The Ultimate Guide to Pre-Workout

Vlad Khor Updated: October 23, 2017 No Comments Guides

It’s hard to navigate through all the supplements out there. We get it. You can get the body you want through exercise and nutrition but it’s the long hard way. Who wants to take that route?

Pre-workout supplements are one of the most crucial supplements you can take to see results quicker. Why? Because they give you the push you need to be a complete rock star throughout your workout.

What is a pre-workout supplement and how does it work?

First of all, what a pre-workout supplement is, depends much on the product. Pre-workout supplements vary widely on ingredients and dosage but they all claim to do the same thing.

The point of a pre-workout supplement is to get you out of the “I hate working out!” zone and into the, “Let’s do this!” zone. It will get you pumped and ready to face your grueling workout head on, no matter how much you were dreading it 20 minutes ago.

A good pre-workout supplement will also help you push through any fatigue you start to feel throughout your workout.

How does a pre-workout supplement work and what are its benefits?

Again, I need to stress that pre-workout supplements vary widely. Many of them have a different emphasis or goal based on their target clientele. Understandably, a bodybuilder would want different results from the pre-workout than a mom of 4.

Tweaking the ingredients and dosages would change the results you would experience from a pre-workout supplement. Let’s discuss some of the common and effective ingredients that a pre-workout supplement would contain.

Caffeine

Pre-workout caffeine
Pretty much every pre-workout supplement on the market is going to contain caffeine. It has been known since the dawn of time to help you wake up and get stuff done, so it’s no surprise that it can help you get motivated to workout.

Caffeine does so much more than just give you a jolt of energy. It helps to raise your metabolism so that your body burns more calories throughout the day. That equates in a leaner body, which is fantabulous.

Caffeine also helps with muscle endurance so that you don’t wimp out in the middle of your workouts, and helps to boost your anaerobic peak performance. This study shows the results of caffeine supplementation before a strength workout.

Citrulline

This is an amino acid that aids in performance. It is a natural energy booster which is wonderful since there are so many unnatural and dangerous energy boosters on the market. This one also comes with a lot of added benefits that make it a great choice to include in a pre-workout supplement.

First of all, citrulline has been proven to improve muscle endurance and reduce muscle soreness.  Second, it is more effective than the alternative, L-arginine, because it is absorbed by the gut at a much better rate.

Having this amino acid in your pre-workout supplement will help you to complete your workout with energy and emphasis, no sluggish half-done workouts here.

L-Theanine

This is another amino acid that has benefits of mental focus. Theanine is known for being found in tea leaves and is often best used in conjunction with caffeine at a 1:1 ratio.

This amino acid aids in lengthening your attention span and mental clarity, making it a great addition to your pre-workout supplement.

Theanine has also been proven to help us deal with stress.  Sometimes we can be so foggy mentally from all the daily stresses and responsibilities, that it can be difficult to just get our head in the game once we make it to the gym.

Theanine helps us to put aside the worries of the day and focus solely on the workout.

L-Ornithine

This little gem of an amino acid is proven to help signal the body to start using fat as energy. This is an important aspect of supplementation. Without this override, our bodies will naturally conserve the fat and go straight for the muscle tissue for energy.

This will result in a less aesthetic looking body, but not only that, your metabolism will be shot and you will lose strength.

This amino acid also grabs its friends, arginine, and citrulline, and together they help the urea cycle. The urea cycle is how the body expels ammonia through the urine.

Hyperammonemia, or excess ammonia in the body, has been proven to cause muscle fatigue and loss of skeletal muscle strength.

When your pre-workout supplement contains ornithine, you will see more fat loss and a decrease in muscle fatigue.

Beta-alanine

This is another amino acid that helps to reduce muscle fatigue. In fact, it works so well that some supplement with pure beta-alanine.

It does this through the converting to carnosine and lowers the acidity in the muscles during a workout. This allows you to workout longer and with more resistance before feeling that burn that inhibits your muscles to push any further.

This is definitely a great way to give your workouts that extra edge that you are looking for. It does have one side effect but a minor one that isn’t dangerous. It causes the skin to feel tingly or prickly in some people.

Betaine

This antioxidant is present in beets and is becoming more and more popular as an ingredient in pre-workout supplements.

Although nothing has been proven as to how betaine helps boost muscle strength and endurance, it has repeatedly proven that it does.

This is a very healthy compound and certainly worth adding to any diet, let alone one for an athlete. Betaine is hypothesized to reduce the damage done to cells during exercise by causing the cells to swell. This would explain the pre-workout benefits it has.

B Vitamins

There are many B vitamins but mainly B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B12 (cobalamin) are used to increase energy in the cells to boost metabolism. They also play a key role in many other body processes including steroid hormone production, synthesis of amino acids, and most of the cognitive functions.

Although some disagree that B vitamins should have a place in the pre-workout supplement ingredients, the vast amount of benefits that B vitamins provide on a cellular level make it a worthy ingredient in any supplement.

BCAAs

These three amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are known as the three most important amino acids that you should supplement with.

They are proven to help reduce muscle fatigue, reduce muscle damage, and increase muscle growth.

They are best used when training in a fasted state.

HMB

β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate or HMB is a chemical that is a result of the breakdown of leucine, the most powerful BCAA. HMB is even more anti-catabolic than BCAAs and is very helpful in working out in a fasted state because it doesn’t affect your insulin levels.

Yohimbine

Coming from the plant Yohimbe, found in the Western Africa. This chemical has been proven to decrease fatigue and increase exercise performance.

Yohimbine has also been proven to block the receptors that make your body cling to those last few pounds of stubborn fat.

