A Straightforward Guide To Pre-Workout Supplements
When you arrive at the gym, ready to dive into your workouts, you obviously want them to be as focused and effective as possible.
Now, the truth is that most of this is going to come down to the specific training protocol you’re following, and if you’re focusing on steadily progressing with your workouts each week – as well as the quality of your diet.
However, many people understandably want something to give them that extra edge.
Something to help power them through one more rep than the week before, or give them the extra fuel to lift more weight than they’ve ever lifted before.
So it should come as no surprise that pre-workout supplements have become very popular with millions of people around the world.
However, just as with some of the other supplements we’ve covered in the past, pre-workout mixtures are often not all they’re cracked up to be…
First and foremost, they can be outright dangerous to take.
Look at the once-popular Jack3d, for instance.
Many people were chugging this down before their workouts, only to later find that it contained a substance known as DMAA, which has been known to cause heart attacks. (the FDA later forced the manufacturer to destroy $8 million worth of the supplement).
And even when you put aside such extreme cases, the bottom line is that a lot of the stuff in pre-workout supplements is garbage.
However, there are certain things that are genuinely beneficial, and can serve to make your workouts that much more powerful and rewarding.
In this article, I’ll be going over some of the pre-workout supplements that actually work, and which brands I recommend buying.
What Should A Good Pre-Workout Supplement Do?
When you really break it down, a good pre-workout supplement should do 3 things.
- It should help to maximize your strength and muscle endurance.
- It should increase your energy and get you feeling ‘pumped up’.
- It should heighten your mental focus.
If your pre-workout supplement legitimately helps you with some or all of these 3 things, it passes the test.
Otherwise, you’re probably wasting your money…
Which Substances Are Proven To Do This?
Now there are really only a handful of supplements that actually help you achieve these goals.
- Caffeine – proven to help boost strength and muscle endurance
- Theanine – reduces mental stress and improves focus and alertness
- Beta-Alanine – reduces fatigue and increases exercise capacity
- Citrulline Malate – improves muscle endurance
- Betaine – improves muscle endurance and increases strength
- Ornithine – reduces fatigue
Note: you can click on any of the links above to read the corresponding studies about each supplement.
Unfortunately, many pre-workout supplement manufacturers hide behind shady ‘proprietary blend’ labeling.
You see, given the fairly loose regulations in the supplement industry, it is perfectly legal for manufacturers not to disclose all of the ingredients they put in their supplements.
Instead, they can deliberately obscure this information from customers by listing it on the label under the blanket term proprietary blend.
This is basically like saying, “there is a whole bunch of shit in this supplement, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.”
As a general rule, if you see this on your pre-workout supplement – or, really, any supplement that you take – you should be very wary about putting it in your body.
The bottom line is if you don’t know exactly what is inside your pre-workout supplement, it’s probably best not to mindlessly gulp it down every morning.
In fact, I would strongly suggest only buying supplements from manufacturers that are transparent and properly disclose what is in their products.
My Pre-Workout Recommendations
If you’re on a budget, or are just looking for something basic, I suggest simply using caffeine as your pre-workout supplement.
This means either drinking a cup of coffee before you head to the gym, or taking a cheap caffeine supplement if you prefer – like this one which you can order here.
If you’re looking for something with a little more kick, then I would suggest trying Pulse by Legion Athletics.
This stuff isn’t cheap, but it is a very high quality supplement, which contains all of the ingredients that are clinically proven to increase your performance in the gym, without any other fillers.
If this is too expensive, you can also check out C4 by Cellucor.
While I don’t like this quite as much as Pulse, it does contain caffeine, beta-alineine, and arginine, which can all help boost your performance at the gym.
The main downside is that it has 1000 mg of creatine nitrate. This isn’t a terrible thing, but I find that creatine monohydrate is preferable for muscle building and better taken after your workouts, as I discuss in this article.
What About BCAAs?
Now I’m sure that some of you are probably wondering where BCCAs fit into the mix.
As I went over in a previous article, BCCAs are Branch Chain Amino Acids which are important to take if you’re working out in a fasted state.
These days, you’ll often see people chugging down neon colored drinks between their sets at the gym – and most of the time it’s some sort of BCAA formula.
Now to be clear, you do NOT need to take BCCAs if you aren’t working out fasted.
They aren’t cheap, and will just be a waste of your money if you are taking them in addition to getting enough protein both before and after your workouts, as I discuss in this article here.
And you certainly don’t need to be obsessively sipping them in-between your sets, like you see some people doing…
However, if you are training fasted, then you’ll want to add BCAAs to your pre-workout mix.
I suggest taking 10 grams before AND 10 grams after your workouts, to limit any potential for muscle breakdown when training fasted.
In terms of brands, I’d recommend going with Xtend by Scivation.
It has the most appropriate balance of the amino acids that you need and doesn’t have any extra junk thrown in.
It also tastes pretty good, which is an important factor, since lucine, one of the amino acids in BCCAs, can taste pretty terrible by itself.
You can order a tub of Xtend BCAAs here.