Have you ever noticed how some workouts come easier than others? Like most people, there are probably times when you’re on fire with your training and times when you can barely make it through a session. Random though it may seem, this phenomenon has a lot to do with the nutrients that you ingest prior to exercising. Instead of leaving things to chance, top athletes rely on pre-workout supplements to ensure that they get the most out of each and every workout.
Learn the basics of pre-workout supplements to start maximizing your workouts today.
What are Pre-Workout Supplements?
As the name implies, a pre-workout supplement is one that you take before hitting the gym. It is specifically designed to address common issues that occur during training, such as fatigue, muscle breakdown, lack of focus and more.
What are Pre-Workout Supplements For?
Today’s best pre-workout supplements are designed to deliver the following benefits:
- improved performance
- improved focus
- improved energy
- improved nutrient delivery
- increased strength
- increased endurance
- increased metabolic rate
- increased protein synthesis
- decreased muscle breakdown
First-rate pre-workout supplements also produce an optimal hormonal environment for making the most out of training sessions. Stressing the body with exercise can throw various hormones and hormonal processes out of whack, and these supplements typically contain ingredients that counteract these effects.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for supplement manufacturers to make big claims without really backing them up. Therefore, it is crucial to educate yourself about pre-workout supplement ingredients as well as their benefits and ideal dosages. Without doing so, you cannot guarantee that you will enjoy all or most of the above benefits.
Primary Goals of Today’s Best Pre-Workout Supplements
The overarching goal of any pre-workout supplement is to arm you with the ingredients that you need to make the most of the effort that you expend while working out. Whether you’ve hit a plateau or aren’t getting the results that you want no matter how hard you try, pre-workout supplements may be the answer.
Three primary goals of any well-designed pre-workout supplement are:
Improved Work Volume – Nothing is worse than falling short of your workout goals. Issues like fatigue, muscle soreness and recovery can all interfere. An effective pre-workout supplement addresses these issues. By doing so, they improve your work volume, allowing you to squeeze every last benefit out of every last workout.
Enhanced Power Output – Giving it your all is the best way to make gains in the gym. Ideally, you should hit the ground running during workout sessions rather than easing yourself into them. However, it often takes a while to get the blood pumping, so to speak. First-rate pre-workout supplements give you an immediate power boost, so you can start giving your very best effort the second that you begin.
Increased Focus – People often forget that the brain is a muscle. If it’s not in good shape, your workouts will suffer. Whether you’re burning the candle at both ends or just have a lot on your mind, it’s easy to get side-tracked by decreased mental functioning during a workout. Top-notch supplements include ingredients that improve mental focus and clarity, allowing you to stay in the moment and give it your all.
Studies Confirm Advantages of Using Pre-Workout Supplements
Like any savvy consumer, you may be wary about trying pre-workout supplements because you are concerned that they are nothing more than placebos. After all, supplement manufacturers aren’t going to say that their products don’t work. Why should you bother using pre-workout supplements if you’re not sure whether or not they really work?
Fortunately, numerous studies regarding pre-workout supplements have been performed through the years. A 2010 study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma, for example, revealed that pre-workout supplements can improve anaerobic running capacity by 10 percent. In a 2009 study, researchers from the College of New Jersey reported that pre-workout supplements produced increased focus and improved energy levels for those who engage in high-intensity exercises. A 2012 study showed that they also increased muscle endurance, which makes it easier to engage in longer, more effective workout sessions.
Studies have also shown that pre-workout supplements are overwhelmingly safe. A 2015 study that was published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research showed that they were safe for the organs over at least 28 days of daily use. Still, do your own research before buying or using a specific supplement just to be safe.
Top Pre-Workout Supplement Ingredients
Later, we will provide a list of our top 10 favorite pre-workout supplements. However, it’s never a good idea to use a supplement based solely on a website’s recommendation. Every person’s goals are different too, so it helps enormously to be familiar with the most popular and effective pre-workout supplement ingredients. When you are, you have the option of either buying each ingredient separately or of purchasing a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement, or MIPS, that contains the ingredients that you need.
Pre-workout supplement ingredients should be selected according to your training goals. For example, if you tend to feel groggy and out of it while working out, seek ingredients that boost energy and focus. If you tend to run out of steam mid-workout, try ingredients that improve power and strength.
We’ve organized the top pre-workout supplement ingredients by goal for your convenience.
Goal: Improved Muscle Growth
If you’re not realizing the gains that you want, the right pre-workout supplement ingredient can really help. Some top ingredients to look for include:
Whey: Whey protein is better known for its post-training benefits. However, it is equally effective when used prior to working out. One of its many claims to fame is that it halts catabolic, or muscle-wasting, effects of exercise while increasing protein synthesis for improved muscle growth. Whey protein is also loaded with a full array of antioxidants that raise insulin levels, prevent muscle breakdown and increase protein synthesis. Take 15 to 30 grams immediately before working out for best results.
