Workout supplements are very useful for the fitness enthusiast; in fact, because they are chock-full of essential nutrients as well as beneficial substances, you can benefit from them even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete – but you work out casually. To this end, you should become familiar with the most popular and effective supplements available on the market: creatine, protein powders and pre-workout supplements.
The primary use of the supplements is to provide you with the energy you need to maximize and optimize your time in the gym. Although pre-workouts have been around stretching far back into time, the year of their industrialization can be said to be around 1980. This is when they really made it to the market and the term “pre-workout supplement” was coined to describe the spectrum of available substances.
Indeed, due to the multitude of essential nutrients inside of pre-workout supplements, today they are used as much more than exercise-enhancements. Many people use them to help them focus for work and activities; as a result, you can even find some of them being marketed as non-stimulant pre-workouts.
As a result of the inevitable commercialization, there are a lot of newer pre-workout products that make unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of their supplements. This, unfortunately, can lead to newcomers and veterans alike questioning whether or not pre-workouts are worth it. Hopefully we can help you navigate the proverbial minefield in this article by breaking down supplement contents and explaining what they do and how they work. As a result, will breakdown this article into two sections: will analyze first the best pre-workout ingredients that are worth it, and second, the pre-workout ingredients that aren’t worth it:
Pre-Workouts Are Worth It:
Pre-workouts That Aren’t Worth It:
- Proprietary Blends
Investigating Beta Alanine
You will find the nonessential amino acid beta alanine in virtually every pre-workout supplement worth the name. That’s because it demonstrates a really effective substance, as evidenced by numerous papers published on it in various medical research journals. In fact, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, as well as the Amino Acids Journal, contain strength training studies where participants showed marked improvements in their bench press routines – specifically in the moderate rep range of 8-15. That rep range is the one that is widely regarded as the muscle-building rep range.
Beta alanine is especially distinct because of the muscle-tingling sensation that you feel throughout your skin when you take it. It’s completely harmless, of course, and is one of the few supplements that lets your body know the precise moment it’s starting to reach peak efficiency. One of the best things about beta alanine is that it can be taken at any time; in fact, nutrition experts recommend that it be taken long before your workout so that your muscles can be saturated with it. This doesn’t mean you can’t take it right before a workout – it’s just that other than the tingling sensation, it lacks the acute effect that creatine might have in some cases. The recommended dosage for the effects noted in the research studies is 2-5 g of beta alanine per day – taken all at once.
Caffeine: King of Natural Stimulants
You had to know now we get caffeine in short order – after all, it is the most popular stimulant on the planet. Often called a psychoactive, its effectiveness is undeniable – and is used around the world to help people wake up, and stay awake. The question then becomes, “Is caffeine a good/practical substance to use right before you begin your workout?”
A resounding “Yes!”
Although caffeine is usually associated with a cup of Morning Joe (that would be coffee for non-native speakers of colloquial English), it’s range of attributes unsurprisingly helps many people in the gym. Caffeine confers greater focus, a spike in energy, and prolonged endurance – especially when paired with beta alanine.
Countless research studies show that caffeine is capable of enhancing your perpetual memory, improving your working memory, and speeding up your reaction time when taken in moderate doses. All of the above attributes are inextricably intertwined with the term “focus”.
Insofar as working out is concerned, athletes should be pleased to know that caffeine improves both anaerobic and aerobic activity during exercise. On the latter end of the spectrum, some studies have even shown that caffeine has positive effects on the oxidation of fat, as well as increasing testosterone levels. There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done on these latitude – but the results so far are very promising for athletes.
Utilizing Caffeine Effectively
Despite all of these positive benefits, it is important to keep in mind that caffeine is one of those stimulants that should be taken in moderation. Let’s see what Dr. Mike T. Nelson, a Carrick Institute Prof. of nutrition and metabolic flexibility says: “The Tolerance Effect is a very real phenomenon associated with any substance in nature that is stimulatory; basically, there will be an inevitable sensory down regulation from taking too much too often. For example, if you take some caffeine for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – the sensory effects will likely be potent. Now let’s say you start taking it several times a day; before long, you will cease noticing a strong effect from it.”
