With hundreds of supplements available in today's market and the fitness/supplement industry reaching new heights every year, it’s easy to get lost.
Supplements promising to do this, that and the other… but without the backing of science and containing minimal research.
But today, we’re going to focus on one popular supplement, a true staple in any fitness enthusiast's arsenal… welcome to ‘Pre-Workout 101’.
In this blog, we’re going to delve deep into the world of the energy crazed pre-workout hype and explore what they are, how they can help, what to look for and much more.
So buckle up and prepare to expand your knowledge, here we go!
What are pre-workout supplements?
In its most basic form, a pre-workout supplement is designed to give you a boost of energy to help fuel your workouts. Pre-workout supplements can give you a surge of energy, improve your mental focus and enhance your physical performance during exercise. This is achieved through the ingredients within your pre-workout whereby they are selected with purpose to give a desired effect. Popular ingredients include caffeine, citrulline malate, beta-alanine, l-tyrosine and creatine.
A brief history lesson, the dawn of pre-workout supplements began in the early 1980s when the first pre-workout named ‘Ultimate Orange’ was born. Bodybuilders and gym goers typically relied on caffeine (usually in the form of coffee or a caffeine tablet) to see them through their workouts until the early 2000s.
So up to this point, the pre-workout market was still fairly quiet from the birth of ‘Ultimate Orange’ until the turn of the millennium. This is when there was a turn in the tide, with the birth of the internet and revolutionary technologies, the supplement industry as a whole began to experience a boom.
When training with weights, we know just how difficult it can be. After all, our founder, 6x Mr Olympia Dorian Yates, trained consistently for over 15 years! We know that there will be days when you’re not in the mood for training or are feeling low on energy… the solution could well and truly be a scoop of pre-workout! But they’re not just used for days when you need a pick-me-up, there’s more to pre-workouts than just energy.
If your pre-workout has ingredients such as beta-alanine, you’ll experience prolonged muscular endurance and if you’ve got either citrulline or arginine in there, you’ll be sure to experience huge muscle pumps!
Most often found in powder form where you can mix your desired amount with water and create a powerful, delicious cocktail to get you fired up for your workout. However, they can also be found in pill form, gels or ready made drinks.
A pre-workout supplement should contain a range of ingredients that matches its offering and this should be reflected in the quantities of ingredients. To give you an example, if your pre-workout supplement is boasting of its unmatched ability to give you gargantuan muscle pumps, but the serving size is 2 grams, well we know the recommended amount of citrulline malate (the famous ingredient which increases blood flow by dilating the blood vessels to give you a pump) is atleast 3g per serving… so it’s imperative that you read the nutritional information to make your own conclusions and not to necessarily be drawn into the hype and powerful branding.
There are two types of pre-workout supplements, stimulant based and non-stimulant based.
When to take pre-workout
As the name suggests, pre-workouts should be taken prior to beginning your workout. We would recommend consuming your pre-workout supplement roughly 30 minutes before beginning your session.
This should be a sufficient amount of time to allow your body to absorb the product and for its ingredients to take effect.
It is highly recommended to follow the instructions listed on your pre-workout as they can indeed vary from product to product, but as a general rule of thumb, 30 minutes prior to your workout is a sufficient amount of time.
Both before and after consuming your pre-workout, it is important to drink plenty of water to ensure that you are hydrated before starting your session.
We would recommend that if you choose a powdered pre-workout, to mix it with at least 300ml of water and to shake until all the ingredients are dissolved. You should then let it sit for a minute before sipping on it over the course of 10 minutes. This is so you are able to gradually ingest the product and that you do not overload your system with a big hit of ingredients in one go which could upset your stomach.
How long do pre-workout effects last
Depending on the ingredients within your pre-workout and the doses that they pack, pre-workout effects can last anywhere from 2 - 5 hours. It is quite a broad range and this is because each ingredient will have its own life span. For example, caffeine can last for 1-2 hours but its half-life could have a span of 5 hours until it wears off. Whereas arginine, could have a half-life of up to 2 hours.
