Pre-workout supplements are common for adults ranging from your casual gym-goer to elite athletes, but is pre-workout a good idea for a teenager?
In general, we do not recommend pre-workout for teenagers, as most common ingredients have not been studied to be proven safe for adolescents. Specifically, we recommend avoiding pre-workout with caffeine or other stimulants. That said, if teens use pre-workout, look for third-party certified stim-free products.
You might decide for yourself that the benefits outweigh the risks when it comes to pre-workout for teenagers, so I will cover the most important things to look for in a pre-workout for teenagers.
Note: Always discuss supplementation with a doctor or other primary health care provider.
- Many pre-workout products are labeled as 18+, but there are no regulations governing the sale of these products to teeangers.
- Caffeine is the most potentially harmful substance for teenagers in pre-workout, so any products selected should be stimulant-free.
- Strategies for getting adequate sleep, good nutrition, and proper hydration are the best options for teenagers to maximize energy and performance in the gym.
Are Teenagers Allowed To Take Pre-Workout?
While some pre-workout supplements have a label for 18+, others do not specify an age range, and there are no current laws or regulations that restrict the sale of these products to teenagers. The ingredient raising the most concern is caffeine, which is also why governments are looking to ban energy drinks for teens.
Since teeangers are still able to purchase and consume pre-workout supplements, it’s important for parents, coaches, and teenagers themselves to understand the risks and to know what to look for if they decide that the benefits of a pre-workout supplement outweigh the risks for a teeanger.
Is Pre-Workout Safe For Teenagers?
There is currently no strong scientific evidence for or against the safety of pre-workout supplements for teenagers. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages the use of supplements and describes them as “of little benefit” and “potentially damaging to young athletes.”
Looking at specific pre-workout ingredients one by one:
Beta alanine is supposed to reduce fatigue and increase strength and endurance, but most studies do not show significant performance enhancement in young athletes, and its safety has not been established for children.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched chain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) can come from whole food sources of complete protein, such as meat, cheese, or eggs, or they can be supplemented individually.
Supplementation is supposed to provide energy to working muscles instantaneously, preventing muscle tissue from breakdown as an energy source during a workout.
Research done at Saint Louis University showed that BCAAs provide no benefit for adolescents with high metabolic rates, leading to a negligible effect of BCCAs for teens.
Teenagers are better served by including nutritious whole food sources of protein in their daily diet, such as eggs, milk, chicken, red meat, and fish. Protein powder can also be considered if teenagers struggle to get enough whole food sources of protein.
Caffeine can lead to heart palpitations, sleeping problems, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures, and these negative side effects are more likely for adolescents – nearly half of caffeine overdoses were in people younger than 19.
Teenagers definitely should NOT turn to energy drinks like Bang or Monster as an alternative to pre-workout, with the AAP and AHA (American Heart Association) both discouraging consumption of energy drinks for anyone under the age of 18 due to risk of heart, blood pressure or nerve damage from caffeine.
Similar to beta alanine, citrulline malate has been studied in adults to show improvements in exercise endurance by increasing blood flow to working muscles (vasodilation), but has not been studied for safety or effectiveness for adolescents. Vasodilation has impacts on blood pressure that could be dangerous for young athletes.
Despite the fact that hundreds of studies have been done on creatine, and it is largely regarded as safe and effective, very few studies have been done specifically on creatine and its safety for adolescents. The Arnold Palmer Hospital For Children in Orlando, Florida, specifically recommends against letting teenagers use creatine.
Whether creatine improves performance for young athletes as reliably as it does for adults is also up for debate, with recent evidence showing that creatine supplementation, while still effective, may be less effective in adolescents compared to adults.
Overall, creatine seems to be well-tolerated by teenagers, with no adverse effects, suggesting that creatine for teeangers is beneficial at best and harmless at worst.
Benefits of Teenagers Taking Pre-Workout
There are limited benefits for teenagers when taking pre-workout. In fact, the most powerful benefit might actually be the placebo effect, which shows the power of the mind when a consumer believes that a product will improve their performance, and that belief alone actually does lead to improved performance.
Pre-workout products that contain caffeine will provide an energy boost for teenagers, although the offset is that it can lead to jitteriness and other negative side effects as described above.
Of all the common pre-workout ingredients reviewed, creatine is the most promising for providing improved performance for young athletes. Creatine use led to performance improvements in teenage swimmers and soccer players.
Despite little to no evidence supporting actual physical benefits of pre-workout ingredients for young athletes, some studies did notice a placebo effect where teenagers performed better when they took a pre-workout supplement simply because they thought that they would.
