The market is now flooded with pre workout supplements that say they will boost your energy, help nutrients to be delivered into your body and help with muscle pumps. There are so many, it can be confusing.
If you’re new to these, here’s a rundown of the most common ingredients and what they do.
What does it do? Boosts your energy, enhances focus, helps to burn fat and improves performance.
Standard Dosage: An effective dose is 100-200 mg which equals 1-2 cups of coffee.
Studies have shown that caffeine taken before exercising can increase your strength and came out in support of it. It increases how alert you are and your focus by stimulating your central nervous system. Taking caffeine before you hit the gym may lower your perception of the effort you’re putting in. Caffeine’s fat burning effect saves your carbohydrate which increases endurance.
What does it do? Increases strength, power and the size of muscles
Standard Dosage: 3 – 5 days of many 5g doses will accumulate creatine in the muscles. To keep those levels high, you need to take a maintenance dose of 3 – 5 mg as a dose prior to working out. Keep this dose up even on non gym days so that your muscles stay ready for the next one.
Studies agree that using a creatine supplement will increase the levels of creatine in your muscles and enhance performance. The muscle fibers of study participants increased and they became stronger in some exercises (bench presses and squats).
What does it do? Delays muscle fatigue
Standard Dosage: It can take up to a few weeks of daily doses to raise the levels of Beta-alanine in your muscles so it doesn’t matter what time of the day you take it. You want to aim for between 3.2g – 6.4g each day taken in small doses to make up the daily total. On workout days, take half of the daily dose in a drink prior to exercise and then another dose later that day to keep levels up.
Studies have shown that a supplement of beta-alanine can raise levels of carnosine in muscle. This acts as a buffer that can keep your energy levels up by fighting fatigue in the gym. One study demonstrated that it increased performance in one session by 20%. Taking creatine and beta-alanine as a pre-workout supplement means that levels will be high when you workout and increase your blood flow. This sends them to active muscles just when you need them.
NOTE: Avoid any pre workout supplement that doesn’t include either beta-alanine or creatine (regardless of how many stimulants it contains.)
What does it do? Produces nitric oxide
Standard Dosage: Take at least 3g to have an effect on nitric oxide levels.
L-arginine is one of the key nutrients in a rapidly growing segment of products that claim to promote vasodilation and better muscle pumps during exercise. L-arginine is an essential amino acid for synthesis of nitric oxide (NO). NO is a substance made and released by the cells that line your blood vessels. When released, NO causes a potent dilation of blood vessels, which translates into increased blood flow. Some studies have shown better blood vessel function after L-arginine supplementation in people with impaired vascular function, but positive effects in young healthy athletes are less clear.
What does it do? Increases the effects of muscle building exercise
Standard Dosage: 10-20g of whey protein, 3g of leucine
The importance of ingesting protein after exercise has been accepted for a long time. However, new research shows that taking protein before you exercise is helpful for both strength and endurance athletes. Taking 10-20g of whey protein an hour or half an hour before you workout can increase the synthesis protein. It does this by sending amino acids to your muscles which are then assimilated into proteins.
Leucine is one of the most effective amino acids if you want to build your muscles because it sends a message to them to activate the synthesis of proteins.
Other supplements that May be Helpful
So that’s the most common pre workout supplements. Let’s look at some others that you may come across.
What does it do? fights oxidative stress
Standard Dosage: minimum dose 1g – you need more to have a real impact on how your cells are functioning.
Skeletal muscles have a lot of this amino acid. Studies have shown that taurine may decrease oxidative stress and increase your sensitivity to insulin which can help it to burn fat in an overweight person.
What does it do? improves focus and physical performance
Standard Dosage: 1-2 g for an effective dose
Tyrosine is an amino acid and supplementing it can enhance brain function. It’s a precursor for the important hormone, norepinephrine (NE). NE works on the brain and stimulates metabolism however, intense workouts may lower your levels of NE, which can lower your performance. A study showed that when soldiers took a supplement of tyrosine before a demanding trainings session, it enhanced their cognitive function.
What do they do? Fuel your workout
Standard Dosage: If you’re going to exercise for less than an hour, or if you’re focusing on burning body fat then there is no need to ingest carbohydrates before you workout.
The idea behind having carbs before hitting the gym is to make sure that you have enough glucose to fuel your workout. Don’t ever use ‘ordinary’ energy drinks. These are full of sugar. Carbs in energy drinks are almost all simple sugars which can make your insulin skyrocket – causing a hypo crash. And they stop your body from burning stored fat.
What do they do? Replace what you lose as you sweat
Standard Dosage: If you’re working out for less than an hour then electrolytes are a bonus but are not vital.
These replace the sodium, potassium, magnesium and others that you lose when you’re sweating through your workout.
Are Pre Workout Supplements Dangerous?
You need to know that Dietary supplements are not approved by the FDA for safety and effectiveness before they go on sale. It’s up to the manufacturers to report any negative issues to the FDA.
The FDA has issued a list of points to consider before taking supplements – including
Should you check with my doctor or healthcare provider before using a supplement?
Which supplements may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
Which supplements can have unwanted effects during surgery
Adverse effects from the use of dietary supplements should be reported to MedWatch
Call the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088
Report it to them online
There has been a lot of research on the single ingredients but not when taken in combination. This makes it hard to truly value the supplements that have combined doses. The dosages on these combined ingredient formulas are shown a blends so it’s hard to work out how much you’re taking of one supplement.
To find the most effective pre workout supplement for you, there may be some trial and error involved. Once you’ve decided whether you’re focusing on fat loss or improving strength (or both) it might be best to buy the supplements that will be most beneficial for you – but buy them as single ingredients rather than combined.