Pre-Workout vs Energy Drinks: Which is Better Before a Workout?

Just as you should take your recovery seriously, you should take your pre-workout ritual seriously too! For many, this includes having a good warm-up session, listening to their favorite playlist that pumps them up, and taking a pre-workout supplement. There are many pre-workout options from BCAA's to creatine to the most popular and widely used, pre-workout powder. Pre-workout supplements are usually a gym-goers go-to, but there's a new contender that's been gaining more attention... Energy drinks.

They have obviously been around for several years, but as of late, they are becoming more and more popular in the fitness world. That's because some of the newer energy drinks are being advertised as pre-workout drinks and containing many of the same ingredients that popular pre-workout supplements contain. However, they contain differences that may sway you to choose one over the other.

So, is pre-workout better than energy drinks?

We're breaking down their differences so you can decide which one is going to headline your pre-workout ritual!

What's the difference?

When it comes down to it, the main difference is quite simple. It's their goal. Energy drinks are designed to give you a quick energy boost by supplying you with a moderate dose of caffeine. While pre-workouts are specifically designed to not only boost energy levels but also boost your exercise performance. So, essentially, both will increase your energy, but pre-workout supplements contain ingredients that are geared more towards improving endurance and athletic performance. However, since some energy drinks are now claiming to be pre-workout drinks they share very similar ingredients, making it difficult to decide which one is the best for your training goals.

To understand their differences completely and to help you make a smart informed decision, we're breaking down the ingredients pre-workout and energy drinks share, and the ones they don't.

Ingredients in pre-workout vs energy drinks

Pre-workout supplements are a powder that includes a combination of energy and performance-boosting ingredients. Now, it's important to know that every pre-workout powder is different, and the same applies to energy drinks. Some pre-workout formula blends are designed specifically to help those with muscle growth goals, while others are designed to increase endurance for fat loss goals. So, although some ingredients may be similar, the overall goal or intention of the pre-workout may be different. Energy drinks share many of the same ingredients as pre-workout, but in a different form, and at different dosage levels.

Common ingredients found in pre-workout supplements that energy drinks may have:

  • Caffeine: This is the main ingredient that pre-workout and energy drinks share for their undeniable benefits. Studies have shown it to be effective at decreasing the rate of fatigue while increasing muscle endurance and strength output.[1] However, unlike energy drinks, pre-workout powders can be non-stimulant, or stim-free, meaning they don't contain any caffeine. This is a great option for those who prefer to avoid the adverse effects of caffeine, but still want to improve their exercise performance and get a muscle pump! But the ones that do contain it often contain natural caffeine, like green tea (like 373 Lab's Pre-Workout). With pre-workouts, you're also able to control the amount of caffeine you're ingesting. You can take a full scoop, or decrease the amount to better tailor your body's needs. On the other hand, most energy drinks designed for workouts contain a high caffeine content, some of the highest can be between 300-400 mg of caffeine!
  • Amino acids: Both pre-workouts and energy drinks often contain amino acids. Typically, BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), beta-alanine, L-citrulline-malate, arginine, and tyrosine. All of these amino acids are absorbed quickly in the body and provide your body with various different muscle-building benefits. For example, beta-alanine helps buffer hydrogen ions to help reduce muscle fatigue while improving muscle endurance, helping you keep up your workout intensity for a longer period![2] It's also responsible for that tingly sensation you may feel after drinking an energy drink or taking a scoop of pre-workout. Other amino acids like BCAA's help with muscle recovery and even provide sustainable energy.
  • Beetroot extract: It's common to find beetroot extract in pre-workouts, not so much energy drinks. It's may seem like a strange ingredient, but beetroot juice is actually known to help increase the body's nitric oxide and cardiovascular levels. Increasing nitric oxide helps increase blood flow through the body which helps increase endurance, and even producing a muscle pump so many lifters love!
  • Creatine monohydrate: Creatine is popularly taken as its own supplement, but it's a common ingredient found in pre-workouts and some energy drinks. It's one of the supplements that have an outstanding amount of research backing up its claims, which includes providing a big energy pump and explosive muscle strength for heavy weight lifting.
  • B vitamins: Vitamin B12, and other B vitamins, are commonly found in both pre-workout and energy drinks due to their ability to convert nutrients, like amino acids, into energy.

