You’re ready to get in the best workout of your life. You’re pumped, ready to give it everything you have. Before you step foot into the gym, though, think about your body.
Like the engine in a car, if you don’t give your body the highest quality fuel, it cannot perform at its best in the gym. It will try – and you’ll pay for it later. Specifically, your goal is to prime your anabolic environment in your body’s muscle cells. By providing your cells with the energy they need, you ensure it can perform at its most efficient and effective level.
One way to do this is through pre-workout nutrition. It’s a combination of nutrients you’ll flood your body with right before heading into a workout. The right nutrients in your body – at the right time – is what will produce the results you need. That’s a fat-blasting workout that’s going to have each one of your muscles twitching with growth.
Here’s the Problem
Sitting down for a “healthy” meal right before a workout isn’t ideal if it is not balanced. In fact, it can hurt you more than it does anything good for your body. You don’t want to weigh yourself down or get that food coma feeling before a workout. It’s better to be light and primed, ready to go. The problem is, most people do not put enough attention into the quality of the fuel they are using prior to a workout. That could be costing you big time. Pre-workout nutrition is nothing to overlook.
What does the wrong nutrient mix do to you?
- You don’t have the energy you need.
- You try to hit it hard but fail fast.
- You’re motivated mentally, but physically you’re frustrated (and this often translates into failing to get into the gym enough).
- You feel every single rep.
- You’re exhausted afterward.
What does the RIGHT nutrient mix do for you?
- You feel powerful with every rep.
- You hit new goals and targets.
- Ultimately, you perform better every single workout.
- You don’t feel as exhausted after.
- You feel like you got in the best workout ever.
It does not matter the type of workout you are planning. It does not matter if you are in the gym 5 out of 7 days or if this is your first real push to get fit. The right nutrients deliver the necessary fuel to each one of your cells, giving your body the ability to work harder, better, and more efficiently. With every rep, you’ll accomplish more.
For most people, the problem isn’t “getting it” in terms of knowing the value of pre-workout. What’s complex is finding the right balance of nutrients to make it happen. The real complexity comes in simply knowing what supplements to buy to achieve your goals. The supplement market is so competitive with so many promises, it’s hard to know which one is the right pre-workout supplement to use.
Let’s bust through those myths by breaking it all down. In this ultimate guide to pre-workout, you’ll learn everything you need to do to fuel your cells properly to ensure your workout makes the most out of your time.
What Do Pre-Workout Supplements Do for Your Body?
There are a lot of pre-workout supplement choices. As you begin to compare them, look at what they promise to do. In a few minutes, we’ll get into what helps these supplements to work. First, you need to know what pre-workout is designed to do for your body. Pre-workout nutrition should:
- Improve your performance in any workout regimen you do
- Improve your strength
- Increase your proteins synthesis – the way your uses protein
- Improved endurance rates – meaning you can do more without fatigue
- Improved metabolic rate – allowing you to burn fat faster
- Improved focus and concentration
- Reduction in muscle breakdown during the training process
- Ideal hormonal environment for the best possible workout
No matter what type of workout you are doing, or even if you are just heading into a tough day at work, these conditions are going to allow your body to work at its best. In a training environment, pre-workout allows your body to perform at its highest level. If you are serious about seeing improvements, you cannot afford to overlook the importance of using pre-workout on a consistent basis.
Here’s another way to see the differences that pre-workout nutrition will provide to you.
When choosing any type of pre-workout supplement, it absolutely must work to accomplish these tasks in three key areas:
#1: Improve Muscular Endurance and Strength
Any workout is successful if you can achieve the goals you set. If you’re finding your workout never really meets the goals you set for yourself, even though you know these are achievable goals – that could mean your muscle endurance is too low. Supplementation – done properly – will help to improve muscle endurance and strength. This is what will eventually allow you to create the workout results you need.
If you fail to give your body the proper supplementation in these moments, they will tire quickly. They will not be able to achieve the numbers you set for yourself.
#2: Pump and Vasodilation
One key area many people overlook is muscle pump. In short, muscle pump is that burn you feel in your arm when you’re right at the peak of performance. It’s the stretching, pulling, and tensing up of your muscles in the most intense moments. This is essential for muscle growth.
Blood is pumping through your body – which is what vasodilation allows. This blood is essential to move oxygen and nutrients to the cells as they are working intensely. You also need blood to be moving rapidly in these moments to allow for waste products to be removed. Muscle pump allows the muscles to stretch and grow under the tension created in your workout. It also speeds up the development of capillaries, allowing more of them to form. This allows the muscles to expand and increase in size.
Your pre-workout supplementation needs to allow for this to happen. It should increase muscle pump as well as vasodilation to allow for blood to move and the burn to grow. That’s what’s going to deliver the muscle gain you want and need. You need to feel that burn to know your workout is working.
#3: Energy and Mental Focus
A third area that simply cannot be overlooked is overall energy and mental focus. Nutrients are not only important for your muscle cells, but also for your brain. You need to keep your head in the game. That means you need to have oxygen and nutrient-rich nutrients flowing to the brain throughout your workout.
Fatigue is not just a physical level of exhaustion. It also happens when you are mentally exhausted from your workout. If this happens to you, it nearly always means you’re going to miss your mark. If you are not mentally sharp and prepared, you cannot give it everything you have. However, with the right nutrients, your brain is in the game. Your energy stays high. You feel like you can go longer than ever before.
