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Pre-Workout vs Energy Drink (Which One Is Best for You?)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 17, 2022

What you take before your workout is just as important as what you take after it. Pre-workouts and energy drinks are some of the most popular and effective products consumed by many young gym enthusiasts before working out.

Both of them can have a positive effect on your physical performance, but which one does it better?

To determine this, I paired up with a dietician to study my clients. We divided them into two groups: the pre-workout group and the energy drink group.

Here’s what my research and observations yielded.

Quick Summary

  • Pre-workouts and energy drinks are both effective and convenient ways to boost energy levels before a workout session.
  • Energy drinks work by giving your body a quick shot of energy before any activity.
  • Pre-workouts are designed to boost your energy levels for a workout, prevent muscle fatigue, and enhance endurance.

What Is the Main Difference Between Pre-Workout and Energy Drinks?

A person holding up a pre workout and another person holding up an energy drink in the gym

The main difference between energy and pre-workout drinks is their effect on you.

Energy drinks are made to give you a quick energy boost, whereas pre-workouts are designed to make you work out more effectively.

They're both designed to energize you before a workout, but pre-workouts generally help with endurance and delaying fatigue.

Below are some of the other differences between energy drinks and pre-workout:

  • An energy drink can be used for a quick energy shot at any time of the day or any activity, whether it's exercising, studying, gaming, or working. A pre-workout supplement is specifically designed for your workout window so your body is at its prime physical performance.
  • Energy drinks are more flavorful, and people tend to drink them slowly, so the effects come in slowly. On the other hand, people usually take pre-workout quickly, so they're more likely to feel the energy from the caffeine faster.
  • Energy drinks are available mostly in liquid form. Pre-workouts are mostly in powdered form (a powder that you mix with water).
  • Energy drinks typically contain between 50–100 calories (unless they’re zero-calorie energy drinks), and most pre-workouts contain little to no calories.

Another major difference between the two is their pre-workout ingredients. Let’s take a better look.

Ingredients That Go Into an Energy and Pre-Workout Drink

A person mixing pre workout into a bottle

Most pre-workouts contain a mix of some or all of these ingredients:

  • Caffeine: It can boost physical and mental performance during exercise [1].
  • BCAAs: Amino acids that improve exercise performance and functional recovery [2]
  • Beetroot or pomegranate extract: It helps reduce high blood pressure [3].
  • Beta-alanine: An essential amino acid that improves muscle size and performance [4].
  • Creatine monohydrate: A naturally found chemical that improves muscle recovery [5].
  • L-Citrulline: It helps increase blood flow in your muscles [6].
  • L-Glutamine: It can give you a good energy boost before working out [7].
  • Other vasodilators: These allow for greater blood flow into your muscles [8].
  • B vitamins and carbohydrates

The average energy drink contains some or all of these ingredients:

  • Ginseng: It’s believed that ginseng increases testosterone and helps with exercise performance, but no solid data backs that claim [9].
  • Taurine: An amino acid that may help with muscle recovery [10].
  • Green Tea Extract: Green tea as a pre-workout may improve exercise endurance [11].
  • Green Coffee Extract: Popular supplement that may help with weight loss [12].
  • Guarana: A plant native to the Amazon that contains caffeine and is dangerous in large amounts [13].
  • Ginkgo biloba: Popular supplement known for improving brain function [14].
  • Carnitine: A compound that plays a critical role in energy production [15].
  • Sugar, B vitamins, and caffeine

Note that both energy drinks and pre-workouts share caffeine and vitamin B as common ingredients. Energy drinks rely on sugar for sweetness (with the exception of sugar-free energy drinks), whereas most pre-workout drinks will use artificial sweeteners.

Benefits

A buff person holding an exercise ball

Based on my observations and what clients reported, here are some of the immediate benefits of pre-workouts and energy drinks.

  • Increased energy before working out
  • Boost in athletic performance
  • Enhanced muscle endurance when lifting

Keep in mind that these benefits were reported by clients who had their sleep, water consumption, and diet in order.

Another important piece of advice has to do with caffeine consumption.

Energy drinks and pre-workouts both contain high caffeine content. So, make sure you take them at appropriate times of the day so that you can see the results of your exercise session.

What You Should Choose Before a Workout

A person in gym gear thinking

What you choose will depend on your workout goals.

If you’re aiming to lose weight fast and improve your muscle definition, then we’d suggest going for a pre-workout because it has almost no calories and zero sugar.

However, if you’re on a time crunch and need a quick energy shot, choose an energy drink brand that has zero calories.

If you’re planning to bulk up fast and would like to add on calories, then energy drinks may be a better option.

However, given that most of them are high in sugar, we recommend going with pre-workout powders.

“Most of these [energy] drinks contain anywhere from 70 to 200 mg of caffeine per serving (equivalent to one to two 1-ounce espressos), which can trigger heart palpitations, the jitters, and insomnia…One popular brand has 62 g of sugar — the same as nearly two candy bars!”

- Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, MD

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FAQs

Where Can You Buy Pre-Workout and Energy Drinks?

You can buy pre-workout and energy drinks online or in most convenience stores.

Although, many pre-workouts are sold exclusively in online or brick-and-mortar supplement stores.

Can Energy Drinks Replace Pre-Workout Supplements?

Yes, energy drinks can replace pre-workout supplements. Many people drink energy drinks as their pre-workout.

They contain caffeine and other stimulants that can improve your physical and mental focus before a workout.

Can You Overdose on Energy Drinks or Pre-Workout?

Yes, you can overdose on energy drinks or pre-workout.

Both of them contain stimulants on which you can overdose, so never go over the recommended dosage provided on the product label.

Which One Is Best for You?

Even the best energy drinks can be detrimental to your weight loss goals because of the extra calories from sugar.

That’s why we highly recommend going for a good pre-workout supplement.

When choosing your supplements, make sure you go for a product that is made with all-natural ingredients:

These products will give you the same boost as most energy drinks, but you won’t suffer nasty post-workout crashes or caffeine jitters.

Take a look at our list and find the one that best matches your fitness goals.


References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/coffee-before-workout
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241904/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5563971/
  4. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1222/beta-alanine
  5. https://www.webmd.com/men/creatine
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5999519/
  7. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320850#l-glutamine-deficiency
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554423/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5102849/
  10. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-021-00438-0
  11. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050128221248.htm
  12. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318611
  13. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-935/guarana
  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263105
  15. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Carnitine-HealthProfessional/

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