However, there is one huge discrepancy... Almost every energy drink and some pre-workouts contain proprietary blends. Proprietary blends mean that the amount per ingredient isn't disclosed. So, your favorite energy drink that you buy at the gym may say it contains creatine, but it may not contain an effective dose. This is common amongst pre-workout drinks with proprietary blends. All those added performance-enhancing ingredients your favorite energy drinks claim to have are most likely only added in minuscule amounts. And you'll be able to tell for yourself during your workout! Pre-workout supplements are typically more upfront and transparent about their ingredients, but there are still bad apples out there, so just remember to read the entire nutrition label before picking your supplement!

As you can see, pre-workout and energy drinks share a lot of similar ingredients, but the ingredients they don't share are what really set them apart. You'll find the below ingredients in common energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Bang, and Rockstars.

Common ingredients found in energy drinks, but not pre-workout:

  • Sugar: Energy drinks typically contain a high sugar content which can add a lot of unnecessary extra calories to your daily diet. Not only that but high sugar intake can lead to a number of health problems. The American Heart Association suggests limiting sugar consumption to 25-36 grams per day. To put that into perspective, an 8.4 fl oz Red Bull (the smallest can) contains a whopping 26 grams of sugar. This is already your daily recommended sugar intake! Be careful with your energy drink of choice, opt for a sugar-free option instead. Even then, read the nutritional label so that it doesn't contain cheap artificial sweeteners or fillers.
  • Ginseng: Ginseng is an East Asian herb that claims to boost energy, and improve stamina and concentration. This all sounds great, but it's actually been shown to decrease exercise endurance. Not only that, but it has adverse effects in high quantities! It can cause hypertension, diarrhea, sleep disruptions, and more.
  • Guarana: Guarana is a fruit that is found in South America. Its seeds are extracted and used in energy drinks as a caffeine additive. It's said to have stimulating weight loss effects and fight fatigue, but the effects aren't all there. Generally, guarana just adds to the overall caffeine content.
  • Ginkgo Biloba: This ingredient is made from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, an ancient Chinese tree. It's said to help increase focus and concentration, improve memory, and fight mental fatigue. But research doesn't really back these supposed claims.
  • Taurine: Taurine is an amino acid, not commonly found in pre-workouts, but it is in energy drinks. This is due to their benefits of serving as a stimulant to enhance physical and mental performance. It's not necessarily a bad ingredient, but some energy drinks contain a lot of it which can boost your taurine daily intake to 16 times over the recommended amount. Consuming too much taurine, along with caffeine, can have unpleasant side effects, including boosting blood pressure and heart rate.[3]

Which one is better?

Although energy drinks may seem like the more convenient option, if you're really looking to enhance your exercise performance then stick to a pre-workout supplement. Pre-workout powder very purpose is to provide the optimal dose of performance and energy-boosting ingredients that help give your training the edge you need. Plus, they can be convenient too! Just pack your favorite pre-workout in your shaker bottle and drink it on the go!

For those who love energy drinks, you don't have to give them up! Just make sure to find a good one with good ingredients at optimal doses. You can use energy drinks whenever you need an energy boost, or if you forgot to take your pre-workout to the gym with you.

In summary, pre-workout supplements are better for working out because they contain ingredients that are meant to take your training to the next level. Opposed to energy drinks, whose main purpose is to boost energy and improve focus. If you need help finding a good pre-workout that is going to really help your training (not have the opposite effect) then check out our article >>  Pre-Workout Supplements: What to Look For and Avoid << to help you find the best pre-workout supplement for you!

Who are we?

We're 373 Lab Supplements – hello and nice to meet you! Founded by Iulia Danilova (Fit With Iulia), and with a team filled with fitness enthusiasts, we've worked hard to bring a trustworthy supplement in the market! Supplements that are designed to help you achieve your fitness goals by giving you only the nutrients you need – no unnecessary fillers or additives!

Find what your pantry is missing at 373 Lab Supplements.

Pre-Workout vs Energy Drinks: Which is Better Before a Workout?