Disclaimer: Consult a doctor before taking any workout supplements
It’s no secret that Cornellians love to exercise. Whether it’s the 45 minute line to use the gym or the crazy people running up the slope at 3 a.m. in the 10 degree weather, it’s clear that a majority of Cornellians work out. I frequently see people walking around with different drinks, and talking about different types of workout supplements, so I wanted to explore what Cornellians take when they hit the trails or gym.
What to eat before and during your workout is a heavily debated topic with no clear answer. With a quick Google search, you can see that pre-workout, protein shakes and simply eating healthy are viable options towards maximizing your exercise. However, I wanted to hear what Cornellians actually did, and I gathered insights into their own experiences.
Westar Zong ’24 began working out in the middle of the pandemic when gyms started to reopen.
“The gym was a great stress reliever and a fun activity to do with friends,” said Westar. When he began working out, he would take pre-workout before each lift, which he doesn’t recommend.
Pre-workout is a powder full of caffeine, amino acids and artificial sweeteners that one pours into water and drinks 15-30 minutes before working out. Zong said, “Pre-workout gave me a brief boost of energy and intense itchiness, which allows you to lift harder.”
The itchiness, which is caused by an ingredient called beta-alanine, usually occurs in specific spots in the body such as the shoulders and arms. However, this varies from person to person. Besides the itchiness, this seems like a win-win, right? You are able to drink a nice concoction before working out, and you enjoy an added boost of energy. However, Westar experienced downsides shortly after starting to take pre-workout.
“When I was ‘sober’ (lifting without pre-workout) I would feel less energetic. I could feel my body beginning to have a dependence on this substance,” he said.
Similar to caffeine addicts, pre-workout users often begin to feel a decrease in productivity and energy levels when they don’t take pre-workout before every session. Pre-workout contains around 300 mg of caffeine per serving, which equates to about three cups of coffee.
Matthew Chung ’25 reported a different experience. When he felt tired from a long day and was preparing to work out, he wanted the “added energy boost” that pre-workout provides.
When asked about a possible dependence, Chung said, “I don’t feel like I have a dependence, and I have good workouts without it.”
Much like coffee, users could find a useful middle ground where pre-workout provides a much-needed energy boost without downsides.
Eleanor Richard ’25 is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
“I don’t want to be addicted to pre-workout, so I avoid it. If someone offered me some once or twice, I would take it, but not every workout,” Richard said.
There appears to be a consensus on pre-workout: Its users know the potential risks, yet some of them still take it. For adults, it is healthy to consume up to 400 milligrams of powder per day.
Pre-workout is a relatively common supplement, but I wondered if there were any other methods to optimize a workout that I was unaware of. Zong uses the supplement creatine, which he said helps him achieve higher goals. I had heard of creatine, which is an amino acid found in many seafoods and red meats, but I was skeptical and unaware of its many potential benefits. Creatine is stored in the muscles, and when taken supplementarily, it can boost muscle mass and workout performance. Zong stated that creatine can be found online or at Target.
Chung and Richard both expressed familiarity with creatine, but they shared the same hesitation.
“I’m not that into lifting,” Chung said.“My goal is to stay healthy and lean, not just to bulk up.” So, Cornellians, the ball is in your court. If you’re feeling tired from a boring lecture and need a bit of a boost to get you rejuvenated for a workout, consider taking some pre-workout. If you want to gain some weight and muscle so that you’re no longer scared of the football players in the dining hall, consider creatine. But exercise is what you make of it. If you want to chug seven beers and then sprint all the way up the slope to your dorm, be my guest.
Jimmy Cawley is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].