Episode 42 – What to Look For in a Pre-Workout and Are They Worth It?

Key Topics Covered

What Benefit Do We actually want from pre-workout? 

  • Get us feeling hyped and motivated to train 
  • Improve performance while training 
  • Potentially improved outcomes in terms of better muscle/strength gain or fat loss 
  • Upside – You get a whole bunch of potentially useful ingredients at once, kind of like a multi-vitamin but for sports supplements.  
  • Downside – You cannot control the dosage of each ingredient + they will often be in sub-optimal dosages.  

Ingredient Breakdown  

Caffeine

  • Caffeine can improve mental focus and motivation to train
  • In lower doses, caffeine has been identified as reducing rate of perceived effort
  • At higher doses caffeine can even improve strength and endurance

Creatine  

  • Creatine assists with efficient energy production in the muscle and has been linked with better strength and lean mass gains 
  • Creatine needs to build up in your system over time and doesn’t have an acute effect. We aren’t very likely to have pre-workout everyday, but should be having creatine everyday. Therefore, if your pre-workout is you only for of creatine, that probably won’t optimise results.
  • You need to be taking a 3-5g dosage of creatine every single day for it to be effective. Pre-workout dosages of creatine don’t usually hit this.

Beta-Alanine  

  • Beta-alanine supplementation increases carnosine in the body 
  • The main function of interest for carnosine is that it helps to maintain the acid-base equilibrium.  
  • It basically helps prevent pH from dropping by buffering H+ ions, which in turn helps to reduce feelings of fatigue. 
  • But like creatine, beta-alanine also needs to be taken daily and build up in the system over time and doesn’t have an acute effect on performance 
  • Although, the most commonly reported side effect of beta-alanine, paraesthesia which is a tingling sensation felt on the face, neck and arms may provide a placebo effect and help you train better.  

Citrulline / Citrulline Malate

  • It is beneficial to have in a pre-workout due to its acute effects
  • L-Citrulline raises blood arginine levels more effectively than arginine itself does, which then converts into nitric oxide and leads to vasodilation 
  • Citrulline malate specifically enhances creatine phosphate regeneration – meaning quicker recovery between sets. 
  • Supplementation might add an extra couple of reps here and there  
  • May also reduce DOMS 

Ashwagandha  

  • Ashwagandha improved the cardiorespiratory endurance in a study which supplied elite cyclists with 1g of per day for 8 week
  • Another study providing participants with 600mg per day found a greater increase in strength and gains in lean mass in combination with a resistance training program compared to the placebo group. 
  • Most studies supplement 400-1000mg per day split over two dosages each day  

Stim vs non-stim pre-workouts 

  • One huge advantage of pre-workout is obviously the stimulant effect of caffeine. That is often the biggest performance enhancer. 
  • But if you either don’t want stimulants, or don’t want it to impact sleep, non-stim is an option. 
  • Typically it just has the other performance enhancing ingredients such as those that improve blood flow. 
  • A common ingredients list looks like – Citrulline Malate, AAKG, Creatine and Beta Alanine. 
  • Creatine and beta-alanine still should be supplemented outside of the pre-workout.  
  • So the main ingredients assisting you in that acute, pre workout setting is the citrulline malate and AAKG which can help with a better pump and more reps on high rep sets – whether or not that translates to improved outcomes over time is arguable though. 

Summary – What to look for 

We don’t recommend any specific pre-workout. We usually recommend each supplement based on clients goals and sport. However, if they like it and feel good on it then we won’t stop it. We’ll just optimise their doses through other supplements if required.

What to look for is based on personal preference and finding one with ingredients in dosages that match what you want – a lot of pre-workout options will fit the bill similarly well.

Useful Links/ Resources

Studies Mentioned:

Relevant Blog Posts: