Pre-Workout: The Do’s & Don’ts of Pre-Workout
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, I’m sure you will have come across a pre-workout supplement in one shape or another. Consistently dominating the supplement market, pre workout has been the basis on which many companies build their reputation, although consumers seldom understand the components of these products and how they should be used to optimise performance. Thus, leaving the decision relatively ill informed and based solely off of how eye catching the label is.
So what are they?
Pre-workout supplements typically come in two different forms, a “stim” and a “pump” blend (stim blend is your stereotypical high energy product, while the pump blend is to optimise blood flow and provide muscle pumps), both relatively self-explanatory, however there are a few components you should typically look for when considering these products, as well as understanding the necessity of these ingredients, it is also important to understand what is considered an effective dose.
Likely one of the most addictive drugs on the planet, found in your morning coffee or in your evening Jägerbomb, caffeine is the global pick me up everyone can rely on. Typically found in all “stim” pre workouts and sometimes included in “pump” products, caffeine can be considered an ergogenic aid (to increase work output) when considering its ability to facilitate a more favourable intracellular ionic environment in active muscle, however cannot be considered ergogenic when used for maximal or high intensity activity, only when considering endurance training and particularly when glycogen depletion would be rate limiting to performance. It is important to know what a “typical” dose of caffeine is for the average person, as it is key to understanding one’s tolerance before adding more.
Your typical medium sized latte or flat white from Starbucks will have around 125mg of caffeine, your average 500ml can of Monster energy drink will contain around 160mg of caffeine. It is recommended that you do not exceed 500mg of caffeine per day, so where does this leave pre workout?
Personally, I tend to opt for a pre-workout that contains round 250-300mg of caffeine per serving. On the days I take pre workout I tend to limit my other caffeine intake e.g. coffee, energy drinks etc. After repetitive use, one’s caffeine tolerance can become high and it is at this point where it may be advisable to take a break from caffeine altogether (2 weeks typically), if not this may cause one to increase their dosages to a level which may prove dangerous in order to get the same effect as they once had.
Gaining its notoriety from the tingling sensation many feel after taking pre-workout, beta alanine is commonly found in all pre workout supplements. One of the two amino acids that make up the compound carnosine (this acts as a muscle buffer during high intensity exercise which can be used to regulate muscular PH and mitigate acidosis), beta alanine has been proven to improve performance mostly in exercise lasting between 30 seconds and 10 minutes. The recommended effective dosage for this ingredient lies between 3.2-6.4g/day. Most common pre-workout supplements typically have less than 3g so it would be beneficial to keep an eye out for something slightly higher dosed.
The tingling feeling you’re getting from this product is no real indication of its effectiveness, the only possible benefit it may have is that of being a placebo.
L citrulline/ Citrulline malate
Another set of primary ingredients in all standard pre-workouts, this ingredient acts a vasodilator for the blood vessels, allowing increased blood flow to the working muscles, giving you that sought after pump. Although what many don’t understand is that there is a difference between L citrulline and citrulline malate. When L citrulline is consumed, it is converted into arginine by the kidneys, this then leads to the generation of nitric oxide (nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, raising blood supply and lowering blood pressure), thus suggesting an increase in performance, however there is not much evidence to support the statement that L citrulline is as effective as it seems. In fact one study even obtained results that would suggest L citrulline was actually detrimental to performance when used in incremental treadmill tests to exhaustion. In comparison, citrulline malate is a combination of both L citrulline and malic acid, yielding the same influence on nitric oxide production, but with the added benefit of inflammation reduction during high intensity exercise due to its ability to mitigate acidosis. Citrulline malate has been proven to increase aerobic an anaerobic output due to its ability to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in the krebs cycle. The typical effective dosage for citrulline malate would typically be around 6-8g/day prior to exercise, as for L citrulline, a dosage of around 5-6g/ day could be beneficial, however I would opt for a product with citrulline malate.
Other patented ingredients that I would personally look out for on a pre workout supplement include:
- Alpha GPC
- Choline bitartrate
- Biophytum extract
- Glycerol in the form of Glycerpump, Glycersie etc
It is important to remember that pre-workout supplements can be highly addictive and it is important to regulate their consumption in order to regulate tolerance, over-use can lead to poor sleep, high caffeine tolerance. It is also important to understand that some pre workouts consist of proprietary blends, which are hard to accurately dose and monitor, they also may contain illegal ingredients such as DMAA/DMHA which are banned in many sporting federations, I would personally avoid these products. Some pre workout recommendations I would have for someone new to the product would be:
- Total war- Redcon1
- ABE- Applied Nutrition
Recommendations to those looking for something a bit stronger and with a larger patented ingredient panel:
If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy our article on branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s)
By Tireoghain O’Neill