EXTRA ENERGY, OR WASTED MONEY?
Pre-workouts are a large business and can help with energy and exercise for people with CMT, but getting the right ingredients, in the right amount is critical.
The pre-workout market is a quickly expanding part of the sports supplement industry, worth over $10 billion dollars, and expected to consistently increase over the coming years. With countless brands releasing sometimes multiple pre-workout products, it can be difficult to understand what works, as well as what is value for money.
Here we'll cover the main key ingredients you'll come across in many pre-workouts, but I encourage you to do your own research if you see an ingredient that's either not covered, or seemingly out of place. Many pre-workouts significantly underdose their products or contain unproven ingredients that are likely to have no impact on your workout other than possibly a positive placebo effect.
Currently, the pre-workout market has three types of pre-workout: stimulants, pump enhancers and combination pre-workouts that attempt to do both in one serving.
Types of Pre-workout & Key Ingredients
Nitric Oxide/ Pump Enhancers
A stimulant pre-workout is one that aims to temporarily increase a persons endurance, and potentially strength, for a workout. Some key ingredients that indicate a stimulant pre-workout are caffeine, betaine anhydrous and l-tyrosine.
When exercising, some people may experience a temporary increase in muscle size and fullness. This is known as a muscle pump which can be beneficial for muscle growth, although not necessary for muscle growth. Nitric oxide pre-workouts are designed to help a person achieve a muscular pump when exercising and may not contain any stimulant.
The King of Stimulants: Caffeine
A source of energy for improved cardio performance
WHAT IS IT?
Whether it's in coffee, an energy drink or pre-workout supplement, caffeine is a powerful, cheap and easily available stimulant that can improve strength, stamina and keep a person awake. Regardless of the form it is consumed in, caffeine is molecularly the same.
WHAT IS IT USED FOR?
In a pre-workout, caffeine will be a significant ingredient that can help improve strength output, cardiovascular ability and wakefulness.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Getting the amount of caffeine right for you is essential. Too little, and you won't feel an impact, but too much may cause jitters and gastrointestinal issues. Pre-workouts can range significantly in caffeine amounts, from 150mg to three times that at 450mg, made more complex by using different types of caffeine.
As a point of reference, a Starbucks short Caffè Americano contains 75mg of caffeine, while a Venti® Caffè Americano containing 300mg of caffeine.
One fact to consider is that caffeine tolerance will significantly diminish the impact of caffeine, something that cannot be overcome by simply taking more. If you find you have a high tolerance to caffeine, taking a 2 - 4 week break from caffeine will help your body regain sensitivity to it.
One ingredient that can help enhance caffeine is the addition of piperine, which also goes by the brand name of BioPerine®. Between 5 - 10 mg is shown to potentially increase the effectiveness of caffeine by preventing the body from breaking it down as quick, thereby extending the effect of caffeine.
TYPES OF CAFFEINE
With caffeine being such an effective ingredient, but not without shortcomings such as energy crashes, jitters and other side-effects, there has been a push in the industry to find, or create, alternative versions of caffeine that have similar, but different effects:
Caffeine Anhydrous - this is another term for regular caffeine, as you'd find in coffee or other generic caffeine sources.
DiCaffeine Malate (Infinergy®) - advertised as a form of caffeine that is more easily digested while also minimising any post-caffeine energy crash, there is little academic proof to back these claims.
Caffeine Citrate - Potentially a quicker acting form of caffeine, it can increase caffeine blood levels as quick as 30 minutes post-ingestion, compared to 60 to 120 minutes for regular caffeine. Due to cost, it is usually found in much lower doses alongside caffeine in some pre-workouts.
Common ingredients that are included to enhance energy and/or strength in a workout (excluding caffeine)
Creatine is a cheap, highly-researched molecule that helps with energy levels in the body when under intense physical or mental stress. It is a highly researched and safe supplement with noticeable improvements to strength and power output during resistance exercise. While there are many forms of creatine sold in the supplement market, none have proven any effectiveness above the standard creatine monohydrate.
Dosage: 5 -10 grams daily
Nelson AG, Arnall DA, Kokkonen J, Day R, Evans J. Muscle glycogen supercompensation is enhanced by prior creatine supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(7):1096-1100. doi:10.1097/00005768-200107000-00005
A modified version of the amino acid alanine, beta-alanine has been shown to enhance muscular endurance and improve moderate-to-high-intensity cardiovascular performance.
