Feeble, uninspired workouts aren’t conducive to the best gains.
That’s why serious gym goers and athletes often rely on pre-workout supplements to deliver a boost before training to optimise their performance.
A mix of effective ingredients
Whether you simply need a lift after a long day at the office, or require some added support to get through a gruelling workout, these products are specially formulated with a combination of effective functional ingredients that can increase energy, enhance exercise endurance and boost power output.
But you often get more than just a physical boost, as certain pre-workouts also supply your mind with a blend of effective ingredients and other nutrients that increase focus and reduce the perception of fatigue.
The combined effect is the potential to lift more weight and the ability to keep knocking out rep after rep deep into your workout to achieve the results you’re after.
Surge of energy
Most pre-workouts work by increasing blood flow to working muscles, which they achieve by dilating blood vessels. This happens when an amino acid – L-arginine – is converted into the vasodilator, nitric oxide (N.O.).
Effective pre-workout supplements will, therefore, often contain L-arginine and/or its derivatives, such as L-arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (AAKG), as well as substances such as citrulline malate that can also aid vasodilation.
By increasing the size of your body’s ‘plumbing’, more blood can flow to working muscles. This means a flood of nutrients can saturate muscle cells, which they then use to produce more energy, power and strength.
Dilated blood vessels also help to more effectively remove the exercise metabolites and by-products that working muscles generate during intense exercise. This may improve endurance and recovery between sets, and pushes out the point when your muscles fatigue.
A beneficial blend
As the pre-workout product category has matured, manufacturers have developed innovative formulations that offer additional benefits.
Substances such as the non-essential amino acid beta-alanine, along with creatine have been added to boost strength and endurance, as examples.
Many of the effective products available today also contain other beneficial ingredients that do more than merely amplify workout performance.
Many modern pre-workouts are formulated to help limit muscle breakdown (catabolism), enhance tissue repair and aid recovery for muscle growth with added amino acids in the form of BCAAs or EAAs, and a source of highly bioavailable carbs.
Other ingredients you may find in pre-workouts to help limit muscle breakdown during training and boost tissue repair and recovery after training include HMB and glutamine, while the inclusion of L-carnitine can also aid fat loss and increases energy production efficiency.
Many pre-workout supplements also contain substances that enhance focus and concentration, like caffeine and other stimulants, which can deliver mental and psychological performance benefits.
Substances such as citrus aurantium and L-tyrosine can also help to improve mental focus and reduce the perception of fatigue during training.
What to consider
There are clearly significant benefits to including a well-formulated pre-workout into your supplement regimen, but before you scoop that potent powder into your gym bottle, there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, not all pre-workouts are created equal. With so many brands available, each with their own formulations and proprietary blends, it’s hard to compare like for like. That’s why you first need to read and understand the supplement label.
Go through the ingredient list and make sure that your chosen pre-workout delivers against your specific goals. Are you merely looking for a pick-me-up, or do you want the added strength and muscle-building compounds? Keep in mind that some products do both.
It is also important to consider the specific ingredients in the context of your current health, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions. It is vital that you understand what ingredients could impact you negatively if consumed, which is why it’s best to consult your doctor before consuming any product that contains potent ingredients.
This discovery process can also highlight potential double-dosing or overlap with other supplements in your plan. For example, if you already use an intra-workout supplement, added BCAAs in your pre-workout may be excessive and unnecessary.
Similarly, if you’re using a thermogenic fat burner (or already drink 3 or 4 cups of coffee a day), you could easily double-dose on potent stimulants that can actually detract from your performance by over-stimulating your nervous system. There are also more severe consequences to consider, as this could potentially lead to adrenal fatigue if you continue to unwittingly overdose on these compounds.
Time your intake
It’s clear that anyone who wants to benefit from vastly improved workout performances can increase mental alertness, boost physical energy levels, enhance strength and improve intra-workout recovery with a well formulated pre-workout supplement.
It’s always best to stick to label recommendations on dosing and timing, but most products are best taken 20-30 minutes prior to training for optimal results. So drink up, power up and go demolish that session!
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.