Pre-workout supplements can give you that extra boost when you don’t feel like hitting the gym. Fortunately, there are tons of pre-workout supplements to choose from. In fact, there are so many it can be a little overwhelming. To that end, I’m going to outline, for you, some of the most important ingredients in pre-workout supplements and how they work. Then I’ll give some recommendations for a few of my favorite pre-workout supplements, that I can tell you, from first hand experience, work.
First and foremost, caffeine is where the energy in a pre-workout comes from. If you happen to be caffeine sensitive they do make caffeine free varieties but they definitely don’t give you that same jolt. Caffeine is a stimulant that enhances the activity of your central nervous system and can increase the following – alertness, awareness, wakefulness, endurance, productivity, motivation, arousal, heart rate, and blood pressure.
This makes it a very useful tool for athletes and anyone who trains physically. Usually 100-200 mg is typical in a pre-workout formula. To give you a comparison, a cup of coffee usually has 100-150 mg. Sometimes users can become tolerant to the caffeine and in that case you may have to up your dosage. If you need to do this, be careful not to exceed the manufacturers limits.
B-vitamins are not always present in pre-workout formulas and they aren’t necessary, however I prefer ones that do contain B-vitamins because they provide energy through increased metabolism. Rather than stimulating, you B-vitamins are able to unlock the energy that is within the calories you eat. This means sustainable energy with no crash.
Niacin is a common B-Vitamin in pre-workout formulas. It can actually cause a flushing sensation in which your skin may tingle. This is normal and will go away after a couple of minutes. Its known as a niacin flush. Don’t worry about your pre-workout containing too much vitamin B – the more the better.
Creatine is an important ingredient because it serves multiple purposes. First, it can help you increase your muscle output by delaying lactic acid fatigue. It does this by raising carnosine levels, which neutralize positively charged hydrogen ions. These hydrogen ions are what cause your muscles to burn and fatigue. Creatine’s other function is to draw water into the muscle cells, thus volumizing them and increasing muscle size and strength.
Creatine monohydrate is still the standard for creatine however many pre-workouts contains other forms of creatine like creatine ethyl ester, creatine phosphate, creatine nitrate or creatine hydrochloride. All of these creatines may be quite effective, but none have as long a a track history as creatine monohydrate.
It is very popular for pre-workouts to contain a combination of different forms of creatine in, what supplement manufacturers call, a “creatine matrix.” Either way, I recommend making sure creatine monohydrate is at least included in the matrix, if it’s not the only from of creatine in the supplement.
Most preworkout supplements only contain a small amount of creatine (1-2 grams) for two reasons: First, it needs be be cycled when taken at higher doses and the second reason is that many people are already taking a creatine supplement along with their pre-workout. Too much creatine can cause side effects.
Pre-workout supplements always contain some from of arginine. Arginine is a conditionally nonessential amino acid that the body converts into the natural gas, nitric oxide. When the nitric oxide enters the blood steam it helps open blood vessels so that more blood and nutrients can be delivered to working muscles.
This creates the feeling known as “the pump.” Your muscles are filled with nutrient rich blood and can therefore work longer and hard and recover faster. Usually pre-workouts will have some sort of a “nitric oxide matrix” in which they include multiple forms of arginine. As long as there’s at least 5 grams of some form of arginine in there you should experience the benefits of it. If your simply looking for “the pump” with no other added ingredients nitric oxide supplements are also sold by themselves.
Sometimes other ingredients are included in pre-workout supplements. They usually fall under the categories of herbal stimulants or amino acids. They can increase the effectiveness of a pre-workout, but are not vital ingredients, like the ones I listed above.
Here is a list of a few of my favorite pre-workout supplements:
1. Jack3d by USP Labs
2. C4 by Cellucor
3. Assault by MusclePharm
And for those of you who can do with out the caffeine:
1. No Xplode 2.0 Caffeine Free by BSN