Pre-workout supplements are becoming more and more popular due to claims that pre-workouts have a positive effect on exercise performance, providing the body with vital energy to push through tough and challenging workouts.
However, experts claim that pre-workout supplements are unnecessary and often have minimal effect on performance. In some cases, pre-workout supplements may even be dangerous.
6 Potential Benefits of Pre-Workout Supplements
- Improves focus
- Reduces Fatigue
- Improves Endurance
- Increases Energy Levels
- Increases Time to Exhaustion
- Improves Athletic Performance
Pre-workout supplements claim to boost focus, concentration, and energy. However, it’s important to keep in mind that pre-workout supplements do not increase strength, endurance, or power within muscles. Most of these effects are felt mentally rather than experienced physically.
Note: any increase in strength and power from the consumption of pre-workout supplements comes from creatine in the pre-workout formula. If certain ingredients in pre-workout supplements are more effective, then the question must be asked: what are the most effective pre-workout ingredients?
The most effective pre-workout ingredients include nitrates, caffeine, and creatine, while the most common pre-workout ingredients include L-citrulline, L-arginine, nitrates, beet Juice, caffeine, creatine, and theacrine.
Nitrates for a Nitric Oxide Boost
Nitric oxide is a compound that is produced by the body to improve the flow of blood and widen blood vessels. Many pre-workout supplements contain ingredients that your body uses to create nitric oxide. These ingredients include dietary nitrates and the amino acids L-citrulline and L-arginine.
Some studies suggest that supplementing with a product that includes these ingredients boosts the transportation of nutrients and oxygen into the muscles, which, in turn, may enhance athletic performance. Also, when more nutrients and oxygen enters the muscles, this contributes to what is known as a “muscle pump.”
A study published by researchers at the University of Madrid found that nitrates from beet juice increase exercise time to exhaustion and cardio endurance. Considering these results, some people choose to skip pre-workout supplements and drink beet juice instead.
Either way, athletes and gym-goers should aim to take 300-500 mL of beet juice or 400-500 mg of nitrate supplements each day. Most of the research on nitric oxide features studies on young, healthy men. More research is needed to determine whether nitrates are effective for other population groups as well.
Caffeine for Focus and Energy
Caffeine is a popular stimulant, and taking caffeine has been shown to help burn fat, as well as improve exercise performance, focus, and alertness. While most pre-workout supplements contain caffeine as their main ingredient, you should be careful about taking too much caffeine.
High doses of caffeine have been known to produce many adverse side effects, such as an increase in anxiety, increased blood pressure, and sleep problems.
Many pre-workout supplements offer as much caffeine as you’d receive from just 1-2 cups of coffee. However, if you drink coffee and take pre-workout supplements together or get caffeine from other sources throughout the day, it’s easy to consume too much caffeine, which can lead to negative side effects.
Creatine for Power and Energy
Aside from building muscle, creatine improves fatigue resistance, strength, power, endurance, and recovery. While some supplements focus on more advanced athletes, creatine provides benefits regardless of your level of fitness and training experience.
One study conducted by Baylor University shows that creatine can improve high-intensity exercise performance by as much as 15 percent. One of the main benefits of creatine is the degree to which creatine improves strength and power exercises that require multiple repetitions.
In other words, people who train with multiple sets of heavy squats or repeated 30-second sprints experience the most significant benefits from creatine. In this case, a 10% to 20% improvement in high-intensity exercise performance.
Current research and research spanning decades suggests that creatine is perhaps the single most effective dietary supplement for adding significant amounts of muscle and strength to the human body.
Safety and Side Effects
Many people have a difficult time getting through their workouts and find that they often lack energy or motivation. However, this doesn’t mean you should take a pre-workout supplement to get through every workout.
A proper diet, adequate hydration, and sufficient sleep are essential to support a successful exercise routine. These three things alone can help repair your muscles and boost your energy levels.
Some doctors advise against taking pre-workout supplements because it’s hard to determine just how effective these supplements are, considering the ingredients vary from product to product.
Supplements can also be expensive, and research hasn’t shown that pre-workout supplements are any more effective than whole foods or individual supplements that contain caffeine, creatine, or nitrates.
For example, a cup of coffee and a banana are often enough to fuel a workout, and they are much more accessible and cheaper than pre-workout supplements.
Pre-workout supplements are generally safe to take as long as you are aware of the ingredients and their doses. One ingredient to watch out for in pre-workout supplements is sugar. Many pre-workout formulas contain large amounts of sugar, alcohol, or artificial sweeteners to provide extra energy.
A high intake of sugar can lead to adverse side effects such as diarrhea, bloating, and gas, which can disrupt your workouts and your daily routine. Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, can also affect your digestive system. Although science hasn’t proven these symptoms, many pre-workout supplement users have reported experiencing these side effects.
Many countries, like the United States, don’t regulate dietary supplements. Due to this fact, labels on supplement products are often misleading or inaccurate.
You might, as noted by Lindenwood University, unknowingly consume compounds that are banned or dangerous (such as steroids or amphetamines) if the quality and safety of your pre-workout supplement is compromised.
If you want to ensure your supplements are safe, it’s good to invest in supplements that have been tested by a third party such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International. These third parties test products in their laboratories to ensure high production standards and the safety of individual ingredients.
With pre-workouts, you must stay within recommended doses, and, even then, you must be aware of the potential for contamination.
It’s important to keep in mind that pre-workout supplements are different for everybody, and results vary from individual to individual. Remember, adequate sleep, a well-balanced diet and proper hydration are more important than any supplement.
Effectiveness of Pre-Workout Supplements
While pre-workout supplements are popular and bodybuilders, athletes, and gym-goers often swear by them, you should be cautious and ensure that your pre-workout supplement contains more than just caffeine and sugar.
Pay close attention to the ingredients, and keep in mind that pre-workout benefits are often more mental than physical. For some people, sticking to a balanced diet and drinking coffee is all you need to fuel an energetic and effective workout.
A simple cup of black coffee is healthy and cheap. It doesn’t come with any of the stomach aches associated with artificial sweeteners, or the headaches and jitters associated with an overload of caffeine and sugar.
Certain ingredients like caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and theacrine have a positive impact on performance, so it’s best to invest in pre-workout supplements that contain these ingredients to get the most out of your workouts.