Making Your Pre-Workout Your Own
It’s also important to create a pre-workout supplement plan that addresses your unique needs. Depending on what’s important to you, you may want to tailor your supplement selection based on those needs. For example, some people need to increase force production and increase pain tolerance. This allows them to give their all-out effort more fully.
You may want to alter the pre-workout supplements consumed to improve blood flow to the muscle tissue by using vasodilators more readily. This can help you to recover faster and improve overall endurance. That’s better for a workout leading up to your big season.
Stimulant and Stimulant-Free Pre-Workout Supplements
Many pre-workouts will include stimulants. Others will not. It’s possible to get benefits from both types of products. Some supplement manufacturers have designed stimulant-free products that can be very effective. If you are sensitive to stimulants, like caffeine or you do not want to use these in your workout, it’s worth looking into them.
Also, for those late-night workouts, you don’t want to take stimulant pre-workout products. Staying up all night or feeling jittery as you try to sleep can be problematic. It limits the amount of sleep your body will get. You need that for recovery.
In all cases, read the label to know what you are taking. Never guess. Always learn what’s inside.
What Needs to Be in a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Now that you know the basics of pre-workouts and what you want to get from them, the next step is to consider what’s inside them. Here’s the thing – there is not one pre-workout supplement that is going to be perfect for everyone. You will want to tailor them to fit your needs and choose what works for your budget.
Don’t let name brands get in the way here. Flip over the container and see what’s in them. This is our recommended breakdown of what should be in your pre-workout supplements for the most effective outcomes.
Supplement Ingredients That Boost Strength and Power
Let’s first talk about what goes into a pre-workout when your primary goal is to build strength and power in your workout. These components will help you to continue to build, progressing over time, and lifting more weight as you do it.
Probably the most important and most readily accessible supplement on the market targeted at bodybuilders is creatine. It is by far the more effective supplement for improving strength. It gives you muscle tissue the tools it needs to build new growth, making your muscles more powerful and stronger overall.
Why is creatine so important? Let’s take a look at the science behind the use of this supplement. Adenosine Triphosphate, also known as ATP, is the source of energy your muscles use to contract. The muscles can only store a certain amount of ATP within them. That amount is just enough to support the contraction of muscles for a few seconds at a time. After this, it needs to be replaced.
To replace it, your body breaks down creatine phosphate (CP) to get that additional energy. This allows for fast replenishment of ATP. That is what allows you to continue. However, if there is not enough creatine stored in your body available to use, then this cannot happen. Your limit is reached sooner, your workout ends faster.
That’s why you need to ensure your muscles have enough creatine available to use to keep replenishing ATP. By taking creatine supplements before each one of your workouts, you will give your body that reserve it needs to achieve this. The result is that you are able to use maximum weights for the maximum reps on each set. Your pre-workout should always include creatine for this reason.
There are a wide range of creatine options out there. Focus on creatine monohydrate. It is made from cyanamide and sarcosine. Creatine itself is naturally found in the muscle cells. Creatine monohydrate is a synthetic addition to this.
The next component to help with muscle building is taurine. It is also very commonly recommended. Taurine is a type of amino acid. It’s produced from cysteine and naturally found in the body. Like most amino acids, it’s critical to optimize performance of your body’s cells. Yet, taurine is significantly different from the other amino acids.
Unlike other amino acids, Taurine is not incorporated into proteins. It is still involved in the physiological processes, and is still important. It aids in a number of tasks including the control of muscle contractions and cell membrane structure. It also helps to balance fluid in the body – if you retain fluid often, this could be one of the key supplements to help you pull that weight off. Taurine is also a strong antioxidant, which means it helps to strip waste products from the cells.
When it comes to including it in a pre-workout supplement, it’s important for several reasons. One key reason is the way it helps muscle tissue to contract. Researchers don’t know fully the exact role it plays. However, when you are working out, the amount of taurine in your muscles is reduced as your muscle contracts. Therefore, it makes logical sense to ensure there is a strong store of taurine available to replenish this. Taurine supplements can get you to that point, ensuring your muscles have a constant source of this amino acid, allowing it to continue to contract and getting you to the reps you want.
It’s often recommended that those training consume 1 to 2 grams for every 30 minutes of workout. Of course, you are taking this prior to your workout to ensure there’s enough available to support your efforts.
Supplements Designed for Muscle Growth
The next type of pre-workout supplements has to do with muscle growth specifically. Most people lifting weights expect to see muscle growth. You probably know that to have that growth, your muscles must flex, pull, and tear. As this happens, the tissue regrows and becomes larger. That’s a very simplified version of it.
Weight training will create some muscle growth even if you do nothing to supplement it. However, your goal with pre-workouts is to increase and optimize the effect of every workout, allowing your muscles to grow at a faster pace. Several supplements can help to do just that. These are some of the most important supplements for this:
Branched chain amino acids – BCAAs, as they are often called – are critical to this process. These are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Those are probably terms you haven’t heard much about, but they can prove to be critical in your supplementation. When you take BCAAs prior to your workouts, it helps to reduce muscle tissue breakdown. These amino acids are specifically effective at this process because they are metabolized in the muscle tissue itself. This is unlike other amino acids that are metabolized in the liver.
The benefit of this is that they can be broken down right away and used immediately. That gives your body the fast energy it needs during your workout. When you take these amino acids prior to your workout, then you help to prevent the body from pulling those amino acids out of your muscle tissue to use them. Instead, they are already in the bloodstream and pumping to meet your need.
