Pre-Workout supplementation has been one of the hottest categories in supplementation for more than a decade. and with good reason. Getting effectively motivated with the ideal nutrients before your workout can mean the difference between success and failure.
Selecting a great pre-workout supplement can be a daunting task and isn’t for the faint of heart. There are literally dozens of selections out there, for every gym rat you ask you’re likely to get a different answer from each one. Here we’ll breakdown the elements that make up a great pre-workout supplement so you can make an informed decision.
Pre-workout supplements give you a pretty huge advantage in the gym for a few reasons. First and foremost, they work on motivation and energy. Typically, not unlike an energy drink, the main ingredient is tried and true caffeine (methylxanthine). Whether it comes from a coffee, a caffeine pill or in the form of a pre-workout supp, this ingredient is a potent one that provides a long list of benefits.
Most importantly to your workout is its ability to stimulate your brain to get you motivated. Aside from waking you up and giving you mental energy, it has the effect of reducing your perception of exertion. Simply put, you’ll push harder because the weight actually feels less heavy than it normally would. The result – you’ll simply get more out of your workout, you’ll lift more, run harder and go longer. This is why (at least for a time) caffeine in elevated amounts was considered to be a banned performance-enhancing substance.
1-3, Dimethylamylamine or DMA
In the last few years, there have been additional stimulants introduced to further enhance this effect. They, like caffeine, work on increasing the secretion of norepinephrine (NE) by the adrenal glands. One of the most contentious of these is called 1-3, Dimethylamylamine or DMA for short. This ingredient is a chemical that was said to have come from Geranium extract, but this has been scientifically challenged scientifically both for and against. It has since been declared illegal in many countries and banned by certain sports organizations like WADA.
Hordenine, Synephrine and Octopamine
There are other key ingredients that you can rely on to provide a very similar stimulant action, Hordenine, Synephrine and Octopamine. All of these exert very similar stimulant actions and complement caffeine very nicely. Naringin is an ideal addition, as it extends the action of the stimulants by reducing the rate at which your body breaks them down. This increases the activity time of the stimulant and improves their effect.
The one stimulant that is unique to the others and highly effective is Yohimbine. Unfortunately, this ingredient in illegal in Canada, but is very popular in US formulations. The advantage with this ingredient is that it is known to increase blood flow and act on specific fat receptors in the buttocks and thighs, generally lowering body fat. In terms of pre-workout supplementation, it produces a strong stimulant effect that tends to work well in conjunction with caffeine.
Aside from the stimulant effect so important to getting your head in the game, the elevation of norepinephrine also has a strong fat-burning effect. So, in addition to getting the mental focus and motivation critical to getting a good workout, you will simultaneously burn more fat. The mechanism of action is a liberation of stored fat in the form of long-chain fatty acids that can be burned by the body to produce energy.
The addition of L-Carnitine to your pre-workout supplement is an ideal complement to your pre-workout stack, but it should be taken between an hour and 30 minutes before you train (whereas your pre-workout absorbs very quickly and should be taken right before you train.) L-Carnitine in the body transports the long-chain fatty acids (LCFA) into the cell where the mitochondria burn the LCFA as energy. It is well known that mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, but less well known is how the supplementation of L-Carnitine supports this process.
Arginine is a primary component of most of these pre-workout supplements, and for good reason. It has been a standard in medicine for increasing nitric oxide in cardiac patients for decades. Nitric oxide (NO) relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow. One of the keys to Arginine is uptake and absorption. This is why you will often see blends of varied forms of Arginine to ensure that your body actually uses the Arginine for NO production. Another key factor of Arginine that is lesser known is its ability to help stimulate the release of growth hormone. Arginine also happens to be one of the substrates that your body uses to endogenously make Creatine.
Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng and Citrulline
Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng and Citrulline are top favorites and worth having in any pre-workout supplement – Ginkgo has 4,000 years of history behind its use and enhances blood flow and circulation. Ginseng exerts its effects primarily by enhancing NO release and as a result, makes an ideal addition to any pre-workout. Citrulline has an excellent track record of enhancing blood flow. In fact, there was quite a storm of news articles related to watermelon being an ideal fruit to eat (in large quantities) if you want to enhance erectile function. The key to that of course, is increasing blood flow, and watermelon (specifically the rind) has large amounts of citrulline).
Keys to an Effective Workout
- Great Taste (you have to love it, our you won’t use it).
- Good Stimulant (you have to be mentally ready for your workout).
- Caffeine (multiple versions are good – select the amount of stimulation right for you; everyone is different).
- Hordenine, Synephrine and Octopamine are excellent additions.
- Naringin (extends the action of stimulants).
- Good Pump (feeling the swelling of your muscles is a great motivator).
- Arginine from several sources.
- Ginkgo, Ginseng and Citrulline are great as well.
- The pump helps force nutrients and oxygen into the muscle.
If you talk to guys in the gym who have made pre-workout supplementation a part of their routine, you can get a real sense of why this category is so popular. Getting ready for every workout becomes a part of the ritual that makes every training session even better. When you’re getting ready to go to the gym – you want to get psyched, you want every workout to feel great, you want to forget the rest of the world and focus 100% on getting the results you set out to get. The whole pre-workout supplement ritual is a huge part of getting your head in the game and getting into the zone.
Choosing the perfect pre-workout that suits you best is a huge part of making sure that every workout is the perfect workout where you walk out of the gym knowing you nailed it.