Pre-workout supplementation may sound like just another fancy, money-grabbing scheme from the fitness industry to some hardcore natural bodybuilders, but we can assure you that this is not always the case, although there are some lifters who take it to a quite unnecessary extreme. In most of its forms, pre-workout supplementation is a great way to get an extra edge in the gym, as long as you don’t get lost in the existing ocean of supplement variants and combos. Which is where this article comes in – namely, we want to help you navigate your way out of the confusion and right to the goal: a harder, stronger and more muscular body, with the help of 4 crucial pre-workout ingredients! Read on!
The Big, Fat Truth About Pre-Workout Supplementation
You know that amazing skin-tearing, throbbing feeling in your muscles that lets you know that they are working to their maximum potential? Sure, specific training techniques alone can help you get it, but certain pre-workout supplements can jump in to allow you to get there even faster.
All kinds of athletes and regular gym goers have been using pre-workout supplements for decades now, mainly to increase their focus and energy levels, improve performance and power generation, reduce fatigue and speed up recovery, all of which are guaranteed benefits from proper supplementation. Oh, and did we mention that some can help transform your physiology into a well-greased up fat-burning machine?
This is not to say that you should expect supplementation to do your hard work for you, because there is nothing on this world that can give you muscles of steel if you’re not maximally focused, committed and ready to pour your heart into your training sessions. But if you’ve already got those prerequisites, supplements can absolutely help you polish up your workouts and push your gains even further!
However, we wouldn’t be who we are (and that is 100% honest with our readers) if we didn’t mention some setbacks. The biggest issue with pre-workout, if not all kinds of, supplements are the nebulous standards set by the ever-growing supplement industry. There are certain powerful brands which use a variety of deceitful marketing practices to push their products more effectively, and that includes everything in the spectrum of pseudoscience and half-fabricated and stupendously exaggerated claims. Then, we have the habit of adding harmful artificial sweeteners, additives and fillers that certainly no one talks about on labels and online marketing campaigns. Yes, you should be very well aware that some supplement brands are only good at burning a hole in your wallet.
That being said, we want to help you direct your focus on four well-researched ingredients that definitely deserve to be a part of your supplement program. They are available in many products and each of them has multiple wonderful benefits, which we’ll discuss in the paragraphs below. Next time you hit the pre-workout supplementation market, you’ll know exactly what you want, and what you’ll get from it. Sweet, ain’t it?
#1: Caffeine for Energy
RECOMMENDED DOSE: 1.5 to 2.5mg per kg of body weight or 200-500mg in total.
The human race has been enamored with the stimulating effects of caffeine for centuries now. In fact, people have been drinking caffeinated beverages for about as far back as we can measure. For example, the famous ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu has called caffeinated drinks such as coffee “the elixir of life”. When it comes to bodybuilding, you may be pleased to learn that caffeine works on the CNS by promoting spinal cord excitability and muscle fiber recruitment, while reducing perceptions of fatigue and muscle pain at the same time.
In this way, caffeine can significantly improve physical performance and delay both mental and physical fatigue. Studies have shown that it can improve performance in endurance athletes by 3.3% and boost force generation in strength and power sports up to 20%! And although there aren’t many studies showing increases in 1RM, caffeine has definitely been proven to decrease the rate of fatigue in all types of athletes.
#2: BCAAs for Protein Synthesis
RECOMMENDED DOSE: 5g in pre-workout, 20g maximum total per day
Most commonly, BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are found in 2:1:1 ratio regarding the powerful trio that comprises them – leucine, isoleucine and valine. These three are crucial amino acids for protein metabolism regulation, so increasing their amount in your organism will help you boost protein synthesis and reduce protein breakdown.
Leucine, the king of muscle-building amino acids, has been repeatedly shown to have an extraordinary effect on muscle growth by promoting protein synthesis and inhibiting catabolism; isoleucine helps the metabolic function run smooth during exercise; valine acts to prevent tryptophan (compound that converts to serotonin in the brain) build up, which results in greater levels of available energy and improved endurance. When you shop for supplements, look for the 2:1:1 ratio, which should allow you to take the optimal amount of 3g of leucine per dose of your BCAAs. Furthermore, drinking BCAAs as a part of your pre-workout prep will help delay onset muscle soreness so that you can get back to hammering your muscles hard as soon as possible.
#3: Beta-Alanine for Endurance
RECOMMENDED DOSE: 1.5-5g
Beta-Alanine, scientifically known as 3-aminoproprionic acid, is a naturally-occurring beta amino that has quickly risen to the top of the list of most popular supplements among bodybuilders, and for a good reason too, as this is another compound that will help you increase your overall training volume and power output by buffering hydrogen ions and increasing intramuscular carnosine levels, thereby providing you with a golden opportunity to keep your intensity spiked for longer periods of time. And as you already know, more volume + more intensity = muscles worth a magazine cover.
In other works, it works like a charm for squeezing out extra proper reps and getting the most out of every training session. The great thing about it is that you don’t have to remember to take it right before each workout – just make sure to continuously take it throughout the day and you’ll earn yourself some beastly gym time. If you experience tingling sensations after taking larger doses, don’t worry, that’s completely normal.
#4: Creatine Monohydrate for Strength
RECOMMENDED DOSE: 5 g in pre-workout; 20g maximum total per day
Hate it or love it, creatine is one of the best-studied muscle-building supplements out there and its effectiveness and low-risk profile (if used correctly!) have been repeatedly proven by independent researchers all over the world. Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid produced in the liver, and its main job is to help supply energy to cells throughout the body, especially muscle cells.
For many bodybuilders, this is the no.1 supplement which helps them with lower-rep workouts, as it works by saturating your muscles with the energy needed to produce explosive bouts of energy for those huge lifts. In a nutshell, creatine will allow you to increase muscle size, enhance recovery, improve explosive strength production and even enhance brain function and mental clarity. In addition, it produces best results when used for high-intensity work, as it will ensure that your muscles don’t fatigue prematurely and strengthens muscular contraction.
On the other hand, creatine is also superb at promoting faster complete recovery from intense exercise, a benefit we could all use more of. Finally, let’s not forget about creatine’s muscle-volumizing effect. Namely, creatine has the ability to cause muscle cells to inflate, thereby giving your muscles a more heavily-pumped up look. Now, dose-wise, if you are not looking for a super-fast bulk, you don’t need the typical one-week loading phase to accelerate the saturation process – you’ll do great with 5g per day.
We cannot stress enough the importance of taking your supplements in the recommended doses instead of conducting your own experiments that might blow up in your face. Don’t forget that even drinking abnormally huge amounts of water can cause health issues, and the same applies for almost every nutrient and ingredient there is. Once you’ve advanced in your usage of supplements and you’ve learned the less-is-more rule of bodybuilding, you can try to make your own power combos. Until that day, please stick to the instructions in order to get the most benefit and keep yourself safe and thriving.
The above mentioned supplements are our personal favorites when it comes to pre-workout supplementation, and you can find tons of scientific evidence online to back up our choice. That’s not to say that there aren’t other highly beneficial supplement ingredients in nature or on the market, but we consider these four to be the foundation of a smart and effective supplementation plan, and if you’re serious about boosting your workouts but don’t like overwhelming your body with a gazillion formulas or overburdening your budget, this is where you should start.
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Furthermore, to get best results, make sure you get products which contain enough of the aforementioned ingredients. That may cost you more, but believe us, it will be well worth it. Also, remember to take your supplements roughly half an hour before beginning your workout (with beta-alanine being the exception, as you can take it all throughout the day), so that they get properly metabolized by the time you start pumping that iron.