There’s another interesting way that BCAAs can be a key component to your pre-workout plans, too. We know that when you take them prior to your workout, they are also able to impact the fluctuations in your hormone levels. Some studies have found that testosterone levels measured after a workout when a person has consumed BCAAs prior to that workout remain steady for a good length of time – even for several hours. For most people, these levels drop as soon as you stop working out.
In addition to this, BCAAs also help to keep insulin levels high. This is an extremely anabolic hormone. As a result, it helps to prevent your muscle tissue from being broken down for energy use.
Here’s yet another reason why you want to use BCAAs in your pre-workout. Leucine, one of the three, has been shown to increase gene expression through the mTOR pathway. This is located in your cells. It has the job of determining if there are excessive amino acids present. When you take leucine orally in a pre-workout, it interacts with this process. As a result, the synthesis of protein is enhanced. Your cells start growing faster.
Much of this insight is often reserved for those who are building body mass – specifically bodybuilders. Yet, it plays a role in your overall function in for any athletic workout when you need larger, stronger muscles. By taking BCAAs, you are giving your body the fuel they need to both prevent muscle tissue from being broken down to use as energy and to increase the overall growth of new cells.
It is possible to get the benefits of BCAAs from taking essential amino acids blends. These are often referred to as EAAs. They are a popular blend in many pre-workout supplements. They contain the three BCAAs we’ve discussed as well as the other six amino acids your body is unable to product on its own (and therefore that you need to take in from your diet).
One supplement we hear a lot about in muscle building is protein. Your body needs protein to help it rebuild those muscles. That’s what your muscles are made from, to a degree. Whey protein is often considered a specific benefit for trainers who are looking to boost results after a workout. However, it can be an important benefit to the pre-workout as well.
Why whey protein? First, it is very easy to digest. It is considered one of the best overall sources of protein. But, it is beneficial to your pre-workout because it contains those BCAAs that you need. When you use a protein prior to a workout, you want it to be whey because of how fast your body can use it. That means the BCAAs and other nutrients in it are in your bloodstream faster, and generally within your workout.
It’s important to note that it is also a good choice for after a workout. When you consume it post training, it stops the catabolic effects of the training process. That means it helps to halt the muscle wasting process. It then works to increase muscle growth through protein synthesis. In most cases, you want it both pre and post workout for the best outcome. There’s evidence that this same process works before training, too. Even when you consume whey protein prior to your workout, it will help to ensure muscle growth, and a reduction in muscle wasting happens.
The BCAAs included offer other benefits, too. It has such a large, full spectrum of amino acids that it is able to boost your insulin levels. It is more effective than taking BCAAs alone. When your insulin levels are higher, that means protein synthesis is working at its best. It also means there is less tissue broken down during the training process. These are all good things for muscle building, of course.
Supplements Designed for Energy and Focus Benefits
There’s no doubt that energy is critical to the success you will have during any training session. When you have more energy, your training session is more effective. We’ve all been through training sessions when you could barely get through it because you were so tired. If you did it, you didn’t get much out of the process physically. To have a fantastic, successful workout, you need energy to fuel your body through it – and beyond it.
The pre-workout supplements you consume should have energy-boosting, mind-fueling nutrients in them to keep you at the top of your game. These supplements are some of the most effective.
Probably one of the most controversial of all types of pre-workout supplements, caffeine gives you that kick you may need. It is a common performance enhancer, even for those who are not training (it’s that pick me up everyone says they need).
Why does coffee offer this? It’s a type of stimulant. That means it wakes up the central nervous system in most people. It also stimulates the body’s metabolism, allowing for the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream. Not only does caffeine give you that extra boost of energy, then, but it also helps you to start burning fat when you consume it prior to your workout.
In terms of pre-workout supplement, caffeine has much to offer. It improves performance in virtually every set you do. It also helps to boost your brain’s function, allowing for faster and clearer thinking, which influences your ability to focus on the task at hand. When you think faster like this, you are more likely to perform each set with more precision and accuracy. It works, then, as a way to improve your concentration on the task, allowing you to gain muscle at a faster rate.
Now, here’s an important miscommunication about caffeine. You most certainly will benefit from it in these ways, but only when consuming a moderate amount. It is possible to take in too much caffeine. For example, if you are pounding caffeine in your pre-workout, it can impair your coordination and drop your performance through overstimulation. It’s always best, then, for people to start with a smaller dose and increase up to where you feel the best improvement.
Also, caffeine takes a bit to start working. It is best to consume it about 30 minutes prior to your workout. That gives it some time to get into the bloodstream.
Another important nutrient for pre-workout support of mental focus is tyrosine. It is an amino acid. It does a few things in the body, mostly in helping to stimulate the neurotransmitters in the brain (specifically, norepinephrine and dopamine). It also works to improve catecholamine synthesis.
What does all of this do for you? It works to reduce the risk of damage from overtraining. That’s because it can help to lessen the impact of acute stress on your body. It can also boost your brain’s attentiveness during stress – which a workout can easily become, especially if you are in an intense training session.
There is some evidence that tyrosine can also be beneficial as a fat burner. To get this benefit, it needs to be a part of your pre-workout supplementation. It, too, needs about 30 minutes to get into place to function at its best during your workout.
