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Tag Archives: Pre-workout

  • Ingredient Explained: Huperzine-A

    Every few months a new ingredient finds its way into the market, makes a bit of a splash, and then quickly disappears into the sunset, never to be seen again.

    Which is why we take notice when a slightly newer supplement not only sticks around for a good chunk of time, but also gets some quality evidence to support its use.

    Supplements like Huperzine-A, for example.

    Step 1: What is it?

    Huperzine-A is a naturally forming compound that is found in two types of moss, being:

    1. Chinese club moss (latin name Huperzia serrata) and;
    2. Fir club moss (latin name Huperzia selago).

    The reason I have indicated that Huperzine-A is relatively new to the supplement game is because it was first identified for medical use by scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the early nineteen-eighties.

    With this in mind, it is much younger than many of the other Chinese herbs commonly used in supplements today. 

    Step 2: What does it do?

    Huperzine-A is classified as an “acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.” 

    Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme found in the body that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine into smaller components (that are then used in the production of other compounds). 

    As such, the consumption of Huperzine-A can stop the breakdown of acetylcholine, leading to higher concentrations of acetylcholine in the body. This is important, because acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that delivers messages throughout the brain, while also impacting your neuromuscular system.

    In the brain it plays a key role in the maintenance of motivation, increasing arousal and attention, enhancing learning and memory retention, and is even involved in facilitating deep sleep states.

    Conversely, within the neuromuscular system, acetylcholine plays an important role in facilitating the contraction of muscles, as well as the dilation of blood vessels, by acting on neurons throughout the body.

    With this in mind, the supplementation of Huperzine-A appears to have some unique benefits.

    Firstly, there is evidence to suggest that its regular supplementation can reduce some of the more severe symptoms associated with Alzhimers and dementia, including memory loss and cognitive function [1].

    Secondly, research has shown that supplementing with Huperzine-A for as little as 4 weeks can improve learning outcomes, as well as improve measures of memory and general mental function [2], suggesting it may have benefits for skill learning.

    Lastly, Huperzine-A has also been shown to increase the power of muscular contractions [3]. This may have the potential to improve training performance in the gym, increasing long-term training outcomes.

    Collectively, these results suggest that this unique supplement may have merit when taken before your workout. 

    Improvements in cognition may improve workout quality, increases in learning capabilities may improve technique efficiency (via enhanced skill development), and boosts in muscular contraction may improve gym performance -- all of which could mean more gains.

    Step 3: How do I take it?

    In the research, Huperzine-A supplementation can range from 50 to 500 micrograms per day. As such, if you are interested in trying it out for yourself, we would suggest starting with a conservative dose of 100-200 micrograms per day and adjusting as needed.

    Research thus far indicates that Huperzine-A does not require food to be taken with food, and can be taken in a fasted state without any issues.

    Lastly, anecdotal reports suggest that there may be merit in cycling Huperzine-A, where it is taken for 4-5 weeks at time, and then broken up with 1-2 week periods where it is not taken at all. This is suggested to maintain tolerance to the compound, ensuring it does not become less effective over time. 

    Step 4: What are the top products?

    If you are keen on purchasing Huperzine-A, there are a couple of things you should look out for. 

    Firstly, check the dosage. Although Huperzine-A is commonly found in pre-workout supplements, it is typically underdosed. As such, you should make sure that your pre-workout contains 100-200 micrograms of Huperzine-A per serve.

    Secondly, stick with reputable brands. Although you might find an amazing deal on Huperzine-A on ebay, there is a genuine risk that it is heavily underdosed, or even contains a completely different (and undisclosed) compound. Stick with brands that provide regular lab tests on their website so you can be sure you are purchasing exactly what you should be.

    Lastly, have a look at online reviews. Make sure that other people have had a good experience with the supplement -- because that means you probably will too.

    And that is how you find the best Huperzine-A containing supplement on the market.

    References:

    1. Li, Jun, et al. "Huperzine A for Alzheimer's disease." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2 (2008).
    2. Sun, Qing-Qi, et al. "Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students." Zhongguo yao li xue bao= Acta pharmacologica Sinica 20.7 (1999): 601-603.
    3. Tang, Xi Can, and Yi Fan Han. "Pharmacological profile of huperzine A, a novel acetylcholinesterase inhibitor from Chinese herb." CNS Drug Reviews 5.3 (1999): 281-300.
  • Ingredient Explained: Citrulline

    What is it?

