You want to get the most out of your workout.
You do everything right. You eat right, get enough sleep, and stay hydrated, but could it be better?
There’s a lot of buzz lately about pre-workout supplements. The hype is they provide a great energy boost so you can power through your workout, but they also offer increased focus and more efficient muscle gain and fat loss.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Not so fast. There are literally hundreds of pre-workout supplements out there, each claiming to be the best. Take a walk down any health and fitness aisle in any store and you will be bombarded with a wide array of products designed to help you ensure that your body is at peak performance for your workout. They promise to make your workout work for you.
But are they as great as all those labels claim? Do pre-workout supplements really work? Most of all, are they good or bad for your health?
Well, there’s a lot of hype out there; it’s hard to know what to believe. This will clear it up for you.
What do Pre-Workout Supplements Do?
Pre-workout supplements typically come in the form of powders or drinks, often formulated specifically for women or men, and are to be consumed prior to working out – about 20 to 30 minutes. By design, they are intended to provide increased focus and a sudden energy boost.
By consuming a supplement before hitting the gym, you could find that your performance is improved, giving you the stamina, you need to get in one last rep or make one more lap around the track. Certain ingredients such as beta alanine and amino acid increase performance. In fact, beta alanine has been proven in a number of studies to prevent or delay fatigue during an intense workout for better endurance and more muscle growth.
Pre-workout supplements are also designed to increase focus. They help you ignore the distractions and get down to the business of getting in a great workout. This not only helps you stay on task and focus better on your workout; it also increases your determination and motivation.
Many pre-workouts are also chock full of beneficial vitamins and minerals that can help increase blood flow, enhance health, and organ support. All of these, while not directly affecting or enhancing the workout, do help make the workout better and more beneficial. Some pre workout supplement formulas are completely organic.
That is why it is vital to read the labels and know exactly what you are putting into your body. Know what ingredients are in your supplements, what they do, and how they should be taken.
What does Science Say?
There have been a number of studies done on health and wellness supplements, including those designed for workout enhancement.
An April 2013 article in American Journal of Health System Pharmacy examined the common ingredients found in energy drinks. The researchers concluded that while there was evidence that supports the efficacy of certain ingredients in the supplements, the published data was inconclusive and inconsistent. It was suggested that there needs to be more testing to reach a firmer conclusion.
Another article published in the January 2014 issue of International Journal of Medical Sciences concluded that certain pre-workout supplements have significant, positive effects on muscular performance, lean mass, and an all around better workout. The study shows that they could see improvements pre-workout in concentration and energy but there were no improvements in body composition or performance that could be attributed to the supplements.
A study in 2012 looked at the effect a specific supplement containing amino acids, B-vitamins, beta-alanine, caffeine, and creatine would have on the body and how performance might be affected. At the end of the study, researchers found that the supplements “significantly improved” lower body muscular endurance and agility choice reaction performance. It also increased “perceived” energy while “subjective” fatigue was reduced. It was concluded that the supplement could delay fatigue when the individual was engaged in a strenuous workout.
Many studies, reports, surveys, and trials have found that pre-workout supplements can improve or enhance a person’s workout. The science behind it looks pretty good.
Are Pre-Workout Supplements Bad?
There are typically two ways that a pre-workout supplements could be bad for you: inferior ingredients and misuse of the supplement. Unfamiliarity with the product or simply being new to the product can also have adverse effects.
The most common cons to supplements for pre-workout include:
- Immunity to the product – This usually comes from the misuse of the supplement and misuse can lead to a decrease in effectiveness. Over the long term, you could find that your body has become immune to the product; it does not react the way it once did. You can avoid this by using a less intense supplement in the long term and reserving the stronger supplement for low motivation days.
- Overstimulation – Most of the pre-workout supplements have caffeine – lots of caffeine. This can leave you jittery and shaky as your body tries to cope with managing those massive amounts of caffeine. It should be noted that some people never experience the jittery feeling and others don’t mind the feeling and can work around it. If it bothers you, try looking for a supplement with lower caffeine content. You can also eat a pre-workout meal that is high in carbs and protein to help curb the effects.
- Artificial ingredients – Not all supplement companies are on the up and up. Some will try to sneak in artificial ingredients in an effort to cut corners. This is why you need to always read your labels. There are also dangers to taking supplements with artificial ingredients. Certain ingredients that some rather shady companies include can be damaging to your health and undermine all of your workout efforts.
If you experience nausea, headache, upset stomach, or your skin tingling on your hands, face, extremities, or chest you should discontinue use of the supplements and talk to your doctor. If you feel extremely jittery and it has you feeling a little loopy, you may want to avoid that supplement as well.