Supplements That Work as Muscle Protectors
Some supplements work specifically to protect your muscles. These, which we are calling muscle protectors, are actually antioxidants. You’ve likely heard of them before. They are critical to the overall health and wellbeing of your cells.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms that form when oxygen interacts with molecules. Free radicals cause damage to the cell structure. That includes DNA. Often, when free radicals are present, it forces the cell to die early. We often hear about antioxidants as a tool for fighting off cancer – that’s because it can help to remove those free radicals that cause cancer. However, this same reaction happens with muscle cells as well.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals so well that this can help to prevent them from causing damage to your cells. This helps to reduce the oxidative stress that leads to cellular damage and death. There are several antioxidants that work well in this way. Some specifically are beneficial to muscle cell protection.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Perhaps one of the best antioxidants to consume in a pre-workout is alpha lipoic acid. It is a very powerful antioxidant (and will help your body in other ways as well). It works very well in that way but also works somewhat like insulin. It protects red blood cells from the damage free radicals can cause. However, in its insulin-like fashion, it also works to increase the glucose uptake of your muscle cells. It also decreased glucose uptake in your body’s fat cells. What does that mean? In short, it means it encourages the building and growth of muscle while also limiting the expansion of fat cells.
Alpha lipoic acid is an easy way to get several benefits to your diet. It’s best to consume about 400 milligrams of it about 30 minutes prior to your workout to see these benefits.
Vitamin E is often overlooked, but it is an excellent component to your pre-workout supplement. It is an antioxidant that is lipid-soluble when it is in the bloodstream and in your muscle tissues. That helps to remove free radicals from these areas.
In addition to this, Vitamin E also influences and boosts the function of other antioxidants you’ll use. Some antioxidants – many of which are found in pre-workout supplements – are less effective when they do not have Vitamin E with them. It’s wise to consume about 400 IUs of Vitamin E prior to your workout.
Nearly always called just NAC, this nutrient comes from N-acetyl. It is a type of nonessential amino acid cysteine. Its main function is to help to protect the liver from the absorption of toxic chemicals. The antioxidant abilities of this nutrient help to make glutathione work well. It, too, is an antioxidant.
While most people take NAC for its antioxidant abilities, it also has a nice benefit to those who are training with it. It helps to reduce or delay fatigue. To do this, it helps to improve potassium regulation in the body. It also helps with sodium management in the cells. By doing this, it helps to boost the cell’s overall ability to function at its best. That leads to improved efficiency of function and heightened results during any set or lift.
Supplements That Boost Endurance
There’s another classification of pre-workout supplements to take into consideration here. These work to improve endurance. That’s significantly different from just improving overall cell function or energy levels. When you have a higher level of endurance present, you are able to get more in every workout – more reps, bigger weights, longer workouts, and bigger results from muscle growth. For all of these reasons, it tends to be important to maintain some type of nutrient in your pre-workout, specifically for endurance performance.
To be clear, boosting your caffeine levels will not keep you going longer. That’s not the right type of focus here. Rather, you need to consider the following nutrients that can give your body more ability to keep going longer.
Perhaps the best way to improve endurance with a pre-workout is with the antioxidant Beta-Alanine. It improves carnosine levels in the muscle tissue. Carnosine is made up of both beta-alanine and histidine. You cannot take in carnosine because of just how rapidly it is metabolized in blood plasma. You can take in beta-alanine, though, as a way to move it to the muscle tissue. When it gets there, it will be resynthesized with histidine.
Why does this matter to your workout? First, beta-alanine is an important antioxidant. It helps to reduce some of the oxidative stress you’ll have during your workout that is directly related to the increased fatigue most will feel. It also helps to reduce PH levels and helps to ensure your neuromuscular fatigue is as drawn out as possible.
Most people will see the benefits in several ways. This includes reducing the overall amount of stress your cells have, which means you’ll be able to go at it longer. It also means you’ll be able to get more reps in at your chosen weight. That means bigger muscles over time.
A final supplement for endurance benefit is the amino acid citrulline. This amino accident is not a component of the protein synthesis process. It works much like taurine in this way. It helps to encourage blood flow through the body. The body can also convert it to arginine, another important amino acid to overall cellular health.
When you take this type of supplement, it is likely going to be paired with TCA cycle intermediate. This is something specific to look for whenever possible. It helps to improve aerobic energy deep within the mitochondria of each of your cells.
In terms of workout benefits, citrulline malate works to reduce the feeling of fatigue you may have. It also works to reduce the acidity that develops in the blood during workouts. When you are engaged in significant, high-intensity workouts, this type of acidity can drag you down and lower your overall results. Because it works to remove endotoxins from your body – which are produced naturally during the workout process – it can further reduce your fatigue levels.
Take it as a pre-workout so that it is there prior to wearing down your cells. You will also find that this nutrient is commonly associated with intra-workout supplements. These are supplements people often take during their workout to continue to fuel your body. Both are good times to boost your body’s access to these nutrients.
Other Ingredients in Pre-Workout Supplements to Consider
A variety of other blends of nutrients are found in pre-workout supplements. These are all good options to include as well.
L-theanine: This nutrient is an excellent way to get the mental focus you need heading into a workout. If you are one of the main people that get jitters from caffeine, taking this nutrient can help to combat that, giving you a better result.
Yohimbine: This nutrient is increasingly being found in pre-workout supplements. It helps to improve your energy levels and offers a boost to mental intensity. One key concern here is your reaction. Some people will feel anxious after taking this. That’s due to the natural alpha antagonist makeup of this product.