BCAAs: Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, consist of leucine, isoleucine and valine. While working out, crucial amino acids are depleted from the muscles. Supplementing with BCAAs helps to prevent this. They also assist in hormone regulation by keeping post-workout testosterone levels elevated for several hours instead of dropping precipitously. For best results, take 3 to 10 grams immediately before and/or during a workout.
High-Glycemic Carbohydrates: High-glycemic carbs are carbs that are digested quickly. While working out, your body uses ATP to contract the muscles. When ATP stores are depleted, the body turns to creatine phosphate for energy before switching to glycolysis, using stored glycogen, a carb that’s stored in the muscles, and blood sugar. High-glycemic carbs preserve muscle glycogen to help you stay strong. They also boost insulin release. Insulin is an antagonist of cortisol, the stress hormone, so it reduces cortisol levels as well. For best results, take 20 to 60 grams immediately prior to working out.
Goal: Enhanced Power and Strength
If it feels like your strength and power wane significantly during your workouts, you will probably benefit from pre-workout supplements that contain these ingredients:
Taurine: Unlike most amino acids, taurine is not incorporated into proteins. This crucial amino acid is involved in a variety of important processes, including cell membrane structure, fluid balance control, muscle contraction control and antioxidant actions. Taurine regulates the contraction of skeletal muscle tissue, and its stores deplete during exercise. If muscles can’t contract well, strength and power suffer, so supplementing with taurine is a great idea. For best results, take 1 to 2 grams about 30 minutes before training.
Creatine Monohydrate: Few pre-workout supplement ingredients improve strength and power like creatine monohydrate, or creatine. The muscles only store enough ATP to contract muscles for a few seconds at a time. ATP stores are replaced through the breakdown of creatine phosphate. Faster replenishment of ATP stores means more energy. When taken before a workout, creatine monohydrate tops off creatine stores in the muscles, allowing you to maximize your reps and the amount of weight that you’re lifting.
Goal: Improved Endurance
If you find yourself cutting your training sessions short because you run out of steam, the following pre-workout supplement ingredients may help:
Citrulline Malate: This important amino acid enhances blood flow, and it can also be converted to arginine, another crucial amino acid. Research has shown that citrulline malate can increase ATP production and reduce feelings of fatigue. It also removes endotoxins like lactic acid that are produced during exercise and can cause fatigue. For best results, take 3 to 6 grams immediately before or during a workout.
Beta Alanine: Another amino acid, beta alanine helps to increase levels of carnosine in the muscles. Carnosine, in turn, increases endurance through its strong antioxidative properties. Oxidative stress is associated with fatigue, so carnosine can improve endurance significantly. It may also prevent or delay a drop in pH while training, which also delays muscle fatigue. Carnosine can’t be ingested, but when beta alanine is transported to the muscles, it is resynthesized as carnosine and histidine. For best results, take 2 to 2.5 grams about 30 minutes before working out followed by a second dose later.
Goal: Improved Energy and Focus
Do you ever just feel like you’re not “all there” for your workouts? Mental clarity is essential if you want to make the most of your training. If you struggle in this regard, these ingredients may help:
Tyrosine: A precursor to important neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, this amino acid can speed up the synthesis of catecholamine, which helps to regulate the effects of stress on the body. In turn, it may reduce the effects of training too hard as well. Studies have shown that tyrosine increases concentration and may even boost fat loss too. For best results, take 500 to 1000 milligrams about 30 minutes before working out.
Caffeine: We all know and love caffeine, and it comes in handy prior to working out. In addition to stimulating the central nervous system, caffeine acts as a metabolic stimulant by releasing fatty acids into the blood for energy. Not surprisingly, it also increases focus, improves coordination and increases alertness. Stick with moderate doses, however, as consuming too much can backfire. You probably already know your tolerance, but consuming 500 to 1,000 milligrams about 30 minutes before working out is a good rule of thumb.
Goal: Enhanced Antioxidant Activity
Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals that cause damage when interacting with DNA and cell membranes. Without protection, cells, including muscle cells, can weaken and die. Therefore, it helps enormously to load up with the right antioxidants prior to working out. A few to look for in particular include:
Alpha Lipoic Acid: Prized for its effects, which are similar to those of insulin, alpha lipoic acid protects red blood cells while increasing glucose uptake in muscle cells and decreasing glucose uptake in fat cells. What this means is that it literally helps you build more muscle and lose more fat. For best results, take 200 to 400 milligrams prior to working out.
Vitamin E: The most important benefit of this lipid-soluble antioxidant is that it positively influences the activity of other crucial antioxidants. In other words, it boosts the effectiveness of other antioxidants to ensure that you enjoy the best protection throughout your workouts. For best results, take 100 to 400 IUs about 30 minutes before training.
