Let’s talk “pre-workout” supplements

Pre-workouts are all the rage — a quick hard hit of energy that can last for a few hours, and carry you through a tough workout!! A lot of athletes use them, a lot of athletes won’t touch them. What’s the real story?

What are “Pre-Workouts” ?

Simply put?  Most contain a special combination of ingredients designed to give you better endurance, more energy, increased strength, better muscle growth, and increased fat burn over the course of a workout. (A few hours, at most).

They’re typically taken in powder form (mixed with water), and they’re pretty expensive — ranging from $0.80 per serving to as much as $2.00 per serving, depending on the formula and brand.

Typical ingredients in a pre-workout:

  • Arginine and/or Citrulline: These are Nitric-Oxide boosters, designed to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, and increase overall blood flow. The end result is more oxygen is delivered to the muscles. Research proves that the effects of these ingredients massively improves exercise performance (and I can vouch for this myself).  This ingredient is the core of any pre-workout.
  • Beta Alanine: An amino acid that increases muscle strength (this is also what makes you feel “tingly” about 10 minutes after you drink the pre-workout).
  • Betaine: An amino acid effective at increasing muscle strength and power.
  • Caffeine: This keeps nerve activity up and fatigue down, by acting as a stiumlant.
  • Creatine: Not all pre-workouts have it, but some do. We talk about creatine, here.
  • Glycerol: Attracts and binds itself to water in the muscles, which provides greater “pump” (more explosive energy).
  • Tyrosine: An amino acid that boosts energy, mood, and mental focus at the hormone level. The idea is to provide more intensity to the workout.

Are there any downsides to a pre-workout?

Yes. The ingredients listed above are typically delivered in pretty intense quantities. Some pre-workouts have over 300mg of caffeine, for example.  (That’s the equivalent caffeine boost of more than 5 cups of coffee, or 10 cans of diet-coke!!!). Significantly more caffeine, in fact, than what’s in your typical “energy drink”.   (Needless to say, people who are sensitive to caffeine should find a “stim-free” version.)

More importantly, it’s very easy for the body to build up a tolerance to the ingredients. After a while, it takes an increasingly larger dose to get the same effects. And if you stop taking the pre-workout at that point, you’re completely drained, and you’ll feel sick. (Your body literally builds an addiction to them).

Most pre-workout formulas are NCAA legal (meaning: college athletes can take them and still pass a substance test), but most athletes use them somewhat sparingly to avoid dependency.

And there’s one final caution.. and this is a BIG caution.. Nobody has ever tested pre-workouts over long-term use (And testing for short-term use has been very limited). These are SUPPLEMENTS so they ARE NOT regulated by the FDA.

In other words — nobody really knows whether they’re safe to use. That should scare you.

When should you take a Pre-Workout?

I like to use a pre-workout on those tough days when I just can’t get the motivation to work out. I generally try to limit myself to 1 or 2 servings per week, at the very most, in order to prevent addiction and tollerance-buildup.

It’s best to take your pre-workout 20 to 30 minutes prior to your workout beginning, so the full-effects are felt as soon as you begin.

What will I notice?

  • A huge energy burst
  • A feeling that you just want to go 100mph
  • A tingly feeling (from the beta-alanine)
  • Heart-rate increase by 10 to 15% during your workout
  • An overall increased calorie burn of 10% to 15% as a result of the extra oxygen making it to your muscles.

How to find a good Pre-Workout:

  • I prefer Citrulline to Arginine as the Nitric-Oxide agent. Experiment and see what you like.
  • I prefer <200mg of caffeine per dose. Personal preference.
  • I prefer something without creatine mixed in. (Personal preference, I take my creatine separately).
  • I prefer formulas that are willing to tell me EVERYTHING that’s in it. (Many are “proprietary blends” — and I’m not okay with eating something unless you tell me what it is).
  • Some are easier to build up a tolerance to than others. (C4, for example, is notoriously “mostly caffeine” and not much Nitric Oxide booster — which means it’s cheaper, and building up a tolerance is easier).