The Pre-Workout Lowdown
There is no talk about serious lifting and high-level fitness endeavours without the discussion of pre-workout rituals and supplementation involved. Pre-Workouts are one of the most popular supplement types that you will find on store shelves and it seems that almost every few months, a new pre-workout mix is created and launched by various companies for avid gym-goers to try out.
So, I am going to give you a helpful breakdown of pre-workouts, their ingredients and what you should look for in an effective pre-workout formula.
To kick it off, we will have a look at useful ingredients that you should keep an eye out for in a good pre-workout. Keep in mind that different pre-workout ingredients work for different aspects of your workout and finding a pre-workout with more of one type of ingredient or another would largely depend on what your goals are for your training session. So, make sure you have a clear idea of what you would like to get from your pre-workout of choice.
Without further ado:
I was very reluctant to put this one on the list as I am a massive advocate of taking creatine as a post-workout recovery agent. However, there is no two ways about it – creatine is, hands down, the best supplement out there for increasing muscular strength and power. Furthermore, research has continuously shown that creatine is a powerful enhancement for exercise performance while also demonstrating that strength gains of those who use creatine are up to 10% higher than those who opt not to use it. Creatine is nature’s superpower formula for a reason, and a very good one at that. Making sure you are getting around 5g a day is sufficient to see significant gains in your strength and performance.
We move onto natures number 1 stimulant and pick-me-up substance. For the people who are feeling tired before they head to their workouts or those who are even looking for a boost in their endurance during training sessions, caffeine is a no brainer must-have in your pre-workout cocktail. Caffeine is so effective at increasing your energy output levels and improving your endurance levels that even long-distance endurance athletes use it religiously to help increase their performance levels as well. If you are a 70kg individual, taking around 200-400mg daily is a useful amount to reap the benefits of caffeine. Obviously, this value shifts with varying weights. I would recommend starting with a dose on the lower end of the scale to gauge your tolerance levels before looking to increase it.
The anti-fatiguing agent and the giver of your second wind, beta-alanine is excellent at helping out during short bursts of explosive energy and helps explosive rounds that last anywhere between a minute to 4 minutes. So, it would be important to note that if you are busy rocking a 6 to 8 rep set that focuses predominantly on your power for that round, beta-alanine will not be much help here. However, if you’re aiming to rep it out and go for those 15 reps or finisher exercises like drop sets, or even super sets, beta-alanine will be your best friend when trying to reach the end of these sets without fatiguing to early. Aim to get anywhere between 4-6g a day.
My second favourite pre-workout ingredient (next to caffeine, of course), citrulline acts as an agent that helps increase blood flow, and consequently much needed oxygen, to the working muscles that need it. Increased blood flow and oxygen also means a better pump for your muscles during workouts. When it comes to weight training, citrulline malate is the most studied form of citrulline and has been shown to increase weight training performance extremely well, while simultaneously fighting muscular fatigue. Paired with beta-alanine, citrulline malate becomes a rather potent ingredient for one to have in their pre-workout mix. A recommended dose of 8g will see you get the most you can from citrulline malate.
Yes, you heard that right, baking soda folks. This ingredient is another on the list of anti-fatiguing agents that work well to make sure you are able to go harder for longer. It works as a sort of buffer against early lactic acid build up in muscles, preventing them from tightening up too quickly and ending your set prematurely due to lactic acid build up and fatigue. Quite a few pre-workout products have begun to add this ingredient into their formulations.
An ingredient that is synonymous with insane gym pumps, Nitrate is used by your body to be converted into a substance known as nitric oxide. Nitric oxide significantly increases the blood flow to the working muscles, resulting in staggering workout pumps. A few studies have also shown that it has the tendency to increase training performance by reducing the amount of oxygen needed by the working muscle to complete an exercise.
Stim vs Non-Stim Pre-Workouts
Now there is a lot of debate surrounding stimulant filled pre-workouts and non-stim pre-workouts and their differences. The short answer to that is no one is better than the other. It just depends on whether you are tolerant to stimulants or not, whether you train at night and struggle to sleep as a result of the stimulants or not, what you are looking to feel, etc.
As for the constituent difference between the two, the discrepancy is the name: Non-Stimulant. Non-stimulant pre-workouts are essentially the same as pre-workouts with stimulants, except there is an absence of ingredients such as caffeine, ephedrine, yohimbine, etc. As a result, non-stim pre-workouts are geared solely toward making sure that the user gets greater pumps and has overall increases in training endurance. The concentration of ingredients is also geared towards substances like the ones in the lower half of the list mentioned above.
But whether you choose stim or no-stim, you have a better idea now of what you should look for in a pre-workout product. Remember that it is important to keep your training goals and phases in mind when selecting a pre-workout and choose one that has a concentration of the corresponding ingredients. Alternatively, you can always opt to buy the separate ingredients and formulate your own homemade pre-workout cocktail, which is an option a lot of high-level athletes actually choose to go for. Furthermore, these ingredients are generally available in supplement stores for you to pick up.
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 Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
 Lanhers C, Pereira B, Naughton G, Trousselard M, Lesage FX, Dutheil F. Creatine Supplementation and Lower Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses. Sports Med. 2015;45(9):1285-1294. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0337-4
 Goldstein, E.R., Ziegenfuss, T., Kalman, D. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 7, 5 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-5
 Pérez-Guisado J, Jakeman PM. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(5):1215-1222. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cb28e0
 Lansley KE, Winyard PG, Fulford J, et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of walking and running: a placebo-controlled study. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011;110(3):591-600. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01070.2010