N-Acetyl-Cysteine/NAC: In addition to protecting the liver, NAC helps to ward off fatigue by boosting the regulation of potassium and by slowing down the decline in activity of the sodium potassium pump during training. This results in being able to perform stronger lifts. For best results, take 300 to 600 milligrams about 30 minutes before working out.
The Importance of Cycling Pre-Workout Supplements
If you’re not already familiar with the concept of cycling, take note. Over time, your body may adapt to various ingredients, and their effectiveness will wane. In other words, your tolerance for certain ingredients may increase, just like how coffee drinkers often need more and more coffee to achieve the same results.
For this reason, it’s important to cycle your pre-workout supplements. This is particularly true of creatine and caffeine, but it’s true of many other ingredients as well.
You can cycle your supplements by taking them consistently for a period of six to eight weeks and then taking two- or three-week breaks. Just repeat this cycle to ensure that your body remains sensitive to the ingredients.
Another strategy is to use a different kind of supplement whenever your supply runs out. For instance, switch brands every time to reduce the risk of adapting too much to the ingredients.
Tips for Selecting Pre-Workout Supplements
Like some, you may prefer to buy individual ingredients, including those listed above, and to take them according to your specific needs. However, most people opt for multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, or MIPS, for their convenience.
Choose pre-workout supplements according to your specific goals and budget. Always study labels carefully, and check unbiased reviews to see what others have to say.
Most pre-workout supplements are designed to be taken on an empty stomach.
There is no need to take pre-workout supplements on non-training days.
Pre-workout supplements won’t negatively impact fat loss; in fact, they speed up the metabolism, resulting in improved fat loss.
When using pre-workout supplements, use the same post-workout nutrition as usual.
Top 10 Multi-Ingredient Pre-Workout Supplements
Since the market is flooded with pre-workout supplements, we’ve rounded up our top picks to help you get the ball rolling. This list is by no means definitive. We are simply providing it to give you an idea of the types of products that are available today.
1. Pre Jym – This powerful pre-workout supplement contains an array of excellent ingredients, including betaine, citrulline malate, creatine and beta alanine in true clinical doses. It’s naturally sweetened and designed to improve power and strength.
2. Stimul8 – This supplement’s main claims to fame are that it boosts metabolism, increases energy and enhances fat loss. Not surprisingly, its main active ingredient is caffeine. It also contains many natural ingredients, including green tea extract. You can enjoy all of its benefits with just a single scoop per day.
3. Dust V2 – Loaded with beta alanine, L-taurine, acofuel and a number of other highly effective ingredients, this supplement is designed to improve endurance, concentration and strength. If you suffer in those areas, this product may be right for you.
4. Altius Pre-Workout – Designed to help you build more muscle and lose more fat, this popular pre-workout supplement contains clinical doses of betaine, beta alanine, creatine, citrulline malate and many other top-notch ingredients. Based on user reviews, it appears to be one of the top pre-workout supplements on the market today.
5. Myonox – Available in several flavors, this convenient pre-workout supplement helps to delay fatigue and increase strength. It does so by delivering more than 7,000 milligrams of ingredients per serving, including arginine, citrulline malate and agmatine.
6. Clean Series Pre-Workout Activator – Set the stage for improved endurance, memory functioning and performance with this popular pre-workout supplement. It is loaded with a proprietary blend of ingredients. Because the formula is proprietary, however, individual ingredients have not been disclosed. However, this product is highly rated.
7. Pumped Raw – This pre-workout supplement is jam-packed with all kinds of great ingredients, including L-tyrosine, taurine, beta alanine, caffeine and many others. It is designed to improve focus and clarity while boosting energy and power, so it kills several birds with a single stone.
8. Gamma Labs G Fuel – We really like this supplement because it contains a number of great pre-workout supplement ingredients like taurine and L-tyrosine. Beyond that, however, it’s loaded with powerful antioxidants that are derived from natural sources like acai berry and pomegranate.
9. Infinite Juggernaut – If fatigue is your primary problem, you are going to love this supplement, which promises a fatigue-free workout. It also aids in muscle recovery. Ingredients include beta alanine, caffeine, antioxidants and electrolytes.
10. N.O. Xplode – Billed as a “pre-workout ignitor,” this supplement is designed to improve strength, energy and endurance. It does so through its special formula, which includes beta alanine, caffeine and creatine. It’s available in several flavors, so it’s easy to find one that you like.
The Bottom Line
So, should you use pre-workout supplements? If you want to make the most out of your training, absolutely. As you can see from the information provided above, there are ingredients out there that handily address virtually any stumbling block that you encounter while exercising. When you add pre-workout supplements to your daily regimen, you are sure to start noticing improved results and more effective workouts in no time. Just make sure to do your research, read labels and take proper doses to get the most out of them.
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