For years athletes, bodybuilders and gym goers have used pre-workout supplements for three main reasons.
- Increasing energy and focus
- Improving performance and power output
- Reducing fatigue and improving recovery time
What are the issues with pre-workouts in the supplement industry?
Many of the issue with pre-workouts are the standards set by the supplement industry. Some of the biggest, most well-known supplement brands in the world use a number of marketing practices to push their products. These marketing practices can range from;
- Underdosed key ingredients to ineffective ingredients altogether
- Exaggerated product claims to misinterpret “clinical" research
- Added harmful artificial sweeteners, additives, and fillers
- And the worst offence of them all… the “proprietary blend”
However, there are a number of things to look out for when looking for the best pre-workout supplement.
It Starts With Being Educated
- Which pre-workout ingredients have scientific research to support their claims?
- What are the clinically-effective doses?
- Does the supplement facts panel, list the doses individually?
- Are their harmful artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and additives?
It may seem like a lot, but once you understand what truly makes the best pre workout supplements work, you’ll never go back to your old one again.
Let's start with the ingredients - What is in your pre-workout formula?
An increasing number of products are specifically being marketed for ingestion before exercise. These pre-workout drink mixes contain a wide spectrum of ingredients that claim to boost energy and focus, augment fuel and nutrient delivery, and promote muscle pumps. Here’s a list of the common pre-workout nutrients and their touted benefits, plus some other nutrients and why you’ll see them in various formulas.
#1 – Caffeine – Boost energy, focus, fat burning and performance
Several studies support the use of caffeine before exercise. It stimulates the central nervous system, raising alertness and focus. If you have caffeine before a workout, it tends to decrease your perception of how hard you’re working. Caffeine also has a mild fat burning effect, which can spare carbohydrate and enhance endurance performance.
Several reports have shown caffeine can increase strength as well. An effective caffeine dose is 100-200 mg, equivalent to about 1-2 cups of coffee.
Most of CSN's pre workouts have caffeine in various degrees of strength. Take a look at the pre-workouts here.
#2 - Creatine - Increase strength, power and muscle size
A large amount of work supports that creatine supplementation increases muscle creatine levels and high-intensity exercise performance. CSN would give it 5/5 stars on a rating scale for athletes to combine it with weight training. Creatine boosts muscle strength and power.
Studies conducted showed subjects got stronger in the bench press and squat exercises while increasing muscle fibre size. Muscle creatine accumulation occurs over 3-5 days of multiple daily doses of about 5g. A maintenance dose is then required to keep muscle creatine levels elevated. Including the maintenance dose of 3-5g of creatine in a pre-workout formula is a good idea. On non-workout days, take 3-5g of creatine to keep your muscles saturated and primed for your next workout.
Many pre-workouts include creatine in some form, while many opt to exclude creatine as it is a relatively cheap supplement to purchase in bulk. This allows them to focus on other key ingredients. However, if you want a pre-workout that combines creatine with other ingredients listed Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre Workout has 3.4g of creatine monohydrate. ProSupps Mr Hyde opts for the popular Creatine Nitrate, while also including many other key ingredients.
#3 - Beta-alanine - reduction in lactic acid build up
Studies indicate that beta-alanine supplementation increases muscle levels of carnosine, an intracellular buffer that helps fight fatigue during high-intensity exercise.
One study showed beta-alanine increased total work done during a strength training session by 20%. An advantage of consuming creatine and beta-alanine in a pre-workout formula is that blood levels will be increased at a time when blood flow is increased and redistributed to active muscles, and thus should promote greater overall delivery of the substances to muscle.
Similar to creatine, muscle levels increase over several days/weeks, so the timing of ingestion is not critical. An effective daily dose is 3.2-6.4g in divided doses.
A pre-workout drink that contains at least 1.6g would give you half of the daily minimum dose, and you should take another dose during the day to keep your muscle carnosine levels elevated. Scitec Nutrition Superhero has 1600mg of beta-alanine as well as many other ingredients on this list. Adapt Pre-Train has 1500mg while Applied Nutrition A.B.E. has 1,900mg.
#4 - L-arginine - For nitric oxide production
L-arginine is one of the key nutrients in a rapidly growing segment of products that claim to promote vasodilation and better muscle pumps during exercise. L-arginine is an essential amino acid for the synthesis of nitric oxide (N.O.). N.O. is a substance made and released by the cells that line your blood vessels.
When released, N.O. causes a potent dilation of blood vessels, which translates into increased blood flow. Some studies have shown better blood vessel function after L-arginine supplementation in people with impaired vascular function, but positive effects in young healthy athletes are less clear. An effective L-arginine dose to impact N.O. is at least 3g. Adapt Pre-Train is one pre-workout that contains the magic 3000mg
#5 - Betaine (Nitrate & Anhydrous)
Betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, is a compound naturally made by the body but commonly found nitrate or anhydrous forms in pre- and intra-workout supplements. Betaine plays crucial roles in liver function, carnitine production, cellular reproduction, and preventing the buildup of amino acid homocysteine in the body. High homocysteine levels increase the likelihood of developing hardened arteries, which decreases blood flow to muscles and critical organs.
Oral daily doses of 500mg to 3,000mg can increase anaerobic running capacity, improve muscular endurance, and improve blood flow. Regular betaine use can improve muscular pumps and vascularity in a safe and natural way. Adapt Pre-Train contains 1000mg of betaine. If you prefer betaine anhydrous then go with Dedicated Unbeatable, which has 3,000mg.
#6 - Citrulline (L-Citrulline & Citrulline Malate)
L-Citrulline and citrulline malate are the two most commonly used forms of citrulline in pre- and intra-workout products. L-citrulline is an amino acid clinically proven to significantly decrease fatigue and muscle soreness while increasing nitric oxide, flow, and arginine in the blood. Citrulline not only improves pumps and vascularity but also staves off intra-workout fatigue and facilitates post-workout recovery, making it a must-have in your supplement stack.
Unlike L-citrulline which is a free-form standalone amino acid, citrulline malate is bound to the molecule malic acid, typically in a 2:1 ratio. In other words, you should consume twice as much citrulline malate to obtain the equivalent amount of l-citrulline.
Those looking to improve general blood flow should consume 1,000mg of citrulline malate three per day while those looking to perform at their peak on the field or in the gym should consume 6,000 to 8,000mg of citrulline malate approximately 60 minutes prior to exercise.
If you want free form L-Citrulline then Scitec Nutrition Superhero has a 1000mg, Adapt Pre-Train contains 1500mg. If you prefer citrulline malate then Dedicated Unbeatable, which has 8,000mg per one scoop serving and Project AD Nitr-Ox has a massive 12,200mg per serving.
Regardless of which form you prefer, don't forget to include this pump and vein-inducing compounding in your supplement stack.
An array of pre-workout supplements are available for consumers. They often contain a long list of ingredients in varying proportions and doses.
While there is research on many single or double ingredient combinations, the complex formulations in most products have not been studied, making it difficult to evaluate their effectiveness. Plus, many of the dosage amounts of each ingredient are not disclosed by the manufacturer but shown in proprietary blends.
You may have to do some experimenting to find the right pre-workout formula that works for you, based on your fat loss or strength training goals. Or consider creating your own pre-workout drink by buying some of these ingredients separately and taking them in the doses that have been shown to work.