    L-citrulline is the natural form of citrulline. The human body produces its citrulline. However, consuming extra citrulline can have significant performance benefits. It is found naturally in fruits such as watermelon and vegetables such as squash and pumpkin. 

    What does it do?

    Citrulline enhances nitric-oxide levels, which allows for blood vessel dilation. This, in turn, allows for more oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to your muscles. Citrulline can also reduce symptoms of muscular fatigue. It plays a role in removing a fatigue-inducing compound called ammonia from your blood. 

    How do I take it?

    • Dosage

    6-9g is the recommended serving size of L-Citrulline Malate 2:1

    3-6g is the recommended serving size of pure L-Citrulline

    • Timing

    Citrulline typically takes 30-40 minutes to digest and enter the bloodstream. Therefore, to maximise its full benefits, it's a good idea to take it pre-workout.

    • Frequency

    There's no ideal frequency for citrulline. However, given the positive effects on performance, we recommend that you consume it before each workout session.

    What are the top products?

    We recommend that you find the best value for money citrulline malate product, i.e. look for a cost-effective price point! Just check the product's ingredient profile to ensure that it's 100% L-citrulline or L-citrulline malate.

  • High-Stim VS Non-Stim Pre-Workouts: What's the Difference?

    Pre-workout supplements have become synonymous with the gym lifestyle. If you ask any serious gym goer about their supplement stack, you can pretty much guarantee they will name the big three: protein, creatine, and a good pre-workout.

    However, when it comes to pre-workout supplements specifically, there are a couple of things that should be considered.

    One of which relates to their stimulant content.

    What are stimulants?

    Stimulants ultimately describe a broad category of drugs and compounds that increase energy, and can boost mood, heighten mental acuity, enhance focus and attention, and even improve emotional wellbeing.

    Moreover, some have even been shown to have potent ergogenic effects, meaning they can enhance exercise performance.

    Stimulants can be found in a variety of the foods we consume on a daily basis. However, they are often only consumed in small doses, and consequently only have a small effect on mental and physical performance.

    It is for this reason that a number of pre-workout supplements include stimulants in higher doses -- to cause much larger improvement in performance.

    Some of the most common natural stimulants include:

    • Caffeine
    • English walnut extract
    • N-Methyltyramine
    • Ginseng
    • Guarana
    • Taurine

    It is these stimulants that are most commonly used in supplements.

    Are stimulants safe?

    I first want to preface this section with the caveat that I am talking about LEGAL stimulants here.

    There are a variety of illegal stimulants available via various means that impact the body in a very different manner to the legal stimulants found in supplements --  and they are going to be much less safe as a result.

    But, with respect to legal stimulants, they are relatively safe for most of the population.

    There are certain individuals who may have heart issues or emotional disorders (for example, general anxiety disorder), and therefore may not be safe to take stimulants as it could potentially make their concerns worse.

    Moreover, in higher dosages, stimulants can elicit certain side effect, including:

    • Jitteriness and restlessness
    • Feelings of anxiety and nervousness
    • Becoming dizzy and losing balance
    • Headaches
    • Water retention and bloating
    • Diarrhea
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • The onset of muscle spasms

    Now, it is important to note that these side effects are very rare, and only likely to occur in higher dosages. In fact, in the low to moderate dosages applied in most pre-workout supplements, these are very unlikely to happen.

    However, some people are simply more sensitive to stimulants than others -- which is why it is always important to seek advice from a medical professional before commencing supplementation with a stimulant based pre-workout.

    One other thing to consider when it comes to stimulants is that they also have the potential to impact upon your sleep. If taken too close to bedtime, they can make it harder for you to fall asleep, while also impacting your sleep quality -- all of which can impact your recovery and the quality of your training.

    High-Stim VS Non-Stim pre-workouts

    With all this in mind, you might have guessed that the primary difference between high-stim pre-workouts and non-stim pre-workouts comes down to their stimulant content.

    High stimulant pre-workouts contain a number of stimulants, while non-stimulant pre-workouts contain none.

    This does not mean that one is better than the other, just that non-stim pre-workouts rely on other compounds to improve performance that don't act on the brain and central nervous system in a stimulant-like manner.

    While high-stim pre workouts are likely to exhibit a more noticeable effect on mood and energy levels, they may also induce some of the side effects listed above. And of course, they also have the capacity to impact your sleep.

