of lifter.
Ghost Legend comes highly recommended, getting a rating of 4.3/5 for flavour and 5/5 for Ingredient Quality on Amazon. For the keto-dieter, the product is clearly labeled as sugar-free and offers 4g of Citrulline and 3.2g of Beta-Alanine.
This product offers good energy, mental focus, endurance, and pump but with 250mg of caffeine per serving, it’s a product that should not be taken within 6 hours of your bed time and might come along with more pronounced side effects like anxiety or jitteriness.
C4 Original is a long-time tried and true favourite (first launching in 2014), with 4.6/5 star rating on Amazon based on over 2,400 ratings. This product has a very clear nutrition facts panel that displays it as calorie-free with 0g of sugar.
C4 Original is reasonably low in caffeine at 150mg, which makes it easier to integrate into your day if you like to drink bulletproof coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
Perfect Keto Perform Pre-Workout
Perfect Keto’s pre workout, Keto Perform, is a bit pricey, coming in at $3.33 per serving but contains a host of ingredients that support both exercise performance and a keto diet.
It contains a full 5g of BHB and 4.5g of MCT oil to support energy production, as well as Magnesium, Creatine, Citrulline, and Beta-Alanine. With only 50g of caffeine per serving, it is also more versatile for people who might be sensitive to caffeine or workout later in the day.
Pre-Workout Alternatives That Are Keto-Friendly
Pre workout supplements can be convenient and effective, by combining multiple ingredients in one easy to take formula. But they can come with the downside of being more expensive and offer you less control over the dosage of ingredients you might actually be looking for.
Here are some pre-workout alternatives that are keto-friendy and won’t break your budget.
Sometimes, there’s no need to overcomplicate things. If you are looking for an energy boost before your workout, a simple cup of coffee can offer all that you need for fewer than 3 Calories.
There are some ways you can jazz up your coffee if the thought of black coffee doesn’t appeal to you. Jordan’s Skinny Syrups are available in dozens of flavours, each one sugar and calorie-free. These are a great way to add flavour and sweetness to your coffee without impacting your diet.
You could also add a product like BPI Keto Bomb, which will flavour your coffee but also includes electrolytes and healthy fats for energy, increased performance, and hydration.
Supplementing with 7g ketones (or BHB) 15 to 30 minutes prior to working out can provide you with a quick, ready to go fuel source resulting in increased muscular energy and cognitive function. Because they don’t contain caffeine, they can be consumed any time per day.
MCTs can be broken down and available for energy by the body in as little as fifteen minutes, making them a convenient energy source for your workout. Since MCTs show potential for increased energy, fat burning, and exercise performance, consuming 1 to 2 tbsp of MCT oil 15 minutes before working out is recommended.
BulletproofTM offers two types of MCT oil; their regular MCT Oil formula which offers two of the most ketogenic MCTs found in coconut oil (called C8 and C10). They also have a product called Brain Octane which is strictly C8 MCTs and will offer a quicker energy boost and maximum brain power.
It is worth noting that stomach or Gastrointestinal upset is commonly reported alongside MCT oil supplementation. If you are new to supplementing with MCT oil, start with a 1 tsp serving once per day, then increase to 1.5 tsp and work your way up from there to be able to tolerate 1 tbsp at a time.
Build Your Own Supplement
In this article, we’ve discussed several ingredients that can improve your performance and support a keto-diet without taking you out of ketosis, including creatine, beta-alanine, citrulline, and caffeine.
Depending on which specific outcomes you are looking for, you can select the ingredients most important to your goals and build your own pre workout.
For strength or endurance, 5g of creatine or 3.2g of beta-alanine should be taken daily for a minimum of four weeks, even on days you’re not working out. Citrulline (6-8g) and caffeine (100mg-400mg) can be taken on a day by day basis, used if and when you need them rather than being taken each day.
You can find each supplement in pill or powdered form, with the exception of caffeine which is found exclusively in pill form.
If you still want the convenience of a grab-and-go pre-workout, but don’t want to consume caffeine or supplements in general, opt for a high-fat and high-protein snack.
Made at home options like hard-boiled eggs or beef jerky with some mixed nuts will provide healthy fat, protein, and nutrients to fuel your workout.
Alternatively, you can look for pre-made snacks such as keto peanut butter cups or a keto-friendly protein bar. While these are more convenient and easier to store in your car or gym bag, they will be more expensive per serving.
Other Pre Workout Resources
- Is It Bad To Take Pre Workout Every Day?
- Caffeine Pills vs Pre Workout: Which Is Better?
- Pre Workout Sickness: Causes & How To Fix
- Does Pre-Workout Break A Fast + Ingredients To Avoid
About The Author
Jennifer Vibert is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Nutrition Coach, and supplement store manager. She has a Bachelor of Kinesiology with a major in Fitness and Lifestyle and a minor in Psychology from the University of Regina. She is a Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, with a passion for helping clients learn the fundamentals of nutrition and supplementation in order to build healthy, sustainable habits.