Betaine: This is a nice, easy addition to your workout supplementation. It helps to boost your long-term strength and can aid in recovery gains.
Huperzine-A: Some pre-workout supplements include this nutrient. It offers mental energy and fortitude to some people.
Beetroot Extract: Many natural products will contain beetroot extract. It can be potent. It offers a bit more endurance and pumps.
How to Choose a Pre-Workout Supplement – It Goes Beyond the Hype
Now that you have a good idea of what should be in your personal best pre-workout supplement, you can begin to look at the wide range of products on the market to find those that are most fitting to your needs. The good news is there are many outstanding products to choose from. The bad news is it is worth paying close attention to what’s in each one. Most formulas are very different from each other.
Choose a product based on your individual goals. It is also wise to pick up something that fits your budget. It is not always necessary to purchase products that are so expensive that they do not make sense to use. With hundreds of options, you don’t need to overspend.
At the same time, you really do need to invest in quality. No matter what is on the label – and remember that there is no significant oversight on the quality of the ingredients that goes into these products – you need to ensure it is the highest quality possible.
It is worth doing some basic research on each of the brands you are considering to learn a bit more about how they work, what’s in them, and what type of results others are having. Here’s how to compare pre-workout supplements to each other.
Word of mouth is always the best way to get information about any type of pre-workout supplement. You want to know what success other people have had. Reviews are valuable because they give you insight into the way a person used the product as well as the results they had. The key is to know which reviews to read.
Not all reviews contain good information. If someone is brand new to lifting, they are not going to be able to provide the depth of insight you need. It’s always best, then, to read reviews from those who have been lifting or training for at least a year or longer. This allows you to gain insight into what their authentic results are.
Also, be leery of reviews written for compensation. Any time a brand pays a person to write a review, you have to be careful with the accuracy of that information. That means reading the reviews on a pre-workout company’s sales page is not enough. You also want to look for reviews elsewhere.
Alignment with Your Goals
Another key factor to look for when choosing a pre-workout is how well the product and its ingredients align with your specific goals. You want a product that is going to enhance your workout, not limit your success.
If you are in a cutting cycle, for example, be careful with any type of pre-workout that contains a lot of carbs in it (in fact, carbohydrates are commonly are incredible in pre-workouts, and that’s okay). Some products just have significantly more sugars than others. That’s not going to help you when you are trying to lose weight.
If you are looking to gain muscle mass, be careful with what’s in your pre-workout as well. Here, you do not want a product that is heavily full of sugar. It needs a better protein composition. Whatever your goals are, make sure your product matches them.
Harmful Substances Shouldn’t Be in Them
Not all manufacturers are the same (and some are not interested in providing you with a pure product). Some will put sometimes dangerous stimulants into their pre-workout products. This gives the user a very big jolt of energy – and that could make you think it is working very well for you. The problem is, these products are not healthy, and you do not want to allow them into your pre-workout.
One key product you do not want to see is dimethylamylamine. It is more commonly known as DMAA. It was commonly used in older products. However, since 2012, it has been removed from most U.S.-based products. That does not mean it isn’t lurking in the products you are buying off store shelves. If you use a product like this, it can create such intensity that it leads to very high blood pressure and chest pain. Some have had heart attacks from using these products.
Costs and Servings
Most people training do not want to buy a product that is too expensive for their needs. You do not have to spend significantly to get good quality. What you should look at when comparing products is the cost and the number of servings you are getting from the product. Be aware that huge bottles of product does not always mean you have extra servings. It’s all about how much product goes into each serving.
Look at the cost per serving – this is a nice little figure that can give you an easy way to compare products when costs are a concern. Think about how long the product will work for you.
Also, remember that while costs don’t have to be high, you do want to spend money on quality products. You most certainly will spend more for a higher quality of product, but that makes it worthwhile.
Look at the Quality of the Ingredients
You know what components need to be in your pre-workout supplement. Also, consider the quality of those ingredients. Sometimes, the best products are those that keep the ingredients simple and make it easy for you to see exactly what you are getting. If you do not understand the long list of ingredients – of there are words in the list that you have no clue about – that may not be the best product choice for you.
Some of the best products have wholesome ingredients. These are words you can recognize and understand on the label. If you see something you don’t recognize, take a few minutes to search for that information. Never put products into your body that you do not recognize, especially if you have limited information on the effectiveness of the product.
Watch Out for Proprietary Blends
As you compare products, you may see some products that say they are a proprietary blend. This is a mechanism used to hide what’s really in them. You should be leery of this. You need to know what you are putting into your body. If there is some reason they cannot put the details on a label, that should be concerning to you.
Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean there are only trace amounts of the important ingredients necessary. They also don’t want to specify the quality of the ingredients in this manner. It may sound like they have a unique formula they do not want to share, but most people should be concerned about the lack of insight into what you are consuming.
If you use a product and do not like the outcome, make sure you do your part too. Leave a review, provide the next person with a bit more information about it, and share your experiences with detail.
Are Pre-Workout Pills or Powders Best for You?
Sometimes one of the first things that hold a person up when choosing a pre-workout supplement is the form it’s in. Is a pill the best option for you? Should you consider a powder instead?
To some point, it is up to you to choose what you are most comfortable with using. Either option is better than not using any pre-workout. The way you use these products plays a role in the outcome you’ll have. Here’s a breakdown of some key considerations.
Pill benefits include:
- They are easy to carry with you. That means if you are stopping for a workout at an off time, you can pop a pill and be ready to go even if your plans change throughout the day.
