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What is the best pre-workout supplement?

What are pre-workout supplements?


Ancient Greek athletes were instructed to eat copious amounts of wine and meat. Athletes and strongmen have utilized several herbal tonics and concoctions over the ages in many civilizations for improving their stamina, vigor, prowess and strength.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that workout supplements entered their modern guise. In 1910s, the father of modern Western bodybuilding, Eugene Sandow, supported the utilization of a controlled diet for the improvement of muscular development.

Subsequently, Earle Liederman, another bodybuilder, promoted the consumption of ‘beef extract’ / ‘beef juice’ (essentially, consommé) as a means for boosting the recovery of muscles. The ‘50s saw competitive and recreational bodybuilding become famous among the masses. In this era, Irvin P. Johnson started to market protein powders made from eggs, that were aimed particularly towards physical athletes and bodybuilders.

The ‘70s and ‘80s witnessed an explosive growth of the bodybuilding supplementation industry as a result of the hitherto unseen increase in the popularity of bodybuilding, as well as the rise of modern marketing methods.

October of ’94, in the US, the DSHEA or Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was made into a legislation. This Act gave the supplement makers more breathing room by making them solely responsible for the safety of the products the distributed/manufactured – they did not have to seek the approval of the US FDA before marketing their products.

They didn’t even have to provide evidence for the efficacy or safety of a known ingredient, only being bound to do so in case they were using a never before used ingredient. It is general consensus that the DSHEA was responsible for increasing the strength of the supplement industry, enabling it to grow and earn sales that weren’t seen or expected prior.

What are pre workout pills / supplements?

If you are a newcomer in bodybuilding and working out, you will have a few essential questions. One of the biggest questions you’ll have is about the supplements more seasoned lifters consume to achieve their great physiques.

In many cases, your fellow bodybuilders will be consuming supplements before their workouts. These are usually energy drinks which have been formulated to enhance your bodybuilding through a scientific process.

When you have been weightlifting for a long period of time, you will notice your focus and energy ebbing away with each passing day. You might find it harder to balance your daily routine with the demands of an intense regular workout.

If this is the case, you will definitely need to start consuming supplements before your exercise, to gain that extra boost which lets you put in all your effort into your exercise.

Here are the most commonly used pre workout ingredients categorized according to the effect they have on your body:

Strength and power boosters:

A large number of supplements for workouts depend on stimulants to work their magic, and don’t contain the adequate amount of true nutrition to your muscle fibers.

Makes sure that the one you opt for contains at least some of the ingredients listed below – all of them have been suggested by clinical research to enhance the power and strength of muscles.

  • Betaine: Aka trimethylglycine. This is a modified amino acid taken from beets which, according to studies, can enhance the power and strength of muscles by up to 25 percent.
  • Beta-Alanine: An amino acid which results in the formation of carnosine that in turn enhances muscular contraction force. It is also suggested by studies that this ingredient improves muscular power and strength as well as endurance.
  • Creatine: This is one of the most famous power and strength boosters around and is great to have in your formula. However, there are also builders that take this ingredient as a separate supplement. If that isn’t the case with you, make sure that it is present in your supplement formula for pre pre workout since it is a proven effective strength enhancing ingredient.

Energy Boosters:

This category is exclusive of stimulants. In spite of the fact that caffeine boosts your endurance, energy boosters are in fact actual nutrients that improve your endurance without jolting your central nervous systems.

Be sure to have at least a couple of the ingredients mentioned below present in your supplementation:

  • Tyrosine: An amino acid which has been proven effective for promoting energy without leading to any weakening after effects. It is also suggested by studies that it improves focus and stamina.
  • Taurine: According to research, taurine might boost the endurance of your muscles by up to 50 percent. A possible way through which it can do this is by enabling the heart to pump an increased amount of blood to your muscles (reported by a German study). This boost in endurance is much more than the one you get from doing cardio.
  • Rhodiola Rosea: A herb regarded as a stimulatory adaptogen. It enhances your body’s resistance to several kinds of stressors. Besides this, it might also aid in the promotion of healthy cortisol levels.
  • Schisandra Chinensis: This native Chinese berry has for centuries been utilized in conventional Chinese medication. It aids both the endurance of your muscles and the functioning of your brain, besides regulating levels of cortisol.
  • B Vitamins: B12 and B6 are a couple of vitamins essential to the production of energy. It isn’t necessary to include them in your pre workout formula if you take them separately.


Many bodybuilders are keen on supplements which are jam packed with stimulants to the point that they super charge them for a workout.

