Do I Need a Pre-Workout (Supplement)?
Updated: Apr 18
WHAT IS A PRE-WORKOUT SUPPLEMENT?
On a practical level, pre-workout supplements are designed to help you increase training volume and intensity so that you can get more from each workout session. In time, those extra reps, sets and minutes spent add up to major gains. When you see your hard work pay off, the more motivation you have to train. And the more you train, the more progress you continue to make.
So, when combined with the proper training regimen and nutrition program, taking a pre-workout can offer that extra push - not just to work out today, but to do it again tomorrow, then again the day after!
COFFEE & ENERGY DRINKS VS. PRE-WORKOUT BEFORE THE GYM
While you do get an energy boost from a cup of coffee or a standard energy drink, pre-workouts offer additional performance benefits. That’s because most pre-workouts have tailored formulas that enhance physical output for a variety of activities–whether that's deadlifting 500lbs or running a marathon.
Pre-workouts combine specific ingredients in specific doses to give you the biggest bang for your buck. In other words, they maximize time and effort you put into your workouts.
HOW LONG DOES PRE-WORKOUT LAST?
The effects of pre-workout will depend on your sensitivity to caffeine and the other ingredients discussed below. For a standard dosage, the average individual can expect the full effects to be felt within 45 minutes and last 3-6 hours. For those more sensitive to stimulants, the effects will likely be felt faster and last closer to 6 hours.
3 Beneficial Ingredients to Look for in Pre-Workouts
Caffeine primarily works by antagonizing (essentially blocking) adenosine receptors. Adenosine normally binds to these receptors, causing drowsiness.
By antagonizing these receptors, caffeine can increase alertness and combat drowsiness.
Caffeine is also distributed throughout the body and interacts with receptors on the surfaces of other cells to elicit different physiological processes including the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
Dosing of caffeine is highly variable. Your genetics and habitual use of caffeine play a large role in how much is needed to elicit an effect. The more you consume on a daily basis, the more you will need to consume in order to see any training benefit.
Additionally, there appears to be a “saturation” limit where you only receive an anti-fatigue benefit and no additional effects from higher levels of caffeine intake.
Beta-alanine is a form of the amino acid, alanine and is said to increase your training capacity by improving the body’s ability to buffer exercise-induced decreases in pH*. In essence, Beta-alanine isn’t doing the work; it is providing your body with the ability to make more carnosine, another amino acid involved in pH* effects.
Briefly, Beta-Alanine helps you avoid “hitting the wall” a little bit longer, essentially increasing your workload by 1-2 additional reps in the 8-15 rep range. The consistent finding throughout the research is that it can increase your muscle endurance by about 2.5%.
It has also been shown to improve interval-type training, where individuals have improved performance in repeated bouts of sprint intervals and increased muscle endurance which can have a positive effect on fat reduction.
L-citrulline has been shown to have a myriad of benefits in humans, including increased training volume, decreased muscle soreness, decreased fatigue, and increased blood flow.
Citrulline-malate displays a wide range of potential benefits from decreasing fatigue and increasing training volume to improving exercise capacity in individuals with heart failure.
While there are some reported gastrointenstinal side effects (similar to creatine), citrulline appears to be a well-tolerated supplement that has potential to be on par with creatine and beta-alanine in terms of efficacy. Doses of approximately 6g prior to exercise is most common.
Traditionally, pre-workouts have had a reputation for being exclusive to the highly advanced gym-goer whose sole focus is to get as muscular as possible. But the truth is, pre-workout ingredients can help just about anyone who wants to improve his or her fitness levels–from the beginner all the way to the hardcore gym buff.
In a nutshell, pre-workouts can benefit you if:
You want 'focused energy' before a workout
You're starting a program and/or trying to take it to the next level
You want to lose weight
You want to build muscle and strength
You want to improve your performance in the gym or for sport
* pH is a scale of acidity from 0 to 14. It tells how acidic or alkaline a substance is.
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