This is dependent on the amounts of ingredients within the product too. Your pre-workout could have 100mg of caffeine right the way to 400mg of caffeine per serving, so you must judge accordingly.
Another factor is the individual. People respond differently to different ingredients and weight could play a factor too. Also, for stimulant based pre-workouts, each user will have a different tolerance to these stimulants so some may require a higher dosage to feel the same effects as someone with a lower tolerance.
Do you need a pre-workout supplement?
Well technically, you don’t need any supplement. That’s if your diet is super rich in nutrients, vitamins, micronutrients and so on, however the vast majority of people’s diets are not. But supplements are there to supplement both your training and nutrition, they’re not a direct replacement. Plus, you’ll only really obtain the benefits of most supplements when your diet is healthy.
With most supplements, they can take time to build up in your body and to take effect. With pre-workout supplements, it’s slightly different. This is because most of the ingredients within pre-workouts are designed to help you for the workout that you’re about to execute. The effects of caffeine for example will wear off after a few hours so won't be of any use for the following day's workout.
Besides getting caffeine from either coffee, pre-workout or a caffeine tablet, you’ll find it hard to get enough caffeine from other sources to fuel your workouts. Some popular ingredients found in pre-workouts such as caffeine, arginine or citrulline can be obtained from foods and drinks such as coffee (for caffeine), beetroot or watermelon (for arginine and citrulline) however the other important ingredients are not so easily obtainable from food sources or at least not in the quantities to have any significant effect.
Pre-workouts are not just for a quick energy boost (although they can be if that’s what you’re after), they can be supremely beneficial to help with prolonged muscular endurance, mental focus and clarity, muscle pumps and so on. That’s if your chosen pre-workout contains the necessary ingredients for these desired effects and more importantly, they’re dosed in the proven range for optimal effects. Of course, many pre-workouts will contain stimulants such as caffeine being the primary driver for energy and this can massively help with gym performance in particular.
Especially for those days when you’re feeling low on energy, unmotivated and need a ‘pick me up’, pre-workouts can be extremely beneficial to help you power through these workouts and reach your goals.
But even if you’re not after the energy boosting effects of pre-workouts, you can still obtain the benefits of muscular endurance and vasodilation for increased blood flow to the working muscles with the help of beta-alanine and citrulline respectively.
So pre-workouts can be beneficial for those who are looking to maximise their sessions and obtain numerous benefits that pre-workout supplements can provide!
Key ingredients in pre-workout supplements
So now you understand what pre-workouts are designed to do and how they can help, let’s explore some of the key ingredients to look for in a pre-workout.
- First up, caffeine, it’s the most obvious in stimulant based pre-workouts due to its help with focus, alertness and energy. This truly does make it a great staple in any pre-workout potion, giving you phenomenal energy to really push yourself. The typical dosage with caffeine is roughly 200 - 400mg per serving but this is dependent on the users tolerance so will vary.
- Citrulline malate, this is another great staple in a pre workout arsenal and rightly so. It increases blood flow by dilating the blood vessels, which can result in a t-shirt tearing pump! The average dosage is at least 3g per serving.
- Beta-alanine, a very key ingredient in a pre-workout formula. Let’s say, you’ll know when you’ve taken this ingredient as it is responsible for that itchy skin sensation! Beta-alanine can help athletic performance by increasing one's exercise capacity whilst decreasing fatigue. It reduces acidity in the blood which is the main cause of fatigue… thus allowing you to train harder for longer! The dosage should be between 2 - 5g per serving.
- L-tyrosine, this amino acid is a fine cognitive enhancer indeed and is naturally produced by the body to synthesize proteins. It is a building block for neurotransmitters within the brain and for the connection between the muscles and the brain. In a nutshell, it enhances alertness, attention and focus whilst lowering one’s stress levels.
