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What is a Pre-Workout Supplement

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The market for pre-workout supplements is exploding. It is very common to find someone that works out regularly popping a supplement about a half an hour before beginning their workout routine.

What is a pre-workout supplement? What are pre-workout supplements used for? Are pre-workout supplements worth the high price tag?

Here is what you need to know about pre-workout supplements.

What a Pre-Workout Supplement Is

A pre-work supplement is a powder that is meant to be mixed with water or other base liquid for consumption prior to beginning your workout. They contain stimulants and a range of other ingredients such as:

  • caffeine
  • creatine
  • niacin
  • beta-alanine
  • betaine
  • taurine
  • tyrosine
  • yohimbe
  • B vitamins

Pre-workout supplements are not regulated. In the USA, this regulation is enforced by the FDA. If you do not live in the US, your country may have a different health regulatory agency. But not being regulated means these supplements do not need to prove they are safe. There are no quality guidelines that must be followed during the manufacturing or packaging process.

What Pre-Workout Supplements Do

People that take these supplements say they experience a boost of energy and increased strength. Others also experience a heightened level of focus and are more motivated throughout their workout session.

It is this increased focus, strength and energy that cause people to continue the use of pre-workout supplements.

However, just like any other fad, there are shady products on the market looking to get their piece of the pie. In addition, pre-workout supplements also carry some risks and negative side effects.

Who Should Take Pre-Workout Supplements

If you are fairly new to your workout routine, pre-workout supplements are probably not going to help much. These supplements are more for professional level workouts or those who are getting slightly on in years and need some extra assistance with the workout load.

If you are a young person (younger than 30), you probably do not need a pre-workout supplement. These supplements will have you bouncing off of the walls.

The person taking pre-workout supplements needs that little extra boost of energy or power to increase to that next level in their difficult workout.

If you are determined to use a pre-workout supplement, for whatever reason, do so with caution.

Should You Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?

If you are going to use pre-workout supplements, begin small and try out a few brands first. This is because each brand seems to add a so-called proprietary element to its supplement mix to make it stand out from the others. So your goal here is to ensure you do not experience major side effects from the supplement.

Common side effects from using a pre-workout supplement include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tingling/numbness
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Flushed and red skin
  • Sleeplessness
  • Itching
  • Kidney damage
  • Chest pain

Many of these symptoms are due to an increase in your blood pressure as a result of taking the supplements. So PLEASE proceed with extreme caution if you must.

Choosing a Pre-Workout Supplement

The first place to start is the list of ingredients. A few of the shadier products do not include an ingredient list. If you don’t see one, put it back on the shelf and select one that does state what is in the supplement.

The ingredients will most likely contain stimulants such as caffeine. They will also most likely contain nitric oxide and may be listed as arginine. Nitric oxide expands the blood vessels allowing for better delivery of protein to your muscles. While this is not a bad choice, you should look for arginine-AKG instead due to its ability to be better absorbed by the body.

Ingredients may also include amino acids, vitamins, minerals and herbs. The following is a list of ingredients that are recommended in a good pre-workout supplement:

  • BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) – help to increase energy levels
  • Beta-Alanine – increases muscle strength and endurance
  • Caffeine – energy increase
  • Citrulline Malate – amino acid to increase arginine levels that produce nitric oxide. Increased endurance
  • Creatine – added strength, muscle hydration
  • Taurine – increased focus, also acts as an anti-oxidant
  • Tyrosine – amino acid, energy boost

Stick with these and you should be fine. If you see ingredients other than what is listed here, do a bit of research on the element. Additional items such as vitamins or amino acids may be ok but may function better if taken as a post-workout supplement instead. A few items, such as DMAA (amphetamine derivative) are damaging and should be avoided.

Additional Guidelines for Pre-Workout Supplements

Don’t overuse pre-workout supplements. Some people operate under the premise that “more is better”. This is not the case with pre-workout supplements. Even within a supplement, sometimes the load up the ingredients that heavily favour a particular element. So avoid supplements that are high in caffeine or other elements.

Here is a suggested list of the daily recommended allowances of common pre-workout supplements:

  • Caffeine – 400mg per day or 3mg per kg of body weight
  • Carbohydrates – 30-40g at 1 to 4 hours before your workout
  • Beetroot juice – 250ml
  • Amino acids – 5-10g

If you are not sure, you should consult your doctor and discuss your plans for consuming pre-workout supplements.

Again, please use these pre-workout supplements with caution. I do not recommend discussing or getting advice from a personal trainer at the gym. They probably get a commission from a specific brand of supplement. Their advice will not be medically backed and could cause damage. A doctor’s advice is best.

Have you tried a pre-workout supplement that works best for you? Leave us a comment and tell us what has worked for you and what has not. We would love to get comments from people with first-hand experience.

Enjoy your workout.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A recent illness and a trip to the hospital made me realise the need to stay in shape and make my body more efficient. I began a journey to discover what bodybuilding supplements will help, and not harm, my body or my workout progress. I hope this information helps others as well.

2 Comments

  1. Pablo SRR

    Hello Patrick, great post, the very detailed information here! Your expertise is notorious!

    I used pre-workout supplements for some time. They are great, but I used them without even thinking about the tips that you mentioned.
    Will come back to your site to have a look at specific recommendations, as you are an expert. I wish I came across your site when I was using the supplements for my workout. It would have been much easier and healthier.

    • Patrick M

      Thanks, Pablo, let me know if you need any additional help once you get started with your workouts again.
      Cheers,
      ~p

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