If we are new to the gym or want to dive into the world of supplementation, we may not know what pre-workout supplements are. The truth is that they have become very popular and their advocates claim that they can improve physical condition and provide energy before training.
However, many experts say that they are potentially dangerous and totally unnecessary. So before buying one, it is convenient to know the effects on the body and everything related to this sports supplementation.
How do pre-workout supplements work?
Pre-workout supplements are multi-ingredient dietary formulas designed to increase energy and athletic performance. They are usually a powdered substance that is mixed with water and drunk before exercising.
Although there are countless formulas out there, there is little consistency in terms of ingredients. Amino acids, B vitamins, caffeine, creatine, and artificial sweeteners are typically included, but amounts can vary widely by brand.
But not only are supplements to provide energy before training. If we usually train at two in the afternoon every day, it is possible that a lunch works as a pre-workout meal. If we train at five in the afternoon, we may need a small meal to provide the energy needed to train at high intensity.
Sometimes a meal or snack is not necessary. Most people take at least some type of pre-workout supplement. This could be a specific pre-workout drink or powder, or it could just be a protein shake. There are many factors that can influence what is needed.
Pre-workout supplements tend to be either stimulant or non-stimulant . Some contain ingredients like caffeine that will cheer up and eliminate fatigue. Those that are without stimulation try to achieve the same, but without ingredients that stimulate the nervous system (which can affect sleep).
These supplements are known to have ingredients that can enhance athletic performance. Research on the effectiveness of pre-workout supplements is very limited. However, some studies suggest that some components may benefit athletic performance.
Nitric oxide precursors
Nitric oxide is a compound that the body produces naturally to relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. Some of the common compounds the body uses to make nitric oxide are included in pre-workout supplements. These include L-arginine, L-citrulline, and sources of dietary nitrates , such as beet juice.
Some studies suggest that supplementation with these compounds increases the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, potentially improving athletic performance. However, as most of the available research on nitric oxide focuses on young men, it is unclear whether these results apply to women and older people.
Caffeine is frequently used in pre-workout supplements to increase energy and focus. It is one of the most popular stimulants, as it can improve mental alertness, memory, exercise performance, and fat burning.
In fact, the healthiest way to consume it (within the recommended daily values) is in coffee. There are energy gum and energy drinks with this component, although the dose of caffeine exceeds the safest dose.
Creatine is a chemical compound produced naturally in the body. It is primarily stored in skeletal muscle, where it plays a role in energy production and muscle strength. It is typically included in pre-workout formulas, but is also sold as a standalone supplement. It is particularly popular with weightlifters, bodybuilders, and other power athletes.
Science suggests that creatine supplementation can increase the body’s stored supply of this compound, helping to improve recovery time, muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance. It is the most studied supplement, so it is recommended for most people.
Risks of taking pre-workout
Although pre-workout supplements are generally safe, they are not completely free of dangerous effects. If we plan to add them to a physical exercise routine, it is advisable to first analyze their possible drawbacks.
Artificial sweeteners and polyalcohols
Pre-workout supplements often contain artificial sweeteners or polyalcohols. Although they improve flavor without adding calories, some sweeteners can cause intestinal upset in some people.
In particular, a high intake of polyols can trigger uncomfortable symptoms, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea, all of which can disrupt training. There are people who report a similar digestive response when eating certain artificial sweeteners like sucralose.
We may prefer to avoid pre-workout supplements that contain large amounts of these sweeteners. If not, try a small amount first to see how well we tolerate it.
The main energy-boosting element of most pre-workout supplements is caffeine. Excessive intake of this stimulant can lead to negative side effects, such as increased blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and anxiety.
Most pre-workout formulas contain as much caffeine as we would get in 1 or 2 cups of coffee. The problem is that if we get this compound from other sources throughout the day, it could be easy to accidentally consume too much.
They don’t have the quality
In some countries, dietary supplements are not strictly regulated. Therefore, product labels can be inaccurate or misleading. If the safety and quality of supplements are compromised, we may inadvertently consume prohibited substances or dangerous amounts of certain compounds.
To ensure safety, it is advisable to only buy supplements that have been tested by a third party. Of course, a guarantee seal is recommended.
Is it necessary to take a pre-workout supplement?
The truth is, pre-workout supplements aren’t for everyone. If we habitually notice a lack of energy or have difficulty completing training, we should not automatically resort to supplements. We don’t have to need a specific pre-workout meal, nor do we need a pre-workout supplement.
Proper hydration, sleep, and diet are essential for any exercise routine to optimize energy levels and help repair muscles. Additionally, variability in pre-workout supplement ingredients may be a factor in determining effectiveness.
They can also be expensive, and research has not shown them to be more effective than whole foods that provide the same nutrients. For example, a banana and a cup of coffee are a suitable, cheap and accessible alternative to a pre-workout supplement.
With that said, if we find that the pre-workout formulas work for us, there is no reason to abandon them. You just have to take into account the ingredients and the total intake.
It should be taken approximately 30-40 minutes before a workout if the supplement contains caffeine. If it’s not exhilarating, then it can get a lot closer. It takes about 30 minutes for the effects to show up in a stimulating pre-workout and the effects should last between 40 and 60 minutes after that (i.e. the entire strength session). Caffeine can remain in the system for hours after ingestion, so we recommend a caffeine-free pre-workout if we want to exercise late in the day.