After a strenuous day at work, all you ever feel like is getting home, eating something, taking a nap, and putting some movies on to relieve stress. Still, you begin to think about making the most of your time on second thought. Then you consider going to the gym. But how do you train despite tiredness?
With most of the energy used at work, you get up, gear up, consume some portion of pre-workouts, and get to the gym. The supplement’s effect then kicks in even before you reach the gym, bringing in a wave of energy to go through your workout processes.
There are diverse opinions on the effectiveness of pre-workout supplements, with advocates claiming these supplements provide energy, promote muscle growth, and prepare the body for intense workouts. However, some experts still believe that these supplements are potentially dangerous to the human system and unnecessary.
What are Pre-Workout Supplements?
Pre-workout supplements are dietary supplements taken before workout sessions to improve athletic performance, serving as an energy booster to the athlete’s body system.
The consensus is that taking pre-workout supplements drastically increases power and strength and allows athletes to achieve the best in their workout sessions.
Pre-workout supplements contain certain ingredients like amino acids, nitric oxide agents, caffeine, creatine, and other constituents that propel the body’s strength and boost stamina.
Despite these seeming advantages for an athlete, many people still have reservations about them. Many questions abound. What are the effects of these pre-workout supplements? Do they work? Are they healthy and safe for consumption?
Constituents of Pre-Workout Supplements and How They Affect Workout Sessions
Studies have shown that pre-workout supplements contain creatine, caffeine, and beta-alanine. These three ingredients are known to be performance enhancers for athletes, providing them with an upper hand at training, but this is attainable when they persevere and push themselves to the limit.
In addition to these ingredients, many of these supplements contain additives with a high level of caffeine, which isn’t suitable for the heart. Over time, the body can also build up a tolerance to these supplements, waning their effects during workout sessions.
Breakdown of the Components of Pre-Workout Supplements
Here is a scientific analysis of the components of pre-workout supplements.
This is a naturally occurring stimulant found in food products like guarana, cocoa, cola, tea, and coffee, amongst other products. It increases the flow of adrenaline in the body, thus increasing the rate of exertion of the brain and central nervous system.
It’s scientifically advised that an adult shouldn’t consume more than 400mg of caffeine, four cups of brewed coffee, or eight cans of cola per day. A teen shouldn’t consume more than 100mg of caffeine per day.
Creatine is an organic acid that increases muscle mass and improves an athlete’s performance. It naturally occurs in red meat and fish, with evidence suggesting that it can help treat muscle complications, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. It’s stored in the muscle as phosphocreatine, where it’s used for energy.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) says that athletes who undergo rigorous training need to take 5 to 10 grams of creatine a day to maintain a healthy muscle mass. Like caffeine, excessive creatine intake could cause muscle cramping and nausea and affect the liver, heart, and kidney.
Also known as β-alanine, this constituent is an amino acid that aids the nervous system in sending signals. It’s produced in the liver, and the amino acid has proven to be a performance enhancer for athletes.
Studies have revealed that consuming β-alanine in excess could result in paresthesia, a tingling sensation caused by the overstimulation of nerve cells.
Other constituents of pre-workout supplements include:
- Taurine is an amino acid found in the muscles. This constituent functions as a stabilizer of cell membranes and aiding in the maintenance of the body’s metabolic processes.
Do Pre-Workout Supplements Work?
Pre-workout supplements are designed to serve as enhancers and boosters of innate strengths of athletes, trainers, bodybuilders, sportsmen, and women alike.
There has been an upward movement in the consumption rate of these supplements. But do these supplements work? Most pre-workout supplements aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As a result, consumption is discretion-based as these supplements are categorized as food and not drugs.
Scientific Research on the Effectiveness of Pre-Workout Supplements
The effectiveness of the pre-workout system is determined based on one-off usage and constant use over time.
Patrick et al. (2018) conducted a scientific experiment to determine the effectiveness of pre-workout supplements. The following were inferences obtained:
- Effectiveness Based on One-Off Usage
- Force Production: It was observed that supplement intake had little effect on strength, although the consumption of pre-workout supplements may help alleviate the decline caused by fatigue or stress. Bergstrom et al. measurement of isokinetic force production highlighted no apparent difference between athletes who took supplements and those who consumed placebo before a strenuous exercise.
