Pre-workout supplements are a form of dietary supplement that many athletes take before hitting the weights. They’re becoming more popular each year, with a variety of claims.
Proponents of pre-workout supplements say they can give you better overall fitness and boost your energy as you go hard on the weights, fitness room or where ever you choose to break out a sweat.
At Leading Edge Health, you can count us in the ‘we like pre-workout supplements’ department for several reasons. We feel they assist with better energy and muscle development. But there are a few tripwires you’ll want to avoid.
Join us for a little primer on pre-workout supplements, and how to get the most benefit from these misunderstood supplements.
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Pre-Workout Supplements Explained
Pre-workout supplements, which some bodybuilders simply call ‘pre-workouts’, are multi-ingredient dietary supplements that can help with your energy and increase lean muscle.
They’re most often available in powder form, which you will mix with water and drink before you hit the weights.
The next important to factor to consider about pre-workout supplements. Here’s an honest answer to that: anything and everything. There is little consistency with quantities or efficacy, although some nutrients tend to appear in pre-workout supplements more than others. These ingredients include:
Nitric Oxide Precursors
Nitric oxide is a compound that your body makes to relax your blood vessels and encourage better blood flow. This serves a variety of functions, from better ability to get an erection (this is one of the ways VigRX Plus works), to help send blood to your muscles so you’re prepared for action.
Some of the nutrients that help to boost nitric oxide include l-arginine, l-citrulline and dietary nitrates. The first two are amino acids. The second are compounds made of nitrogen and oxygen.
There is some evidence to suggest these compounds send oxygen and nitrogen to the muscles, which might help athletic performance.
More research is needed on nitric oxide precursors and whether they can give noticeable results for your efforts in the gym. And there’s also a caveat with nitrates: they may increase your risk of kidney stones. If you’ve never had this pleasure before, this may not be an issue. However, if you’ve had kidney stones in the past, you may find it advisable to look for pre-workout supplements without nitrates.
Your morning cup of goodness may do more than just wake you up. Many pre-workout supplements have caffeine in their respective formulas. Among other things, caffeine may help boost energy, focus and burning fat.
That’s not an excuse to run down to Starbucks for a Double Frappuccino with three pounds of whipped cream and 20 packs of sugar. It’s simply to illustrate that caffeine appears to play a role in mental and athletic performance. And if you’re interested in pre-workout supplements, it may be a good addition.
Creatine is one of the best known workout supplements. It’s actually a chemical that your body makes naturally, which stores it your skeletal muscle.
Creatine helps with energy and muscular strength.
You’ll just as often find creatine in pre-workout supplements mixed with other ingredients than you’ll find stand-alone creatine supplements.
However you take this popular supplement, there is some evidence to back it up. Among other benefits, one study suggests that supplementing with creatine may help the body recover faster, build more muscle mass, strength and help with better overall exercise performance.
This makes creatine a favorite for weightlifters, bodybuilders and athletes who need to shine.
Side Effects of Pre-Workout Supplements
Now that we’ve presented some evidence to suggest a pre-workout supplement might help with your workout routine, we should also mention it’s not all beer and skittles. Pre-workout supplements can sometimes present challenges. These include:
Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Alcohols
These two silent but sometimes deadly additions to workout supplements can make it taste better, but they can pose risks. For one, some artificial sweeteners can lead to gut problems and general discomfort.
Sugar alcohols are no better. In some people they can lead to digestion problems, including gas, bloating and diarrhea – which can take a great workout and make it, well, you see where we’re going with that.
Also, watch out for an artificial sweetener called sucralose, which can have the same effect.
Here’s the takeaway with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols in pre-workout supplements: read the ingredients and avoid products with large amount of these sometimes-troubling additives. Or try a small amount of a product with them and see how you feel.
Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine may get you up in the morning, but too much of it can have a negative effect on your health. Among other things, it can lead to high blood pressure, sleeping problems and anxiety.
Most pre-workout supplements have about as much caffeine as you’d get from one to two cups of coffee. While that may be OK for the average person, if you’re already drinking coffee or getting caffeine from another source throughout the day, a pre-workout supplement with caffeine may put you a little to far over into ‘this is not good for your health’ territory.
We’ve talked about the dangers of health supplements made abroad before here at Leading Edge Health. Here’s the gist of it: health supplements that are made overseas – particularly in China – tend to be at higher risk for undisclosed ingredients and toxins in their respective formulas.
Yes, that means they don’t show up on the formula – and they can be anything from aspirin to rat poison to a thousand things in between.
This is a problem for several reasons. First, it may interfere with current medications you’re taking. It can also have a negative interaction with a health concern, condition or something in your medical background.
If you can’t verify what’s in the product, that’s a problem.
There is an obvious work-around to this problem – or at least one that might reduce your chances of buying a health supplement with undisclosed toxins: buy pre-workout supplements made in the United States.
Dig around too. Try to find a pre workout supplement, or any health supplement for that matter, made in the United States at a CGMP-compliant facility. That means it’s made with strict health and safety regulations in place, and you can even track when and where the product was made.
Should You Buy a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Now that we’ve put everything on the table, the question remains: do pre-workout supplements actually work and should you buy one?
The answer to that: some pre-workout supplements appear to work. There is evidence to suggest that pre-workout supplements may boost energy and help you recover faster.
But that’s not an excuse to sit on your rear and ignore the rest of your health. If you’re frequently tired or don’t have the stamina to make it through your workouts, you might want to drink more water.
Also, watch your sleep hygiene. Are you getting enough rest? How is your diet? Your bodybuilding diet is a separate article to itself, but it goes without saying that a pre-workout snack may help your results, both for more energy and your muscle repair.
You should also consider the many different kinds of pre-workout supplements. There is no ‘one-size-fits all’ gym supplement. They have different formulas and different efficacy. To put that another way: some pre-workout supplements work, others do not.
So, with all that said, what is our stance on pre-workout supplements?
Our stance is this: while they’re not cheap, and if you’re already eating a healthy diet, resting well and drinking enough water, pre-workout supplements can be a good addition to your exercise training, and could give you more energy and faster muscle repair.
We’re fans – of pre-workout supplements that work.
We’ve already talked about what you should look for as you hit the market. We’d look for a supplement that is made in the United States at a CGMP-compliant facility. Check the ingredients too. If you’ve ever had kidney stones, pay close attention to nitric oxide precursors and dietary nitrates.
Kidney stones are no fun, although if you’ve never had a kidney stone, you might be OK.
Keep an eye on the caffeine, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols too. If a pre-workout supplement makes you feel jittery, gives you digestion problems and/or generally doesn’t sit well when you’re in the weight room, you might want to lower the amount you’re taking, try another product, or simply stick with eating a banana and drinking plenty of water before you hit the weights.
Still, pre-workout supplements appear to work. Assuming you know what to look for, they may give you a boost and help you recover faster. If you’re serious about getting in shape, the right pre-workout supplements can give you an edge in your training and the body you make.
And now that you know what to look for, get out there. Find a pre-workout supplement that meets the criteria we talked about. Then get back to the gym – you’ve got work to do!
Not seeing the results you want? Check out our post, “10 Reasons Why You Are Not Seeing Gains From Your Workouts And How To Fix It.”