Many people find it difficult to stay active and energetic before a workout. Lack of energy is a common reason, and to get an extra boost, many people take a pre-workout supplement before hitting the gym.
However, there are several types of supplements available, each containing different ingredients. Because of this, it can be confusing to know what to look for in a pre-workout supplement.
When considering a pre-workout supplement, it’s important to think about our goals and the type of exercise we normally do. Typically, the individual ingredients found in pre-workout supplements will only enhance certain aspects of exercise performance. Some ingredients can increase strength or power, while others can increase endurance.
The best pre-workout supplements
Each of these supplements targets a specific type of exercise. Knowing which ingredients are best for certain types of exercise will help you find the supplement that works best for you. Here are the most important ingredients to look for in pre-workout supplements.
Creatine is a molecule found in cells, but it is also a very popular dietary supplement. Most sports scientists consider it to be the number one supplement for increasing strength and power. Science has shown that you can safely increase muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance.
Studies have reported that strength gains from a weight training program are about 5-10% higher on average when people take creatine as a supplement. This is probably because creatine is an important part of the energy production systems within cells.
If muscle cells have more energy when we exercise, we may perform better and experience greater improvements over time. If we want to increase muscle strength, creatine is probably the first supplement to consider.
A recommended dose begins with 20 grams per day, which is divided into several servings during a brief “loading” phase when the supplement is started. After this phase, a typical maintenance dose is 3-5 grams per day.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring molecule found in coffee, tea, and other foods and beverages. It stimulates certain parts of the brain to increase alertness and make you feel less tired. It is also a very popular ingredient in pre-workout supplements.
Caffeine is effective in improving various aspects of exercise performance. It can increase the power output or the ability to produce force quickly. This applies to different types of exercise, including sprinting, weight training, and cycling. Studies have also shown that it can improve performance during long-duration endurance events, such as running and cycling, as well as during intermittent activities such as soccer.
According to many studies, the recommended dose of caffeine for exercise is approximately 3 to 6 mg per kg of body weight . Caffeine is considered safe at these doses, and the suspected toxic dose is much higher, 20 to 40 mg per kg of body weight. However, doses of 9 mg per kg of body weight can cause sweating, tremors, dizziness and vomiting.
Caffeine can cause short-term increases in blood pressure and can increase restlessness, but it usually does not cause an irregular heartbeat, also known as an arrhythmia. People respond differently to different amounts of caffeine, so it’s probably best to start with a low dose to see how we respond.
Beta-Alanine is an amino acid that helps fight muscle fatigue. When acid begins to build up in the body during strenuous exercise, beta-alanine helps fight acid . Taking beta-alanine as a pre-workout supplement increases concentration in the body and can improve exercise performance.
Specifically, this supplement can help improve performance during intense exercise lasting one to four minutes at a time. However, it may not be effective in enhancing exercise lasting less than a minute, such as a single set during weight training. Some evidence shows that this supplement may be effective for long-term endurance exercise , but the effects are less than for exercise lasting one to four minutes.
The recommended dose to improve exercise performance is 4 to 6 grams per day. According to science, this dosage is safe to consume. The only known side effect is a tingling or “tingling” sensation on the skin if you take higher doses.
Citrulline is an amino acid produced naturally in the body. However, consuming citrulline from foods or supplements can increase levels in the body. These increased levels can be beneficial for exercise performance. One of the effects of citrulline is to increase blood flow to body tissues .
In the context of exercise, this can help provide your working muscles with the oxygen and nutrients they need to function well. Citrulline intake also significantly reduces muscle soreness in the days after exercise.
There are two main forms of citrulline supplements and the recommended dosage depends on the form we use. Most resistance exercise studies have used L-citrulline, while most weight training research has used citrulline malate. A recommended dose is 6 grams of L-citrulline or 8 grams of citrulline malate. These supplements appear to be safe and have no side effects, even at 15 gram doses.