The key here is to approach your supplement purchase with the knowledge and ability to weed out those that may not be good for you. No doubt about it, they do work very well, but you have to be vigilant and read every label.
What you DON’T want in Your Pre-Workout Supplements
So, what do you want to avoid in a pre-workout supplement? There are several ingredients that you probably should avoid due to their side effects. Now, these ingredients do not affect everyone the same way, but they do have a reputation for causing problems for many people.
The top five worst ingredients for pre-workout supplements include:
- Hordenine – The scary thing about this ingredient is that there isn’t a lot of documentation on it. There are no valid human studies so there is no documentation to show that levels are safe, and which are not, or what the side effects are. There is also no evidence that it even works or adds any value to the supplement for enhanced physical performance.
- DMAE Bitartrate – While the claims surrounding this ingredient are that if helps improve reaction time and memory, there are not valid studies that prove it works at all. It is this lack of documentation that is concerning because there simply is not enough known about this choline molecule to know exactly how harmful or helpful it is. The one thing that is known about DMAE is that it can cause birth defects. It is teratogenic and can cause defects in unborn babies so it should be avoided by women.
- Beta Alanine – There is quite a bit of hype surrounding this ingredient. Several studies have shown that beta alanine does enhance muscular endurance, but that is where the studies stop. However, many users report experiencing paresthesia, or tingling in the extremities, hands, chest, feet, or face. There is value in the studies and documentation though. They have determined that. 0.08-1 gram or higher can cause paresthes.
- DMAA – This stimulant works much like adrenaline, ephedrine, and caffeine, providing a quick energy spike to help you power through your workout. However, when consumed, DMAA is considered to be unsafe. Side effects include high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and an increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Further, it shows up as amphetamines in urine tests so it can ruin the career of a competitive athlete who is using it since in competitive sports amphetamines are a banned drug.
- Synephrine – Also known as bitter orange peel, this is some pretty bad stuff. It is commonly used in fat burning supplements because it does have fat burning properties. It is often considered a stimulant so it can boost energy levels. If it stopped there, it would be great. But it doesn’t. This ingredient can cause high blood pressure, nausea, and fainting. There are so many good ingredients out there that don’t have the same harmful side effects so try looking there. It should also be noted that synephrine is banned in the UK because of the side effects. Your best bet is to probably steer clear.
Each of these harmful supplement ingredients can cause damage or undermine your workout. They can have unpleasant or even harmful side effects.
You want to take supplements that will enhance your training session by boosting your energy and concentration while providing you with vital vitamins and minerals. Ideally, they do not cause any side effects and you tolerate them well.
And always read the fine print on proprietary blends. Know what you are putting into your body.
How to Choose a Pre-Workout Supplement
Dosages and ingredients are what make the top pre-workout supplements. Knowing what ingredients are in your supplements and how much you are to consume will empower you to take charge and command your workout so you can get the most out of it.
These ingredients are some of the best for your pre-workout supplements.
- L-Citruline – This amino acid is extracted from watermelons. Once you take it (orally) and it reaches your kidneys, it turns into L-Arginine. It works by raising your mitric oxide levels which widens your blood vessels, increasing your blood flow. This means that your muscle pumps while working out will be more intense.
- Caffeine – This has long bee the standby for supplements that claim to increase energy. Research shows that it increases anaerobic capacity as well as increased muscle endurance.
- Theanine – Research has shown that this ingredient can improve physiological and psychological stress as well as enhance attention and alertness.
- Creatine Monohydrate – This is a molecule that is found in fish, eggs, and meat. However, diet is not the optimal way to incorporate it into your diet, especially at the beneficial levels. It improves endurance and strength by producing ATP very rapidly in the body. This means that during your workout your body will release more energy giving you more strength and endurance.
- Citrulline Malate – This ingredient is great for post-workout as well as pre-workout. Studies should that it enhances anaerobic performance, increases energy production, and relieves soreness in the muscles.
When choosing supplements for pre-workout, look for a company that has a good reputation and is transparent in both the company and the supplement formula. Look for ingredients that are backed by science and clinically effective dosages have been established.
You also want to avoid supplements that have artificial ingredients, including artificial sweeteners but also artificial additives and fillers.
Look at the claims made on the label. If they seem to be too good to be true, then they probably are. Look for products with claims that are both believable and verifiable. Those will be the ones you want to use.
Pre-workout supplements can be a great addition to your workout but just like anything else, if they are misused or mishandled, they can become ineffective and even harmful. Take the time to educate yourself on the ingredients, do your homework and choose the supplement that is right for you.