Ahead of our chart of the best pre-workout supplements of 2019 so far which is due for release next week, we thought it might be a good idea to explain exactly what pre-workouts are and why if at all, you might what to use them.
Now, essentially anything taken immediately prior to a workout or training session with the intention of it improving your performance of results from that session is considered a pre-workout. Some pro athletes including well known cyclists from the 80’s would tell you their pre-workout ritual included a slice of toast smothered in peanut butter and jam, alongside a glass of water. But times have changed and everyone who trains or ‘works out’ will have a different reason for doing so and as such the role of the pre-workout will change dramatically.
In terms of the health and fitness sports supplement industry of today, a pre-workout product is typically found in tablet or powdered form to be mixed as a drink advised to be taken 15-30 minutes prior to your training session. The basic typical role of the average pre-workout product is to provide energy but directly through the provision of sugars or fast acting carbohydrates and or in the form of various mental and physical stimulants. A high amount of caffeine being the prime ingredient for many. No surprise then that for many trying to keep it simple, a straightforward coffee in whatever form is the preferred pre-workout nutrition.
Aside from caffeine, which are can find in anything from mild to very extreme amounts across the pre-workout market hitting dose levels of over 400mg in some cases, you’re also likely to see these re-occurring ingredients:
- Beta Alanine
- B Vitamins
- BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
- NO2 Boosters – Typically Citruline and Arginine
Each of these ingredients has an individual effect on your body and in some cases also your mind to in essence allow you to train harder or for longer. For many the stimulant ingredients are also there to act as a motivator, to give the feeling of increased energy at the end of a testing day or when training has become a chore.
In case you’re wondering what NO2 Boosters are, we’ll be covering this in more detail in another article but in essence they are ingredients which enhance blood flow around the body and to the muscles. Arginine for example is what is referred to as a ‘vasodilator’ and it dilates blood vessels to allow a greater volume of blood to pass through them. Both providing an increased flow of oxygen to working muscles and the capacity to more rapidly remove waste eg. Lactic acid and CO2.
Given the huge variety of different uses for pre-workout supplements, it’s no surprise that there are so many greatly varying choices on the market in order to cater for the wide range of needs. A sports athlete for example a football or rugby player who has 80-90 minutes of continuous workload ahead of them is unlikely to want a pre-workout formula which significantly increases blood pressure or over stimulates their heart rate. In this case it would be possible that the athlete is more likely to feel less effective, less energetic and suffer in terms of their match performance.
One of the most common questions we’re asked is about whether or not pre-workout supplements are safe, and the close second would be individuals who haven’t tried them questioning if they should be using one. So, let’s address those two separately.
Are pre-workout supplements safe?
On the whole pre-workout supplements are considered safe and in terms of dosing the average over the counter pre-workout certainly in the UK, isn’t going to contain ingredients that differ greatly from the mainstream energy drinks you’ll find in chillers up and down the country. The most common issue is quite simply the sheer volume of stimulants particularly caffeine and caffeine derivatives some of the stronger products are packing. If you are not someone who already consumes strong caffeine products regularly then your best bet is to tread carefully for your first few experiences. Try to keep doses under 200mg at a time. Less even if you have a low body-weight, certainly those below 60kg.
Always read the label – That can’t be stressed enough. If you don’t recognise the ingredients displayed or you can’t read the label clearly, put it back on the shelf.
Should I be using a pre-workout supplement?
Should, would, could. Of course, you could use one, it’s a matter of finding one you can use under healthy circumstances. As to the question of whether you ‘should’, it’s important to remember that bodybuilders trained and made huge muscle gains well before the rise of the supplement industry. As we have already said, a simple black coffee or high sugar/fast acting carb meal with water the appropriate amount of time prior to training has been a long-term staple for many bodybuilders, sports people and other athletes. It ultimately all comes down to what you’re looking for.
Looking at this from a bodybuilding, muscle growing, physique enhancing standpoint which I know will be the focus of this article and the consideration of pre-workout usage for many of you reading it. There is no denying that some of the formulas that are available on the market can give you an advantage in the gym. Caffeine alone on top of providing energy and increased mental focus can also raise your pain threshold. Mix this with muscular fatigue fighting beta-alanine and even some vasodilator ingredients to aid blood flow and you’ve got yourself a recipe with the potential to increase exertion (perceived strength). It will also certainly increase your ability to knock out more reps of an isolated exercise than you would otherwise.
This is without mentioning one of the most popular and proven pre-workout ingredients of them all, creatine. Though in honesty, while most hard hitting all in one pre-workout will include at least some creatine. For anyone looking to build serious muscle mass it is likely you’ll be buying pure creatine products and mixing it into your pre-workout formulas and probably also to your post workout recovery shakes anyway. That debate comes down to cost and also goals, as the use of creatine for those seriously leaning out or for some female athletes will provide water retention related bulk which isn’t desirable.
All in all, pre-workouts are a hugely popular and trending part of the supplement industry and its growth. They can be highly effective if used correctly and with the right ingredients being consumed for the right reasons. If you are new to the scene, practise due diligence and start slow. Use the less extreme products first and gradually work up to a full dose rather than double scooping it or straight forward snorting the powder through a straw on your first few sessions using a new product.