Many people are surprised to learn that this common household product is also a pre-workout sports supplement. It acts as a buffering agent, which means it helps fight acid build-up in the body. It can help reduce fatigue during exercise characterized by a “burning” sensation in the muscles. This burning sensation is an indicator that acid production is increasing due to the intensity of the exercise.
Many studies have shown that baking soda has little benefit during vigorous running, cycling, and repeated sprints. Limited information is available for longer duration activities, but one study found that power output increased during a 60-minute cycling trial.
In general, the main benefit of this pre-workout supplement is probably for intense activities characterized by muscle burning. The optimal dose for exercise performance is approximately 300 mg per kg of body weight. You can get baking soda from regular baking soda or in supplement form.
A fairly common side effect of baking soda is an upset stomach. We can reduce or prevent this by consuming the dose more slowly or dividing it into multiple doses. If we are sensitive to salt and want to take baking soda, we should consult a medical professional. The recommended dose for exercise will provide a substantial amount of sodium and may not be a good idea for those who limit their salt intake.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) consist of three important molecules: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are found in high amounts in many protein-containing foods, particularly animal products. Although they are commonly consumed for their purported muscle-building effects, they are less effective than whole protein for this purpose.
The high-quality protein found in dairy, eggs, and meat provides enough BCAAs to support muscle growth, and it also contains all of the other amino acids the body needs. However, taking BCAA supplements has several potential benefits. Some research has shown that pre-workout BCAA supplements can improve endurance racing performance. Other studies have found that BCAA supplements can reduce physical and mental fatigue. These supplements have even been shown to reduce muscle soreness after running and weight training.
BCAA dosages vary, but are typically 5 to 20 grams. The ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine also varies by supplement, but a 2: 1: 1 ratio is common. Many people consume BCAAs every day from food sources, so it makes sense that these supplements are generally considered safe in common doses.
Nitrate is a molecule found in vegetables like spinach, turnip, and beets. Small amounts are also produced naturally in the body. Nitrate can be beneficial for exercise performance because it can be converted to a molecule called nitric oxide, which can increase blood flow.
Nitrate consumed as a pre-workout supplement is usually obtained from beets or beet juice. You can improve exercise performance by decreasing the amount of oxygen needed during exercise. A small amount of scientific evidence shows that it can also reduce the difficulty of running.
The optimal dose of nitrate is probably 6 to 13 mg per kg of body weight. Scientists believe that nitrate from vegetables, such as beets, is safe to consume. However, more research is needed on the long-term safety of taking nitrate supplements.
Should we buy it or make it at home?
If we want to take a pre-workout supplement, we can buy a pre-made one or do it ourselves. Here’s what you need to know about each approach.
Buy them pre-made
If we want to buy a supplement, on Amazon we find a wide variety of pre-workout supplements with thousands of customer reviews. But most that we will find contain many ingredients. Although different brands may list the same ingredients , they may contain different dosages of each. Unfortunately, these dosages are often not based on science.
Also, many individual ingredients and ingredient combinations are not supported by scientific research. This does not mean that we should never buy a supplement before training, but it does mean that we should look at the ingredients and the dosages of each ingredient on the label.
Some supplements contain “proprietary blends,” which disguise the exact amount of each ingredient. This means that we will not know exactly what we are taking, so it is best to avoid these supplements. We can also look at the label to see if the supplement has been tested by an independent laboratory.
How to do it at home
Another option is to make our own supplement. Although this may seem intimidating, we can guarantee that we only consume the ingredients that we need. To mix ours, we will simply buy the individual ingredients we want. As a starting point, we can select ingredients in this article that match the type of exercise we are going to do.
Making our own supplement also allows us to experiment with different dosages of the ingredients to see which one works best. It is quite easy to find packages of the ingredients mentioned above. If we buy in bulk, we can end up saving quite a bit of money in the long run.
If we’re not comfortable making our own pre-workout supplement, we’ll just look carefully at the information label of the purchased pre-workout supplement.