What Is Pre-Workout?

There is not really an official definition for pre-workout supplements, but over time, the concept has evolved to mean products taken prior to exercising that provide you with a burst of energy for better performance. Specific ingredients differ greatly between different products, but most pre-workout supplements involve a cocktail of stimulants such as caffeine, as well as muscle-building ingredients including amino acids and creatine. Pre-workout supplements–sometimes called pre-workouts–are formulated with multiple ingredients in food products designed to enhance energy and athletic performance. This supplement is typically a combination of ingredients designed to increase your energy and improve performance while working out.

While supplements may come in various formats — from meals, to shakes, to pills, and so on — all are designed to increase energy levels and improve focus. The supplements can take a number of forms, including caffeine, creatine, nitric oxide, and other amino acids. Creatine can be taken as an individual supplement, but it is more common to see creatine part of an ingredients blend for pre-workouts, like the Dr. Jekyll Pre-Workout. If you are already taking a popular bodybuilding supplement, creatine, choose a formulation that does not include it.

Research suggests that supplementing creatine may boost the amount of creatine stored in the body, which may then contribute to improved recovery times, muscle size, strength, and performance during training ( 5 ). ISSN studies indicate that creatine can also enhance recovery from training, decrease muscle damage, and may aid in recovery from injuries. If you are looking for an added boost to your strength, you might want to look into ingredients like creatine monohydrate and taurine, which can help build up your muscles energy prior to intense exercises, and protect against stress-related muscle damage. Creatine, works by replenishing your ATP stores, which gives your muscles energy to contract.

Some pre-workout formulations can also include beta-alanine and L-citrulline, both of which have been shown to enhance energy during endurance-related exercises.9,10 You will find all these key ingredients in the pre-workout, benefiting short-term activities (strength training) as well as longer-term activities (cardio-based). Most pre-workout supplements usually include key ingredients like beta-alanine and creatine, too, to boost energy and performance throughout the exercise. Coffee has been found to be effective in improving athletic performance, it also does not have additives and extra ingredients other pre-workout supplements might have. It is also important to note that if you are using a pre-workout that has caffeine, mixing a caffeine-based pre-workout supplement with other caffeine-based products, like energy drinks, sodas, and coffee, can have adverse side effects.

Because caffeine is the main component, and takes an effect within approximately 30 minutes, an ideal time to take a pre-workout supplement is 30–60 minutes prior to a workout.5 Caffeine has half-lives that range from 3-7 hours, meaning after that time, half the caffeine can still be in your system.6 This may vary among individuals, with some feeling the effects longer than others. To get the full effect of an energy-boosting before-workout, you should take your supplement 15-20 minutes before you work out.

If you keep taking a pre-workout supplement regularly, your body may develop a tolerance for its effects, so sports nutritionist Matt Lovell recommends cycling your supplements, or taking them six to eight weeks at a time, so that your body has the opportunity to reset. For most men, though, pre-workout is a safe supplement to take, but even on the safer end of the spectrum, its side effects can still triggerjitters, itchiness, and disrupted sleep, which is harmless, but still uncomfortable. The popular dry-scooping trend, meaning taking a pre-workout powder without mixing in any liquid, does not enhance the effects of the supplement at all, and can actually inhibit some of its effects.

There is a significant overlap between ingredients used in pre-workout mixes and other supplements intended to aid weight loss, enhance mood, prolong lifespan, or act as alleged nootropics or aphrodisiacs, though certain ingredients are generally found only in products intended to aid in weight building or exercise. Certain ingredients, such as caffeine, creatine, and B-alanine, are found in almost every pre-workout blend, but every brands product is a proprietary combination with on average 18 different ingredients, with the exact makeup and ratios varying greatly among the various products. First, it is important to understand that practically every sports nutrition supplement and brand has their own pre-workout blend, meaning no two tubs will have identical–or even similar–ingreements.

Fueling up before your workouts with food is a time-honored strategy to get you energized for your workouts (more on this below), but using supplements to do so has been gaining popularity consistently in recent decades. If you are often short of energy or struggling to get through workouts, you should not automatically turn to supplements.

If you are sensitive to caffeine, you might want to take small amounts, or look for natural ways to increase energy before a workout. Providing it could be via ingredients like caffeine, which may increase the time you have to exhaust yourself while working out. Caffeine is one of the most common ingredients found in pre-workout drinks, and it has been shown to offer benefits like improved muscular strength and endurance, while not increasing the perceived effort (rate of perceived exertion).3,4 In other words, you are able to get more done during a workout, without feeling like you are pushing yourself more.

The hope is that pre-workouts help boost performance, mostly by increasing energy and increasing mental focus,a says SELFs registered nutritionist, Yasi Ansari, MS, R.D., C.S.S.D., an accredited sports dietetics professional, and national media representative of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This particular supplement contains 50 mg of Himalayan Pink Salt and Aquamin MG magnesium, which helps keep your body hydrated throughout your workouts. Research published in Food & Chemical Toxicology says that 400 mg a day–that is about two or three cups of coffee–is the maximum for adults, so make sure you check out per-serving caffeine content for the pre-workout supplements you are considering when you are replenishing your supplements.

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