Should I Use A Pre-Workout? A Guide To Using Pre-Workouts.

Getting back into shape is hard! And making gains is hard. In fact, nothing about working out is easy if you ask us.

Plus, it doesn’t help that information regarding working out/gym culture/fitness is often very confusing and contradictory.

So, we’re here to set the record straight regarding pre-workout drinks and supplements.

What is a pre-workout?

As you can see from a quick search online, pre-workouts are very popular in the workout culture today.

But don’t feel like you need to use one in order to enjoy a good workout… making the decision to try a pre-workout supplement (or a few different ones) is entirely based on your goals, and what you feel comfortable using.

So, what are they?

Pre-workout supplements are formulas that claim to boost energy and improve athletic performance through a number of optimisations. Usually, they’re a powder that is mixed with water and consumed as a drink a few minutes before your workout, but some come in pill form, as well. 

They tend to contain amino acids, B vitamins, caffeine, creatine, and artificial sweeteners (no carbs), however, ingredients and quantities vary widely depending on the claims and brand.

How do pre-workouts improve performance?

While it’s entirely up to you whether you choose to consume a pre-workout before your scheduled activity, it is true that some of the ingredients do improve athletic performance. 

A number of ingredients commonly found in pre-workouts have been known to improve athletic performance including: 

  1. Nitric oxide precursors - commonly found in pump pre workouts
  2. Caffeine - commonly found in energy based pre workouts.
  3. Creatine

Nitric oxide is naturally produced by your body to improve blood flow by relaxing the blood vessels. By including compounds your body uses to make nitric oxide in pre-workouts, the idea is that they will boost oxygen/nutrient transport to the muscles during your workout and enhance athletic performance.

Some of these compounds include L-arginine, L-citrulline, and beetroot juice. More conclusive research is required for the effect on the larger population. 

Caffeine is something you’re probably familiar with and may have even used as a motivator to get to the gym or to get that workout done. It is designed in pre-workouts to increase energy and focus and may improve alertness, exercise performance, and fat burning. Caffeine also inhibits pain receptors, making it “easier” to perform more challenging exercises.

Creatine is becoming an increasingly popular supplement throughout the workout culture, as it plays a role in both energy production and muscular strength. You can consume it through a pre-workout supplement or on its own post-workout (or in a protein drink). Creatine has been shown to help improve muscle mass, strength, exercise performance as well as reducing recovery time.

Are there any drawbacks to using a pre-workout?

Unfortunately, finding a good pre-workout supplement is like finding your favourite pair of shoes… it takes a little experimenting to find out what works for you and what your preferences are. 

Some of the drawbacks to consider when trying pre-workouts are artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, excess caffeine, and supplement quality and safety. 

Many bodybuilders or power athletes want to avoid refined carbs as much as possible in their training regimes and, as a result, many pre-workouts do not contain natural sweeteners. Instead, they enhance the flavour of the products through artificial sweeteners that may cause intestinal distress. In some people, these sweeteners can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhoea… none of which are ideal for a good workout. 

Many pre-workouts also contain an excessive amount of caffeine. If you are already a coffee drinker, this shouldn’t be a huge difference to your daily dose of coffee, but if you are watching your caffeine intake, it is recommended to try half the dose of pre-workout or look for a stimulant-free option.  

Also, be careful at what time of the day you’re consuming the pre-workout as it could interrupt your sleep. 

Of course, if you’re exercising for your health, you want to ingest only the highest quality of pre-workout available. But because these dietary supplements are not closely regulated or controlled, labels and product quality can be misleading. 

Should you use a pre-workout supplement?

While there are many potential benefits to using a pre-workout supplement in your exercise regime, there are almost just as many potential drawbacks to consider.

It takes time and experimenting to find the right dose, timing, and flavour (that’s important, too!) for you… and sometimes that means committing to a canister of 30 servings that are *only kind of okay tasting*.

Be sure to do your research, ask your local supplement store for samples, and be willing to wait to find the right supplement that works for your schedule and routine. Sometimes that means a good old fashioned cup of coffee or even nothing at all. 

These should always be combined with a healthy diet and proper sleep schedule and training routine. You cannot rely on supplements alone to fuel your goals.

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