- There’s no water needed to mix them up. That makes pills a common go-to option in itself.
- There’s no mixing involved – and that means there is no mess.
- However, there are a few things you should consider about pills such as:
- They typically will have some type of binder or filler in them. This is what allows the product to be put into a pill form. For those tracking everything that you ingest, this can be a concern for you.
- They are harder to swallow than a powdered mix. If you don’t like pills, this is not going to work for you well.
- They also take longer to get into your bloodstream. If you have more time on your hands consistently, this may not be a big factor. For others, it is a deal breaker.
Powder benefits include:
- It is a larger formula. That means there are likely to be more ingredients in it. Powders tend to include more of the nutrients in higher doses (though this is dependent on brand, too).
- It is very fast-acting. You can take your pre-workout 30 minutes before your workout or sooner and be ready to go.
- Most people find that powders are easy to take. They also feel like you are taking more substance into your body.
There are some drawbacks to powders, too. They include:
- They tend to come in large bottles that are hard to carry around with you. They may not be easy to hold onto when you are heading into the gym after a long day at work.
- They can be harder to prepare. You need to have some way to mix them, and that often means having water available to you to do so.
- Powders tend to be more expensive than pills. Again, though, that comes with the higher quality of product in the powder.
Most often, the pill vs powder decision does not have to be strictly about which form is easier or more enjoyable. It really should come down to which product is most effective and has the best combination of nutrients for the type of benefits you are trying to accomplish.
Read the reviews of all products before you make a buying decision. Some may not offer these benefits or may be inferior significantly to others.
Pro Tips and Strategies for Taking a Pre-Workout Supplement
As you start to look at the products available to you, it is a very good idea to really put your heart into finding products that can provide you with exceptional results. Then, you need to use them wisely. Here are some answers to common questions along with a few pro tips to help you get the most out of your pre-workout supplement.
Cycling Your Pre-Workout
This is something you may hear about from time to time. Cycling your pre-workout supplement is a very positive thing in most cases. When you use the same products every day, and you do this week after week, your body grows used to them. It adapts to them. Soon, you may not feel the same boost and focus that you did when you first started. To overcome this, you need to cycle your pre-workout supplements from time to time.
When you do this, your body stays sensitive enough to the product and the ingredients within it to ensure you are getting the very best results possible. If you have been using a pre-workout and not getting the results you want any longer, this could be why.
One good example is with creatine. If you do not properly cycle creatine, the creatine transporters in your body – which are critical to getting this nutrient to your muscle cells – begin to downregulate. That means your body is no longer moving the product to your cells. Even if you take it and take more of it, you may not get any real benefit from the process any longer.
Another key area to consider has to do with caffeine. We know the value of adding it to your pre-workout because it gives you the energy you need. However, the body is very easily able to adapt to that boost of stimulant, especially when you are using it three to five days a week. Think about this – some people can drink one cup of coffee to get the effects they need. They do that once every few days. Others seem to have a membership to Starbucks and drink cup after cup and still complain about being tired. More so, taking in too much caffeine can lead to a reduction in overall adrenal function.
Cycling does not have to be a complex process. One route to take is probably the easiest. Use a product for 6 weeks or up to 2 months at a time. Then, take at least two weeks off from it. You can then go back to it again. In the meantime, between those sets, you can use other products or go without pre-workout for a short period of time.
When you do this, you are giving your body the ability to become less sensitive to the product. That means when you go back to using it, you’ll still feel the punch and motivation that you are looking for in it.
You can use different types of products in various cycles like this. If you plan to use different products, choose those that offer a different type of nutrient makeup whenever possible. Products that are too similar may not provide you with the break your body needs to reduce sensitivity effectively enough.
Losing Weight? You Still Need a Pre-Workout
Pre-workout products are most certainly necessary for muscle building. However, they are also beneficial to weight loss as well. Unless you are using products that contain a high level of carbohydrate and sugars, you are not going to find them limiting your ability to burn fat.
If you choose a high quality product, in fact, they will actually work to help stimulate fat burning power. That is because they help to speed up the metabolic rate – the rate at which your metabolism is working. They also encourage your body to use fat for energy. This can give you the most boost for your investment.
If you are dieting to lose weight, you may feel sluggish and tired all of the time. That’s a normal feeling because of the reduction in calories. That may make it very difficult for you to actually get in a workout. When you use a pre-workout, though, it can give you the energy you need before your workout, allowing you to gain far more with each set of reps you do.
Is It Safe to Take Pre-Workout at Night?
Some people love to train at night. When you train is up to you. In all cases, you need to use pre-workout. The time of the day does not change your need for pre-workout.
However, if you plan to workout and go to bed soon after, you do not want to do anything that can jeopardize your sleep quality (remember, your body needs to have the ability to sleep and heal as well after a workout). For this reason, it is best to take a supplement that does not contain stimulants in it.
This will still allow you to get the anabolic benefits of a pre-workout because the other nutrients will still work well. It will not leave you unable to get to sleep, though, after your workout is complete. You can find some good quality stimulant-free products to choose from on the market to help with this.
Using Protein Shakes After Workouts Is Still Okay
Many people like to add protein to their bodies right after a workout. It makes sense. You want to get that boost of protein into your body so that your cells can start working on healing. If you are using a pre-workout, your body still benefits from that boost of protein after the workout is over.
