It’s no secret: the right pre-workout supplement can help you take your game to a whole new level. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that pre workout supplements will get results for you. They won’t. You still need to be the one putting in the hard work and effort, but they certainly will help make putting in that effort easier and allow everything to run smoother.
When it comes to selecting the best pre workout supplement, you may be feeling quite confused. One look online or in your local supplement store and you’re met with literally thousands of different choices. Which is worth spending your money on? Supplements don’t exactly come cheap and since you work hard for that money, you want to ensure it goes that extra mile.
Let’s look at a few of the key things that you’ll want to look for when selecting a pre-workout designed to enhance muscle mass, boost energy, and improve your power output during any high-intensity workout you might be doing.
Do The Best Pre-Workout Supplements Contain A Proprietary Blend?
The first thing you’ll need to understand is what a ‘proprietary blend’ is all about. You may have seen this on a pre-workout supplement label before and not really understood it. We’re here to clear up the confusion.
A proprietary blend is basically like a ‘top secret’ blend of ingredients that the company has created. Now, this can be seen as good, or bad, depending on how you look at it.
The company will note this is a good thing because it’s what makes their product unique. By not revealing how much of each ingredient is in their blend, a competitor can’t just go copying them at their free will. No one really knows precisely what’s in the product, so it will stay unique to them (unless of course, the competitor runs thorough testing to figure out the precise dosage of each ingredient).
The bad news? YOU also don’t know how much of each ingredient is in the product. This is where the real problem is. Some companies will bulk up their product with fillers – basically ingredients that won’t help do much in terms of helping you get increased energy or assistance with muscle building. They just add volume so you get a sufficient amount of product to make up a 30 serving container, or whatever it happens to be. The end result of this is that you may not notice as great of results from this product and your money will be down the drain.
The best pre-workouts on the market offer full transparency and will tell you what you are getting. As the consumer, this is also good because if you are sensitive to any particular ingredients (such as the dose of caffeine in the pre-workout), this is also vital information to know.
Does this mean you have to completely boycott any product with a proprietary blend? Not necessarily. Some supplements will lay out most of the information for you and then just keep a few in the proprietary blend. If you read through the ingredients in that proprietary blend and they aren’t the main ingredients you’re looking for anyway, it may be no harm to consider that product. Also read plenty of product reviews. If people rave about the product, it must contain effective dosages of the main ingredients to be producing those kinds of results.
Inclusion Of Artificial Sweeteners
Another thing to consider that very often goes overlooked when trying to pick out a pre-workout supplement is how many and what type of artificial sweeteners that product contains.
Many people think that artificial sweeteners aren’t too big of a deal as many studies have proven most to be quite safe, at least in moderate dosages. But, do realize this is not to say there will be no side effect seen from taking them. Some people are prone to headaches, bloating, gas, or gastrointestinal upset after consuming certain artificial sweeteners.
If you can find a pre-workout supplement that does not use artificial sweeteners or only uses stevia, which is a naturally occurring calorie-free sweetener, then that will likely be a great option to go with.
Again, everyone is different in this area so it’s important that you know your own body and what it needs.
Dose Of Caffeine
Another important thing you must look at when selecting pre-workout supplements is the dose of caffeine they contain. Caffeine has been proven to help enhance exercise performance.
In fact, caffeine may even help you overcome the devastating effects that sleep deprivation has on your workout sessions. While we’d never recommend skimping on sleep, research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition And Exercise Metabolism1 noted that caffeine was able to increase voluntary workload in professional athletes, even during conditions of self-reported limited sleep. It’s also interesting to note that in this study of 16 participants, total testosterone levels were also higher after taking the caffeine compared to not taking the caffeine.
But this said, caffeine is not without side effects. Know that in one cup of coffee, you will take in approximately 80-100 mg of caffeine, depending on the cup. Most pre-workouts will contain around 150-200 mg of caffeine per serving, so it’s similar to drinking about two cups of coffee.
If you get jittery and anxious after one cup of coffee, proceed lightly! You may want to consider taking just half a scoop of the pre-workout and seeing how your body reacts to that first and then going up in dosage if you think you can handle it.
Some pre-workouts however, push the bar higher. They can contain upwards of 400 or 500 mg of caffeine per serving, which is like drinking four cups of coffee in one shot.
Sure, it will give you plenty of energy and you’ll have laser sharp focus and concentration no doubt, but how will you fair after that? Once the caffeine begins wearing off, you will hit an all-time low and soon you’ll be crashing and feeling miserable.
What’s even worse is that you must remember caffeine is addictive and the effects of it become less and less the more of it you have. So while at first, that 400 mg of caffeine was a total shock to your system, a few months later, you may need 500 mg to get the same effect. Then even more. Where does it stop? Too much caffeine can be downright dangerous to your body and can cause all kinds of problems such as irregular heartbeat, anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, nausea, sweating, and dizziness. You do need to draw the line somewhere for your health’s sake so be extra careful about products that contain higher doses of caffeine or worse, don’t tell you how much caffeine is in the product.
