The idea of a magic powder that will significantly boost performance and assist with muscle gain is a wonderful idea, but you should understand and weigh up the pros and cons of any dietary supplement before committing to it, especially if you are a bodybuilder striving to eat clean and powerfully to achieve your goals. We take a closer look at pre-workout supplements below.
What Is A Pre-Workout Supplement?
The idea behind a pre-workout supplement is simple: A drink, pill or other supplement taken 25-30 minutes before a training session to help boost energy, clarify and focus the mind and help your body make the most of the gains from the workout.
In some ways- but only in some- they are not as vital as an efficient post-workout supplementation routine can be, and many athletes can make significant gains without supplementation, but they address a few vital areas and if you have very definite goals beyond normal fitness, are tired from external stresses or need a little extra workout motivation or to up your rep rates, you will need the boost they can bring.
Do your research and know your ingredients, however. Remember how big and awe-inspiring the fitness market is, and just as with weight loss supplements there’s always people looking to make a fast buck on ignorance. Here’s a few points to help:
- Pills will not be as effective as powders, as the body will need considerable hydration to absorb and utilise them. The efficacy is roughly 15% on pills vs. 80-90% on shakes, so the difference is huge.
- Take on board as well the fact that pre-workout drinks are, de facto, stimulants. Most really on creatine and caffeine [which are both, of course, beneficial nutrients with proven track records] with other blends of nutrients. If you have heart issues, anxiety issues, take ADD or ADHD medication or have personal concerns about stimulants, they’re not for you.
- If you want to take one, but are a semi-professional or college athlete, or in any other way may need to pass strict testing, be sure to pick a supplement that does not use substances disallowed by your club or federation. They are out there, but it’s easy to make a costly error you will regret.
What’s In A Pre-Workout Supplement?
Some pre-workout products focus on different areas such as proteins and amino acids, and most will contain some protein boosters and some simple nutrition extras, but there is a fairly standard list of stimulants from which most will choose: caffeine, NO [or nitric oxide], creatine, beta-alanine and 1 3 dimethylamylamine are among the most recognisable.
Nitric Oxide is a slightly controversial supplement intended to increase vasodilatation [or widen the blood-ways] and decide if it is for you. Caffeine, of them all, has the most proven track record, and beta-alanine joins it as one regarded as universal and safe.
You will need to play around to see what suits you best, and you may even find that that is different depending on your training needs that day.
Lastly, be aware it’s a good idea to cycle products, to avoid tolerance developing, relax the strain on the bodies coping systems when using stronger supplements, and generally to stay on top of your game.
Are they only for men?”
No! The world of female fitness and body sculpting is as dedicated as the guys, and female athletes meeting strength training goals can benefit as much as their male counterparts from a well-used pre-workout boast.
The formulations aimed at women are set out a little differently, to help address the body differences and target women’s specific needs.
So what products really work?
While there’s a range of effective and well-thought of pre-workout supplements out there, 3 in particular stand out both in the minds of users and of experts. In the world of women’s fitness, there’s also a clear winner.
- Muscle Pharm Assault
- C4 Extreme
- BSN NO Xplode
- HIT supplement’s Igniter for Women Only
The Muscle Pharm Company’s slogan and company ethos hangs on three things: ‘Real Doctors, Real Science, Real Innovation’. With Assault, reviews suggest they’re getting it right. Importantly, it is also careful to emphasise that it is free of banned substances per the NCAA college athelete lists.
Whilst a few reviewers note that it didn’t work for them, most reviewers had favourable results, remarking at a lack of jittery sensations from the drink, and are satisfied with the pump they received.
The most notable customer viewpoints are that this drink generally doesn’t cause the jangling side-effects of most pre-workout concoctions, without losing any of the pre-show boost.
Again working with Nitrate in a unique Creatine fusion that makes it both more water soluble and eliminates the usual Creatine side effects. Again, customers report a lack of side effects and letdown.
The taste generally pleases, and people like the fact that it states its contents clearly without hiding behind ‘proprietary blends’. It does use artificial sweeteners if that is a concern for you, but favourable review after favourable review suggests its worth trying.
This is in a slightly different class from the other two, and it’s probably better to start with them. This isn’t for everyone. Long term use carries some implications for liver overload so it needs to be alternated, but it is a killer of a product with driven results, and it is consistently well reviewed by experts and users. For short term goals, its a winner.
Like most of the specialised women’s pre-workout drinks, formulated slightly differently than those aimed at the male bodybuilding circuit. Igniter helps you ensure you’re entering your workouts fully fuelled and ready to go, the ladies are clearly very happy with the results this product delivers.
Overall, the pre-workout supplement can be an incredibly useful tool- it should never become a crutch. It’s best not to get hooked on one supplement, both to ensure the body is never overloaded and to ensure you keep receiving the effects of your supplementation.
Used correctly, a pre-workout supplement can give you an extra zing, help your drive through more repetitions with more endurance, and generally assist you in getting better pump and better results.
They’re especially useful for those draggy days, and for helping you meet specific training goals.