    This means that they may not be all that suitable if you typically train later in the afternoon, or are sensitive to stimulants. On the other hand, they could be a great option if you train earlier in the day and are not sensitive to stimulants.

    It all depends on you.

    Best High Stim Ingredients

    If you are after a high stimulant pre-workout that can take the results of your training to the next level, you want to make sure it includes at least two of the following three ingredients.

    1.   Caffeine

    Caffeine is one of the most effective, and the most well-researched, performance enhancing supplements on the planet. It is known to improve mental alertness, attention, and reaction time, and enhance strength, power, and endurance [1, 2].

    With this in mind, it impacts both mental and physical performance in a very big way, and should be a staple in any high-stim pre-workout.

    2.   English Walnut Extract

    English Walnut Extract is a naturally occurring compound that is derived directly from the bark of the English Walnut tree.

    This compound is a stimulant that acts directly on the central nervous system, where it boosts energy and mental alertness, improves cognitive function, and promotes the secretion of numerous feel good hormones [3, 4].

    As a result it can seriously improve workout performance, causing significantly better training outcomes.

    3.   N-Methyltyramine

    One rather interesting stimulant is N-methyltyramine, which is a powerful compound found in the bitter orange plant.

    This particular supplement interacts with the neuroendocrine system, causing the secretion of noradrenaline -- the neurotransmitter that promotes the “flight or fight” response [5, 6].

    As a result, it acts as a potent stimulant, increases focus and attention, boosts mood, and vastly improves exercise performance.

    Best Non-Stim Ingredients

    Now, if you are someone who does not respond well to stimulants, or likes to train in the evening, a non-stim pre-workout is going to be a better option -- and you want to make sure it contains some of these ingredients:

    1.   L-Citrulline Malate

    Citrulline is an amino acid that increases your body's production of nitric oxide. This then increases blood flow to your muscle tissue, which results in a marked improvement in exercise performance [7, 8].

    More specifically, citrulline has been shown to increase the number or reps you can perform per set, or the amount of weight you can put on the bar for a given set.

    In short, this means more strength and muscle size over the duration of a training block.

    Moreover, citrulline has also been shown to speed up recovery after training. This pretty much guarantees that you will get more out of every gym session, which is the integral to long term changes in size and strength.

    2.   Beta Alanine

    Beta-alanine is a unique amino acid that your body uses to produce the compound “carnosine” -- which your body uses to prevent the accumulation of lactate in your muscle tissue.

    As a result, beta alanine has been shown to cause large improvement in muscular endurance, while also preventing the accumulation of fatigue throughout a training session [9, 10].

    This ultimately means that beta-alanine allows you to get the most out of your workouts, leading to significant improvements in muscle growth and fat loss.

    3.   Agmatine

    Agmatine is a neurotransmitter that is found in the cells of your brain. With this in mind, its supplementation has been shown to reduce sensations of pain, while also improving mood and emotional wellbeing [11, 12].

    As I am sure you can imagine, this can have a huge impact on exercise performance.

    Interestingly, agmatine has also been shown to act in a manner similar to citrulline, where it increases nitric oxide production. This increases blood flow to your muscle tissue, giving you a better pump and speeding up recovery.

    Talk about a win-win.

    Summary

    Pre-workouts that contain both high amounts and zero stimulants can offer a myriad of benefits -- which means the choice comes down to which one is better for you.

    If you are sensitive to stimulants or train later in the afternoon, maybe opt for a non-stim pre workout option as this will not have any negative effects on your sleep. On the other hand, if you train early in the morning and dont feel sensitive to stims, you can take your pick.

     