Drawbacks of Teenagers Taking Pre-Workout
The drawbacks of teenagers taking pre-workout are more numerous than the benefits and they include unproven benefits, unknown safety record, risk of negative side effects, or ingesting unknown or dangerous substances, as well as wasting money.
Unknown or Limited Benefits
Most common pre-workout ingredients have either not been studied in teenagers, or studies show limited benefits for teenagers compared to the benefits observed for adults.
Negative Side Effects
The most common side effects for teenagers come from caffeine, which can cause headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, nausea and diarrhea. Other pre-workout ingredients have also been linked to dehydration, muscle and joint pain, and digestive upset.
Lack of Regulations
Like other dietary supplements, pre-workout products are not regulated by the FDA so claims about safety or effectiveness do not need to be proven, and ingredient labels may or may not disclose all of the actual ingredients.
Often, pre-workout supplements reference a “proprietary blend” so there is no way to tell exactly what or how much the product contains.
Unknown Safety Record
It’s hard to know whether pre-workout and other sports supplements are safe for teenagers because long-term studies on this age group haven’t been done.
The other concern is that the products could contain ingredients other than those stated on the label, or in amounts different than shown on the label. A product that claims to have only 50mg of caffeine per serving might actually have 500mg, and there would be no way to know.
Waste of Money
Given that pre-workout supplements seem to provide little upside compared to the risk of unwanted side effects and unknown risks, buying pre-workout supplements for teenagers could ultimately be a waste of money.
- Related Article: Dirty Bulking As A Teenager: A Closer Look & Is It Safe?
4 Things To Look for When Buying Pre-Workout For Teenagers
If you do decide on a pre-workout supplement for a teenager, look for accurate, complete labels on products that are third-party certified and are free of stimulants and artificial sweeteners and colors, and discuss any supplement choices with the teen’s doctor.
Make sure that the label on the product clearly lists all supplement ingredients in stated amounts (rather than disguising the amount of one or more ingredients in a “proprietary blend”), as well as any additional non-active ingredients such as sweeteners, colors and fillers.
If you look at the label on the right, below, you will see the “Pump & Shred Complex” and the “Energy Surge Complex,” along with the “Mushroom Blend,” where the total amount is listed but the amount of each ingredient within the complex or blend is not stated.
Even if the label appears to be complete and accurate, the only way to know for sure whether the product in the package actually contains the ingredients listed on the label is to get a product that is third-party certified by an independent body.
Third party certification organizations will test the product for purity and accuracy, to make sure that it contains only the ingredients stated, in the amounts stated, and does not contain any harmful ingredients or banned substances.
Look for labels like these. This is especially important if the teen is competing at an elite level in a sport that is subject to.
Given the risks of caffeine for youth and guidelines from several agencies to avoid caffeine consumption in teens, it’s very important to choose a pre-workout supplement that does not contain caffeine or other stimulants such as yohimbine, theacrine, guarana, or green tea extract.
- Related Article: 9 Pre Workout Alternatives That Won’t Make You Crash
No Artificial Sweeteners or Colors
My final guideline for teens is to steer clear of artificial sweeteners and artificial dyes/colors.
Artificial sweeteners have been linked to digestive distress for adults, so there’s no sense risking similar discomfort in a developing microbiome, and artificial food colors (AFCs) have been linked to behavioral problems and health conditions in children.
Best Pre-Workouts For Teenagers
In general, I do not recommend pre-workout supplements for teenagers. They should be getting their energy from a balanced diet and adequate sleep. However, if a teen is going to take a pre-workout, I recommend a third-party certified non-stim formula with no artificial sweeteners or colors.
In order to meet all of my criteria, I recommend Transparent Labs Stim-Free Non Caffeinated Performance Formula.
- Check out the complete review: Transparent Labs Stim-Free Review: I Am Obsessed, Coach Says
- Keep in mind that the label clearly states “Not intended for persons under the age of 18. Keep out of reach of children.”
- The label lists all ingredients and amounts
- Transparent Labs products are third-party certified, with Certificates of Analysis for your specific product available upon request
- The product is sweetened with stevia
- Transparent Labs uses natural sources for color, such as blue spirulina or beet powder
My second choice is KAGED Pre-Kaged Stim-Free.
- Third-party tested
- Informed-Sport certified
- No artificial flavors or colors
No matter what product you choose, please remember to discuss it with your/your teen’s doctor and/or a Registered Dietitian, first.
How Much Pre-Workout Should Teenagers Take?
I recommend starting with a ¼ to ½ dose at first, mixed properly with water according to the package directions. If this dose works well, then it can be slowly increased over the course of 2 weeks to a single dose. I recommend a maximum of one dose per day, and only on training or competition days.
Before following my recommendation, it is best to discuss the supplement with the teen’s doctor and follow their advice.
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About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.
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