Pre-workouts are some of the most popular supplements for those who work out consistently. However, they may not be the best option for those who don’t work out despite their cognitive benefits.
You shouldn’t take a pre-workout if you don’t work out because the ingredients in a pre-workout are geared toward improving sports performance. Having these ingredients for everyday activities is a waste of money and can cause increased anxiety or jitteriness without adequate physical outlets.
As a nutrition coach, my clients ask me whether pre-workout supplements are good for boosting energy levels even if they don’t work out. Instead of recommending a pre-workout, I give them a list of better alternatives.
- Pre-workout can cost as much as $2.00 per serving and is not regulated by the FDA. It’s generally not worth the expense and potential health risks if you’re not taking it the way it is intended.
- Ingredients in pre-workout that target enhanced cognitive function, such as caffeine and creatine, can still be consumed separately on a daily basis even if you’re not working out.
- Most other ingredients in pre-workout wouldn’t be beneficial though.
Why You May Want To Take Pre-Workout Without Working Out
Pre-workouts are designed to be taken before your workout, but there are situations where you may consider taking a pre-workout supplement even if you don’t plan to work out.
You may want to take a pre-workout supplement without working out if:
- You have a job that involves physical labor.
- You have a big test to study for that requires additional focus.
- You prefer it to alcohol before going out on the town.
These are valid reasons for wanting to turn to pre-workout even if you don’t work out, but I still don’t recommend it.
For those who have a physically active job, it may not seem that different from doing a structured workout.
However, pre-workout isn’t something you should take every day (even for workouts) because you can become numb to ingredients like caffeine. You shouldn’t depend on a pre-workout supplement to do your job.
For those who want to take pre-workout for improved focus or increased energy, there are much better alternatives to reach for that won’t cause the jitteriness or anxiety that can result from pre-workout if you don’t have a physical outlet for the extra energy.
- Related Article: Can You Take Pre-Workout Twice In One Day?
Ingredients in Pre-Workout and What They Do
Each brand of pre-workout will have a different formula with different ingredients, but the most common ingredients in pre-workouts are:
- Caffeine. Has been shown to increase focus, alertness, and sports performance 30 to 60 minutes after consumption.
- Creatine. Used to delay fatigue, encourage strength gain and muscle growth, and improve cognitive function. However, these benefits are only achieved with consistent supplementation.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). Have been shown to encourage muscle protein synthesis (a precursor to muscle growth). However, it is likely unnecessary for those who already consume adequate BCAAs from whole foods.
- Citrulline Malate. Is thought to improve performance by improving the delivery of oxygen to working muscles.
- Beta-Alanine. Has been shown to help reduce lactic acid buildup by improving the body’s ability to buffer, which delays the onset of fatigue and allows you to work harder for longer.
All of these ingredients are safe to take even if you don’t work out. However, most of them are geared specifically towards increasing your performance in the gym.
The ingredients that target cognitive function (i.e., caffeine and creatine) may be beneficial during a typical workday. But ingredients that increase physiological functions (i.e., BCAAs, citrulline malate, and beta-alanine) may go to waste if you don’t work out.
If you want to consume ingredients like caffeine or creatine for the cognitive benefits, it’s best to supplement with them separately rather than getting them from pre-workout.
- Related Article: Creatine vs. Pre-Workout Are They the Same? (No, Here’s Why)
4 Reasons Not To Take Pre-Workout if You Don’t Work Out
1. It Can Increase Anxiety
Pre-workouts are known to increase anxiety in those who use them because of their high caffeine content. High doses of caffeine have also been linked to increased jitteriness and heart rate.
If you don’t have an athletic outlet for the amount of caffeine in a pre-workout, the amount of anxiety you feel may be worse.
If you struggle with anxiety, I suggest steering clear of pre-workout, especially if you don’t work out.
2. It Can Lead To Insomnia
Pre-workout can also cause insomnia because it contains caffeine and other stimulants. The effects of pre-workouts take time to wear off. Even if you take your pre-workout at 5pm, you could still feel its effects by 10pm.
Insomnia is more likely to occur with pre-workout than with other caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, or soda because of the higher caffeine doses in pre-workout.
