Of all the supplements in the market, pre-workout is one of the most popular and has quickly become a training staple alongside protein powder. It's become a must-have pre-workout stable due to its energy and performance-boosting benefits. There's no denying that pre-workout supplements can help enhance your workouts, but it comes down to which one you choose and how you take it.
There are plenty of bad apples in the pre-workout supplement market. Choosing an ineffective one is counterproductive because you'll be ingesting ingredients that are not beneficial to your training. And if you don't know how to take pre-workout the benefits decrease even further! When choosing any supplement you want to do your research and make sure you're getting the best bang for your buck and your training.
A good pre-workout supplement will increase your energy levels and improve your exercise performance, and we're going to help you find just that! Below are five tips that will help you find the best pre-workout supplement for your goals and how to use it so you get the best results possible!
Look at the ingredients list
The first thing you should do when you pick up a bottle of pre-workout is to read the ingredients list. You want to look for a pre-workout product with effective doses of ingredients that are known to enhance your training performance. If you're looking at a long confusing list of sweeteners and fillers, run. Stick to good basic key ingredients that are known to help with athletic performance. Here are some pre-workout ingredients to look out for:
- Caffeine: Almost every pre-workout formula has caffeine in it. Caffeine is a stimulant that helps give you and your muscles an energy boost to help you fight off fatigue and push through one more rep. However, not all pre-workout powders contain caffeine, there are caffeine-free formulas for those who want to avoid the side effects of stimulants, like the jitters. In terms of the amount of caffeine to look for, there's no magic number. It depends on your weight, look for a caffeine range from 3-6 kilograms of body weight. But don't exceed anything that has more than 400mg of caffeine. Ingesting too much caffeine can cause unpleasant side effects.
- Beta-alanine: Beta-alanine is an amino acid whose main purpose is to increase muscular endurance while reducing muscle fatigue. This amino acid is responsible for that jittery or tingly sensation you feel after drinking pre-workout. The feeling may be annoying, but it's harmless and should subside quickly. It's a common ingredient in pre-workout formulas due to its ability to help you keep up with your high-intensity weightlifting session. Meaning it'll help you perform extra reps which is beneficial for those with muscle-building goals!
- Branched-chain amino acids: BCAAs are a supplement on their own, but some pre-workout formulas include them for the fatigue-fighting benefits they provide. They are made up of the three essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Having a steady level of these will reduce the risk of tryptophan (promotes sleepiness) from rising and help reduce fatigue, giving you a steady flow of energy. Aside from that, BCAAs can enhance muscle recovery for better muscle growth. The three amino acids are known for helping increase protein synthesis and suppress protein breakdown, thus helping to maximize muscle growth. To reap the most benefits of these amino acids, look for a dose of at least 5 grams in your pre-workout.
- B vitamins: Vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12 are a few to look for in your pre-workout! Vitamin B12 plays an important role in energy metabolism and blood regeneration. Essentially it helps convert nutrients into energy. Vitamin B1, B2, and B6 support energy production as well and help convert the nutrients you consume into energy.
- Creatine monohydrate: Most lifters like to supplement with creatine separately, but for those that don't then it might be beneficial to look for a pre-workout supplement with creatine monohydrate. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that has been heavily researched and is known to boost strength gains and increase muscle mass. If creatine is something you'd like in your pre-workout then look for one with at least 5 grams of creatine.
- Nitric oxide boosters: Boosting nitric oxide levels helps dilate the blood vessels to enhance blood circulation. Better blood circulation leads to more efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients and better pumps! To boost nitric oxide levels look for the amino acids L-Arginine and L-Citrulline Malate. They are also known to help relieve muscle soreness and promote better energy production.
You don't need all of these ingredients listed in the pre-workout ingredients, but these are the basics that you want to stick to. Use this information to find the pre-workout formula with key ingredients needed for your style of training.
Avoid proprietary blends
Aside from reading the ingredients list, read the nutrition label closely and make sure you're able to see effective doses for any of the ingredients above. If anywhere on the label it states that the formula is a proprietary blend set the pre-workout supplement down and walk away. Proprietary blends simply mean that the amount of each ingredient is not disclosed, meaning you won't know exactly how much of each ingredient you're actually consuming. So, a pre-workout supplement can claim to have creatine in it, but only contain 1 gram of it, making it an ineffective dose. You want to make sure you're getting enough doses of each ingredient to actually reap the benefits of pre-workouts so avoid proprietary blends at all costs!
Time it right
When it comes to how to take pre-workout supplements, it's common for people to get the timing wrong. Oftentimes gym-goers start chugging their pre-workout in the parking lot or as they're walking into the gym. This is a mistake you want to avoid making!
Most of the active ingredients found in pre-workout supplements take 30-60 minutes to reach peak levels. This means if you're walking in chugging your pre-workout, you won't feel the full effects until your second or third exercise! And fortunately, you don't have to worry about taking it too early because it can take your body up to five hours to cut the concentration of caffeine down. So, if you're drinking a caffeinated pre-workout and you work out in the evening, try to take your pre-workout slightly earlier to avoid having trouble sleeping afterward!
Don't take it on an empty stomach
If you can, avoid taking pre-workout on an empty stomach. Drinking a lot of caffeine at once can cause unpleasant side effects which include lightheadedness, jitteriness, and nausea. So, if you want to avoid feeling that way consider eating a small pre-workout snack an hour before your workout to minimize the effects.
What foods are best to eat pre-workout?
Aim to eat foods that are not high in fiber or high in fat. So, avoid whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, and high amounts of nuts and seeds Stick to mostly easily digestible carbohydrates and protein and include a few grams of healthy fats. Some good options that are known to increase energy and stamina are bananas, rice cakes, yogurt, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, or even a pre-workout protein shake! All these foods can be digested easily to provide your muscles with sufficient energy to help you get through your workout and reduce the effects of caffeinated pre-workout!
Cycle off every 6-8 weeks
Pre-workout supplementation isn't necessary for every single workout, but if you normally take part in high-intensity exercise and consume pre-workout drinks for almost every workout then consider taking a break every 6-8 weeks. Most pre-workout contain a stimulant, be it natural caffeine or not, your body can adapt to prolonged usage. And once your body is adjusted to the pre-workout supplement you're consuming you'll notice a decline in the energy-boosting benefits.
Giving yourself a break for a week or two from pre-workout will give your body a chance to reset. It'll also help you limit your daily caffeine intake which is beneficial for your overall health. If during this time you need something to get you through your intense workouts then consider drinking a cup of black coffee or a BCAA supplement! Taking BCAA's before or during your workout will help you fight fatigue and give you a steady boost of energy.
Follow these tips and you'll be on the right track to finding the best pre-workout for your fitness goals, and also using it in a way that maximizes your training!
At 373 Lab we pride ourselves on creating supplements that will enhance your training performance and recovery by creating formula blends with fewer fillers, and more high-quality ingredients. One scoop of our Pre-Workout Supplement provides 150 grams of natural caffeine, along with effective doses of Citrulline Malate, Beta-Alanine, Arginine, Tyrosine, and Theanine. Plus, it's free of unnecessary additives like artificial dyes and sweeteners. All to provide you clean, sustainable energy that will enhance your exercise performance!