Pre-workouts are designed to be taken before working out to improve your gym performance. They’re usually a flavoured powder that you add to water to drink before you exercise.
Pre-workouts are formulated to give you energy, focus and endurance during your workout, and they usually contain a cocktail of ingredients, such as amino acids, caffeine, and creatine.
They may also contain nitrates, which enhance your blood flow, creatine, which increases your intensity, and beta-alanine, which helps you avoid fatigue.
Reported Effects of Pre-Workouts
They Can Increase Your Gym Performance
If you take a pre-workout before you hit the gym it could go a long way to increasing your performance, helping you to hit your goals. Pre-workouts often include beta-alanine, an amino acid, which several clinical trials have shown can power you through those intense workouts.
Many pre-workouts contain creatine which helps to boost your natural creatine stores, which can be quite scarce. It’s been discovered that creatine can improve your performance during high intensity sessions.
They Can Increase Your Endurance
As you exercise, your muscles can tire and become exhausted prematurely. To prevent this premature fatigue you may consider taking a pre-workout supplement. However, you’ll want to take a pre-workout that sets you up with the best nutrients and stimulants. This way, you’re equipping your body with the energy to perform at your optimum level, so you make every repetition matter and don’t crash early.
They Can Increase Your Focus
When you go to the gym, you may find that you can get distracted by the various noises in the gym. For example, the people that seem to go to the gym just for a good old natter, the sound system that plays music that might not be your cup of tea, and just the general background clanking of all the equipment.
It’s not uncommon to get side-tracked during your sessions. Accordingly, it can make sense to take a pre-workout beforehand to maintain that cutting edge and boost your focus. Most pre-workouts contain significant amounts of caffeine which acts fast and is ideal for improving your concentration.
Common Ingredients Found in Pre-Workouts
The amino acid beta-alanine helps you produce carnosine. Carnosine helps you overcome muscle fatigue by getting rid of the debilitating chemicals that cause you to hit the wall. This helps you work out for longer periods at higher intensity.
Several clinical studies found that beta-alanine can help to increase both muscular and aerobic endurance. This means that if you’re lifting weights for 8-20 reps or doing high-intensity cardio, such as rowing or sprinting, you’ll experience the greatest improvement. For long-distance running, for example, the effects are milder, but it can still help you defeat premature fatigue. (1)
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s)
BCAAs help your body to promote the right hormonal environment. The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine, and they’re crucial for enhancing protein synthesis and inhibiting the breakdown of proteins.
Leucine, in particular, enables you to synthesise muscle protein but isoleucine and valine are also required in the correct ratios.
BCAAs can also protect your body against the scenarios that cause muscle breakdown during exercise. If you take BCAAs it may also help you offset those post-exercise aches and pains known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). (2)
The main function of caffeine in a pre-workout is to boost your energy. Studies have shown that caffeine effectively enhances performance in both short-period high intensity exercise and endurance. It’s also been demonstrated that caffeine can help you lift increased loads by slowing your rate of fatigue and decreasing your feeling of effort. (3)
The amino acid citrulline malate occurs naturally in watermelon.
It’s a non-essential amino acid which means that you’re able to produce it naturally without taking a supplement. You can boost your citrulline malate levels, however, by taking supplements to augment your body’s production.
Citrulline malate helps your body excrete harmful substances, such as ammonia, in urine.
It also acts as a vasodilator, which means that it widens your blood vessels. This helps increase your blood flow and decrease your blood pressure.
Citrulline gets metabolised into arginine, another amino acid, which is in turn converted into nitric oxide. The nitric oxide causes the vasodilation which helps boost your exercise performance. (4)
Creatine helps flood your muscles with the energy required to give you the pump needed for heavy lifting.
One study showed a benefit, albeit a minimal one, of taking creatine after your work out. Most experts believe that the timing of when you take creatine doesn’t particularly affect your overall strength. (5)
Side-Effects of Using Pre-Workouts
The performance-enhancing properties of pre-workouts can potentially cause a number of side-effects. Some are outlined below.
To mitigate the risk of side-effects it’s a good idea to consult a doctor before you take a pre-workout, especially if you have any medical conditions.
It’s also a good idea to start with a lower dose, particularly if you’re sensitive to stimulants.
High Blood Pressure
Caffeine is a stimulant and it can radically increase your blood pressure in the short-term. Some pre-workouts may contain up to three times more caffeine than a cup of coffee.
High blood pressure can put strain on your heart and blood vessels, potentially leading to the onset of coronary heart disease and other cardiac conditions.
A tingling sensation is one of the more frequent pre-workout side-effects. This is caused mainly by beta-alanine.
This sensation is not harmful, despite the fact that you may find it a bit unsettling.
Some ingredients may increase water retention and cause dehydration. Additionally, you lose water through sweat and your muscles need water to function.
Pre-workouts can cause dehydration, as referred to above, which can give you a headache. Caffeine can also cause headaches as the effect wears off, leading to a build-up of adenosine.
Many pre-workout ingredients stimulate you and can increase your alertness.
The effects of caffeine, particularly, last a long time. It can disturb your sleep if you take it less than six hours before you go to bed.
The optimum time to take a pre-workout supplement is about 20-30 minutes before your session and you shouldn’t take it less than four hours before bedtime to avoid sleep problems.
It may also be a good idea to ‘cycle’ the pre-workout or stop taking it for about six weeks at a time to allow your body to reboot.
- Beta-alanine supplementation, muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Laura Blancquaert 1, Inge Everaert, Wim Derave. Affiliations expand PMID:25474013DOI:10.1097/MCO.0000000000000127
- Shimomura, Y., Inaguma, A., Watanabe, S., Yamamoto, Y., Muramatsu, Y., Bajotto, G., … & Mawatari, K. (2010). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 20(3), 236.
- Cook, C., Beaven, C. M., Kilduff, L. P., & Drawer, S. (2012). Acute caffeine ingestion’s increase of voluntarily chosen resistance-training load after limited sleep. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 22(3), 157-164.
- Effects of Citrulline Supplementation on Exercise Performance in Humans: A Review of the Current Literature Adam M Gonzalez 1, Eric T Trexler 2 Affiliations expand PMID: 31977835 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003426
- Creatine supplementation. Matthew Hall 1, Thomas H Trojian Affiliations expand PMID: 23851411 DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31829cdff2