As a self-proclaimed gym rat for nearly a decade now, I’ve tried many different types of pre-workout supplements. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve begun falling out of love with the way most pre-workout powders make me feel. In my early 20s, the itchy "let’s DO this!" wave of energy that pre-workout injected me with was exciting, but now that I’m in my late 20s, it’s become a bit unnerving. More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve had to take a time-out from lifting due to pre-workout jitters. I’ve even had to stop mid-set due to the feeling of invisible ants crawling on my skin (IYKYK).
- David Culpepper, MD, David Culpepper, MD, is a physician with over 30+ years in general internal medicine and is the clinical director of LifeMD, a direct patient-to-telehealth company.
- Tiffany Ma, RDN, Tiffany Ma, RDN, is a registered dietitian and nutritionist based out of New York City. She specializes in athlete nutrition and helps her clients fuel properly for performance and everyday life.
Because of these physical side effects, I’ve begun experiencing serious gymxiety at the beginning of my workouts, too. The rapid increase of heart rate and hyper-focus that accompanied my scoop of pre-workout often left me feeling paranoid and self-conscious, and the crash that followed the initial wave of energy had me leaving the gym earlier than I’d like.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my recent disenchantment of pre-workout. According to a 2019 study, 54 percent of the subjects who regularly drink pre-workout reported side effects such as nausea, skin reactions, and even heart rate abnormalities. And while some evidence suggests that pre-workout supplements are generally safe for most people to consume in small doses, the side effects alone have sent me searching for a gentler alternative. So when I got the chance to try Liquid IV’s latest energy pre-workout drink for work, I jumped on the opportunity.
What is Liquid IV?
Liquid IV is a powder supplement that promises to hydrate you 2-2.5 times faster than drinking H2O alone—without overstimulating you. It contains 3 times the amount of electrolytes found in other sports drinks (think Powerade or Gatorade), and contains vitamins B3, B5, B6, B12, and C. The powder comes in individual sticks, each containing enough powder to be mixed with 16oz of water.
The ratio of potassium citrate, dipotassium phosphate, sodium, and glucose make up what Liquid IV calls Cellular Transport Technology, aka the bevy of ingredients that can hydrate you faster than water. Free of artificial dyes and sweeteners, Liquid IV is also vegan, non-GMO, and dairy-free.
After the initial success of the Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier, the company developed and launched their Liquid IV Energy Multiplier, an energy drink with the same hydrating power as the original Liquid IV.
L-Theanine + caffeine = an energizing combo
Pre-workouts and energy drinks often contain some mix of l-theanine and caffeine in order to provide a boost of energy before your workout. David Culpepper, MD and clinical director of LifeMD, says that the combination of the two can pack an energizing punch.
“L-theanine is a water-soluble amino amino acid that is non-stimulant, but still provides a level of focus and energy when supplemented,” says Culpepper. “The unique combination of l-theanine and caffeine actually supports a more sustainable focus; caffeine acts as the stimulant, and l-theanine's unique properties take off the jitteriness that is often accompanied with caffeine intake.”
Liquid IV Energy Multiplier also contains l-theanine and caffeine, just in smaller doses. One packet contains around 100mg of caffeine, comparable to one or two eight-ounce cups of java. Most pre-workouts carry as much as 300mg of caffeine in one serving as well as beta-alanine, the non-essential amino acid that causes pre-workout skin tingles. This amount of caffeine at one time can result in nausea, an increased heart rate, and high blood pressure.
Although troublesome in high doses, caffeine and l-theanine can be helpful pick-me-ups before a workout, adds Culpepper.
“Both caffeine and l-theanine are two great ingredients that support sustained energy in the body,” says Culpepper. “There is a lot of research that supports an increase in performance and energy output when supplementing with the adequate dosage of caffeine prior to training.”
Electrolytes keep you going
Staying properly hydrated during your workout is just as important as drinking enough water throughout the day. When we sweat, we lose electrolytes, the electrically-charged minerals in our blood that regulate chemical reactions, control muscle contractions, and keep us hydrated. Low electrolyte levels can lead to fatigue, nausea, headaches, and muscle cramps.
Registered dietitian and nutrition coach Tiffany Ma says that you can replace lost electrolytes by fueling with an electrolyte-heavy drink like Liquid IV in order to help you get through a particularly sweaty workout.
“Drinks that are electrolyte-focused are a means to replenish electrolytes that are lost from exercise, which allows an individual to train harder and more effectively,” says Ma. “Research reports that excessive sweat loss may result in a performance deficit of 10%, which is why it is so important to stay hydrated!”
Trying Liquid IV as part of my pre-workout routine
In my quest to find a pre-workout alternative, I drank the Liquid IV Energy Multiplier before my workouts for a full week. I opted for Yuzu Pineapple, the latest flavor to join the Energy Multiplier roster. Bright, tart, and tropical, the taste was super refreshing. The drink did have a slight saltiness to it, but this pretty par for the course for drinks this heavy in electrolytes.
On top of the Energy Multiplier, I tried drinking the Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier during the middle of my workouts, hoping to see some more positive results in the hydration department. The summer heat has left me more dehydrated than usual, and I needed all the help I could get. I chose the Lemon Lime flavor, which tasted similar to a light margarita.
For the week, I drank one packet of the Energy Multiplier during my warmup, which is usually a 15-minute incline walk on the treadmill. I then drank one packet of the Hydration Multiplier throughout my strength routine, and once that was finished, I followed up with regular H2O like normal.
An unexpected bonus I found in this powder was the lack of dye; many pre-workouts come in bright, funky colors that can leave temporary stains on your teeth. Because the color was a super pale yellow, I didn’t have to worry about staining my workout gear, either.
Here’s what happened when I swapped my pre-workout for Liquid IV
1. I felt energized, but not anxious.
My gymxiety has officially left the building. While I felt a great boost of energy after drinking the Energy Multiplier, I didn’t feel overwhelmed or shaky during my workout. The feeling I got after drinking it was similar to the feeling I got after drinking a strong cold brew: upbeat and excited. I found the 100mg of caffeine in the Energy Multiplier to be a sweet spot, leaving me pumped for my workout but not overwhelmed with energy. Without the anxiety, I felt better in my skin and more comfortable in the gym.
2. My dehydration headaches went away.
During the week, I found that my late afternoon dehydration headaches had all but disappeared. While I’m pretty diligent about getting in my daily dose of H2O, I rarely (if ever) opt to grab a sports drink when I’m thirsty. Drinking something with electrolytes in it helped combat these headaches, refueling my body with the electrolytes I lost through sweating.
3. I was able to focus on my exercises.
Since Liquid IV contains no beta-alanine, I experienced none of the uncomfortable skin tingles that previously came with my pre-workout. And because I was no longer fixated on my fast heart rate or tingly skin, I was able to be more present during my lifts. I actually found that I was able to perform better in the gym than I had before, now that I wasn’t hyper-focused on managing the negative side effects of my pre-workout.
4. I made it through my workout without crashing halfway through.
There’s typically an awful mid-workout crash that accompanies my pre-workout, but I experienced no energy level drop with Liquid IV. I felt upbeat throughout the entire duration of my lifting session, and found the 100mg of caffeine the Energy Multiplier yields to be an energy sweet spot for me.
While there’s something romantic in the ritual of chugging a neon-colored powder “for the gains,” switching it up with Liquid IV has been a welcome change of pace for this gym lover. Even though my experiment has ended, the clarity and calmness I feel after ditching my pre-workout has me considering quitting the stuff for good.
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