Don’t be like them. Ensure that your supplement has adequate amounts of genuine energy and strength enhancing nutrients before considering its stimulant quantity.

  • Caffeine: Besides being one of the most well recognized stimulants, this ingredient boosts both endurance and strength as well. It has also been discovered that caffeine can dull muscular pain which allows you to go above your pain threshold. It is advised to take it as a pill rather than a beverage as per clinical research.
  • Yerba Mate: These are leaves of a potent plant that contain a one-of-a-kind xanthine alkaloid mix e.g. caffeine, theophylline, theobromine, that work in conjunction to charge you prior to your exercise, enhance your endurance and strength, and improve your focus.

Muscle builders:

Some ingredients, when taken just prior to your exercise, can promote muscular development. Granted, creatine also has this effect, but it does so indirectly through building your strength and also when your muscles are recovering.

Here are some ingredients which directly improve your muscles as you work out:

  • BCAAs: Aka Branched Chain Amino Acids. The most crucial combo is valine, isoleucine and leucine – they aid in muscular development besides dulling tiredness and becoming a source of fuel for your muscles.
  • Glutamine: Intense workouts cause your muscles to run out of glutamine, which can impair both muscular growth and immune function (i.e. you become more prone to getting ill). Glutamine is also responsible for improving levels of growth hormones and buffering levels of lactic acid in your muscles that contribute to tiredness.
  • Carnitine: This ingredient, that resembles amino acids, and has multiple benefits, is listed as a muscle builder because so many of its effects lead to enhancement of muscles. It has been discovered that it can improve the flow of blood to the muscles being worked out and help in their recovery. It is also believed by some that it promotes androgen receptors in the cells of your muscles – which are binding sites for testosterone during the growth process.

Pump providers:

Besides stimulants, those who work out often seek products containing NO (nitric oxide) booster. Basically, stimulants and NO boosters were the two core ingredients that resulted in the pre workout market in its modern form.

Not only will a decent muscle pump make you look good at the gym, it will also stretch muscular membranes to trigger pathways in the muscle cells which result in growth of muscles in the long run.

  • Citrulline: Citrulline is converted into arginine by your body which is subsequently converted into nitric oxide. Taking citrulline rather than arginine directly is recommended since the latter is readily consumed by instestinal cells before it can reach your bloodstream.
  • Arginine: Some people still take it directly. However, L-arginine is a type of this ingredient which isn’t as well absorbed as the others which is why you should seek other types such as arginine ketoisocaproate, arginine-AKG or arginine HCL if you want to enhance your body’s nitric oxide levels.
  • GPLC: A particular form of carnitine (full form propionyl-L-carnitine), this is a patented ingredient which is a combination of glycine and a modified carnitine compound. It leads to better carnitine uptake by your muscular tissue.
  • Pycnogenol: A flavonoid extracted from the French maritime pine, this potent antioxidant can improve your nitric oxide levels by hunting for free radicals that decompose NO. According to research, it enhances the action of nitric oxide synthase which aids the conversion of arginine to NO.
  • Nitrates: Converted to nitrites by the bacteria that reside on your tongue, these substances are easily transformed into nitric oxide after the conversion process. Usually found in veggies, with beets being a great source.
  • Glycerol: Usually the backbone of triglycerides that are the main fats in your food, this ingredient isn’t an nitric oxide booster, however, it definitely can improve your muscular pumps by virtue of its potent osmotic characteristics i.e. it is an attractor and binder of a good amount of fluid to your blood vessels which results in the improvement of your muscular pumps. It also has the ability to stopper dehydration and enhance your body’s temperature regulation when working out in hotter conditions.

Brain boosters:

While working out, you are basically an athlete whose primary competition is their own self, as well as their weight threshold. Like every other sportsman, strong mental focus is needed to keep raising your bar.

Besides enhancing your gym performance, it will also improve the connection between your mind and muscles, which, according to research, can improve the growth of muscles. Here are some great brain boosters that are frequently used in supplements taken before workouts:

  • Choline: A vital ingredient which can build up your muscular strength as well as brain ability because of the crucial role it plays in the formation of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. A larger amount of the latter means that you’ll have improved muscular contractions for extended durations.
  • DMAE: Aka Dimethylaminoethanol, this ingredient was first advertised in the 1960s for its ability to improve memory and learning in those who suffer from attention disorders. It boosts your brain’s choline levels better than consuming choline directly does, probably due to the inhibiting effect it has on choline breakdown which translates into elevated acetylcholine levels that in turn result in enhanced muscular strength, mood and mental functioning.
  • Huperzine A: Taken from club moss, this ingredient will stopper the decomposition of acetylcholine in your brain that leads to better focus, mood and mental ability.

