Essential Things You Need to Know About Pre-workout Supplements

pre-workout supplement

by Luka Young

Pre-workout supplements are all the rage lately since they help many athletes and amateurs get better results from their exercise regimes. I got a taste of their effects, too, when I decided I really needed to shed that extra blubber I accumulated since starting my office job. Sitting at a desk for eight hours a day and eating whatever was up for grabs at the cafeteria or nearby corner shop made sure I lost my college figure to oblivion in about a year. So when my coach suggested that I boost my gym efforts with some supplements, I jumped right on board.

If you don’t have a coach to point you that way and you have no idea where to start, though, scroll down and read my handy guide on all the essentials you need to know before you make any test runs. You can also read about other people’s actual experiences if you check out this link:

Pre-workout supplements give you the same benefits as some kinds of whole foods

If you have any enthusiasm for healthy living and good nutrition, you have probably already received a bunch of advice on incorporating a whole lot of whole foods into your daily menus. For example, bananas are the timeless favourite, getting added to salads, smoothies, and even sandwiches.

Whole foods are praised for their distinct benefit of providing your body with fuel at a constant rate throughout the day. However, sometimes you just don’t have the time to sit down and have a proper meal before your workout or find yourself in need of an energy boost for a shorter period of time instead of the whole day. In those cases, a good pre-workout supplement can be an awesome alternative.

They are not regulated by the FDA

Pre-workout supplements, just like any other type of supplement out there, are not subject to the same rules of regulation as genuine pharmaceutical medicine. In other words, a supplement company is not obliged to prove that their product is high-quality, nor safe, nor even effective before it is given shelf space – meaning scammers get lots of chances at a profit before the FDA has any legally legitimate reason to force them off of the market.

One good way to avoid the dirty cheaters and save your health is to run each supplement you might be interested in through your internet search. You want to see whether they have been awarded any of the highest-regarded independent certifications, such as the ones issued by the Banned Substances Controlled Group, NSF, or Informed-Choice. I was wildly lucky that my coach warned me about this stuff instead of trying to peddle it to me.

Most of them feature the same four key ingredients

You may see a lot of fancy-sounding things on any given brand label, but unless you are looking at a filler substance, most of them are a derivative of one of the four things that pre-workout supplements are formulated around. These four are beetroot juice, caffeine, carbohydrates, and amino acids.

Beetroot juice might sound silly, but it is legit. This goodie is packed with nitrates which dilate blood vessels, raising the level of nitric oxide in your blood plasma. In normal English, this means you can work out longer and will achieve greater muscle growth.

Caffeine probably makes more sense to you, especially if you are a long term coffee fan. Even if you ingest large amounts of caffeine outside of the context of a gym, it still has the effects of raising your alertness, boosting your energy levels, and instigating mental and perceptual arousal. A study has been published in the Journal of Applied Physiology addressing the effects of caffeine on exercise, which you can read on this web page:

Carbohydrates are something that most “healthy lifestyle enthusiasts” tend to run from as if they were the Bubonic plague, but the truth is you need them. They provide glycogen, basically a fuel for the muscles, which is the primary energy source that your body utilizes in exercises like weight lifting.

Amino acids are what protein molecules are built from, meaning they increase your energy levels and improve your endurance. However, the essential amino acids you need (valine, leucine, and isoleucine) your body cannot produce on its own. You have to ingest them from your diet – or your supplements.

It is possible to go overboard with “the safe ingredients”

Ironically, you can mess it up easily. Here is where the ancient idea of “too much of a good thing turns real bad real fast” comes crashing down on your parade. For example, suppose a supplement contains an extremely high dose of beetroot juice. Too many nitrates in your system will cause severe discomfort to your gastrointestinal tract.

Or, if there is an excess of ingredients that contain caffeine (a common problem with many supplements and energy drinks geared towards gym goers and amateur athletes), you will be hit with restlessness, insomnia, anxiety and bouts of nasty nausea, potentially accompanied by vomiting spells. Therefore, whenever you are considering a pre-workout supplement, always check the packaging of the product.

You are looking for a point-by-point breakdown of the exact amount of each given ingredient. Supplements that lack that information may have too much of something and make you sick, or there may not be enough of a substance to work at all – whether achieving good or bad results. It would just be there for cosmetics.

How not to go overboard with certain ingredients

Now you may be wondering what the right amounts of everything are. It depends on your body mass and overall health, but here are some handy rules of thumb you can follow. Of course, you should always get customized medical advice if possible. I remember my coach badgering me about seeing my doctor before letting me in on any particular supplement brands, and good thing he did.

So for beetroot juice (nitrates), around 250 ml should do it for a healthy adult. Your maximum acceptable intake of caffeine is 400 mg per day, so for a pre-workout caffeine shot, calculate it as three mg per one kilogram of body weight. If you get stuck on the metric units, you can always just run the numbers through a measurements converter online.

As far as carbohydrates go, ingest them one to four hours before you start working out. Aim for a single dose of around 30 or 40 grams. Longer than four hours pre-workout will spend them too soon, and sooner than one hour prior will leave you heavy and sluggish.

Finally, you should dose your amino acids at between five and ten grams, which is the recommended amount and most of the popular supplements fit right into that estimate.

And there you go, guys! These are some of the bare-bone basics that I picked up since I became a regular gym goer and supplement user. A pro gym coach or athlete would probably have a lot more to say, but I don’t get all technical with it. These are just the tips that worked for me. Do you guys have any favourite pre-workout supplements or hacks to get you going full throttle? Drop a comment down below!

Author Bio
Luka Young is a part-time professor with interest in health, nutrition and fitness. When he is not teaching he spends his time working on his first novel. He lives in Oregon together with his wife and 2 kids.