This is another ingredient that won’t be useful unless you train in a fasted state.

L-Tyrosine

This is another amino acid that helps with the reduction of stress by increasing dopamine and noradrenaline. This ingredient would be a great addition to your pre-workout supplement if you were planning on really killing yourself and have an extremely challenging workout ahead.

L- Arginine

This ingredient is a popular ingredient in pre-workout supplements because of the nitric oxide boost that it provides.

Citrulline has been proven to be a much better choice for this effect.

Synephrine

Made from the skin of a bitter orange, this is a stimulant that is meant to boost metabolism and increase fat loss.

It has a similar effect of that of ephedrine but it much milder. It has also been proven to increase the thermic effect of food.

Adrafinil

This supplement is a brain booster that is proven to help motivate, energize, and increase your attention span and problem-solving abilities.

This drug has actually been used to treat narcolepsy and should never be taken at night unless you don’t want to sleep that night. It is a popular supplement for college studies during exam time, for obvious reasons.

It is also important to note that this substance is banned in competitive sports because of its highly stimulant effects. It can also be damaging to your liver if you take too much.

Now, if you’ve noticed, all of the above ingredients are meant to do a few things. The first and foremost purpose of a pre-workout supplement is to improve your performance during your workout. Secondly, it should boost your mental focus and clarity and lastly, it should help your fitness goals such as increased muscle strength and fat loss.

When determining which pre-workout supplement is for you, (since there are so many on the market today), your goal should be to choose a supplement whose ingredients match your desired result.

How to take a pre-workout supplement?

How to take pre-workout supplement

So there are two types of pre-workout supplements, pills, and powder. To take the pills it is pretty simple. All you need is a little water to swallow the pill down with and you are good to go.

To take the powder, there should be a scooper included with it that determines dosage. If not, read the label for dosage amount (tsp, tbsp) and add that to your water bottle.

I wouldn’t add it to more than 2 cups of water as the extra fluid sloshing around in your stomach during your workout might cause side cramps or nausea.

When to take a pre-workout supplement?

This seems like a no-brainer. When do you take a pre-workout supplement? Why, before you work out, of course! It’s just a tad more complicated than that.

Most pre-workout supplements have a window of time when it should be ingested. Usually, a half hour before you plan to workout is the best time to take a pre-workout supplement but it can be taken as little as fifteen minutes before a workout.

Some factors on time taken include the potency of the pre-workout supplement and whether it is a powder or capsule.

A capsule needs more time to be digested in the stomach before the ingredients can be released into the stomach and absorbed by the intestines.

It’s best to follow the instructions on the label. If your product doesn’t have instructions, you should be finding another product because that’s just sketchy.

How much pre-workout to take?

Because there are so many different ingredients in many pre-workout supplements and everyone’s tolerance of different compounds is different it is always best to start out with the lowest dosage of pre-workout supplements and work your way up. This can help to alleviate any excess jitters or side effects and build up your tolerance levels slowly and safely.

Usually, the best starting dosage is either one pill or one scoop. It’s a pretty universal starting dose. If you have taken pre-workout supplements before but are starting a new one with new ingredients, it’s still safer to start out slow.

Once you know your body can handle it, increase your dosage by one pill or one scoop. If your pre-workout is low on the stimulant ingredients like synephrine, yohimbine, and adrafinil, you can even take more.

If you have a highly stimulant pre-workout supplement, I would never go beyond the recommended dosage as this could be harmful to your heart and liver.

Pre-workout supplements for women

Pre-workout for women

For some reason, many women are afraid to take supplements. They imagine that it will cause their bodies to somehow mutate into a large and manly version. This isn’t true, and especially of pre-workout supplements.

In fact, pre-workout supplements are one of the best supplements for a woman to take. Most women have a hard time losing fat around the hips, thighs, and buttocks and they also have a slightly slower metabolism than men. Pre-workout supplements are meant to aid in fat loss and can increase your metabolism.

Also, women face just as many stresses, if not more than what men face. Some women work, take care of children, take care of the home, and more. The increased alertness and motivation that pre-workout supplements can help women put aside those problems for a while to be able to put all their energy into their workouts.

What are pre-workout side effects and risks?

If you have a stimulant free pre-workout supplement, the side effects and risks are few to none. Some will make your skin tingle due to beta-alanine content.

When you are taking a stimulant supplement, you need to be highly aware of the effects that it has on your heart. Overdosing on stimulants can be dangerous.

It is also important to remember not to take stimulant pre-workout supplements at any time in the last half of your day. This could interrupt your ability to sleep.

What to look for when buying a pre-workout supplement?

There are some standards that you need to set before you buy a pre-workout supplement.

First of all, you should know what and how much of every ingredient in your pre-workout supplements. Proprietary blends and secret formulas are for chumps. In order to know if your pre-workout supplement will actually deliver the results you are looking for you should be aware of the ingredients and the dosage of each ingredient.

Too many ingredients means that it probably won’t be very effective. Think about it. If there are so many ingredients in one little scoop there can’t be that much of each ingredient. Even if the ingredients are scientifically proven to work, the dosages of each ingredient won’t be enough to do what the science proves it to do.

If there are a lot of artificial ingredients it is probably a cheaply made product that cut corners. There is no need to add artificial ingredients to a pre-workout supplement. Period.

Make sure the ingredients in your pre-workout supplements match your desired goals. Some people don’t want stimulants while others really need it. Some are looking for fat loss, while others are looking to get leaner and stronger. Different ingredients will do different things. Some pre-workout supplements claim to do all three.

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