“…a 12 ounce can of a caffeinated soft drink typically contains 30 to 40 milligrams of caffeine, an 8-ounce cup of green or black tea 30-50 milligrams, and an 8-ounce cup of coffee closer to 80 to 100 milligrams”– Food & Drug Administration
For reference, one scoop of pre-workout typically contains between 150mg to 250mg, but some have close to 420mg per scoop.
- Related Article: What To Do If You Can’t Fall Asleep After Taking Pre-Workout (9 Tips)
3. It’s Expensive
Pre-workout is expensive and likely not worth it if you won’t benefit from both the physiological and psychological benefits.
The average price of pre-workout is around $2.00 per serving. Generally, there are 30 servings per tub, so you’re looking at approximately $60 per tub of pre-workout.
If you use pre-workout in place of a morning coffee or to combat an afternoon energy crash, it will cost you.
4. It’s Not Regulated by the FDA
Lastly, pre-workout isn’t regulated by the FDA. There is a chance it could contain ingredients that are harmful to your health, especially if consumed in larger quantities.
If you don’t take pre-workout for its intended use and instead take it “just because,” it’s not worth it.
5 Pre-Workout Alternatives To Take if You’re Not Working Out
If you’re not working out but still want the cognitive benefits of a pre-workout, or you need an energy boost to get you through your day, here are 5 great pre-workout alternatives.
Coffee is the best pre-workout alternative because it has caffeine, just in lower amounts. You will still get the energy, focus, and alertness that you want with less risk of anxiety or jitteriness.
Opting for coffee is a better option for everyday life because it contains caffeine but lacks ingredients like beta-alanine and citrulline malate that are in pre-workout but are not necessary if you don’t work out.
2. Energy Drinks
If you want an energy boost or want to increase your focus on studying or work, an energy drink is a better alternative to pre-workout.
Energy drinks are designed to give you a boost of energy or alertness to power through the task at hand, whereas pre-workouts are designed to improve your performance in the gym. So, if you’re not working out, energy drinks are a better option.
That said, I don’t recommend having energy drinks daily. If you find yourself needing an energy boost more often, you may want to consider a healthier alternative like the other options on this list.
Tea is an excellent pre-workout alternative for those sensitive to caffeine because it is lower in caffeine than most other options but can still increase alertness and energy.
Another selling factor for tea is that it comes with an array of health benefits. Having it more often can help you improve your energy and health.
Black teas can improve heart health and gut health and reduce the risk of stroke.
Green tea can improve brain function, protect against cancer, and lower the risk of heart disease.
Soda is another alternative to pre-workout that is similar to energy drinks but only has caffeine and sugar rather than stimulants, caffeine, and sugar.
I don’t encourage daily soda consumption, but you can have it every now and then. I prefer soda to pre-workout for those who don’t work out because it provides an energy boost (from caffeine and carbs) without other additives.
- Related Article: Is Diet Soda Good or Bad for Bodybuilding?
5. A Balanced Meal
Another great alternative for pre-workout for those who don’t work out is a balanced meal because it provides sustained energy. A balanced meal consists of protein, carbs (including fruits and vegetables), and fats.
Carbs are your body’s main energy source, but they digest so quickly that the energy they provide would be short-lived if they were consumed on their own. However, pairing them with protein and fats slows digestion and provides more long-lasting energy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Happens If You Take Pre-Workout and Don’t Work Out?
If you take pre-workout without working out, you’re more likely to experience anxiety and insomnia due to higher doses of caffeine and other stimulants because you won’t have an athletic outlet for these ingredients. You’ll also waste money since you’re not maximizing pre-workout’s benefits for athletic performance.
Can You Use Pre-Workout as an Energy Drink?
You shouldn’t use pre-workout as an energy drink. Pre-workout is specifically geared towards improving sports performance by increasing heart rate and delaying muscle fatigue. Whereas energy drinks are designed to improve energy and focus for improved cognitive function.
Can I Drink Pre-Workout Before Work?
You shouldn’t drink pre-workout before work because you likely won’t get a physical outlet to help reduce feelings of jitteriness. It makes more sense if you have a physical labor job, which is comparable to a workout. But it’s still not recommended for daily use since you can become numb to certain ingredients.
About The Author
Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath. She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.