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August 25, 2023
Everybody loves a pre-workout. Well, maybe not everybody but most people, and for a good reason. Pre-workouts work. No one likes going to the gym feeling tired, and a good pre-workout does a really good job straightening that out. This is known and accepted as that’s literally the entire purpose of a pre-workout. That being said, you might be wondering about a secondary benefit; can pre-workout help you lose weight?
The short answer is - yes, it can. Perhaps not in a direct manner, but it can definitely help the process of shedding pounds. In this article, we’re going to talk about pre-workout and how it can help you lose weight.
If losing weight is a secondary benefit to pre-workout, what is the primary benefit of a pre-workout? What’s its main function? Easy answer - to get you hyped for the gym.
The term “pre-workout” simply refers to a sports supplement designed to be taken before a workout to enhance your performance. The primary working mechanism of pre-workouts vary depending on their ingredients which could include different stimulants, such as caffeine, that give lifters a temporary boost of energy, which allows greater intensity in the gym.
Still, other pre-workouts may rely on nitric boosters or muscle buffering agents. Or, they may just use everything to ensure you get all the benefits. Regardless, this article is not meant to break down every ingredient in detail, but if you are interested in that here's an in-depth look at pre-workout ingredients.
Generally speaking, pre-workouts will cause some sort of stimulation that allows more energy at the gym and results in the ability to perform a more significant workload.
Pre-workouts can definitely give you the boost you need to crush your gym session, but how does this relate to weight loss? Actually, pre-workout can help you lose weight through several different mechanisms. Before we go into how, we want to make one thing clear. The primary means by which you lose weight is by fixing your diet and getting into a caloric deficit. Without doing that, pre-workout will do nothing in terms of weight loss.
That being said, once you can commit to staying in a caloric deficit, pre-workout can help you reach your weight loss goals in various ways:
One of the pre-workout primary functions is increasing the overall workload you perform at the gym. This is done utilizing a stimulant that gives you energy and buffering agents, which help mitigate fatigue. When combined, you are able to lift more weight at the gym. In terms of energy balance, more weight means more work which requires more calories which means more weight loss. If your pre-workout allows you to increase your workload and burn more calories, you’re going to have an easier time losing weight.
Everyone can have “one of those days” when being in a prolonged caloric deficit. We’re talking about when you just feel a bit sluggish and lethargic. While you usually love hitting the weights, the appeal just isn’t there on these days. If you succumb to lethargy and skip your session, not only are you sacrificing stimulus for muscle growth/maintenance, you’re also losing the chance to burn calories. Even if you muster up enough energy to get to the gym, your workout will be subpar once you get there.
However, taking a scoop of your favorite pre-workout will fix that and give you that little oomph you need. Now you’re ready to crush the gym, lift some weight, and burn some calories.
Note: You do need to be cautious that you don’t become dependent on pre-workout for energy but it can definitely help you out. If you are feeling extra tired, be sure to check your sleep as that is often the biggest cause for general fatigue.
One of the direct mechanisms by which pre-workout can help you lose weight is by speeding up your metabolism. The only caveat is that your pre-workout needs to contain certain stimulants, specifically caffeine.
Why caffeine? That’s because studies have shown that caffeine can increase your metabolic rate by as much as 11%1! These are basically “free” burned calories that require nothing of you other than consuming caffeine-containing your pre-workout! Now add these with the additional extra calories burned, and now you have some serious caloric burn.
Another intriguing effect of pre-workout ingredients is that they can suppress your appetite. This effect will largely depend on the ingredients used, but caffeine is one of the primary ingredients that can lead to suppressed food intake2. Obviously, less food intake means less calorie intake, which directly affects weight loss. However, and perhaps more importantly, a suppressed appetite makes it more bearable to eat fewer calories. You can still eat less food even if your appetite isn’t suppressed. However, it sucks being hungry and can eventually lead to overeating. When your appetite is suppressed, eating isn’t even an issue to talk about, making the entire process more enjoyable.
Another common pre-workout ingredient that is rarely, if ever, linked to appetite suppression is your BCAAs, especially leucine. Studies have shown that leucine is unique in its ability to suppress the appetite upon consumption3. This is primarily through two mechanisms:
We also need to consider that one of the leading causes of overeating is “snacking.” This is random eating that occurs throughout the day due to boredom or emotions. Or maybe just because. Now, if your pre-workout can suppress your appetite, there will be a significant reduction in this snacking, meaning a significant reduction in caloric intake.
With that in mind, be aware this time of suppression is transient and will differ depending on your size, sensitivity, and the dose taken.
Stay with us on this one. A study took 2,680 participants and had them follow a 15-week exercise program. They were instructed to not change their diet, but the vast majority did so naturally4. By naturally, we mean that they didn’t make the conscious decision to eat better; it was just a side effect of the exercise. Researchers believe this occurs due to exercise having a positive impact on the brain’s executive function; or ability to make rational choices.
So, where does pre-workout come into play? Interestingly enough, the researchers spotted a positive relationship between intensity and food choices; in other words, the participants who participated in more intense exercise saw greater improvements in their food choices. As the primary benefit of pre-workout is to increase the intensity of your exercise, we think it’s pretty safe to conclude that pre-workout could improve food choices, thus lowering caloric intake.
This is a bit nuanced as there is definitely a discussion to be had on if you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. However, it’s still worth being mentioned. Even if you were to not lose any fat but gain muscle mass, your body composition would still improve, leaving you looking leaner. This is totally possible as a pre-workout allows for extra workload, which can translate into muscle growth. At the same time, you could look at your weight loss in the long term over months. Pre-workout can definitely aid in your cutting and bulking blocks, leaving you with an overall better physique and lower body fat percent than when you first started.
While pre-workout can definitely aid in your weight loss, it shouldn’t be explicitly used to lose weight. By that, we mean you shouldn’t randomly take a scoop when you wake up to keep you from eating breakfast. Therefore, you should continue using it as you would normally before your gym sessions. You will need to check your specific pre-workout but the majority will instruct you to take a serving 30-60 minutes before you hit the gym. Therefore, you may need to play around with pre-workout timing and actual serving amount to see what best works for you.
Again, we can’t reiterate this enough, pre-workout is not going to cause you to lose weight if you don’t have your diet in check. While it can support weight loss by all of the mechanisms mentioned above, you can not use it to fix a bad diet.
It’s really hard to say what pre-workout is best for losing weight as, again, that’s not its primary purpose. Further, it’s difficult to find substantial reviews on this aspect of pre-workout. That being said, you will need to experiment to see what pre-workout gives you the best “pump” and provides the best stimulus for a workout. We would definitely recommend a pre-workout with a generous dose of caffeine (we’d suggest 200mg+ for optimal effect), arginine (nitric booster), citrulline (nitric booster), and some sort of buffering agent.
Pre-workout is unique in its design as it really is very versatile and can be used to support whatever your goal is. Its primary purpose is to help elevate the intensity of your workload which can help reach any goal, unless your goal is to be weak (we’re assuming it’s not).
Therefore, yes, pre-workout can definitely help you lose weight. If you have your diet and programming already in check, adding an excellent pre-workout to the mix can help boost the effects and make the entire process more enjoyable and effective.
Looking for a great pre-workout to help you hit your weight loss goals? Check out our article on the Best Pre-Workout Supplements For Weight Loss!
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