If you're serious about getting the most out of your workout, you will quickly discover that the use of a well-timed pre-workout supplement can go a very far away. However, realizing this is just half of the battle. The other half, more importantly, has to be selection of the best ingredients that can help you reach your goals.
In this article we are going to reveal what the five best pre-workout ingredients to look for are, and how the massive pumps they deliver on contribute to muscle gains and strength increase.
Creatine is one of the most heavily researched supplements in history, and for good reason – it absolutely works. Regardless of what your specific sport discipline is, there is a very good chance that creatine supplementation can help take you to the next level.
Creatine possesses muscle volumizing properties, which refers to its ability to increase a cell’s water content[i]. This is very important for muscle pumps as dehydration adversely affects vascular flow and dilation.
Studies have indicated that regular creatine supplementation can yield a 5 to 10% increase in strength gains, not to mention the fact that it is extremely safe and plays a very important part in energy production.
It's no secret that the more energy that is available to muscle cells for your work out, the higher your performance output will be and subsequently linear progression.
All the bells and whistles aside, creatine should probably your first stop when looking for a good pre-workout supplement. It is very affordable, and with a dose of 10 g daily, noticeable changes can be observed after a week or two.
Beta alanine is quickly becoming a favourite when it comes to high-intensity performance and endurance training, thanks to the fact that it is able to combat muscle fatigue quite effectively.
Interestingly, beta alanine itself doesn't do much for performance in the short term. Rather, it helps to raise levels of intracellular carnosine, which is a semi-essential amino acid that plays a key role in helping to buffer accumulation of positively charged hydrogen ions.
Over time, what you will notice is improved resistance to fatigue and extended exercise duration, especially when it comes to exercise of an intermediate length lasting more than one minute.
Citrulline is a very popular and effective amino acid that is naturally produced by the body in small amounts.
However, you will be hard-pressed to notice any difference if you rely on naturally produced citrulline. Instead, consumption of citrulline based supplements are known to help increase blood flow and circulation throughout the body[ii].
Upon consumption, citrulline must first be converted into L-arginine, which subsequently helps to raise blood levels of nitric oxide.
While L-citrulline is fine in terms of its vasodilator capacity, citrulline maleate is arguably much more effective by virtue of its resistance to metabolism, and the fact that it also supports energy levels.
Doses of between 3 to 6 g of citrulline are generally effective and safe, and are associated with fewer gastric side effects that are notorious to arginine supplements.
Given that you are not sensitive to the effects of stimulants, caffeine is one of the most affordable and effective pre-workout boosters that you can take advantage of right now.
There is a reason why coffee is the most popular beverage in the world, especially when it comes to elevating alertness and reducing fatigue. Caffeine, taken as is or in a pre-workout form, is highly beneficial to several aspects of your work out.
For instance, it helps to increase power output, increases the rate of fat addition, and even has a mild effect on increasing your resting metabolic rate. Not to mention that it can help increase your drive and motivation to get your workout done.
Plus, there is the lesser known effect of caffeine being a mild vasodilator[iii], which can support muscle pumps too.
Just try to take your caffeine earlier in the day as it is known to interfere with sleep if you should take it too close to bedtime.
Probably the most exciting development in pre-workout supplement science as of recent is the inclusion of powdered glycerol in some formulations. Glycerol is essential a sugar alcohol, one used naturally as a flavouring and preservative in many foods and found naturally in many plants.
Glycerol works in a unique manner, but one that can best be compared to creatine’s mechanism on enhancing muscle pumps; by promoting hyper hydration. This can have the effect of improving performance[iv].
Having strong osmotic properties it is capable of retaining water in the blood and muscle cells, leading to a profound engorging of the vascular system. This is very noticeable when working out. It is also beneficial in fighting dehydration[v], which is known to have a negative impact on performance.
Pre-workout supplements are a dime a dozen, but the fact of the matter is that many supplements will not give you what you expect unless you know what you’re looking for. You should aim for products that contain some of the ingredients we mentioned above, or even make your own if you’re feeling adventurous!
[i] Häussinger D, Roth E, Lang F, Gerok W. Cellular hydration state: an important determinant of protein catabolism in health and disease. Lancet. 1993;341(8856):1330-1332. doi:10.1016/0140-6736(93)90828-5
[ii] Bailey SJ, Blackwell JR, Lord T, Vanhatalo A, Winyard PG, Jones AM. l-Citrulline supplementation improves O2 uptake kinetics and high-intensity exercise performance in humans. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2015;119(4):385-395. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00192.2014
[iii] Umemura T, Ueda K, Nishioka K, et al. Effects of acute administration of caffeine on vascular function. Am J Cardiol. 2006;98(11):1538-1541. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2006.06.058
[iv] Hitchins S, Martin DT, Burke L, et al. Glycerol hyperhydration improves cycle time trial performance in hot humid conditions. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1999;80(5):494-501. doi:10.1007/s004210050623
[v] Wagner DR. Hyperhydrating with glycerol: implications for athletic performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 1999;99(2):207-212. doi:10.1016/s0002-8223(99)00049-8