The solution to this is as straightforward as it is obvious: you have to wean yourself off of caffeine simply by not taking it every day, if you want to start experiencing the huge effect it can have for your workouts. The best thing to do is to make a note of the caffeine content of your pre-workout powder, and then plan to cycle on and off so that you can reap the benefits of the world’s most common stimulant.
One of the things that Dr. Mike T. Nelson has noticed in his research trials is the tendency that people have to substitute actual sleep with caffeine. “Many of my clients will talk to me about their ability to operate on 5-6 hours of sleep a night without any problems. I will then ask them about the quantity of caffeine they imbibe (usually through coffee). It’s always in the hundreds of milligrams per serving. The thing is, if we take away that caffeine in studies, then the participants will quickly realize just how tired they really are during the day – which means that their bodies require more sleep if they want to operate optimally.
Dr. Nelson’s observations are backed up by research studies involving caffeine. When two different groups of participants are applied with the natural stimulant, the group consisting of subjects that started off tired experienced fewer of caffeine’s stimulating benefits. The reason for this is that caffeine’s activity involves the body’s adenosine receptors; it functions/interacts in such a way as to block sleepiness – rather than increase wakefulness.
This points us in the direction of a proper or effective way to imbibe caffeine for best results for a gym session or workout. Frankly, it’s better to get the recommended eight hours of sleep per night than to take hundreds of milligrams of caffeine just to help you “block sleepiness”. You will be much better served saving the big, 250 mg of caffeine contained in the average pre-workout supplement, for the big weightlifting sessions you may have twice per week – such as dead-lifting, and bench pressing.
Therefore, you can conclude that a pre-workout containing a lot of caffeine is still worthwhile; especially since the links that the stimulant has to athleticism in medical research studies is undeniable. Just keep in mind that for optimal benefits, you should have a method: save that robust pre-workout powder once or twice a week when you are lifting very heavy, and make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep all the other days – including that one, in fact.
Carbohydrates – A Crucial Non-Stimulant Compound
If nothing else, carbohydrates are some of the most well-researched ingredients that you could find in pre-workout supplements. It’s a very important compound that synergizes with protein to help absorption, and that provides you with energy during your workout. Most pre-workouts don’t have to many carbohydrates in them, since they would probably have to come in the form of sugars. Let’s take a short look at what carbs provide.
Because carbohydrates are so important as sustenance for energy, it might be worthwhile to get a separate supplement if yours doesn’t contain cards. Or, you could simply eat a meal comprised of complex carbs – such as spaghetti, white rice, brown protein-filled rice, etc. Although there are many diets which promote minimizing carbs (often for pretty good reasons), this will negatively affect you in the gym when you’re trying to bust out multiple reps and sets. Simply put – you’re going to need the energy that only carbohydrates can provide. Keep it clean for best results; which means minimize your consumption of processed foods and sweets.
When it comes to the slew of non-stimulant pre-workout substances, creatine monohydrate probably tops the list. It is very well researched – in particular, the creatine monohydrate form – and is the chief ingredient in most pre-workout supplements. The benefits that creatine has in dramatically improving power output during intense training sessions is undeniable. You can find study after study in well-regarded journals such as the International Society of Sports Nutrition, or the Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry reviews.
When you take an assessment of the numerous articles on creatine, you will find a fairly consistent range over which it improves your lifting capacity: 12-25%, and this appears most dominant in the 1-3 repetition range for big movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift. Of course, creatine can be used with any workout to gauge its effects.
Because creatine is not a stimulant in the traditional sense of the word, you do not have to wait to take it 30 minutes before your workout. In fact, you can take it at any point during your day – whether it’s at the beginning when you wake up, or at the end before you sleep. It will saturate your muscles and prepare you for the workout to come later that day or the next day. Experts recommend that you take an average of 3-5 g of creatine per day; studies show that you won’t get much benefit from taking more than 10 g of creatine daily.