Fat Burners:

Losing fat may not be your primary objective, but fat consuming ingredients in your supplement can aid you in attaining lean mass while at the same time enhancing your supply of energy as you work out by utilizing your stored fat as fuel.

  • Green Tea Extract: This is included in a number of weight loss products because of its large number of benefits which improve performance. A catechin present in the green tea serves as its active ingredient and improves fat consumption.
  • Synephrine: This substance increases fat usage and is an active ingredient present in the bitter orange plant.
  • Yohimbe: Taken from the Pausinystalia yohimbe tree’s bark (native to West Africa) this is an ingredient that increases the quantity of fat released from fat cells by two times which translates into greater fat consumption. In other words, this extract provides muscular endurance comparable to caffeine, enabling your body to use a larger amount of fat for fuel. Furthermore, it can enhance the flow of blood to the muscles being exercised.

Why do I need to take this?

Tough resistance training workouts can be grueling, in terms of both mental as well as physical strain they place on the individual. Keeping in mind the fact that many people train several times each week (some even twice a day!), the mind and body can only go so far with self-motivation and discipline to carry out a grueling exercise regimen.

This is especially true for beginners who find it hard to cope with demands of the gym and those of daily life at the same time.

Typically this phase occurs a month after starting their regime and at this point, most require the aid lent by supplements taken before workout to get the kick they need to see them through their daily exercise.

Symptoms such as these imply a need for supplements:

  • Getting exhausted during your workout.
  • Inability to complete reps and sets.

Another group for whom protein rich supplements before workout are recommended is growing teenagers who have started working out. Their bodies use more protein which they may not be able to fulfill through their usual diet.

However, it should be kept in mind that these supplements aren’t just good for those who undergo strength training. Aerobic, as well as anaerobic, exercisers use supplements to take their performance to the next level, especially because they aren’t illegal.

What are the benefits?

Here is a summary of the benefits that these supplements have:

  • Enhanced muscle pumps.
  • Increase in lift strength.
  • Increase in number of reps.
  • Energy sustained for greater duration.
  • Can push through your plateaus.
  • Delivery of nutrients is enhanced.
  • Focus is enhanced.
  • Breakdown of muscles is reduced.

What research says?

A couple of studies were conducted by Gonzalez et al (2011) as part of a comprehensive analysis of the impact of supplements taken before a resistance workout. The research had eight male subjects who had undergone resistance training; these subjects were studied in two different sessions.

One session involved giving them supplements ten minutes before there workout, whilst the other involved giving them a placebo ten minutes prior to their workouts. These studies were randomized i.e. no subject was aware whether he was fed a placebo or a supplement before either trial was conducted.

As an added precaution, the subjects were instructed not to consume any other supplement so as to avoid their lingering effects on the study.

They had not consumed any other supplement since six weeks before their schedule dates of testing. The subjects were allowed to either perform a bench press exercise or barbell squats during the studies, whichever they were easier with. Each session required them to perform 4 sets with 10 reps each at a resistance of 80 percent of their 1 RM.

They were allowed a ninety second resting period between each set and their performance data was noted. They were also provided with questionnaires after each session.

The supplement they were given was a fairly standard one taken pre workout with creatine, glucuronolactone, taurine, caffeine and beta alanine as the main constituents. Also present were arginine, valine, leucine, glutamine and isoleucine.

The results

The study found the following effects of taking supplements prior to your work out:

  • The number of reps for each particular exercise was considerably increased over that of the placebo session.
  • The power output measurements also indicated a considerable improvement in comparison to the placebo session.
  • There wasn’t any tangible change in energy levels, focus and fatigue between the two sessions.

These results are indicative of what other studies have previously stated – pre workout diet can improve your volume of exercise when doing resistance training.

Note: Even though there weren’t any changes felt by the subjects in terms of energy, focus and fatigue, their improved overall performance somehow negated this finding. Moreover, these supplements don’t just enhance your performance when undergoing resistance training, they may have similar benefits for endurance training as well research (Astorino and Roberson, 2010).

Are there any side effects?

