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What’s the Deal with Pre-Workout Supplements?
Both casual exercisers and elite athletes want to make the most of their workouts. Pre-workout supplements (including powders, pills, or processed snacks) have become more prevalent in recent years. Most claim they can increase your performance, give you better focus, help you work out harder and longer, and get you to your physical goals faster.
So, we want to know: what’s the deal with pre-workout supplements? What are they, are they safe, and do athletes genuinely need them to see improved results?
What Are Pre-Workout Supplements?
Pre-workout supplements have been around for years, but up until recently, they’ve primarily been targeted towards bodybuilders and elite athletes. However, the industry is growing rapidly, and now it seems even the most casual athlete is using a pre-workout supplement.
Just one Google search reveals the expansive array of products available on the market. From powders to pills, from pre-workout bars to small gel packets and chewing gum. Each product seemingly promises something different: Increased muscle gain, fat-burning ingredients, increased focus, stamina, and increased energy. But with all these products on the market – with so many promising something different – how can you decide which one is best for you? Or do you even need a pre-workout supplement at all?
Caffeine is the most common ingredient in pre-workout products. A dose of caffeine about 30 minutes before your workout can increase power outputs and delay fatigue, according to studies.
- Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
There is evidence that supports BCAAs’ role in performance and recovery. Specifically, BCAAs tend to help athletes work out longer by protecting their glycogen stores. And because BCAAs are the building blocks of protein, studies show they might help athletes recover faster after a workout.
- Protein and Creatine
Though protein seems to be more effective as a post-workout supplement, some pre-workout products contain protein, specifically creatine. Some studies suggest that creatine can be helpful in lean muscle development, especially if taken regularly. And creatine might boost your performance during high-intensity workouts like CrossFit or HIIT programs.
The Benefits of Pre-Workout Product
Some studies found that pre-workout supplements do indeed help athletes train longer, avoid fatigue, and even recover faster. However, most of these studies include less than 100 participants, and the findings differ from one report to another. Therefore, it’s hard to say just how effective these products are.
Still, some of the products these supplements contain – like moderate levels of caffeine, creatine, and BCAAs – do seem to help athletes get through a tough workout without reaching exhaustion as quickly.
Caffeine, for instance, can even reduce the rate of perceived exertion (that is, it can make the workout feel easier).
Another common ingredient, Nitric Oxide Boosters, can increase blood flow, getting oxygen and nutrients to your muscles more effectively. However, beetroot juice also contains nitrates, a natural source of this blood-boosting ingredient.
Be Careful When Choosing a Pre-Workout Option
Every supplement on the market makes a promise to help you run faster, workout longer, and build more muscle mass. But it’s important to keep in mind that pre-workout supplements – just like all supplements on the market – are not regulated by the FDA. Therefore, these manufacturers don’t have to prove that their products are safe or produce the desired results.
Before you consider a pre-workout product, carefully read the ingredients. The more natural ingredients a product contains, the better it’s likely to be for your body. You should also choose products backed up by reputable third-party safety organizations like the NSF.
It’s also a good idea to get a second opinion from your doctor or a certified nutritionist, particularly if you have dietary restrictions, chronic health problems, or other concerns.
Bottom line: not every product on the market is safe. Therefore, don’t just take a reviewer’s word for it. Do your own research and know precisely what you’re putting into your body.
Getting Supplements Through Your Diet
While many athletes love the convenience of a pre-workout supplement, most people can get the same benefits from a well-balanced diet.
Most dieticians and nutritionists will tell you that supplements can’t replace healthy foods. For instance, instead of counting on your supplement for protein, choose high-protein snacks before hitting the gym. Incorporate beetroot juice into your smoothie to increase performance. Time your carbs appropriately to avoid burning out during your workout.
You can even get the benefits of caffeine without paying for pre-workout supplements. A cup of coffee or matcha before your workout will give you the same benefits at a fraction of the cost.
While pre-workout products might be more convenient, you can often get the same results without purchasing costly powders or pills.
Do I Need a Pre-Workout Supplement?
While some elite athletes might benefit from regular pre-workout supplement use, the average person can typically increase their performance simply through healthy eating.
However, if you decide to try a pre-workout supplement, make sure it’s safe to use. Consult a medical professional before starting any supplement program.