Do Pre-Workout Supplements Really Help?
Pre-workout supplements promise to improve your performance, and these promises come with high prices. You are supposed to get more energy, less fatigue, and more blood flow to help you get more out of your workout. The point is, these supplements are actually powerful stimulants.
Pre-workout supplements are quite popular and you can find them at almost any company that also sells protein powders . Optimum Nutrition , MusclePharm, and Cellucor are just a few of the main players. Usually they come in powdered form, are designed to be mixed with water, and taste like a flavored sports drink, which makes sense because they contain artificial sweeteners, colors, and other ingredients that we’ll talk about shortly.
Within 20-30 minutes of drinking one, you begin to feel something as if it had “worked,” and you are ready to exercise. It is a blessing, but also a curse.
“Works” mainly caffeine
Most pre-workout supplements contain caffeine. And a lot of things.
Caffeine is commonly used by athletes, especially endurance athletes, to improve exercise performance . It helps you focus better and feel less tired – exactly what the supplement labels say! So, in fact, when you feel like you’re ready to tackle all the machines, you can thank the caffeine for it, not the supplement.
The Optimum Nutrition , JYM, and Kaged Muscle pre-workout programs I’ve tried contain anywhere from 175 milligrams (Optimum Nutrition) to 300 milligrams of retained caffeine (Kaged Muscle). For real context, one can of Red Bull contains 80 milligrams of caffeine and a cup of coffee contains nearly 100 milligrams.
While some studies show promising benefits of high doses of caffeine for lifting weights (for example, this study from Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise ), the dose of caffeine is usually adjusted on an individual basis, ranging from 6 to 9 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. … For example, that’s 409-612 milligrams for a 150 pound person.
Unfortunately, these supplements too often provide massive amounts of caffeine, preventing you from getting the right amount for yourself. Plus, you get a bunch of other nonsense. If you want the added benefit of caffeine , you’re better off getting it from other sources, like coffee or caffeinated pills, where you can control the dosage yourself.
Beneficial Ingredients Not Always Effective Doses
At their core, all pre-workout supplement formulas are similar. They contain a blend of scientifically proven compounds that are said to increase blood flow to muscles, increase energy production, and more quickly excrete metabolites that would otherwise tire your muscles faster.
Typically, you’ll find creatine , arginine , beta-alanine , carnitine , citrulline, and many more. They are all found in the body as well, and adding some of them does have proven benefits – in the right doses and with continued consumption. Here are some well-researched ingredients with notable benefits to look out for when considering a supplement:
Standard Effective Dose: 5 grams.
Creatine builds up in your muscles and is used as an additional source of energy when you work on them. During bursts of intense activity like lifting weights, you quickly deplete a form of energy called ATP . When you add creatine, you increase the available creatine in your muscles so that it can replenish ATP stores faster and help you exercise.
The International Society for Sports Nutrition has written in a memorandum that creatine is a safe, effective, and ethical way for an athlete to improve strength and power and build muscle. A review of over 80 studies on creatine in the Journal of the International Society for Sports Nutrition also noted clear benefits in strength for weightlifters, as well as positive effects on muscle building.
Two things should be noted: there are different forms of creatine , but creatine monohydrate is the most studied; and the benefits of creatine do not appear immediately. It takes time for your muscles to “load” with creatine, although you may benefit faster if you take it in large amounts. Read more about this in the article on Examine.com .
Standard Effective Dose: 2.4 grams.
Most studies on beta-alanine, such asthis International Journal of Sports Medicine , show that it helps people do a few more reps when training with a higher rep range (for example, between 8 and 15 reps).A literature review in the journal Amino Acids found that beta-alanine improves performance with moderately intense exercise that lasted 60 to 240 seconds. This means that it is unlikely to help, say, on a bench press for a maximum of 1 rep.
The explanation here is that beta-alanine is converted to carnosine in the body. When you “feel this burn” from hard exercise, carnosine is released to buffer the increase in lactate (acid) and help you continue exercising a little longer.