Supplementing your body’s needs before and after your workout is important. You want to ensure your body enters the recovery phase with all of the nutrients it needs to heal rapidly and to encourage muscle growth. So, be sure to use your protein shake just as you would if you did not use a pre-workout. Both steps can give you the best possible workout outcome.
Damaging Mistakes You May Be Making
There are plenty of instances in which a good pre-workout plan goes bad. That happens for many reasons, including these.
Using Coffee and Energy Drinks – Are They Good Enough?
A good cup of coffee can really get you moving in the right direction. You may like one or more of those energy drinks on the market. They give you the jolt you need to get hyped for your workout. So, why can’t these be a good option for you?
Caffeine based products like these are just that – caffeine. Your pre-workout needs to be much more than just coffee to be effective. You need a pre-workout supplement that has multi-dimensional benefits to you. If you feel that you need these products before your routine, you’ll still need to find other supplements to keep your body fueled properly. Through this guide, we’ve made it clear – pre-workout needs to include numerous components to fuel your body in various ways. Caffeine and energy drinks alone cannot do it.
Also, it is possible to take in too much stimulant. When you do, you are taxing your body significantly, limiting its ability to make it through to the finish line – and if you do get there, you’ll find that recovery is rough.
Combining Numerous Pre-Workout Products Together
Another big problem some people have has to do with mixing products. One may seem good as a stimulant. Another may seem like a good choice if you are looking for fat burning. The problem is, you really do not know what is going to happen if you combine products.
It is rarely a good idea to take more than one pre-workout supplement at the same time. One key reason is that you are super loading up on stimulants when you do. Most pre-workouts have stimulants in them – and when you take too much of a good thing, you defeat the benefits it has to offer to your body. By the same token, you do not want to take pre-workouts along with a cup of coffee. Again, too much caffeine isn’t good for you.
Can I take a Pre-Workout on My Off Days?
Pre-workout is something you need to take prior to a workout. It’s designed specifically to fuel the intensity of a hard workout. There is no real benefit to taking it, then, on the days you are not going to put your body in that place.
Also, many experts recommend not drinking a lot of caffeine or using other stimulants every day. Take a few days off from using these products each week. That helps to ensure when you do use them ahead of a workout, they really have the power and punch to provide to you. You don’t want your body to become too used to them.
When Should You Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Let’s talk about when you should take your pre-workout to get the most results from it. No matter what type of product you are taking, the goal of this supplementation is to get nutrients into your bloodstream and ready to be used as soon as you start working out and training. However, not all products will move into the bloodstream at the same rate.
Some pre-workout supplements will give you some indication through directions of when you should take them. If they do, that tends to be the right route to take. Most pill-based products are best suited for consumption at least an hour prior to the intensity of your training. However, powders work faster.
It’s not uncommon to see people walking into the weight room with their pre-workout in hand. This is not something you want to do. In fact, those people are probably not getting the results they need from the product at all (that means they are wasting money and not getting the most out of every rep they take!)
The active ingredients in most pre-workout products will take at least 30 minutes, and often up to 60 minutes, to reach their peak levels in your bloodstream. If you are planning to sit at the gym for an hour before getting into the weight room, then, by all means, take your product with you. Most people do not do this, though. You want to get in and out fast.
Now, what about taking it too long prior to your workout? Most often, it is okay to consume your pre-workout between 60 and 90 minutes prior to your workout. If you do this, you are still going to get enough energy to get through a decent length workout. Caffeine itself – which is one of the most important components to making sure your energy stays high – will take a full three hours and sometimes as long as five hours to get removed from the body.
There is some difference here between people. You know your metabolism. Some people metabolize product much faster than others do. That could mean that you need to take it closer to your workout session. Others may need a bit longer to metabolize it.
So, what should you do to get the most out of it? Don’t overthink the process. Most of the time, you should take pre-workout between 30 and 60 minutes before your workout to get the best results.
Not Every Day Is Necessary
Another thing to consider about how you are taking your pre-workout is whether or not you need to take it every day. Some people use it at the start of every workout. If you are lifting and training five days a week, that is going to cause you to become less sensitive to the components in your workout. In other words, that may mean you become used to the stimulants too quickly.
There are many professionals that recommend taking pre-workout only before the most important workouts each week. If you are planning on having an intense workout, that is the best time to take your pre-workout to ensure you are getting the most out of it, and you are not becoming too used to the stimulants in it.
It is also a good idea to use pre-workouts when you are working on the largest muscle groups. That includes your chest, back, and legs. Here, you really do need that extra boost to get the best results.
Can Foods Do It? The Foods That Supplement Your Workout
Let’s talk about food and pre-workout. What you eat, when you eat, and what you expect from your workout from food are all critical factors in ensuring the best possible benefits. Let’s break down the most important factors related to pre-workout and food.
You Need High Glycemic Carbohydrates
Many times, when comparing pre-workout products, a big part of that is to ensure you have the right amount of carbohydrates in the product itself. Carbs are not all the same (and most diets these days focus on this). Your goal is to choose high glycemic carbohydrates in any foods and pre-workout components that you purchase.
High glycemic carbs sometimes get a bad reputation. In a workout, though, they are providing the very big boost of energy you need because they can be digested so quickly by your body. You may not seem them as a typical supplement that should be in your pre-workout, but they are, in fact, one of the most important.
