You want to get the most out of every workout, otherwise what’s the point, right? If you’re nodding, then you’ve probably tried a pre-workout supplement or at least thought about it. These drinks claim to help you do exactly that by increasing your energy levels, muscle power or endurance during your workout – generally though a combination of B vitamins, carbs, and antioxidants.
Virtually every supplement brand out there has its own pre-workout formula, meaning that no two contain the same ingredients ranging from caffeine to guarana to creatine. In fact, there’s really no good definition of what a pre-workout supplement is.
But does it work?
Keep in mind that the main purpose of pre-workouts is not to build your muscle or improve your physique, it is to give you the energy, endurance, and focus to smash your workout. Some people argue that these supplements just change the way you feel while you’re working out by giving athletes the perception that their workout is supercharged by increasing blood flow, heart rate and focus – but they don’t make you bigger, stronger or faster on their own.
When it comes down to it there is one ingredient and one ingredient alone responsible for the real buzz you get from a pre-workout hit: caffeine. Some brands even contain around 400 milligrams (mg) per dose. That’s like drinking four cups of coffee before you hit the gym! Several studies have shown that taking caffeine can give you that boost before a workout but that the benefits of caffeine tend to wane as people develop a tolerance to it.
You can even find some pre-workouts that contain amino acids such as arginine, citrulline, and ornithine to rev up your “fight or flight” response, dilate your blood vessels, and increase blood flow to your muscles.
Almost all pre-workout supplements contain creatine, to boost energy production in muscle cells and also draw fluids from the blood plasma into the skeletal muscle, improving muscle performance. This allows you to push harder and reduce your risk of cramping and dehydration.
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid produced in your liver that promotes nerve signal function and by supplementing its production you may be able to delay the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and enhance athletic performance.
TLDR; Yes, a pre-workout can help improve your workout but in reality it’s just one small part. Getting your training right. Building your nutritional foundation. Getting plenty of sleep and using supplements to support your progress is the key.