If you’re looking for an extra boost for your workouts but are confined by sporting weight classes or weight loss goals, you don’t want to take chances by taking a pre-workout, making you gain weight. But is it possible?
Pre-workout is highly unlikely to contribute to weight gain due to very low calories. However, you may expect a 1.2% water weight gain if your pre-workout contains creatine.
But why would some people gain weight and others not when taking pre-workout?
Table of Contents
What Is In Pre-Workout?
Pre-workouts are formulated with ingredients to enhance your performance acutely, whether that be strength, power output, or endurance. Here are some of the common ingredients:
Caffeine is the main performance driver in a pre-workout. Without caffeine, you won’t have a noticeable effect on performance. However, that’s not to say other ingredients are useful. Instead, it illustrates how potent a stimulant caffeine is.
You’re looking at, on average, a 6.5% increase in power output, a 9.4% increase in the number of reps you can perform in a set, and a 2.22% increase in endurance performance [1,2]. Most pre-workouts have a caffeine dose of approximately 200 mg per serving which is reasonable.
That’s around 2-2.5 cups of coffee. While the research shows a dose of 3-6 mg per kilogram of bodyweight is needed to elicit performance improvements, from experience, I can tell you lower doses are just as effective. Especially if you are caffeine sensitive.
While creatine does not provide any acute performance benefits, it is very effective for enhancing strength and power over the long term. Such as an 8% improvement in strength and a 14% increase in the number of reps performed in a set .
If you suddenly gain weight from pre-workout, it is likely water weight from creatine.
L-citrulline is your ticket to skin-splitting pumps or ultimate endurance. It increases the number of reps to failure and reduces muscle soreness and fatigue while improving time to exhaustion during endurance exercise [4,5,6].
It is a nitric oxide booster meaning it dilates your blood vessels to improve blood flow. L-arginine was the original nitric oxide boosting ingredient in pre-workouts.
However, it has poor absorption in the gut, meaning you don’t get the intended performance benefit. L-citrulline bypasses this problem by converting into L-arginine in the kidneys, producing more nitric oxide.
Beta-alanine is responsible for the skin itching and tingling feeling after taking your pre-workout. It helps extend your ability to withstand high-intensity exercise in the 1-4 minute range [7,8]. It does so by increasing carnosine levels, which helps vacuum hydrogen ions that build up and cause fatigue during high-intensity exercise.
Can Pre-Workout Make You Gain Weight?
Gaining weight is a product of ingesting too many calories per day above your maintenance. For example, if my bodyweight is maintained by eating 2000 calories per day, having 2500 will be a surplus resulting in weight gain.
Pre-workouts barely add to your total daily caloric intake. You can easily balance them by reducing a similar number of calories from a meal. However, you should also be aware of creatine’s ability to hold water, pushing your weight up on the scale.
Typically, you can expect a 1.2% bodyweight increase due to water weight when taking creatine . This is a good thing!
It is how you can enhance strength and power to such a great degree. You should not be worried about the scale weight from creatine when it can improve your performance to this extent allowing you to build more muscle and burn more fat.
But not everyone will have this weight gain side effect. Some lifters will be non-responders to creatine, meaning they don’t see any change in bodyweight. I am a non-responder and don’t see any changes in my bodyweight when taking creatine.
Why You Are Gaining Weight When Taking Pre-Workout
The number one reason you’re gaining weight while taking pre-workout is that you consume too many calories above what is needed to maintain your bodyweight. A pre-workout only has
It means you need to reduce the portion sizes of your meals throughout the day. That could be removing a small handful of rice from dinner or replacing fattier cuts of meat with leaner cuts. For example, substituting chicken thighs with chicken breast.
Best Pre-Workout Without Weight Gain
Your pre-workout should be low-calorie and not have additional fillers to avoid gaining weight. As mentioned, you shouldn’t avoid creatine, but I would recommend avoiding it in your pre-workout. Why?
Because you need to take creatine every day for it to have its intended effect. You’re not going to take pre-workout every day (I hope), so you will need to supplement separately anyway. Having creatine within a pre-workout formulation means other ingredients need to be underdosed or non-existent.
I highly recommended Crazy Nutrition’s Intensive Pre-Train. It is dosed effectively to enhance strength, power, and endurance for epic workouts and doesn’t have creatine, so that you can take it daily separately.
If you’re after a full review, check out why I’ve rated it the beginner pre-workout of choice.
Typically, it is not pre-workout that causes weight gain, but rather excess calories from daily meals. If your pre-workout has creatine, you may expect a 1.2% gain in bodyweight. However, this is water weight and beneficial to your performance.
1. Astorino, T. A., & Roberson, D. W. (2010). Efficacy of acute caffeine ingestion for short-term high-intensity exercise performance: a systematic review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(1), 257-265.
2. Southward, K., Rutherfurd-Markwick, K. J., & Ali, A. (2018). The effect of acute caffeine ingestion on endurance performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 48(8), 1913-1928.
3. Rawson, E. S., & Volek, J. S. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17(4), 822-831.
4. Gonzalez, A. M., & Trexler, E. T. (2020). Effects of citrulline supplementation on exercise performance in humans: A review of the current literature. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 34(5), 1480-1495.
5. Bailey, S. J., Blackwell, J. R., Lord, T., Vanhatalo, A., Winyard, P. G., & Jones, A. M. (2015). l-Citrulline supplementation improves O2 uptake kinetics and high-intensity exercise performance in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology.
6. Suzuki, T., Morita, M., Kobayashi, Y., & Kamimura, A. (2016). Oral L-citrulline supplementation enhances cycling time trial performance in healthy trained men: Double-blind randomized placebo-controlled 2-way crossover study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13(1), 1-8.
7. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.
8. Saunders, B., Elliott-Sale, K., Artioli, G. G., Swinton, P. A., Dolan, E., Roschel, H., … & Gualano, B. (2017). β-alanine supplementation to improve exercise capacity and performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(8), 658-669.
9. Branch, J. D. (2003). Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 13(2), 198-226.