When it comes to gym performance, many people are constantly searching for something that will give them an edge, and (barring certain compounds not approved by WADA) these are generally a good thing.
Ensuring your calorie intake is adequate, making sure you’re getting enough carbohydrate to perform and protein to recover, making sure your sleep pattern is the way it should be, improving your hydration status and even timing the meals before your workout properly can all make a big difference to how good you feel both at the start and at the end of a training session.
Then there’s the other side of things; with proper programming that includes a sensible progression model, some way of keeping volume in the sweet spot and regularly deloading – plus some attention being paid to stress in your daily life and the ways in which you keep that under control - you can be sure that you have as many of the variables covered as possible, and so can perform at your best.
But for many that’s still not enough, and this is where pre-workout supplementation comes in. No, pre-workouts are NOT a replacement for proper diet, good sleep, day to day stress management and everything else mentioned so far, so if you’re reading this and you find yourself:
- Not eating all that well. I’m not saying you have to be eating 100% single ingredient foods to a perfect macronutrient balance, but if you regularly have crisps for breakfast then this is you
- Not sleeping at least 7 hours or so per night and treating coffee as a necessity
- Kinda winging it in the gym
- Stressed to hell all of the time
- Avoiding carbohydrate for some reason
Then pre-workout supplementation probably isn’t the thing that’s going to make all of the difference, but if you’ve got everything pretty much under control, some targeted supplementation could make a small but meaningful difference to your performance and, so, your results. For example:
Although creatine monohydrate does not need to be added to your pre-workout supplementation stack and can be taken at any time of day, it’s a really common addition – primarily due to the convenience of taking all of your supplements at once. Creatine monohydrate is stored as creatine phosphate in muscle cells, and there it acts as a phosphate donor necessary for phosphorylating ADP via the ATP-PC energy system. That basically means you have more ATP (The energy currency of the body) for use during highly intense activity, and so creatine supplementation can improve muscle strength, power output and one repetition max when compared to a placebo (1). Thanks to the muscular hydrating properties it has (2) you will also notice a small increase in weight along with a slightly more ‘full’ visible look. All together, creatine is a fantastic supplement to be using if you are trying to make strength gains, and despite rumours to the contrary these effects do not seem to vary between the genders (yes, creatine is for girls, too).
Then there is beta alanine, the rate limiting factor in the production of carnosine for storage in muscle cells. Carnosine acts to buffer the hydrogen ions that build up within muscle cells during activity lasting between 60 and 240 seconds, and by doing this it can reduce ‘the burn’, leading to more work done (3). This makes it ideal for sportsmen/women undergoing intermittent activity such as that seen in team sports, and it’s also great for bodybuilders or strongman/woman competitors who take on heavy loads for extended set times. Thanks to increased time to exhaustion this one is also perfect for high intensity and functional training athletes who need all the help they can get during AMRAPS and –for time WODS.
One tactic that has been popular for a long time is taking NSAIDs prior to a gym workout. These drugs, such as ibuprofen, act to reduce inflammation and so speed up post-training recovery. Unfortunately this also inhibits the very inflammatory process that is necessary for muscle growth (4)!. Fortunately another compound, l-Carnitine L-Tartrate seems to reduce muscle damage and so improve recovery, but it DOESN’T alter anything else (5) and that’s a huge win!
I could go on, but this isn’t supposed to be a huge description of effective pre-workout compounds. Suffice it to say that caffeine is probably one of the most researched and supported ergogenic aids there is, what with it’s ability to reduce RPE and increase time to exhaustion (7), and improve maximal strength (8), while betaine and l-tyrosine show a great deal of promise, too.
Now, to return to my initial point, there are a lot of other areas that I would recommend people look first. Carbohydrate ingestion is probably the oldest known ergogenic aid, with muscle-specific glycogen levels being the deciding factor in many efforts that last longer than just a few seconds (8), so I can’t stress enough that an adequate carbohydrate intake is going to improve performance more than any pre workout if your intake is really low right now.
And of course moving on from that, insufficient calorie intakes can wreck sports performance, but an energy availability (your calorie intake, minus your calories burned during exercise) of less than 30kcals per kilogram of lean body mass (perhaps 25kcals/kgLBM) for men leads to hormonal and musculoskeletal decline (9).
You don’t need to reach this level to find out your calorie intake isn’t supportive of intense exercise, however. Low mood, poor recovery and low motivation are all side effects of not eating enough, so outside of periods of fat loss a highly active, recreational athlete should not shy away from eating big. GAINZ.
And then of course, sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to extreme decrements in sports performance but even partial deprivation should not be overlooked (10), with slow reaction times, increased time to exhaustion and lower power output, maximum strength and overall endurance being common results of poor sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and try to improve the quality of this with all of the usual tricks (cool, dark and quiet room, fresh sheets, brain dump in a notebook, etc).
In summary, a pre workout supplement is a final push. An added extra that can make a small yet meaningful difference provided you get everything else right. Nail your sleep, eat well and try to manage your daily stress. Once you have most of that down however a pre workout supplement properly dosed and properly administered can increase your strength, endurance, power output, maximum strength and even your workout focus.
It won’t make you a superhero, but you can be damn sure you’ll get those extra few vital reps and thus it could make you more awesome than you already are. Luckily our new pre-workout is research aligned AND properly dosed, not 1.5g of beta alanine when the research shows it should be WAY more, that’s what the competition does when they want to make a claim but don’t want put enough of the compound in the product so they have bigger profit margins, tut tut!
That’s why we’re different, that’s why Awesome Pre-Workout is different.
- Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance
- Does creatine supplementation hinder exercise heat tolerance or hydration status? A systematic review with meta-analyses
- Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis
- The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for exercise-induced muscle damage: implications for skeletal muscle development
- The effects of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance exercise and recovery
- Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: a meta-analysis
- Effect of caffeine ingestion on maximal voluntary contraction strength in upper- and lower-body muscle groups
- Muscle glycogen stores and fatigue
- Negative Consequences of Low Energy Availability in Natural Male Bodybuilding: A Review