When you take beta-alanine or any pre-workout supplement that contains more than 2 grams of it, you will experience a strange tingling sensation, usually in your hands and face. Don’t worry, this is a harmless and common effect called paresthesia.
Standard effective dose: 0.5 grams.
Nitrates are found in green leafy and tuberous vegetables such as spinach and beetroot, and in foods used to treat ham. Typically you add beet juice and eat leafy greens, and beet extract is an ingredient in pre-workout supplements. When you take nitrates, they are broken down in the body into nitrites and converted to nitric oxide during heavy exercise when you find it difficult to get enough oxygen.
The more nitrates, the more nitric oxide available. It helps exercise because nitric oxide dilates blood vessels , increases blood flow, and seems to help you work harder and last longer. Onestudy published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that three days of nitrate supplementation (via beetroot juice) reduced the amount of oxygen needed to do moderate-intensity exercise, in addition to helping participants last longer during really intense ones. almost maximum exercise.
Another reason pre-workout supplements love to emphasize nitric oxide is because you tend to feel like your muscles are bigger than they actually are (known as a “pump” in fitness circles) due to increased blood flow.
While pre-workout supplements usually include these ingredients (and many others), actual bottle labels are often confused with the company’s proprietary blend or proprietary “secret” blend that obscures the exact amount of the listed ingredients. Thus, it is not uncommon for supplement manufacturers to underestimate nutrients such as beta-alanine.
Labdoor , an independent supplement testing laboratory, took 46 of the most popular pre-workout supplements and analyzed their contents to compare them to bottle labels and ingredient claims. They found that only two – Legion Pulse and Optimum Nutrition Platinum Pre-workout – out of 46 actually contained effective doses and lived up to their labels (full disclosure, site makes money through affiliate links). However, I do not support these two products: having accurate labels is just an ethical act.
This industry is rife with security concerns
The FDA regulates supplements in general, but oversight has been weak and often limited by resources. This alone is a major safety issue, and as I said earlier, you can never know for sure what is in the bottle of any supplement you buy. And sometimes it can lead to real harm.
In 2011 and 2012 several cases of death associated with taking supplements before exercise were associated with a product called Jack3d, which at that time still contained a powerful stimulant called 1,3-dimetilamilamin or DMAA. DMAA is structurally similar to amphetamine and has been marketed as a natural weight loss aid since the early 2000s.
For a while, even after controversy erupted, Jack3d continued to be marketed as “safe and effective.” It took another two years and dozens of dozens of adverse event reports for Jack3d to be recalled by the FDA and the supplement manufacturer agreed to discontinue its DMAA. You can still buy Jack3d, but the current formula does not include DMAA.
Unfortunately, DMAA products are still available on the market. While the FDA is doing its best to rule out DMAA supplements, you can be more vigilant by reading the label carefully. DMAA is known by other names: geranamine, dimethylamylamine, methylhexanamine, and many others. You can find a complete list here.
Aside from regulatory requirements, taking pre-workout supplements can have unpleasant side effects. I got unpleasant gastrointestinal problems while taking Pre-JYM and Cellucor’s C4. Friends and former co-workers have told me that pre-workout supplements generally cause them to have trouble sleeping at night, concentrating during the day, and headaches .
If it’s all about training harder and harder, you can do the same by taking caffeine alone . Coffee is my personal food (and it’s pretty darn delicious). As far as I understand, the only people who might need a pre-workout supplement are fitness models who lack energy due to a long period of dieting. If you need these claims that you are getting stronger and more effective, try researching individual ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine and taking them separately, where you can reduce the dose according to your needs and fitness goals.
All in all, pre-workout supplements can “work” because they can change how you feel, largely thanks to our friend caffeine. The best part is, neither caffeine nor pre-workout supplements will automatically make someone stronger, bigger, or faster. You still need to be willing to work on yourself when you exercise.