Pre-workout supplements are more popular today than they’ve ever been. And it’s not surprising given they can provide a much-needed boost to your energy and endurance levels, increase your strength and help you pile on the muscle while burning fat.
In fact, they’re so good they have only one minor flaw: there are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. And that can leave even the most seasoned athletes with paralysis analysis.
However, armed with the proper knowledge, there’s nothing stopping you from making an informed decision on which supplement to choose, or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, concocting your own.
Strength and power
Creatine is one of the most popular products on the shelves. And that’s because decades of research have proven its worth. During training, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) helps your muscles contract. Unfortunately, your muscles only store enough ATP to support muscle contraction for a few seconds. This is where creatine comes in because it releases energy to aid the replenishment of ATP, which in turn prevents lactic acid production. In addition, creatine is known to increase the intracellular stores of carnosine, a product formed from beta-alanine, which can also boost your endurance levels.
Effective dose: When loading take 0.11g per 1lb of bodyweight for five to seven days. For maintenance take 5g per day after a workout.
Taurine, often found in energy drinks, is a non-essential amino acid that has an important role in muscle contraction and force production. In addition, it aids with cell volumization by controlling fluid balance within the body and cell membrane structure. Taurine is also an anti-oxidant, which can prevent the depletion of testosterone, with some studies suggesting it could actually increase levels of the hormone.
Effective dose: 1–3g, 30 minutes before exercise.
Mental focus and overall energy
Perhaps the most widely used drug on the planet. Although we’ve classified it under mental focus, it could just as well have been included in strength, power and endurance, depending on the dosage. A 200mg dose is known as the typical minimum dose to exert its ergogenic effects even stimulating fat oxidation via stimulation of the central nervous system and mobilizing free fatty acid from fat cells by way of cyclic-AMP.
Effective dose: 1.1–2.3mg per 1lb of bodyweight daily.
This amino acid plays a major role in the body’s production of adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine, making it a great stress reliever. It also helps reduce a decline in cognitive performance following sleep deprivation. Some studies have also shown that when taken with 200mg of caffeine, tyrosine’s effects are multiplied – and it can also aid with fat loss.
Effective dose: 46–227mg per 1lb of bodyweight.
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that can increase carnosine levels in muscle tissue. It enhances muscular endurance by buffering a drop in pH levels. In other words, it reduces acidosis by buffering hydrogen ions. Sometimes you will see manufacturers use carnosine in place of beta-alanine, but it has been shown to have no effect when taken orally. Also, it has a cumulative effect so you have to take it for two to four weeks before reaping the benefits.
Effective dose: Four doses of 800mg daily (can be taken as one, although may cause a tingling sensation).
Citrulline is an amino acid that is not built into protein during protein synthesis. In this regard it is similar to taurine. It supports the body in optimizing blood flow and can be converted to the amino acid arginine. Citrulline is often paired with malate, which is a TCA cycle intermediate. The TCA cycle is a major producer of aerobic energy within the mitochondria of cells. Studies have shown that citrulline malate can reduce fatigue as well as increase ATP production.
Effective dose: 6–8g, 30–45 minutes before workout.
Muscle food – that’s the nickname for the amino acids leucine, isolucine and valine, otherwise known as the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). This is because unlike the other amino acids, BCAAs are metabolized in the muscle not the liver, which helps prevent muscle breakdown.
BCAA utilization by muscle tissue is more pronounced when glycogen is depleted. Besides sparing muscle mass, the other roles of BCAAs include protein synthesis, limiting fatigue and improving the function of the immune system. It should be pointed out that whey protein typically contains 23–25% BCAAs, thus 100g of whey will contain 25g.
Recent studies show it’s better to consume whey before a workout rather than afterwards, because it sustains elevation of testosterone after training for several hours.
Of extreme importance are studies that show BCAAs can contribute to fatigue due to it increasing ammonia. However, this doesn’t happen when one takes whey before a workout because in addition to BCAAs, whey contains other amino acids that bind to ammonia. Thus, we suggest using whey instead of BCAA before a workout.
Effective dose: 27g, 30 minutes before training.
This is a fatty acid best known for being a powerful anti-oxidant and insulin mimicker. Its role is similar to that of resveratrol (although to a lesser degree) in that it reverses some of the oxidant effects that come from aging and training. Another benefit is that it boosts the effects of other anti-oxidants in the body. Alpha-lipoic acid also enhances glucose uptake as well as burning fat in muscle cells. It also stops the formation of fat through the regulation of the energy sensor AMPK.
Effective dose: 300–600mg can be taken before or after training
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