Pre-workout supplements have gained a lot of popularity lately, and there’s a good reason for that: They are inexpensive and quite effectivewhen dosed properly. All you need to do is take a scoop, mix it with some water and BOOM! You’re an animal. You get a surge of energy and you crush your workout.
Well, I’m exaggerating a bit. You see, most pre-workout supplements on the market are ineffective. With the sole aim to maximize profits, their manufacturers water down the effective ingredients so much that what you’re leftwith is nothing more than a small jolt of energy and the feeling of, “Hmm..I think I feel something.” Today, we’ll highlight the key ingredients that make pre-workouts effective and what you need to look for when buying yours.
The Proprietary Blend
First, understand that pre-workout (or really any) supplements that hide their ingredient list behind a ‘proprietary blend’ are probably garbage. You see, the FDA (and other institutions) require manufacturers to list their ingredients and their respective doses on a label. But there’s a loophole:
When the manufacturer lists their ingredients under a proprietary blend, they can side-step the requirement of listing doses for each ingredient. And you, as a buyer, can only guess if what you’re getting is enough. For example, a manufacturer might list Citrulline Malate under the ingredient list as part of the proprietary blend, but is the dosage right? For all you know, you could be getting 100mg of that per scoop, making it ineffective as a performance booster.
And this holds true for pre-workouts. Look for quality pre-workoutsupplements that list each ingredient and its respective dose. If it’s hidden behind the proprietary blend, you’re best off avoiding it.
The Key Pre-Workout Ingredients (and Their Benefits)
Leucine is an amino acid, commonly found in BCAA supplements. It has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, decrease muscle protein breakdown, improve mental and physical performance, and to preferentially target visceral fat in people on a diet (1). Other research also suggests that Leucine can stimulate muscle protein synthesis and decrease muscle protein breakdown (2). Having Leucine as part of your pre-workout is a great way to improve performance and stimulate more growth over time.
Thisis one of the most effective supplements money can buy. It’s beenresearched since the 70s, it’s proven itself effective over and over again, it’s safe, it’s cheap, and having it as part of your pre-workout is a great way to reap its benefits.
What are its benefits? Well, there are many, but we won’t go over each one. Research has shown that creatine helps accelerate the production of energy molecules (ATP). Thisdirectly translates to you having more endurance, better athletic performance, faster recovery, all in a safe way with no side-effects (3, 4, 5, 6).
Also, some research suggests that creatine has anti-catabolic effects and can trigger the expression of certain genes related to muscle growth (7).
Thisis one of the most effective substances you can take to increase your gym performance and having it as part of a pre-workout is crucial. Many studies have shown Citrulline Malate’s efficacy as a performance enhancer (8, 9, 10). It improves athletic performance, it relieves muscle soreness, and it increases strength. Research also suggests it to be very safe to take, as long as you don’t go over the recommended daily maximum of 10 grams.
Much like Citrulline Malate, Beta Alanine is another supplement that has been shown to improve your gym performance and to takeit before your workout will bevery beneficial (11). The researchers from the meta-analysis concluded:
This equated to a significant effect of β-alanine supplementation compared to a placebo. Further data analysis indicates that supplementation with a total of 179 g of β-alanine (the median dose across all studies) would result in a median improvement of 2.85% compared with a placebo.
Arginine is an amino acid that has also shown it’s worth as part of a pre-workout supplement. In one study, the researchers suggested that arginine supplementation can reduce muscle fiber damage and preserve your capacity to train for extended periods of time (12).
In another study, the researchers concluded (13): l-arginine supplementation could increase the sportperformance in male athletes. It has even been shown to be effective as a performance enhancer in the elderly (14).
Thisis perhaps one of the best-known substances on the planet and its been shown to deliver tons of benefits. If you drink coffee, you know how powerful of stimulantcaffeine can be. First off, caffeine has been shown to help accelerate fat loss by increasing your metabolic rate (15). But it doesn’t stop there. Caffeine has been shown to increase energy levels, alertness, and sports performance, even at lower doses (16, 17, 18). Other benefits of caffeine are improved cognitive function and better memory. But really, that’s just the cherry on top of the cake.
It’s important to remember that your body does build up a tolerance to caffeine and for you to get the performance-enhancing benefits, it’s a good idea to cycle your caffeine intake to allow your body to become sensitive to it again.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, a lot goes into making a good pre-workout supplement. Just because a given product has some benefits listed on the cover or some famous fitness model is vouching for it, doesn’t mean it works.
Don’t fall for the marketing hype and avoid pre-workout (or any other) supplements that hide their ingredient dosages behind the proprietary blend. Sure, a product might have the needed ingredients in it, but if they are not adequately dosed, you simply won’t gain the benefits that are promisedto you.
What makes it effective is its ingredient list and the dosages.Always read the label and make informed decisions based on logic, not emotion.
Hopefully,this article has given you the needed information, andyou can now make better decisions and not waste money on useless products.
- Mero A, Leucine supplementation and intensive training.
- Blomstrand E et al., Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise.
- Eckerson JM et al., Effect of creatine phosphate supplementation on anaerobic working capacity and body weight after two and six days of loading in men and women.
- Camic CL et al., The effects of polyethylene glycosylated creatine supplementation on muscular strength and power.
- Bassit Ra et al., Effect of short-term creatine supplementation on markers of skeletal muscle damage after strenuous contractile activity.
- Groeneveld GJ et al., Few adverse effects of long-term creatine supplementation in a placebo-controlled trial.
- Safdar A et al., Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation.
- Pérez-Guisado J1, Jakeman PM., Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness.
- Wax B et al., Effects of supplemental citrulline malate ingestion during repeated bouts of lower-body exercise in advanced weightlifters.
- D Bendahan et al., Citrulline/malate promotes aerobic energy production in human exercising muscle
- R. M. Hobson et al., Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis
- Lomonosova YN et al., L-arginine supplementation protects exercise performance and structural integrity of muscle fibers after a single bout of eccentric exercise in rats.
- Pahlavani N et al., The effect of l-arginine supplementation on body composition and performance in male athletes: a double-blinded randomized clinical trial.
- Steve Chen et al., Arginine and antioxidant supplement on performance in elderly male cyclists: a randomized controlled trial
- Astrup A et al., Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers.
- Craig Pickering and John Kiely,Are the Current Guidelines on Caffeine Use in Sport Optimal for Everyone? Inter-individual Variation in Caffeine Ergogenicity, and a Move Towards Personalised Sports Nutrition
- Lawrence L. Spriet, Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine
- Smith A.P. et al., Investigation of the Effects of Coffee on Alertness and Performance during the Day and Night