Pre-workouts are one of the most popular sports supplements among bodybuilders, athletes, and many other fitness enthusiasts.
Pre-workouts are supplements that contain several ingredients and ergogenic aids thought to boost athletic performance and recovery.
Some of the key benefits of taking a pre-workout before exercise is enhanced energy, motivation, and focus, thus leading to improved performance outcomes such as increased strength, endurance, and power.
Pre-workout supplements often form part of an athlete’s supplement stack, and for good reason!
However, the sports supplement industry, and more specifically the pre-workout market, is saturated with various performance-boosting products.
So, how do we know which pre-workout is best? How can we determine the difference between a good and bad pre-workout?
While nobody wants to be spending money on useless, ineffective, and poor-quality supplements, athletes particularly have a lot more to lose when they are risking consuming supplements that could negatively affect their performance.
This article will discuss the use of pre-workouts among athletes, the benefits and potential risks, and how to determine the best pre-workout!
What is Pre-Workout?
Pre-workouts are described as supplements that are designed to enhance athletic performance. A good pre-workout supplement can provide both acute and chronic performance benefits, particularly when taken 30-60 minutes before exercise or activity.
While pre-workouts are often marketed and tailored to strength athletes and bodybuilders, they can be notably beneficial for endurance athletes, too.
Not only do pre-workouts help to enhance muscle strength and power, they also help improve stamina, increase VO2 max, buffer muscle acidity, and delay fatigue.
The Benefits of Pre-Workout for Athletes
Pre-workouts can give you extra motivation to prepare for high-intensity training, helping you to push harder for longer. This then allows you to make some serious gains in muscle strength, size, and power.
This kind of effect can give an athlete an extra 1% edge in training and competition, which could make all the difference to their achievements!
Some of the key benefits of pre-workouts include:
- Improved physical performance
- Increased focus
- Delayed fatigue
- Improved mental functioning
The Risks of Pre-Workouts
With any effective nutritional supplement, there are always risks to consider.
Caffeine is usually the key ingredient in pre-workout supplements. While this ingredient provides the most potent performance-enhancing benefits, it can induce some side effects if the user isn’t cautious with dosing.
Some of the side effects associated with taking pre-workout containing caffeine include:
However, these are often experienced when taking high doses of caffeine or pre-workout. While it is common, and often tempting, to add an extra couple of scoops to your pre-workout shake, it’s definitely not recommended and could have the opposite effect on your performance.
It is recommended to start with low doses of caffeine or pre-workout to gauge your tolerance. Some people can negatively react to a high dose of caffeine, so start small and slow to determine your ideal dose.
This is particularly important for athletes who are relying on the positive performance-enhancing effects of caffeine or pre-workout. Taking too high of a dose can result in poor performance, which is not the ideal outcome of training or competition.
Choosing an Effective Pre-Workout
There are a few points to consider when trying to determine what makes a good pre-workout:
1) It has research-demonstrated ingredients tested in humans
It is key to ensure the pre-workout in question contains ingredients which are backed by science and human clinical trials. The best pre-workouts include ingredients that are validated by up-to-date research.
Following this principle alone will narrow down your selection by a significant amount, as many pre-workouts are loaded with ingredients that sound fancy but are not proven to be effective!
2) It has clinical doses of all ingredients
The pre-workout you are looking at may have all the research-backed ingredients required for boosting performance, though if the doses are not appropriate, they will be useless.
Ensure all the ingredients in the product are included in the appropriate effective doses!
3) It doesn’t have proprietary blends
Proprietary blends are blends of various ingredients with no disclosure regarding how much of each ingredient you are getting. This is currently a big problem in the industry, yet it is legal.
Manufacturers are taking advantage of this, making these blends sound appealing, yet you do not know how much of each ingredient you are getting.
Choose a pre-workout which has scientifically proven ingredients in the correct doses, without proprietary blends, and you’ll be onto a winner!
Popular Pre-Workout Ingredients
Some of the key scientifically proven ingredients found in pre-workouts include:
As mentioned, caffeine is usually the key ingredient in pre-workouts, providing a boost of energy and increased focus, and delaying fatigue.
Beta-alanine buffers lactic acid buildup in the muscles, allowing you to push harder for longer.
Creatine is the most researched sports supplement and has been shown to increase strength, power, endurance, and speed.
This amino acid plays a big role in increasing the production of nitric oxide, which helps improve blood and oxygen flow around the body.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid which can help sharpen mental focus and reduce the potential side effects of caffeine, such as jitters.
Another effective amino acid which has been shown to strengthen the mental aspects of exercise, helping to promote better cognitive clarity and a calm, yet alert, mental state.
A major antioxidant found in the body which helps protect muscle tissue during intense exercise, as well as supporting immune system defences.
Several micronutrients play a role in our performance and recovery, such as vitamin D, iron, potassium, and B-vitamins.
Beetroot is a rich source of dietary nitrate, which, in-turn increases the production of nitric oxide. Much like L-citrulline, this can improve blood flow, leading to many performance improvements.
Though the best pre-workout will not include all of these listed ingredients, but it’s important to look out for them and ensure your supplement contains at least a few of them!
How to Take Pre-Workout
It is commonly recommended to take pre-workout 30-60 minutes before your workout to allow time for the ingredients to digest and absorb.
Most supplements will provide an acute effect lasting 2-3 hours, such as boosted energy, motivation, and improved performance outcomes.
However, some of the more complex performance enhancements, such as increased muscle strength and power (if the pre-workout contains creatine), will require some more time to take effect.
The Take-Home Message: Pre-Workout for Athletes
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pre-workouts on the market. Many of them are glorified caffeine supplements, and others are blends of unknown, ineffective ingredients.
When looking for a pre-workout supplement, it is key to look for research-validated ingredients in effective doses and avoid proprietary blends of any kind.
Additionally, ensuring the pre-workout in question has a few of the above listed ingredients, and following the appropriate dosage guidelines, will enable you to gain the maximum performance-enhancements before training or competition.
Our top pick is Pre Lab Pro, a formula that combines some of the most effective ingredients that promote a wide range of strength, cardio, endurance, and overall health benefits to help accelerate your fitness goals!