- Muscular Endurance: Studies have shown that athletes who consume supplements show a form of muscular endurance in repetitive strenuous exercises. Also, there’s documentation on how pre-workout supplement consumption complements either the upper or lower-body muscular system and endurance, but not both.
- Power Production: There have been various reports of how the intake of supplements affects the rate of power production. While accessing athletes who partook in bench press throws after rigorous exercise, it was discovered that the baseline measure of velocity for athletes who consumed supplements was significantly higher than for athletes who consumed a placebo.
- Endurance Exercise: While studying athletes performing the treadmill exercise, Walsh et al. discovered that the time to exhaustion of athletes who consumed supplements was far greater than those who did not.
- Responses: Subjective response from athletes shows that pre-workout supplements brought in the form of alertness and a higher level of self-felt energy.
- Investigations have also shown that a one-off pre-workout supplement intake positively affected athlete reaction time, making them recreationally active. Mixed results have been reported as regards hormonal response to one-off supplement intake.
- Based on gender, there were no disparities detected in supplement effectiveness.
Effectiveness Based on Short-Term and Long-Term Consumption
- Force Production: Research shows that consistent consumption over time shows retainment in force production but not overall impact on strength.
- Muscular Endurance: Collins et al. infer that consuming pre-workout supplements over time is promising as endurance levels increase.
- Jump Power: Kraemer et al. discovered that individuals who have consumed pre-workout supplements over time portray a higher jump power output than athletes who consumed a placebo.
- Kraemer et al. also discovered no significant difference in glucose, insulin, or lactate levels in athletes who consumed supplements over time and those who did not.
- The difference in the effect of pre-workout supplements was not evident based on gender research.
Things to Know Before Consuming Pre-Workout Supplements
There are specific notes and factors to consider before taking pre-workout supplements. They include:
- They are not miracle drugs: Users need to understand that pre-workout supplements aren’t miracle drugs. Supplements aren’t drugs that give huge biceps or abs overnight because that’s not what they are produced for.
- Reactions and allergies: Athletes should research supplements before intake to ensure they don’t contain allergic constituents.
- Addiction: Excessive, constant usage and dependence on supplements to function is not the goal. Athletes should take notes and use them according to prescription.
- Understand the side effects: Users should also note the side effects of these supplements to determine if they can cope with them.
Side Effects of Pre-workout Supplements
There are little to no concerns about side effects when taken in an adequate proportion. Users should take note of prescriptions as well as the content of the supplement.
Some side effects to watch out for include:
- Insomnia: Caffeine is an essential component of pre-workout supplements. Consuming supplements late in the day would result in insomnia. This can be avoided by choosing to work out earlier in the day or avoiding taking supplements with caffeine.
- Anxiety: Excessive use of supplements can cause anxiety. Users should test supplements to see which works for them.
- Itching: Beta-alanine, an ingredient in pre-workout supplements, causes itching. Itching can be resolved by replacing your current supplement with one containing creatine.
- Headaches: Creatine is usually the leading cause of headaches. Intake of water can help in subsiding the effects of the headache.
- Variance in Blood Pressure: Pre-workout supplements can affect blood pressure. Taking the prescribed quantity of supplements would help keep the blood pressure ideal.
Pre-workout supplements could be good for you if you stick to the appropriate dosage and choose the right ones that fit your needs. It’s essential to know that they could also be harmful if not consumed with care.
Since this article has provided a concrete understanding of the science and effectiveness of these supplements, what the ingredients are, and how they affect activities if taken as one-offs or consistently, you should be able to make the right choice with them going forward.
Patrick S. Harty, Hannah A. Zabriskie, Jacob L. Erickson, Paul E. Molling, Chad M. Kerksick & Andrew R. Jagim (2018). Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Available at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1186/s12970-018-0247-6
Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Ross R, Shanklin M, Kang J, Faigenbaum AD. Effect of a pre-exercise energy supplement on the acute hormonal response to resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2008;22(3):874–82.