Dosage: 2 - 5 grams
Stout JR, Cramer JT, Zoeller RF, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women. Amino Acids. 2007;32(3):381-386. doi:10.1007/s00726-006-0474-z
Sweeney KM, Wright GA, Glenn Brice A, Doberstein ST. The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on power performance during repeated sprint activity. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(1):79-87. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c63bd5
Also known as baking soda, sodium bicarbonate is a highly cost-effective supplement that can help delay metabolic acidosis ("the burn") during exercise, thereby helping improve endurance in some exercises. Dosing is usually done 60 - 90 minutes before exercise.
Dosage: 200 - 300 mg/kg
Nitric Oxide/Muscle Pump Ingredients
Ingredients that help with increasing nitric oxide or enabling muscle pumps
Glycerol significantly helps to enhance pumps by increasing muscle hydration, and therefore is essential to take with an adequate amount of water, with the impact of glycerol lasting for up to 4 hours. As an added bonus, glycerol has also been shown to improve aerobic and anaerobic performance.
Dosage: 2 - 5 grams
Also known as Betaine or Trimethylglycine (TMG), betaine anhydrous helps to promote cell hydration and resilience to stress as it is an osmolyte. This is a molecule that is moved in and out of a cell to affect iot's hydration status. This results in increased muscular pumps due to increased muscular hydration.
Dosage: 2 - 4 grams
Schwab U, Alfthan G, Aro A, Uusitupa M. Long-term effect of betaine on risk factors associated with the metabolic syndrome in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011;65(1):70-76. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2010.230
L-citrulline is highly effective in increasing nitric oxide in the body, which in turn improves athletic performance and vascular health. However, getting a supplement with an adequate dosage is challenging, as many supplements use citrulline malate, which tends to be a 1:1 ratio of l-citrulline and malic acid, thereby reducing the actual ingested amount of l-citrulline.
Dosage: 3 - 10 grams
Figueroa A, Wong A, Jaime SJ, Gonzales JU. Influence of L-citrulline and watermelon supplementation on vascular function and exercise performance. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2017;20(1):92-98. doi:10.1097/MCO.0000000000000340
A curated list of recommended pre-workouts
Below is a list of a few tried-and-tested pre-workouts which combine effective ingredients with adequate dosing.
A basic value-for-money pre workout for beginners, Tanked Fury offers 40 servings per container. While the website description states proprietary blends for the ingredients, the container labels the ingredients individually: with 2 grams of beta alanine and 275 mg of caffeine, this is a good introduction to caffeine supplementation and assess a person's tolerance to beta alanine which can cause paraesthesia (tingles) which some people may find unpleasant, although completely safe. The other ingredients are not in large enough doses to be worth considering, but allows Tanked Fury to be effectively stacked with other supplements.
Part of the Bodybuilding Warehouse own product line, BEST Pre-workout again offers good value for money, although won't go as far as other pre-workouts as for effective dosages you will want to use two servings. At two servings, this provides 6g of creatine, 6g of cluster dextrin, 5g of citrulline malate, 3.2g of beta alanine, and 320 mg of caffeine. These are relatively all solid doses of ingredients and a great introduction for a high energy pre-workout that will also have an impact on muscle pumps.
Pre JYM Pre-Workout
Pre JYM Pre Workout prides itself on having accurate dosing of effective ingredients, aiming to make a high-end, meaningful pre-workout. Using creatine HCI, a lower dose of creatine is theoretically possible over monohydrate due to increased solubility, with 2g of creatine HCI per serving, as well as an adequate dosage of citrulline malate, 300 mg of caffeine, 2 grams of beta alanine, 1.5 grams of l-tyrosine, and 5mg of BioPerine®.
Another premium pre-workout that contains a list of great ingredients: 6.5g of l-citrulline, 1.6g of beta-alanine, 15.g of creatine HCI, 2.5g of betaine. This combination with the rest of the ingredients make Pre-Kaged a solid choice for a someone that wants a high-quality pre-workout that focuses on providing energy during workouts as well as improving nitric oxide production. While the price per serving puts Pre-Kaged as one of the more expensive options, it is a case of quality over quantity in this instance.
MyProtein Creatine Monohydeate
Creatine Monohydrate from MyProtein offers simple creatine at a low price in 250g, 500g and 1kg offerings, making it an extremely cheap and effective supplement that can be used on top of a pre-workout, or as a daily, dietary supplement.