For anyone looking to boost their performance in the gym, it is often touted that pre-workout supplements can be just as effective, if not more effective than post-workout supplements.
Of course, the term ‘pre-workout supplement’ is pretty vague and could cover a whole array of different ingredients – but with the supplement industry worth in excess of $40 billion each year, it begs the question – are these supplements worth it?
We take a look at how much of a boost your are actually getting from supplements you can take prior to working out as well as what the benefits are of each ingredient – but first let’s start with their safety.
Pre-Workout Supplement Safety
Like with any kind of supplement, you should choose your supplier very carefully. Purchasing from reputable brands will ensure that the product is FDA approved and that it has passed certain safety thresholds.
For professional or semi-professional athletes who might be subject to banned substance screening, using a known and reputable brand is even more important to ensure there are no banned substances.
Why Take Supplements Pre-Workout?
The simple answer to why people take pre-workout supplements is to have an improved performance whilst working out. Whether that be through improving focus and concentration, increased energy in short bursts, delaying muscle fatigue or increasing oxygen levels and blood flow – the idea is to improve overall performance.
There are large bodies of evidence that support the use of pre-workout supplementation but there are also many that contradict the evidence and point to them having the potential to help develop longer term side effects such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
The Key Ingredients
The key ingredients found in most pre-workout supplements are Caffeine, Creatine, BCAA’s, Taurine and Beta Alanine. Caffeine is found in almost all supplements but the dosage varies wildly depending on the supplement you choose. Some have around 150mg-200mg of caffeine (which is equivalent to around two cups of coffee). Others contain as much as 400mg of caffeine which most nutritionists would say is too much for most people as a single dose.
As well as waking you up and making you feel more focused, caffeine can also stimulate mind/muscle connections as well as providing stimulation for the central nervous system and is one of the key reasons why people take a pre-workout.
Is another supplement found in pre-workout mixes and is generally considered well worth taking for anyone looking to stimulate muscle growth. It is also very difficult to get enough creatine in our diet naturally so taking it as a supplement is considered an optimum way to ensure we have enough.
It provides muscles with quick energy bursts and can boost performance when undertaking explosive movements often found in weight training and other explosive sports such as sprinting.
It is perhaps the biggest reason to take a pre-workout supplement but it is also worth considering taking it as a standalone supplement rather than as a mix as it will be easier to control the recommended dosage of 3-5g per day. Creatine should also not be taken continuously without a break and so this is easier to manage if it is not part of a mixed supplement.
BCAA’s and Other Amino Acids
L-Arginine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) that is often found in pre-workout supplements. It helps provide an improved blood flow and increases oxygen supply to the muscles. Some argue that this gives an overall improved ‘pump’ but the science behind this claim is lacking.
Other amino acids that you might find in such supplements include Taurine, Betaine and Beta-Alanine and it is claimed that they improve cognitive functions, metabolic performance and nerve signaling.
It is worth noting that Beta-Alanine is associated with a mild tingling sensation that can often occur after taking a pre-workout supplement so keeping the dosage of this amino acid down can help alleviate this feeling.
How Often Should I Take Pre-Workout Supplements
Whether or not you should take a pre-workout supplement will be determined by a number of factors including when you work out, your age and any pre-existing medical conditions. It also depends on what other supplements you are already taking.
If you do decide to take a pre-workout supplement then you should consider taking them before your high intensity workouts. For example, those days where you are lifting heavier weights. You certainly should not be taking them on non-training days.
If you are going to opt for a pre-workout then we suggest you consult your doctor prior to starting taking them.
Author: Matt Mills
Matt is a PT and fitness fanatic. When Matt isn’t working on either his own fitness pursuit or that of his clients he can be found taking highland walks and spectacular drone footage.