    1. McLellan, T. M., Caldwell, J. A., & Lieberman, H. R. (2016). A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 71, 294-312.
    2. Grgic, J., Grgic, I., Pickering, C., Schoenfeld, B. J., Bishop, D. J., & Pedisic, Z. (2020). Wake up and smell the coffee: caffeine supplementation and exercise performance—an umbrella review of 21 published meta-analyses. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(11), 681-688.
    3. Liu, Rui, et al. "Small Molecule Oligopeptides Isolated from Walnut (Juglans regia L.) and Their Anti-Fatigue Effects in Mice." Molecules 24.1 (2019): 45.
    4. Kim, Dae-Ik, and Kil-Soo Kim. "Walnut extract exhibits anti-fatigue action via improvement of exercise tolerance in mice." Laboratory animal research 29.4 (2013): 190-195.
    5. Camp BJ. Action of N-methyltyramine and N-methyl beta-phenylethylamine on certain biological systems. Am J Vet Res. 1970 Apr;31(4):755-62.
    6. Koda H, Yokoo Y, Matsumoto N, Suwa Y, Fukazawa H, Ishida H, Tsuji K, Nukaya H, Kuriyama K. Antagonistic effect of N-methyltyramine on alpha2-adrenoceptor in mice. Jpn J Pharmacol. 1999 Nov;81(3):313-5.
    7. Gonzalez, A. M., & Trexler, E. T. (2020). Effects of Citrulline Supplementation on Exercise Performance in Humans: A Review of the Current Literature. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 34(5), 1480-1495.
    8. Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1215-1222.
    9. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.
    10. Kern, B. D., & Robinson, T. L. (2011). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1804-1815.
    11. Keynan, O., Mirovsky, Y., Dekel, S., Gilad, V. H., & Gilad, G. M. (2010). Safety and efficacy of dietary agmatine sulfate in lumbar disc-associated radiculopathy. An open-label, dose-escalating study followed by a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pain Medicine, 11(3), 356-368.
    12. Shopsin, B. (2013). The clinical antidepressant effect of exogenous agmatine is not reversed by parachlorophenylalanine: a pilot study. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 25(2), 113-118.
  • Why you NEED a good pre-workout

    Over the last decade pre-workouts have arguably become the most commonly used supplement in the world. They have gone from being “non-essential” to deeply embedded into gym culture in less than a decade.

    But what are the benefits? And are they really all they’re cracked up to be?

    What are the benefits of a pre-workout?

    Now, something that I really do want to highlight here is that you can undoubtedly make some serious gains without pre-workout supplements.

    I mean, from a muscle building perspective, as long as you are training hard, recovering adequately, and eating sufficient protein, you can be pretty certain that you are doing everything you need to maximise growth and adaptation.

    However, ask anyone who has been training for a decent amount of time and they will tell you that the “training hard” part of the equation can be easier said than done.

    Which is where pre-workouts really come into their own.

    1.   Better Focus

    It is well established that many of the common ingredients found in pre-workouts increase mental alertness, leading to improvements in attention, reaction time, problem solving capability, short term memory, and judgement [1].

    Moreover, some of them can reverse some of the mental effects that come from a lack of sleep [2].

    Taking this back to the gym, it is highly likely that improved mental performance could cause better physical performance, and ultimately, a better workout. If this leads to more reps per session, or more weight on the bar, then we are looking at some serious improvements in gains over time.

    Moreover, taking a pre-workout before your session after a bad night sleep might help you train well, even if you are feeling subpar.

    2.   Increased Strength

    Pre-workouts have the capacity to cause substantial increases in muscle strength on a per-session basis [3, 4, 6].

    This means that if you were to take a pre-workout before a weight training session, you will be able to lift more weight than you could without it. While this is cool in its own right, it happens to have some impressive long-term benefits.

    If you are undertaking a long term strength training program, a good pre-workout will help you lift more weight every single session. This will lead to greater training adaptations, and more strength gains over time.

    And when you think about how this effect compounds over the duration of months and years, it becomes huge.

    3.   More Muscle Growth

    In addition to improvements in strength, a good pre-workout also has the potential to improve weight training performance at more moderate loads, by increasing the number of reps you can do at a given weight [3, 5].

    For example, without a pre-workout you might be able to leg press 180kg for 8 repetitions. However, after taking a pre-workout, you might be able to leg press the same weight for 10 repetitions.

    This directly increases the amount of volume you perform each training session, and is going to increase the amount of muscle growth you are likely to experience over the duration of a training block [7].

    4.   Greater Endurance

    Many of the core ingredients in most pre-workout supplements play an important role in preventing the accumulation of lactic acid in your muscle tissue during exercise [6, 8].

    This can in turn lead to case improvements in both muscular and aerobic endurance, while limiting fatigue accumulation during a training session.

    This can also increase the amount of volume you lift per session, while simultaneously boosting the quality of your working sets. Over time you can expect this to manifest itself in improvements in muscle strength, muscle growth, and even fat loss.

    5.   Bigger Pumps

    There are a number of pre-workouts that include ingredients that can be classified as “vasodilators” [4, 6].

