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Does Pre-workout Make You Gain Weight? (From A Dietitian)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

The last thing you want to do when trying to lose weight is take a supplement that will cause weight gain.

My fitness clients know I read a lot of supplement ingredient labels to understand what they are putting in their bodies, and many ask me whether pre-workout will inhibit their weight loss efforts.

I took a deep dive into this topic by speaking to our dietician here at Total Shape and researching several different ingredients instrumental in gaining weight.

So, do pre-workouts get in the way of your weight loss efforts? Let’s take a look.

Quick Summary

  • Creatine may be the key ingredient to weight gain when using pre-workout supplements.
  • Another factor to consider besides the number on the scale is body composition, including lean muscle mass.
  • Reading the ingredients label is essential to find the pre-workout that won’t work against your weight loss goals.

Could Pre-workout Cause You to Gain Weight?

Some ingredients in pre-workout supplements, such as creatine, could cause you to gain weight.

You may be asking yourself why then would I take a pre-workout supplement? Well, primarily because you want to crush your workouts.

First, let’s see how pre-workouts help you do that.

Some Key Ingredients

Coffee beans close up image

A hefty dose of caffeine is in just about every pre-workout because it boosts your exercise performance

There can also be the added benefit of better focus and fast reaction time, which are invaluable for workout sessions.

Creatine basically feeds your muscles energy and significantly contributes to increased muscle mass over the long term [1].

If you want to bulk up, this amino acid is your necessary gym partner.

Our bodies take the amino acid L-citrulline, found in many pre-workouts, and change it into l-arginine, a building block for nitric oxide [2]. Good nitric oxide levels mean healthy blood flow and lower blood pressure.

What does that mean for your workout? Increasing blood flow to your working muscles may delay fatigue and increase muscle pumps and recovery, potentially leading to bigger gains.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential amino acids, meaning your body does not produce them on its own. Adding BCAAs to pre-workout will fuel your muscles for those intense workouts [3].

Beta-alanine is also a big helper when it comes to reducing muscle fatigue [4].

Do Any of These Common Ingredients Cause Weight Gain?

Pouring supplement powder inside tumbler

Creatine seems to be the biggest culprit for weight gain in this list of common pre-workout ingredients. Does this mean it’s bad? Not necessarily; let’s take a closer look.

High Water Retention

Increased water retention is common when taking creatine because it draws water into your muscles [5]. Hydrated muscles are a good thing for recovery, but some people may feel bloated, or their muscles may look bigger due to this water accumulation.

In the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a report stated that some individuals gain as much as 4.5 pounds in the first week of creatine supplementation, mainly due to water retention [6].

Muscle Growth

Posing to show muscle groups

It’s no secret why creatine is in most pre-workout supplements.

Research shows creatine increases muscle strength and endurance and reduces muscle damage [7].

It is important to remember that the scale may tip upward more with those muscle gains as muscle is more dense than fat.

Belly Fat Gain

Here is the good news.

Though creatine may encourage weight gain through water retention and increased muscle mass, creatine itself does not increase body fat. To gain fat, you must consume more calories than you burn. Creatine adds very little, if any, to a pre-workout supplement.

“Weight gain from creatine is not due to gaining fat but increased water content in your muscles.”

- Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, MBA, CSCS

Taking Pre-workouts When Trying to Lose Weight

Drinking a pre workout while sitting

Let’s look at what to pay close attention to when choosing a pre-workout supplement to avoid things that are counterproductive to losing weight.

Read the Label

One of the critical things to remember when taking pre-workout supplements is to avoid unnecessary calories. These calories come in the form of unnecessary additives, fillers, and sweeteners.

Less Is More

When I look at any supplement, pre-workouts included, I go with the “less is more” approach. Be cautious of a long list of seemingly impressive ingredients, as they probably aren’t.

Artificial sweeteners can potentially hinder your efforts to lose weight [8].

Good all-natural sugar alternatives don’t add to the calorie count but help improve taste (stevia, which is plant-based and has zero calories, comes to mind), and this might cause you to drink guilt-free way more than you would otherwise.

Following the dosing instructions is essential for caloric intake and reducing any potential adverse effects from stimulants or other ingredients.

Stay away from proprietary blends as the ingredients and amounts are unclear. I encourage my clients to always know what they are putting in their bodies.

“Supplements list ingredients on their label in order of predominance. Steer clear of supplements that contain a long list of additives, including fillers, binders, sweeteners, or preservatives”

- Rachael Link, MS, RD

2 Ingredients You Should Specially Look For

Getting a scoop of creatine

Creatine

So you’ve decided to stick with a pre-workout that contains creatine. That’s okay; creatine supplements are a great tool for reaching your fitness goals, and you have ways to counteract the increased water retention.

We all know hydration is essential in everyday life, particularly with exercise and especially when taking creatine.

While it may seem counterintuitive, drinking water is one of the best ways to combat water retention. Staying hydrated promotes urination which helps get rid of excess water in your body.

Watch your sodium intake. Sodium can also cause water retention and will only further compound the problem.

You should also monitor your carbohydrates because, like sodium, carbs contribute to water weight. Stepping on the scale can be shocking when you gain five pounds after a carb-heavy meal. Did you gain five pounds in one meal? No, that’s mostly water.

Caffeine

Where creatine could be your weight loss foe, caffeine is your weight-loss friend. Research shows that caffeine promotes weight and fat loss and improves body mass index (BMI) [9].

We have already discussed it gives you increased focus and more energy. Finding a pre-workout with caffeine will be easy because practically all have it.

If you are sensitive to caffeine, I will avoid these pre-workouts as it generally equates to 2-3 cups of coffee. However, there are plenty of solid caffeine-free alternatives.

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FAQs

Does Pre-workout Make You Gain Water Weight?

Some pre-workout supplements may make you gain water weight, especially ones that include creatine. One of the known side effects of creatine is moderate water retention.

Can You Get Rid of Pre-workout Bloating?

Post-workout hydration helps get rid of pre-workout bloating. Keeping hydrated encourages urination which helps the body get rid of excess water.

So, Will Pre-workout Make You Gain Weight?

Pre-workouts have their place in the fitness world, and for the most part, they don’t cause weight gain. Sure, there are contributing factors in some pre-workouts, like unnecessary carbs, so reading labels is critical.

Several of my clients opted for pre-workouts that omit creatine because they are working out not to increase bulk but to primarily decrease body weight.

I advise all of them to check out our guide on the best creatine-free pre-workouts that we tried and tested ourselves to determine efficacy, convenience, and safety. Make sure to check this list to find the one that suits you best.


References:

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/6/1915/htm
  2. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/l-citrulline-uses-and-risks
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241904/
  4. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/8/658
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC155510/
  6. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
  7. https://www.webmd.com/men/creatine
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18535548/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30335479/
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