Pre-workout supplements could encompass a wide range of supplements but for the purpose of this article we are going to define a pre-workout supplement as one that has an energy component (stimulants) and other ingredients designed to improve energy, and focus as well as ingredients to enhance muscular endurance and potentially strength. Pre-workouts really boil down to what could be considered work load adaptors which mean they are designed to help an exerciser be more productive in there workout.
In the following categories there is a breakdown of the primary components of a pre-workout supplement. The categories will give you a starting point to understand what is in a pre-workout and what it might be able to do for you. It also will help provide a framework for choosing the most appropriate product for your goals. For example if you are someone who is squeezing a workout in after a long day of work and are often fatigued from your daily activities you may want a product that has a more intense energy component. If you are an individual looking to build strength and muscle you will want to look for a product that contains more of the components that increase strength and fuel the workout.
The basis for energy in most of the pre-workout products is caffeine. You can think of this part of the product like an energy drink as it is designed to give you an energy boost for the purpose of making a workout more productive. Other key ingredients in the energy blend of the product may include Yerba Mate, vitamin B12, L-Tyrosine, Synephrine and Glucuronolactone. If you are sensitive to stimulants or workout later in the evening you may want a product with lower levels of energy boosters or possibly none at all.
Initially pre-workouts primarily focused on energy from stimulants but many users found that they were really looking for something to help them get motivated and focus on having a productive workout. If you are one of those people that have a hard time getting motivated to even show up for a workout this is going to be important for you. Key ingredients for focus and motivation can include, Vinpocetine, L-Tyrosine, Huperzine A, Piracetam and Gingko Biloba. These ingredients can help put you in the right state of mind to have a productive workout as well as help create the drive so that you can improve your workout performance.
Mood enhancement may not seem important for a pre-workout but how often have you had a good workout when you are not into what you are doing. Going through the motions of an exercise program might get you tired but isn’t likely to get you the results you want to achieve. Results require a certain level of intensity and pushing through fatigue points. Being in a better mood can help make this possible and make the process more enjoyable which typically means you are more likely to stick with it. Look for things like 5-HTP, Pikatropin and Theanine for mood enhancement.
Reduce Muscular Fatigue
Fatigue reduction means the working muscles are able to do more work. This usually occurs as a result of halting lactic acid build up in the muscle or by improved oxygen flow to the working muscles. Fatigue reduction can allow the muscle to be under tension for longer periods of time allowing an individual to burn more calories and to increase strength. The key supplements for managing lactic acid are Beta-Alanine, and COP (Creatinol-O-Phosphate). For improved oxygen and blood flow look for the amino acid L-Citrulline.
Specialized ingredients can include things for boosting metabolism, optimizing testosterone or ingredients for any other specialized purpose. These ingredients however, rarely come without side effects. And for most of these, insomnia and fatigue are some of the most common side effects. Fatigue affects both men and women and is often just associated with lack of sleep, however there can be underlying hormone issues such as a lack of testosterone or estrogen that can cause sleep problems too which is often overlooked.
Although the fatigue reducing ingredients will also help support gains in strength if you want to maximize strength gains and possibly increase muscle size look for a pre-workout with creatine. Creatine plays a dual role of cell volumizer and also improves the production of ATP which provides the working energy for muscles to handle more work which can leads to gains in strength. If you are looking for just strength, and not size, stick with a creatine dose of around 2 grams. If you are in it for size you should try and find a pre-workout with a higher dose of creatine or add some creatine to it to optimize the dose.
Fuel for the Workout
In a pre-workout ingredients like carbohydrates or BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids) can help fuel intense workouts. If you are an athlete or someone who is training for an hour or more you may want to consider a pre-workout that includes some carbs and or BCAA’s.
Women’s Specific Pre-Workouts
Most products that are marketed specifically for women are typically more differentiated by marketing than by actual ingredients. Women should typically stay away from pre-workouts that have ingredients for optimizing testosterone but other than that the supplements that work for men would be the same for women.
Dominick Walsh is a blogger for Performance Nutrition and TMRzoo.com and covers all men’s health topics and exercise issues including protein powders, diets, weight loss, weight lifting supplements, fat burners and supplement reviews. Dominick’s columns cover everything you need to know about your pre, during and post workout nutrition.