As probably the most popular supplement category there is, pre-workout supplements all claim to be groundbreaking and promise to deliver your best possible workout, biggest pumps and the most energy possible. Unfortunately, there is a lot of hype in the industry, and particularly in the preworkout category, where fantastic claims are often unfounded or use distorted facts. The best way to find the perfect pre-workout supplement for you is to do your research. Look at the ingredients, the serving size and find a product that helps you meet your goals, whether it's a short, intense burst of energy, or a longer, endurance-type effect suited to longer sporting sessions.
We've put together some tips on how to find a great pre-workout supplement, and especially one that's going to help you achieve your goals.
No matter how great a supplement claims to be, facts don't lie. If you choose a pre-workout supplement based on the university-researched ingredients proven to do what the label says it will do, then you can't go wrong. The first step in looking at the ingredients is to skip the front of the label (where all the buzz words are found) and go straight to the ingredients panel. Here you will find everything that's in the product, and you can judge the product's effectiveness by the quantities of the ingredients on the label. Beware of ‘proprietary blends' - these don't give specific quantities of each ingredient, but rather the size of the blend, and then list the ingredients inside it. If a proprietary blend has a dozen ingredients and is 2000mg, then you can safely bet that none of the ingredients in the blend are dosed high enough to repeat successful research results. Stay away!
Here are the most important ingredients in a pre-workout supplement, and the approximate dosages you should be looking for:
- Creatine Monohydrate - the recommended daily dose of creatine is 5g, so if you aren't taking any other creatine but want to get a full daily dose, your preworkout should contain 5g per serve. This is very rare as supplement companies assume you will be using creatine in their other supplements, so if they add up to approximately 5g in all of the products you take, you should be getting a high enough amount. For other creatine forms, the daily dosage differs. Creatine HCL, for example, is highly concentrated and bioavailable, so 2g or more per serve is plenty for most people.
- Caffeine - Although caffeine gets a bad rap in the media, the fact is that it is a highly effective supplement, and when used correctly can greatly enhance athletic performance with no side effects. A basic rule of thumb is that 100mg of caffeine = a cup of coffee, so you can use that guide when choosing a supplement. Anything over 300mg per serve is starting to get into the heart-palpitations and excessive sweating category, so try not to go that high or you might be sitting out your workout until your heartrate comes back down. Research suggests that up to 600mg of caffeine per day is safe, so make sure to factor in coffee, chocolate, fat burners and other supplements in your daily caffeine intake, and don't go over that 600mg level in 24 hours.
- Beta-Alanine - Research has proven a number of times that beta-alanine supplementation results in greater athletic performance, so this is a must if you are serious about boosting your workouts with supplements. The problem is that 3.2g/day is quite a high dose, and not many supplements offer that sort of level. There haven't been studies to show that any less than 3.2g/day is an effective dose of beta-alanine (even though it is possible), so try and find a supplement with close to 2g/serve to get at least some of the benefits. Of course, if you double a serve of any of the leading pre-workouts, you will most probably be getting that dose of beta-alanine.
- L-Citrulline-Malate - Research has been divided on the effectiveness of arginine as a supplement, with the most recent research suggesting that it is ineffective if taken as an oral supplement. Citrulline malate, however, stimulates the body to produce arginine and nitric oxide by itself, which gives the ‘pump', increases bloodflow, reduces muscle fatigue, helps the absorption and effect of amino acids and aids recovery. Generally, at least 3g/day of citrulline malate is an effective dose, but anywhere up to 12g/day should be fine also.
- Betaine - A fairly recent phenomenon, betaine (also known as TMG or trimethylglycine) has been shown to effectively enhance physical performance at around 2g/day or higher doses. For this reason, it is included in most new pre-workout supplements.
There are plenty of other ingredients you will find in many preworkouts. Just be sure to do your research and check whether they are effective supplements or ‘fillers' that are included just to be a point of difference to other products.
Be wary of the serving sizes in your preworkout powder. It's extremely common for pre workout supplements to have 45 servings per container, but only include 1/3 of the effective dose for each of the ingredients. This means you need to take 3 scoops each time, and you are only getting 15 servings per container. A good product will include ingredients that are at, or very near to, the recommended dosage as found by research studies. If that's the case, then the recommended serving size will be correct, and you will actually get the 40 or 45 servings that the label claims to have. Generally, a pre workout should last around a month, which is 20 or so servings.
Choose your pre-workout powder based on how you intend to use it. If you are wanting a short burst of energy, eg for a short weight lifting session, or a sprint, then you are better off going with a concentrated pre workout. These are generally high in stimulants and don't provide lasting energy, but they are much stronger than fully-dosed pre workout supplements, and you will immediately feel it working. The Driven Sports Craze and BPI 1 MR supplements are great examples of strong preworkouts with small serving sizes. For anyone looking for sustained athletic performance, such as anyone undergoing a full weight training session, or sports people performing for hours, you should stay clear of the concentrated preworkouts. A fully-dosed preworkout supplement such as Gaspari Superpump MAX or MusclePharm Assault contains ingredients at powerful doses, and are designed to give lasting energy and athletic ability, rather than a short stimulant burst. Be sure to factor in your goals when picking your next pre workout supplement.
There you have a rundown of what makes a great preworkout supplement, and what to look for when choosing your pre workout. Be sure to find one that includes good doses of the most important ingredients, and one that is suited to your goals. Happy training!
Stay tuned for more articles in this series, including how to select a protein powder, weight gainer, fat burner and amino acid supplement!
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