A few Friday nights ago I met up with some friends before a gig in the city. While most of my friends were sipping from beer bottles, a few friends were in the corner mixing up an evocatively named ‘apocalypse’ flavoured pre-workout supplement in a protein shaker. “This stuff is fucked up” Grace*, 21, told me. “I bought it for the gym and I felt high, for hours- its pretty much legal ecstasy”.
Pre-workout supplements like the kind Phillip was using that night hit the shelves in late 2012. Workout supplements extremely popular and in 2012, represented a 292 million dollar industry in Australia.
Supplements promise their users muscle gains, intense focus and high-energy workouts or, in the words of the Apocalypse marketing team, a workout “like it is the LAST DAY ON EARTH” [sic]. Many pre-work supplements just contain high doses of caffeine (200-300 mg; a shot of coffee has about 80mg), but some contain a stimulant that mimics the effects of MDMA. Apocalypse contains a stimulant called methlepentanamine or AMP citrate.
Brad, who was once relied on pre-workout supplements and is a bachelor of exercise & sport science graduate, explains that methlepentanamine is one carbon short of being DMAA, a stronger stimulant that used to feature prominently in pre-workout supplements before being banned in 2012 after five people died using it. AMP citrate started appearing in January of this year. Brad stopped using pre-workout supplments because he realised he didn’t need them anymore and that it was costing him a lot of money, they cost about 1$ a shake.
Grace is a self-proclaimed gym junkie and says that she only used Apocalypse recreationally for “the lolz”. She uses recreational drugs as well- cocaine, speed and MDMA- but says they serve a different purpose. “I like working out, but I really just do it to look good, and these things push me harder than I would ever go without them”. Why does she use recreational drugs? “Because they are fun and make me go harder when I’m out, but like I said, I wouldn’t use pre-workouts again”.
Phillip* agrees, he is also uses party drugs but insists they exist in a different space. “I use pre-workouts to get a great work out; I want to look good. I don’t care how- but I would never use steroids”.
Brad says he does care; “most people in the pre-workout scene want to look good; they don’t care how they get there. I used to want that, now I just want to feel good from working out and make my goals”.
When I ask Phillip, Brad and Grace if they think pre workouts count as cheating, they bulk at the idea and each assure me that, in Phillip’s words, “its not like I’m using steroids”. Brad says “I pride myself on being natural. [Steroids] are synthetic. Pre workouts are different; they change your mind but not directly how you look. I don’t use them anymore, but they aren’t like steroids”.
When I ask them why they take party drugs, Phillip says “they improve a night, they let me get the fullest from going out. I wouldn’t workout on MDMA”. I ask Brad if he would ever swap around his stimulants and he tells me “it’s weird, using party drugs in the gym- they are completely different. I do drugs for fun.”