Needing a little “get-up-and-go” to set you in the mood for a tough workout is not uncommon, especially during pregnancy. Pre-workout dietary supplements have risen in popularity, largely due to their promises to boost athletic performance.
Pre-workouts vary depending on the manufacturer, but most contain two key ingredients: caffeine and amino acids.
While there is good research on caffeine and pregnancy, the same cannot be said for supplemental amino acids, which is why pre-workouts are not recommended during pregnancy.
Between the caffeine content and the unknowns that come along with dietary supplements, there are a number of things to keep in mind before you take that next scoop of pre-workout.
Are Pre-Workouts Safe During Pregnancy?
This is a tricky question to answer, as there is no set ingredient list that all manufacturers must include in their products. However, there are many similarities between brands.
In this section, I will brief you on come typical pre-workout ingredients, then take a look at the most popular brands.
Caffeine is a staple ingredient in most pre-workout supplements since it helps you feel pumped and ready to exercise.
Just like other beverages, the amount of caffeine in pre-workouts varies by type and brand.
A recent analysis of different pre-workout supplements found that on average, a single serving of pre-workout contained 254 milligrams of caffeine, which is already over the daily recommendation.
What’s more, the same study found that the amount of caffeine in the pre-workout did not always match up with what the label advertised (source: Nutrients).
This means that even if you’re buying a pre-workout labeled as less than 200 milligrams of caffeine, it could have significantly more (or less) caffeine than you think.
Creatine, an amino acid, is often included in pre-workout supplements in hopes of improving power and body strength, particularly for short muscle contractions – think sprinting and weight lifting (source: Journal of Sports Science and Medicine).
Creatine is safe for most healthy adults and has even been given to premature infants in the hospital without adverse side effects – for non-exercise-related purposes, of course!
However, it hasn’t been studied much in pregnant women (source: BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth).
Other amino acids like tyrosine, beta-alanine, citrulline, and taurine are also found in many pre-workouts.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, but pre-workouts don’t typically include these amino acids as a way to bulk up on protein. Rather, these amino acids are included due to their effects on metabolism.
Beta-alanine, for example, is thought to decrease muscle fatigue, meaning longer and more comfortable workouts (source: Springer Amino Acids).
While amino acids are naturally found in everything we eat, supplements are another story. There is very limited research on how “medicinal” or “supplemental” amounts of these amino acids might affect a pregnant mother or her growing baby.
Taking larger supplemental amounts of amino acids may be safe during pregnancy, but we don’t have enough information to say for sure. For this reason, it is best to avoid products that contain single amino acids (source: Brigham and Womens Hospital).
You might see the amino acids listed out individually on the supplement label, or labeled as a “proprietary blend”. Both labels mean that amino acids have been added in larger, supplemental amounts and the pre-workout is therefore best avoided while pregnant.
The remaining ingredients in pre-workout supplements are added for color, flavor, and sweetness.
Some brands use forms of sugar, such as cane sugar or dextrose, while others opt for non-nutritive or low-calorie sweeteners. Both options are safe while pregnant, making this choice up to personal preference.
Let’s take a deeper look at some of the most commonly searched for brands to see how they stack up during pregnancy:
C4: With fruity and tart flavors, the taste of C4 might be a goldmine for pregnant tastebuds. However, C4 lists a few amino acids in their blend, meaning it is best avoided while pregnant.
Alani Nu: The newest addition to this list of pre-workouts, Alani Nu is simple, yet not suitable during pregnancy. This supplement contains a number of amino acids and a high amount of caffeine at 200 milligrams per serving. The product label even recommends not to take more than 1 serving in a 4-hour period due to the caffeine content.
Beachbody: Aside from amino acids and caffeine, Beachbody’s Energize pre-workout contains a unique ingredient called quercetin. Quercetin is known to cross the placenta and cause lifelong changes to how the fetus stores iron in the body, so it should be avoided while pregnant (source: Toxicology).
Bumped Up: Based on the name alone, you might guess that Bumped Up is geared towards pregnant women, and you’d be right. But just because it is advertised for pregnancy doesn’t make it the best choice. With amino acids that are not recommended for pregnancy, this is another option that’s best skipped when expecting.
Red Leaf: Red Leaf advertises their products to pregnant women because their pre-workout contains only 40 milligrams of caffeine per serving. Unfortunately, Red Leaf pre-workout also contains branched-chain amino acids, which are not recommended during pregnancy.
Ghost: Known for their candy-like flavors and vibrant packaging, the ingredients in Ghost pre-workout echo the others. Ringing in with the highest caffeine content (250 milligrams per serving), as well as a number of amino acids and other ingredients that affect blood flow, Ghost pre-workout is definitely best avoided while pregnant.
Aside from what’s on the ingredients list, when it comes to dietary supplements it is also important to think about what might not be on the ingredients list. In the United States, the FDA does not regulate or inspect dietary supplements.
While there are third parties that perform tests to ensure quality and purity, dietary supplements are still an unregulated industry and therefore the products’ labels might not tell the full story.
As with all dietary supplements, I recommend buying from only brands that you trust and opting for products that have been tested by a third party when possible. Most companies will proudly display third-party testing seals on the label.
A few third-party testing companies to look for include:
- Consumer Lab
- NSF and NSF Certified for Sport
What if I Took Pre Workout Not Knowing I Was Pregnant?
Many women might worry if they used a pre-workout before they found out they were expecting. It is not uncommon to have eaten or drunk something that is not technically recommended for pregnancy in the early weeks.
Usually, there is no cause for concern when it comes to taking pre-workouts before you realize you’re pregnant. Many of the ingredients in pre-workouts may very well be safe during pregnancy, but we just don’t have enough research for proof yet.
The most important thing to do is stop taking the pre-workout unless all of the ingredients are pregnancy safe. It is also a good idea to let your medical provider know of any supplements you are taking or have recently taken.
Also, try to keep the product or a photo of the label. If your doctor is concerned about blood pressure, heart rate, or anxiety, he or she may wish to evaluate the ingredients, since many pre-workouts contain caffeine and ingredients that may affect blood flow.
If you need something to energize you before working out, consider a small amount of coffee or tea. You’ll stay below the daily recommended limit of 200 milligrams of caffeine, and you’ll also know exactly what’s in your cup.
I hope this article has been a helpful guide to safely choosing your exercise energy!