Most people who hit the gym will be aware of pre workout supplements.
The claim to increase energy, focus, aggression, strength and performance.
I have personally tried and tested many pre workout supplements from many brands.
Yet, no tow products seem the same, this begs the question…what exactly should a pre workout contain to make it a pre workout?
We all know what is in muesli regardless of the brand…
However, these supplements are now very popular whereas a banana would have normally been suffice.
However, for myself especially, I am a little reluctant to eat much before a workout or for a while at least before my workout because I get digestion issues.
As with most products we buy we need to look past the bright and colorful packaging and look what’s inside because, as we have reported previously there are some ingredients included which may not be quite as safe and honest as we may think.
Therefore, let’s take a closer look at pre workout supplements to see if they are worth the hype and the expense.
Hype and Cost
So what’s the reason for taking a pre workout supplement?
I take one because if gives me extra energy and stimulus while increasing my focus to hit the gym hard.
I do, use a carefully selected pre workout supplement that I found works for me best after much trial and error.
However, this is the point…lots and lots of trial and error.
Even though tub ‘X’ and Tub ‘Y’, I guess we had better not forget tub ‘Z’ either, are all marketed as pre workout supplements, it will be almost and entirely certain that none of the products contain matching ingredients.
So, this is not like buying different brands of cheddar cheese, which ultimately is all cheddar cheese because that’s what it is.
Nope, these supplements are all marketed the same but will all contain a different cocktail of ingredients.
This is because there isn’t an official definition of what a pre workout supplement is or should be.
It’s just different companies loading a tub with ingredients and then slapping a sticker on it which means it will just go on the same shelf as another product creating in the same manner.
All we know, as the consumer is that a pre workout at its most basic should boost energy levels.
Yet, the concern is how is this achieved and what does it contain to achieve results?
Many ingredients and chemical compounds are being dug up from old studies and then thrown in with very little regulation and actual testing.
I have come across a few products that have had a good effect on me and do contain proven ingredients which you can read about here.
These include such ingredients as:
Branch Chain Amino Acids
These ingredients can help dilate blood vessels to easily pump more blood and oxygen to muscles and organs, or stimulate the central nervous system.
As your primary fuel source, carbohydrates are the obvious ingredient for energy. However, by jumping on the carb free bandwagon, many supplements do not include them, instead, rather relying on stimulants to provide the boost.
In fact, as already Mentioned, many ingredients may not even be tested on humans or old, minimal and quite possibly irrelevant studies dating back decades will be used as reasoning for their inclusion.
Therefore, while omitting the expert recommended nutritional advice of consuming carbohydrates in food or drinks, your body is being fueled by chemical compounds that have risen again after years of omission from the spotlight.
But, while you are exercising, particularly at high intensity, your body reaches for the glucose and glycogen as its main source of energy, therefore, not topping these up prior to a workout could actually negatively affect your performance.
Luckily, stimulants such as Caffeine which are widely available and also have plenty of current research papers and studies free for assessment are included in the best pre workout supplements.
Caffeine can improve cognitive function, increase energy and decrease the feeling of fatigue.
It is also a thermogenic, so it can help raise your body temperature which burns more calories while actually helping preserve glycogen levels meaning you can burn more fat and keep going for a longer period of time.
There’s even studies suggesting it can increase power exerted by the muscles.
An ingredient that gained popularity during the London 2012 Olympic games and now makes appearances in the better pre workout supplements is beet.
This is from beetroot juice and while it is not as widely researched as Caffeine for instance, recent contemporary studies show that it has an ability to increase the levels of nitric oxide in the body which in turn improves cardiovascular performance.
One supplement that really does not require a great deal of introduction is creatine monohydrate.
There are many variants of creatine, however, none have been proven to be more effective than creatine monohydrate.
Creatine literally has hundreds of studies confirming its effectiveness to build muscle and strength when supplemented in high doses.
Not only that, when tested on college aged men, a loading phase of 25g daily increased testosterone levels, which you can read more about with the accompanying scientific references, here.
Creatine is stored in the muscles, used for a source of quick energy and is actually produced by the body which derives from amino acids.
It is also found in meats, but you would need to eat a lot of meat to reach the 5g often supplemented daily.
Therefore, it should be no surprise to see it present in pre workout supplements, that said. While it is good to take creatine to improve performance, it has been noted that it is not often required to supplement prior to exercise, as it is stored by the muscles until required.
One thing is for sure though, it is effective and as of yet, very little safety concerns are associated with creatine supplementation.
Just remember creatine monohydrate is as effective as any other creatine available and creatine monohydrate is the most cost effective of all the variants so it doesn’t pay to spend more than needed.
As with any supplement that is legal, performance increases are never that dramatic.
However, it can be the slightest of improvements that can be the difference between winning or smashing that PB.
Studies suggest that the improvements in performance over not taking a pre workout supplement are up to 8 percent.
However, again, you need to ensure that your pre workout includes the proven and effective ingredients that will make a difference, not something loaded with ingredients based upon vague research by Soviets in the 1950’s.
Are Pre Workout Supplements Regulated?
The main concern is that while there are reputable companies and products out there, because many supplements are not regulated by the FDA, unscrupulous products are widespread.
Therefore, it can be difficult to establish what is safe and what is not.
What this means is that unless there are any health or safety concerns that arise from complaints and deaths or illness, products can be sold freely until the FDA act on concerns and pulls them from sale.
One way to ensure your own safety is to ensure that a product does not hide the ingredient content behind a proprietary blend and that you do your research on each ingredient listed to ensure it is effective and above all, safe.
Furthermore, the doses are also important too.
Many ingredients are dose dependent.
For instance, Citrulline requires a dose of over 6000mg to me effective, so there is no point to its inclusion if a pre workout supplement offers less than this.
On the flip side, too much of certain ingredients can be harmful.
Yohimbe is often found in pre workout supplements and fat burners alike for its powerful stimulant effects, yet it is potentially harmful and having too much could cause cardiac arrest.
Or Beta-Carotene which is sometimes included to help with muscle strength and reduce the symptoms of breathing disorders can cause lung cancer in the long term.
So, again, having knowledge of what ingredient and the amounts included is important.
Can Food Actually Help?
Yes, now, you may not get all of the required creatine (beef), citrulline (watermelon) and beet (beetroot juice) from the foods you eat to hit the levels provided in a pre workout supplement such as 4GAUGE.
However, you can get a load of energy from a light meal before your exercise regime to help with your sporting prowess.
In fact, we wrote an article about which foods to consume before exercise, here.
To summarize, if you do not have a great deal of time to eat before you hit the gym you should eat a higher ratio of carbs to protein and lower fats or fiber which are hard to digest.
If you have over an hour to consume food before you hit the field, you can increase the ratio of protein to carbs. You can also increase the amounts of fiber and fats too.
If you start exercising too soon and have lots of foods that are more difficult to digest being processed by your body, it will take away oxygen and nutrients required by your muscles for your digestive system and thus hindering performance.
Therefore, a couple of ideas are as follows:
Less than an hour before exercise
Over an hour before exercise
Peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich
Really well prepared
Overnight oats – with banana, nuts, cinnamon and raisins
Ben established this site to be a free resource in 2015. Since then it has gained over half a million visits. He has always been interested in sport and he started playing rugby at the age of 6 represented his town, county and school. Ben also enjoys cycling, has started skiing and is in the Army Reserve representing his Regiment as part of the 150 Regimental Shooting Team.