Abuse of anything is bad, this applies to supplements as well:

  • Dehydration: This can occur when the supplements are taken in excessive amounts. Creatine and caffeine will both cause a rise in your urge to urinate as compared to normal. Furthermore, creatine can lead to your muscle tissue drawing water which can lead to water loss (dehydration) in the rest of your body.
  • Damage to kidneys: Excessive consumption of creatine is again the problem here. If you start consuming too much, your body stops producing its own natural creatine while producing more of its renal by products e.g. creatinine. This creatinine isn’t harmful in small amounts but a larger quantity can cause kidney issues as several as renal failure.
  • Elevated blood pressure: Creatine and caffeine can lead to a drastic rise in your BP level. Intense, brief workouts do that on their own already, but taking excessive caffeine just before them can increase your BP level to dangerous limits.
  • Other side effects: Other side effects of over consumption of these supplements include headaches, gain in mass, bad stomach, muscle movements, nervousness, nausea, dizziness, insomnia and cramps. Keep in mind that the FDA classifies these products as foods rather than drugs which means they aren’t very strongly regulated compared to proper medicine. It cannot be stressed enough that you consult a professional before taking up a supplement, since they may be harmful for you even if you have no history of allergy with their ingredients.

What are the best pre workout supplements for women?

Pre-workout formulas designed specifically for women typically contain much of the same ingredients used in the ones meant for men. Stuff like carbs, protein and beta-alanine will most definitely be there since these nutrients are required by both genders.

However, the proportion in which they may be present may differ as compared to the ones for men.

The best pre workout for women in general will have the following qualities:

For women, it is important that the ingredients used be of quality (caffeine, carbs, arginine and beta-alanine are staples). You should be familiar with all the ingredients included in your supplement.

Too many stimulants present in your formula may give you a great boost, but they also lead to a painful stomach so make sure you double check the ingredients.

The supplements must also not cause a meltdown after the workout. In general, strength, focus and energy should be the factors that should be improved by the supplement.

Some misconceptions about female pre workout ingredients:

Most of the concerns that women have for popping these supplements are unfounded:

  • They won’t give you the physique of male bodybuilders (unless you consume heavy duty male hormone supplements of course) even though they are primarily bodybuilding supplements. You will get a better looking, better toned physique however.
  • You won’t get a bloated sensation after consuming them if you perform plenty of cardio during your exercise regime.
  • You won’t gain weight – pre-workout supplements contain fat burning ingredients in fact!

What are the ideal pre workout supplements for men?

Pre workout nutrients for males aren’t really that much different than those for women in terms of composition. The focus is on ingredients that provide carbs, proteins and beta-alanine.

The ingredients detailed in the prior section are all safe for utilization by men with their gender dynamics in mind. In fact, the supplement industry is geared towards males since they are far more likely to need these supplements owing to the greater intensity of their regimes.

The only difference in formulas geared towards men and those towards women is in the relative dosage of the ingredients used.

For instance, a half serving of the popular supplement (for men) C4 will have the same amount of strength and energy as a full serving of Chickpump (a supplement made specifically for women).

What are the top pre workout supplements?

Here are some of the best pre workout supplement reviews to give you an idea of what to expect from the market:

Cellucor C4 Extreme Pre Workout ($21.50):

This supplement has won top accolades from the industry, including a Pre-Workout Supplement of the Year award, as well as a Best Product Innovation from the two biggest global retailers. It brings the most comprehensive choice of flavors in history.

Long time favorites like Green Apple, Watermelon and Icy Blue Razz are, of course, the highlights. You may even be tempted to mix several flavors to create tasty combinations that provide energy with a fun twist. From the price perspective, it is also a considerably cheap pre workout formula.

PurePump – Natural Pre-Workout Supplement – Vegan, Non-GMO ($39.95):

This all natural pre workout boasts the provision of sustained, clean energy without making you crash; enhanced muscular endurance and strength; improved focus; delay in muscular fatigue; swift recovery from a tough workout; and a balanced management of weight as well as a good body composition.

One of the best features of this supplement is how it does away with the common complaints athletes have with their pre workouts – you won’t experience symptoms like labored breathing, elevated heart rate or nausea! Furthermore, it has no flavor and is unsweetened, so you can mix it with any juice you want, and carrying clearly labelled ingredients so you know what you’re consuming.

M.R.I. Black Powder, Fruit Explosion, 1.76-Pounds Tub ($43.30):

One of the strongest pre workout formulas out there, it works its magic from the moment you consume its first dose. Boosted strength, immense focus, enhanced muscular recovery, better load lifting capability and muscular development from the very first set.

Put simply, this is one supplement formula that lets you unleash everything you have so you can beat yesterday’s benchmarks. An added bonus is the muscle pump it provides so you can look as good as you feel on the inside after an intense workout.