    While this word might sound very technical, it very simply describes a type of compound that helps relax and widen your blood vessels. This increases blood flow throughout your body and to your muscle tissue, enhancing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients.

    The result?

    A significantly greater pump!

    This can further increase the results of your training, while simultaneously increasing the size of your guns when you leave the gym (a nice bonus, if you ask me).

    6.   Faster Recovery

    Lastly, in addition to better gym performance, taking a pre-workout before you train will also improve your recovery after exercise [4, 5].

    By increasing the movement of proteins and nutrients into your muscle tissue, pre-workouts can make sure that your body has everything it needs to repair itself after a solid session. This accelerates recovery between sessions, while also reducing muscle soreness.

    The best bit here is that this improved recovery between training sessions will ensure that the quality of your training stays high over the duration of a training block -- again enhancing the result of your training.

    What to look for in a pre-workout supplement?

    I also want to highlight that while a GOOD pre-workout will provide the above benefits, there are some that are much better than others. Which is why if you are after a high-quality pre-workout to take your training to the next level, they should tick the following three boxes.

    1.   No Proprietary Blends

    A proprietary blend is a combination of several different ingredients that sit within a supplement.

    Unfortunately, despite being extremely common, proprietary blends are actually a loophole that supplement companies use to avoid listing how much of each individual ingredient is in their pre-workout. This makes it much easier to hide smaller doses of effective (and often costly) ingredients, while bulking it up with a larger amount of ‘filler’ ingredients.

    Obviously this means the supplement is cheaper to make, but it also makes it much less effective -- even if it does happen to include some good ingredients.

    So, if you are looking at a pre-workout that contains a priority blend, turn and run.

    2.   Too Many Ingredients

    Another you want to be wary of is a pre-workout having too many ingredients -- which I would define as ant more than 6 or 7.

    When it comes to pre-workout supplements, they generally have small serving sizes (5-10 grams on average). As such, the more ingredients they contain, the less of each ingredient you get.

    This again makes it easier to provide you with less of the more effective (and more expensive) ingredients, making the supplement less effective.

    3.   Scientifically supported ingredients

    Lastly, you want to make sure that the pre-workout you are taking actually contains ingredients that have been shown to work in the scientific literature -- something that is not always the case (despite what advertisements might have you believe...).

    With this in mind, they should include some of the following:

    • Caffeine
    • Creatine
    • Beta-alanine
    • Citrulline malate
    • Agmatine
    • L-Tyrosine

    And if they don't? Put it back on the shelf and never consider it again.

    Final Remarks

    Before we finish up, I want to also mention the fact that many compounds found within pre-workouts are classified as stimulants -- which means they have a direct impact on your physiological and psychological systems.

    As a result, you should definitely touch base with your GP before commenting supplementation.

    However, once you have done that, you can expect to see some serious benefits from taking good quality pre-workout supplements, including improved physical and mental performance, better recovery and more intense pumps, and over time, greater improvements in strength and size.

    Just make sure you do your research and find a good one.

     

    References

    1. McLellan, T. M., Caldwell, J. A., & Lieberman, H. R. (2016). A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 71, 294-312.
    2. Cook, Christian J., et al. "Skill execution and sleep deprivation: effects of acute caffeine or creatine supplementation-a randomized placebo-controlled trial." Journal of the international society of sports nutrition 8.1 (2011): 1-8.
    3. Grgic, J., Grgic, I., Pickering, C., Schoenfeld, B. J., Bishop, D. J., & Pedisic, Z. (2020). Wake up and smell the coffee: caffeine supplementation and exercise performance—an umbrella review of 21 published meta-analyses. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(11), 681-688.
    4. Gonzalez, A. M., & Trexler, E. T. (2020). Effects of Citrulline Supplementation on Exercise Performance in Humans: A Review of the Current Literature. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 34(5), 1480-1495.
    5. Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1215-1222.
    6. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.
    7. Kern, B. D., & Robinson, T. L. (2011). Effects of ?-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 25(7), 1804-1815.
    8. Tumilty, L., Davison, G., Beckmann, M., & Thatcher, R. (2011). Oral tyrosine supplementation improves exercise capacity in the heat. European journal of applied physiology, 111(12), 2941-2950.
  • Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre Advanced Review - Higher Stim & Higher Price

    [A]
    80

    A clean formulation, likely appealing to anyone not out for a super-high-stim pre-workout. But with just 20 serves per jar, this one isn’t cheap.

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