- B vitamins are also often included as they can help to reduce fatigue and boost energy levels. B vitamins are involved in the production of energy within the body and help to keep the nervous system functioning properly.
- Bioperine (black pepper extract) is a fantastic ingredient that should be included in your pre-workout. This is because it helps to actually enhance the benefits that the other ingredients have to offer by increasing their usage. Bioperine helps to improve the absorption rate of these ingredients and can also help boost brain function!
Benefits of pre workout supplements
We’ve mentioned some of the benefits that pre-workout supplements have to offer, so here we are going to expand on these and how they can benefit your workouts.
- Increase in energy and focus. They can provide you with a surge of energy, firing you up ready to smash through your workouts! This is particularly helpful for long, intense sessions as they can assist with focus, keeping you on track.
- Improvements in muscle strength and endurance. With ingredients such as creatine and beta-alanine, your pre-workout supplement can help your muscle’s ability to work harder and longer without falling to fatigue. This allows you to maximise your sessions and grind out those final, all important reps.
- Improved cognitive performance. Your pre-workout can absolutely help with mental performance which can allow you to stay focussed on the task at hand and really give you that tunnel vision focus. With the combination of caffeine and l-tyrosine, this can give you a mental edge!
- Muscle pumps! Everyone absolutely loves getting a pump in the gym right? That feeling of your muscles feeling full and pumped is pretty unparalleled! A complete pre-workout will often contain citrulline malate, which is the primary driver for you getting that juicy pump. A little about the process of this and why it’s included, citrulline will convert into l-arginine and then into nitric oxide which will help to create better blood flow to the muscles when exercising. Another benefit here is that you’ll be getting more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles too!
Potential side-effects of pre-workout supplements
There are a few potential side-effects that a user could experience when taking pre-workout supplements.
The main driver is the stimulants in pre-workouts. It is quite easy to go above the daily recommendation of caffeine consumption which is roughly 400mg per day in adults, but the tolerance level can vary massively from person to person. For example, one person could take 100mg of caffeine and feel super hyper and energised, whereas another person could take that same 100mg of caffeine and feel nothing.
So tolerance should be assessed as consuming too much caffeine can cause rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, headaches, jitters and more.
You should monitor how much caffeine you consume per day from other sources such as coffee and fizzy drinks. For example you could consume two coffees per day that contain a total of 200mg of caffeine and then later in the day consume a pre-workout that has 300mg of caffeine… a whopping total of 500mg! So to combat this, you could either reduce your caffeine consumption from other sources on the days you take pre-workout, or scale down the amount of pre-workout you consume to perhaps half the amount.
We would recommend to assess your tolerance by starting with a smaller dosage when using a stimulant based pre-workout and working your way up. So although stimulants can come with side effects of their own, there are ways to manage and avoid these.
Not necessarily a side-effect but it is advised not to take a pre-workout supplement for every single workout. This is because you could become less sensitive to the stimulants and would in time require a greater amount of stimulants to get the same effects. We’d recommend saving your pre-workout for those big, heavy back and leg days when you really need a hefty dose of energy.
You could also buy a stimulant free pre-workout! This means you’d get the benefits of enhanced muscular endurance and vasodilation, but without any stimulants, meaning you could take it later in the day if you choose to do so.
Our pre-workout recommendations
At DY Nutrition, we have a variety of pre-workout supplements to suit your needs.
Our range of pre-workout supplements are the end result of a concoction of specifically selected ingredients that are proven to work, in meticulously selected quantities to give you a powerful potion to supercharge your performance.
Our pre-workouts do not have any proprietary blends, you can see exactly what ingredient is in our pre-workout and in which quantity.
So explore our full range of premium pre-workout supplements and get ready to take your workouts to the next level. Electrifying energy, amplified muscular endurance, laser focus, magnified muscle pumps and more, at DY Nutrition we’ve got you covered.