Pre-workout Ingredients: What Really Works?When you first get into training, one of the first and most infamous supplements to enter your stacks is a 'pre-workout.' No doubt you have heard all the hype, and they seem like an item surrounded in infamy. An Itchy face, sleepless nights and feeling like you have done some legal drug is what you expect before buying one and to be honest, many pre-workout supplements on the market deliver something close to this. Your first pre-work experience is generally something to remember.
People have divided opinions on pre-workout supplements effectiveness. Many people swear by them and keep searching the supplement market for the newest and strongest product. Others take the middle-ground just wanting to get a bit of pick-me-up before the gym, not too strong. Then there are those that believe that pre-workouts are completely useless and a waste of money, or one of the evilest products on the market and will lead to an early death. The truth is, none of the above opinions is really right. It all comes down to what is in the product.
The truth is with pre-workouts some ingredients have been proven to aid your performance in the gym, and there is only a handful of them. These aren't the most interesting ingredients. But they will actually help your training and performance because they work:
Yea look I know it's boring, but it works. It's consumed every day by millions of people the world over through coffee and tea consumption, but it also makes an extremely effective ergogenic aid for training (meaning that it is a physical performance enhancer). This is why it is the staple ingredient in almost every pre-workout that has ever touched the supplement store shelf. This is for a good reason too, here are some of the potential benefits of caffeine on exercise if you need a refresher:
- Decreases fatigue during exercise.
- Increases training volume (you can lift more, for longer).
- Increases performance in cardiovascular exercise such as sprinting.
- Increases power output when lifting weights.
- Increases performance in endurance exercise like cycling.
As you can see caffeine has many benefits on exercise. As for how much to take? If you are new to caffeine, start with a dose around 100mg (about the same as a cup of coffee). Pre-workout supplements tend to have around 150-mg to 300mg per serve - check the nutritional panel on the back. If you want to read more about caffeine tolerance and cycling caffeine, check out our article here. Creatine
As far as supplements that work are concerned, creatine leads the pack by a long way. Creatine is the most proven supplement on the market, and there is a lot of research on its safety. That's not to say that it isn't subject to myths and conspiracies which could be the subject of its own article. Creatine stores water in the muscle which helps you gain muscle, and it also increases your power output.
Creatine is extremely effective at boosting performance at the gym. It The thing is creatine works chronically, not acutely. This means that you have to take creatine for several days before it starts having a benefit on performance. With that said, taking creatine with your pre-workout is convenient. Here is a quick overview of what creatine can do you:
- Increases weight through water retention (in a good way).
- Decreases fatigue.
- Increases lean muscle mass.
- Increases strength (generally in lower rep ranges).
The problem is with creatine in pre-workout supplements is that it is often underdosed. The good news is reputable brands have started putting clinical doses in their products. For creatine to be effective doses are usually 3 - 5g, taken daily. Creatine starts to take effect after 5-7 days at this dose.
Bet-alanine falls just under creatine in the hierarchy of effective supplements and because of this, Beta-alanine often makes it way into pre-workout supplements. This ingredient is responsible for the infamous 'face tingles', but it also is an extremely effective ingredient when it comes to increasing muscular endurance.
Beta-alanine generally increases your ability to push out a few extra reps when sets are around the 8-15 mark. It also has the following benefits: }
- Increases muscular endurance.
- Decreases fatigue.
- Increases endurance in anaerobic exercise like sprinting.
Much like creatine, beta-alanine is often underdosed in pre-workout supplements. An effective dose is 2-5g per day.
People will still always chase the strongest and most potent pre-workouts on the market and I get that. I have been there. But these ingredients are the three most effective and if they are in your pre-workout in the correct dose, you may see a notable increase in your training performance.
There are still a lot of other great pre-workout ingredients that we didn't have time to cover.