After you’ve checked out the caffeine content and artificial sweeteners, you’ll want to consider all the other products that are found in the pre-workout. While the individual ingredients may vary slightly from pre-workout to pre-workout, most do contain generally the same types of ingredients, designed to accomplish a similar thing.
Some pre-workout supplements are a little more focused in one area – say muscle growth or fat loss, but for the most part, you’ll see the same contenders in many products.
Let’s take a look at what these ingredients happen to be.
First is beta alanine. Its primary goal is to help boost muscular endurance by buffering the build-up of lactic acid in the muscle tissue. When too much lactic acid is present, you’ll get a strong burning sensation in the muscle tissue, which will typically cause you to stop short of hitting your goal reps.
Taking beta alanine allows you to do more work in every session, thus you should experience faster overall progress.
A study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition2 found that when subjects took beta alanine for a six week period and performed HIIT, those who took the supplement noted improved levels of VO2peak, improved ventilator threshold, and improvements in total lean body mass as well. So this may not just be a performance boosting ingredient, but a body composition enhancing one as well.
Next up we have creatine. Creatine serves as the precursor to the high energy compound called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is what helps fuel every single muscle contraction that takes place.
You go into each workout with so much creatine stored in the muscle cells and once that creatine runs out, ATP production comes to a halt and your workout intensity drops significantly.
By supplementing with creatine, you are able to ensure longer ATP production, which then results in more work being performed.
This is also why you almost always see creatine and beta alanine paired together. Since beta alanine helps buffer the lactic acid that can prevent maximum workloads from being completed and creatine helps supply the energy to perform those maximum workloads, the two go hand in hand.
One thing to note however is that in some individuals, creatine can lead to muscle cramping if taken before the workout session. For this reason, many choose to actually leave creatine out of their pre-workout product and instead, take it with their post-workout supplement instead. This is also beneficial as you typically eat fast acting carbohydrates in your post-workout meal, which enables creatine to get into the muscle tissues as fast as possible.
A Nitric Oxide Ingredient
Another type of ingredient you’ll typically find in the best pre-workout supplements are nitric oxide boosters. These help to elevate the levels of nitric oxide present in the body, which can then cause vasodilation to take place.
When your blood vessels dilate, this means more blood and oxygen are able to move through them, which in turn can assist with better performance. Since oxygen is required to help lower lactic acid development, this will also work to help beta alanine out.
Furthermore, nutritional delivery to the muscle tissues will help reduce the overall level of fatigue, allowing you to get more work done as well.
And let’s not forget the muscle pumps! If you’ve ever been in the gym and felt your muscles essentially swell up and become round, full, and hard, you’ve felt a muscle pump before. While this may not exactly directly translate to more muscle growth, having a muscle pump does tend to help people ‘feel the mind-muscle connection’ more, which brings about better results and it can work well for keeping you motivated.
If you look full and jacked in the gym, with great muscle definition, there’s no question you’ll be motivated to push harder since what you are doing is clearly working.
There are a few different products that can be used to achieve higher levels of nitric oxide in the body but the main ones will be L-Arginine, L-Citrulline, as well as beetroot, plus the newest ingredient and hottest ingredient for 2018 Vaso6. So you might see any one of these present in your pre-workout supplement.
Finally, don’t be surprised if you find a mind-boosting ingredient as well. While you might think that your workout is very much a physical endeavor, the truth is that it’s also a mental one as well.
If you hit the gym and you are not focused and motivated to push as hard as possible, you’re less likely to give optimal performance. The last thing you want to be is mentally tired, distracted, or just not into it.
Tyrosine is the most commonly used mind booster here. It’s a naturally occurring amino acid that when given in larger dosages can help boost the levels of norepinephrine in the brain, which is an important hormone that acts in the brain to stimulate metabolism and keep you alert and focused.
When you perform intense exercise, norepinephrine levels typically decline dramatically, which is then associated with low performance. By keeping them elevated, you’ll see better results while you’re in the gym.
So there you have the need to know facts about choosing the best pre-workout supplement. Always keep in mind that it pays to do your research as far as supplements are concerned. Not all products are created equally and if you just pick up one with many fancy claims but without a lot of research to back it up, you may not be seeing the results you hoped you would.
Buy one of the best pre-workouts here.
1. Cook, Christian, et al. “Acute caffeine ingestion’s increase of voluntarily chosen resistance-training load after limited sleep.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism22.3 (2012): 157-164.
2. Smith, Abbie E., et al. “Effects of β-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 6.1 (2009): 5.