What used to be an adjective, describing the time of day, has now become a noun for a concoction of stimulants and supplements taken before training designed to enhance performance.
But what’s in a pre-workout supplement and should you use one?
Caffeine is the main ingredient in pre-workouts. It’s a stimulant and is utilised to increase energy and improve endurance, so you can work harder for longer. Everyone’s caffeine tolerance is different; if you have caffeine regularly, you’ll need a higher dose to take advantage of the benefits during training. However, it’s important to be aware of the negative effects of too much caffeine – increased blood pressure, anxiety, and impaired sleep.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs are thought to assist with protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. Basically, it will help you stay more anabolic during your session. BCAAs may also help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you’re getting sufficient protein throughout the day through your diet, BCAAs aren’t vital to supplement with. If you have a protein feeding within a few hours before or after training, you’ll likely have sufficient BCAAs to prevent a catabolic environment.
This is the ingredient in pre-workouts that gives you that tingly feeling. Some people love it, others hate it, so it’s really personal preference here. Beta-alinine is used to improve muscular endurance, helping you squeeze out a few extra reps or work at a higher intensity for longer.
Creatine is used to improve explosive strength, giving you the energy for those lower rep sets. The benefits of creatine have been well established and supplementation with creatine monohydrate is generally supported for most lifters.
There’s also usually a bunch of other ingredients in a pre-workout, designed to increase the nitric oxide in your blood, increase blood flow, and give you that “pump”. There’s no real major benefit to this, just that some people like the feel and the look of the pump!
Worth the money?
For the price tag of most pre-workouts, I generally wouldn’t recommend them all the time. However, caffeine and creatine are both well supported to have a positive benefit on training, so taking both of those could be beneficial. Creatine can be taken at any time during the day and creatine monohydrate is relatively inexpensive. Caffeine is also easily accessible and cheap (a strong cup of coffee usually does the trick!).
However, if you like the skin tingles and getting a big pump, and taking a pre-workout helps you get in the mindset for a good session, then go for it!