Your body uses energy in different ways during and in between each of your sets. You may remember ATP. When you are training your body, ATP is what drives the contraction of muscles. When your body runs out of ATP, it then turns to creatine phosphate to use as energy. You need to have enough of this in your body to get results. But the body only stores about 8 to 12 seconds worth of creatine phosphate.
When we get to this point, the body moves to glycolysis. This is the process in which your body uses glycogen and blood sugar to replace the lack of ATP stores. Glycogen is the carbohydrates stored in your muscles.
When you are working out in the gym, your body goes through this same process with every set you do. Carbohydrates play a role in that secondary back up system. If you can maintain enough muscle glycogen present, that means you will have the nutrients you need.
To achieve this, we need to use fast digesting carbs, which are high glycemic carbs. These types of carbs create a much bigger increase in insulin release than other slower digesting carbs. We want to see high insulin present during a workout. Insulin is the most anabolic hormone that your product makes. Not only does it do this, but it also helps to minimize the effects of cortisol on your body. Cortisol, often known as the stress hormone, is what causes muscle wasting. During most workouts, you are likely to see a spike in cortisol.
Insulin and cortisol work against each other. That means you are taking in high glycemic carbs, and boosting the natural insulin production in your body, you are working to keep the muscle-wasting cortisol levels low.
The key here is to know how many of these carbs is the right amount for you to take in. Generally speaking, you want to get most of these high glycemic carbs from your pre-workout itself. They are always listed on the product. If you want to burn fat and gain muscle, it is a good idea to aim for consuming between 20 and 60 grams of these carbs – high glycemic carbs – in the 30 minutes prior to your workout. That is why you want to get most of these from your pre-workout nutrition. They will not last in your system for much after a moderately long workout period.
What Is Your Lead in Meal?
It is often thought that consuming the nutrients your body needs from foods – rather than pills – is the right route to take. For most things, that is the case, especially if you are taking in wholesome foods.
You do not want to eat a lot of food in the hour or so before your workout. It will weigh you down. It will limit your body’s ability to really get in the best workout possible. Not all food before your workout is the same.
Some people think you should not eat anything besides your pre-workout before your workout. That is not the correct line of thinking in most cases. If you want to build muscle, you need to get your body’s anabolic environment working at their optimum level. The only way to do this is through the foods you consume.
The 90 minute window is best. At about this time, you have the ability to eat foods to give your body fuel – that is what you want to achieve. If you eat much before this time, though, you are going to risk causing your stomach to be upset during your workout, which will then limit your overall success.
What goes into your pre-workout meal? This will vary based on the type of results you are hoping to achieve, such as fat burning or muscle building. Here are some factors to keep in mind.
- You need a lean protein. This is a very important component of any workout because it will ensure that you are giving your body ready access to protein. Lean protein is key – look for a high-quality white fish, for example. This ensures you have a steady flow of amino acids to keep your muscles humming along.
- You need carbs. Your pre-workout nutrition is going to give you some of the carbs you need. In your lead in meal, though, it is best to consider slow-release carbs. These take longer for your body to burn through, which means they can supplement the fast release carbs you are taking in. Options include rice or a baked potato. You will have a nice, constant supply of energy when you have both forms of carbs moving through your system.
This type of meal planning works the best for your lead in meal. Keep it simple, and do not consume too much fat to limit your overall function. Most often, you do not want to eat a huge meal before your workout, either.
It is best to get in between 300 and 500 calories in your lead in meal. This will provide you with just enough to power through your workout.
Your Overall Food Consumption Matters
There are many recommendations for what food you should eat to build muscle mass. The primary goal of this guide is to give you the insight you need into your pre-workout selection and use. However, it is important to have some insight into what types of foods and meals are going to work the best for you overall. That means going beyond the pre-workout phase of your training.
Most people will want some basic guidelines for what to consume. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Aim to eat 5 to 6 smaller meals throughout the day. Every few hours, you should be consuming something. This helps to ensure your metabolism is working at its very best throughout the day – it can even help to keep your muscles burning and building longer after your workout.
- Use complex carbohydrates for your energy needs. That’s much of what we talked about doing. You will need to have fast-burning carbs in your pre-workout and slower burning carbs in the lead-in meal. Throughout the rest of your day, focus on those complex carbs that take longer to breakdown.
- Always focus on lean proteins. This is not just for your lead in meal, either. You want to give your body lean protein throughout your meals. You do not need a lot of it to get results, but you want to have a consistent amount of lean protein being consumed throughout the day. This can help to encourage the building of muscle mass as well as muscle repair.
- Dietary fats need to be monitored carefully. It is not ideal to have too many of these in your diet when you are working on bodybuilding. You need some of them because they can provide you with a good source of energy. They are also a very important component to hormone production and regulation. Look for natural fats whenever possible.
The right foods help to keep your metabolism working. They also help you to feel good so that you are not dragging after your workout. You can change up the foods you eat as much as you like.
Are you Ready to Get Started?
With the use of pre-workout supplementation, you are going to give your body every bit of power it needs to really work through your day’s training. Don’t be afraid to improve your supplementation and change it as you go, too. You may have different needs in your body as your workout goals change. You most certainly will need more nutrients when you have incredibly high-intensity workouts planned. You have to give your body enough of the power it needs.
When you consume a high-quality pre-workout, you are going to get the very best results possible. You will love the way you feel during your workout – if you do not feel the difference, you are not using an effective product. Yet, after your workout, you’ll also feel good. It is the combination of these things that can help to keep you in the gym and building muscle while shredding fat easy to do.