Pre-workout formulas are some of the most popular supplements on the market, but do they live up to the hype? The short answer is yes, but it depends. If you’re still wondering what is pre-workout and how effective it is, keep reading!
Pre-workout supplements are a broad category of nutrition supplements with no specific definition of ingredients they can or can’t include. Essentially, any product taken before a workout session to help increase energy, focus, strength, or endurance is a pre-workout supplement. The reason behind pre-workout’s great success is that they can improve training quality and recovery which means better results from training, faster. That’s a pretty irresistible offer and it explains why they’re so popular from professional athletes to casual gym-goer.
What are The Different Types of Pre-Workout Supplements?
Pre-workout products can have different targeted benefits which mean there’s a large amount of variation in the ingredient compositions supplement companies use. Generally speaking, the easiest way to categorize pre-workout products is into “stimulatory” and “non-stimulatory” ingredients.
Stimulatory pre-workouts most often contain caffeine, though other stimulatory alternatives are popular as well. They all serve to enhance cognitive focus and give the feeling of “an energy boost”. They increase central nervous system activity and speed up the rate of signals between the brain and the body. This is why consumers will likely feel “amped up” and more mentally and physically reactive than usual.
There are some drawbacks to using these types of pre-workout supplements. They commonly give users a jittery feeling, particularly if they’re sensitive to the ingredients or if they’re consuming a dose that’s too large for their needs. Anxiety, sleeplessness, and increased heart rate can all be negative side effects to consider before choosing this kind of supplement.
Thankfully, there are strategies to lessen the likelihood of these symptoms from occurring. Making sure to work out earlier in the day for example gives the pre-workout plenty of time to wear off and can help improve sleep quality.
Ensuring you’re also well-hydrated and have eaten enough food can reduce the chances of negative effects. Many supplements even have additional ingredients that can mitigate jitters from stimulants. However, if a stimulatory pre-workout is giving you any trouble, it’s best to switch to a non-stimulatory substitute.
Stimulatory Pre-Workout Ingredients
- Di-caffeine malate
The second category of supplements is any combination of pre-workout ingredients that excludes stimulants. These can still be quite effective at improving workout quality, though they don’t have quite as extreme of an impact as stimulants. They’re generally less likely to cause negative effects however which makes them a safer option.
The main actions of non-stimulatory ingredients are to increase blood supply to the muscles, provide direct energy in the form of glucose or amino acids, stave off fatigue, improve recovery, or enhance brain performance. Different substances help produce these various effects which explain why pre-workout supplements generally have such long ingredient lists. It’s rare for consumers to use a single source ingredient as an alternative because they often just aren’t as comprehensive and effective.
Non-Stimulatory Pre-Workout Ingredients
- Betaine Anhydrous
- Beetroot extract
- BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine)
- Electrolytes (potassium, sodium, and magnesium)
- Nitric Oxide
- B-vitamins (Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Pyridoxine)
What Ingredients are Actually Effective?
Now that you understand the different claims and drawbacks of various types of supplements, you might still be wondering which ingredients actually do what they’re marketed to do. Luckily, the world of sports nutrition research has given a substantial amount of evidence testing pre-workout claims, so it’s relatively clear which ingredients are worth your time, and which ones aren’t.
This class of ingredients is without a doubt effective at improving mental alertness, motivation, cardiovascular endurance, and muscle strength. Its broad-reaching effects make it a popular inclusion in many supplement products.
Vasodilators are ingredients like arginine, citrulline, nitric oxide, and beetroot extract that help to increase blood flow. This allows for more effective delivery of nutrients to the working muscles and the clearing away of waste products. Because of these actions, vasodilator ingredients are effective at reducing muscle fatigue and can be a useful inclusion in a pre-workout supplement.
Nootropics are any substances that improve brain function. Certain amino acids such as tyrosine and theanine for example have been shown to help increase mental focus and movement accuracy. They can even help reduce the jittery effects of caffeine which otherwise has the potential to throw off body movement accuracy. Nootropics can be helpful for sports training especially, though not all nootropics are created equal so the effect will be determined by the quality of ingredients.
Antioxidants are sometimes taken before a workout to improve muscle repair. They can certainly help with this, but consuming them after a workout as opposed to before is just as effective, which makes them an unessential pre-workout ingredient.
Glucose and Amino Acids
Glucose is the body’s primary source of energy, so many products contain glucose or carbohydrates that will be broken down into glucose to fuel workouts. This can be helpful for increasing endurance and muscle power, but it’s likely nonessential if you consume food with carbohydrates before your workout instead.
Amino acids like BCAAs are also used for quick energy and are thought to improve muscle repair. Some studies have shown this to be true, but the results aren’t as pronounced if you’re already consuming a balanced and adequate amount of protein.
B-vitamins and Electrolytes
Several B vitamins are involved in converting energy from food into usable fuel for the body to burn during a workout. Because of this, they’re frequently used in supplement formulas. They can assist with nutrition absorption which increases endurance and strength. Electrolytes are also incredibly important during workouts. They improve hydration status which is essential for staving off fatigue. They also play an important role in cell signaling which can help muscles to contract. Both of these types of ingredients are effective at improving the quality and effectiveness of a pre-workout product.
Despite how complex the world of supplements can be, just the basics can go a long way in optimizing fitness. Ensuring that you’re well-hydrated, rested, and nourished before your workouts will already give you a leg up. If you want to add an extra edge, consider experimenting with a product using a few of the ingredients above that best suit your needs.