Nutritionist Dr. Mike T. Nelson states: “Taking about 5 g of creatine daily for a month will kind you to saturate your muscles completely; beyond this, simply will not notice much of an effect. Think of it this way: if you have a glass filled with liquid, you cannot pour anymore liquid inside – that’s how it is with your muscles when it comes to creatine.”
In conclusion, we wholeheartedly recommend creatine – particularly for vegans/vegetarians who abstain from meat. Meat and other animal products such as milk and cheese naturally possess some creatine; your body also produces a little bit in your muscle cells. Ultimately, although creatine can be marketed as a pre-workout, you can actually take it at any point to reap its benefits later.
Pre Workouts That Aren’t Worth It Section
We want to make a clear distinction between the fact that arginine is a very effective amino acid in the human body, and whether or not it is a good ingredient to have any pre-workout powder. The former is true; however, the latter – not so much. The basic function of arginine is to optimize the nitric oxide in your system by inducing vasodilation in your blood vessels. Among other things, this action will improve the amount of strength that you can put to any task. This makes it obvious why arginine is such an important amino acid for weightlifters and bodybuilders in particular.
The problem is that the research on its effectiveness in a powder is actually rather sparse. The reason is that when the amino acid arginine is mixed into a powder, it doesn’t absorb very well into the body. Furthermore, as a result the operational effect on nitric oxide isn’t strong in this form.
All is not lost, however. It turns out that there’s another ingredient that performs the same action as are denied – except it does so very well, as discerned through research studies. Citrulline is known to elevate your nitric oxide levels and can be used as a substitute for arginine.
This section will be short and sweet because he gets directly to the point. One of the chief “ingredients” to watch out for in pre-workout supplement powders is the so-called proprietary blend. Basically, it’s the lack of transparency that’s the problem – you have no idea if the purported doses of ingredients are enough to be useful as determined by medical research trials.
Let’s give a proper example: consider a so-called proprietary blend claiming to have 5 g of beta alanine, creatine, citrulline and arginine. Legally-speaking, this proprietary blend could be 95% creatine – which means that the doses of other ingredients are completely ineffectual. In general then, avoid the proprietary blend pre-workout supplements.
Lastly for this article we have the ingredient glutamine. Many of the neo-market pre-workouts and protein shakes claim to have prodigious amounts of this. However, you should know that glutamine is an essential amino acid produced by the body abundantly – as such, there’s no real point in supplementing it. Even more important, when you do supplement, very little of it will actually be transported to your muscles in your blood vessels, as glutamine is stored primarily in your stomach.
In conclusion then, make sure you check your preferred pre-workout supplements to see whether or not they have the ingredients that are worthwhile. If not, then you can always pick another from the plenitude of available options at nutrition stores and grocery markets.
The world’s most popular stimulant is caffeine, and although it can be very beneficial for you to use on big lift days, it’s always better to be well rested so that you don’t need to imbibe the caffeine each day. Other supplements such as beta alanine, creatine and betaine are undoubtedly beneficial for endurance and power; however, it is not necessary to take them immediately prior to a gym session in order to get their benefits.
Hopefully this article arms you with enough knowledge to avoid low-quality ingredients, to understand the benefits of the high quality alternatives.
- Whey Protein Vs. Casein Protein – What is the Difference?
- The Very Best Creatine Monohydrate Powders of 2022
- The 9 Most Popular Diets: What Are They And Do They Work?
The links contained in this product review may result in a small commission if you opt to purchase the product recommended at no additional cost to you. This goes towards supporting our research and editorial team. Please know we only recommend high-quality products.
Please understand that any advice or guidelines revealed here are not even remotely substitutes for sound medical or financial advice from a licensed healthcare provider or certified financial advisor. Make sure to consult with a professional physician or financial consultant before making any purchasing decision if you use medications or have concerns following the review details shared above. Individual results may vary and are not guaranteed as the statements regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA, or Health Canada approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease and do not provide any kind of get-rich money scheme. Reviewer is not responsible for pricing inaccuracies. Check product sales page for final prices.