Next we shall look into pre-workouts. So you probably all know someone who uses and rants about some crazy pre-workout that provides insane Godly strength, monk-like focus and enough energy to power a small city. These people swear by pre-workouts to get them through their workouts and now you’re curious to try one too but are wondering, are they for me?
Firstly let’s look at the idea behind these supplements. Pre-workouts main aims are to increase; focus, energy and endurance throughout a workout. How do pre-workouts work and what do they contain to have these supposed effects? Generally pre-workouts contain ingredients that have a vasodilation effect (open up blood vessels for energy transport and waste removal, also gives the feeling of a ‘pump’), stimulants (increase heart-rate and speed up other activities in the body), increased muscular endurance (buffer hydrogen ions in the muscles and thus can get extra reps out) and increased explosive strength (ensuring adequate intake of certain nutrients for muscular energy production). We will now look at some of the ingredients that have the above effects.
One of the most common ingredients in all pre-workouts is caffeine! Caffeine works in a few different ways; let’s have a look at the benefits and potential downsides;
- Natural appetite suppressant, which is why it is used in fat burners
- Stimulating effect on the body, increases mental alertness and reduces fatigue = better focus, not feel as tired
- Raises the heart rate and physically can prepare the body for a workout, this can be bad as it also raises blood pressure, so those with BP issues should avoid
Things to consider:
- Caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person
- Habitual caffeine users will require more to get the desired effect
- Those with caffeine sensitivities will only require a fraction in comparison
- Due to the stimulating effects it would not be recommended to take supplements with caffeine late in the day as they may keep you awake all night!
- Not recommended for people under the age of 18 years
- Caffeine has a diuretic effect – increasing the need to urinate, this has the potential to be harmful in dehydrated individuals or those with kidney issues, or poor bone mineral density (other nutrients, such as calcium are removed with diuretics)
- High consumption of caffeine is linked to increased gout attacks (from gout sufferers)
- Can lead to increased anxiety and depression
- Should not be used if you have a heart condition
Creatine will also be covered individually so I’m not going to go into heaps of detail now, other than it is found in a lot of pre-workouts to boost energy production in the muscles. It helps with lower rep work and is usually found in a dose of 5-20g. Most studies say that creatine is relatively safe for long-term use, however I found a few circumstances where you should be cautious:
Things to consider;
- Avoid in people with impaired kidney function
- Do not use in conjunction with ephedra
- Creatine may lower blood sugar levels (caution with diabetes and hypoglycaemia, or if taking anything that will impact blood sugar)
- May cause high blood pressure
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning your body can make it and it is not required through the diet. However there are sports benefits of supplementing with beta-alanine as it has been found to raise muscle concentrations of carnosine, put simply it buffers the effects of metabolic waste products produced by the muscles at high-intensities. One of the major contributors to muscle fatigue is a build up of metabolic waste; by neutralizing these products it will reduce muscle fatigue. Beta-alanine can also cause tingling/pins and needles sensation (parathesia-the technical term) that usually presents within 15 minutes of consumption and is a result of nerve endings firing more rapidly than normal. This side effect usually decreases the more you use it and can be reduced by splitting up doses or consuming with a meal.
- Reduced muscular fatigue during high-intensity efforts
- May increase effectiveness of creatine
Things to consider;
- Parathesia (tingling sensation)
- There haven’t been many long term studies looking at the safety of this supplement
Most pre-workouts contain one or more of the following ingredients; L-arginine, L-citrulline and/or beetroot, pomegranate which increase nitric oxide. By increasing levels of nitric oxide in the blood flow it stimulates a ‘pump’, enhancing blood flow and oxygen to muscles as well as delaying fatigue by increasing the rate of removal of waste products from cells.
Are they safe?
The part that worries me most about pre-workouts is that so many of them have special ‘proprietary blends’ of varying ingredients. These unique recipes or trade secrets allow suppliers to circumvent the need to label individual ingredients, meaning it is impossible to know whether the supplement contains enough of a therapeutic dose to have the desired effects. Secondly, they are not regulated like medications and therefore they can as seen in the past contain some dangerous substances. You may remember a few years back the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found a bunch of pre-workouts that contained a hazardous amphetamine precursor (1,3-dimethylamylamine, or DMAA). Surprisingly DMAA is not on the FDA’s list of approved ingredients as it has the potential to cause liver damage in there were some cases of people dying from using the now banned pre-workouts.
I guess in short pre-workouts are a chemical shit storm. We cannot know for sure whether the combination of supposed approved ingredients are safe in combination. I mean some of the ingredients even have conflicting actions (caffeine is a vasoconstrictor and most pre-workouts contain vasodilators!) and is it really healthy/normal to have increased energy, focus and endurance? No! Your body is artificially working overtime through the use of unnatural chemicals; this will come at a cost. You will burn through more vitamins and minerals and probably crash a few hours after use but will still be wired and unable to sleep, yay! If you were to use a pre-workout I would recommend cycling them as your body will become accustomed to them and you will require a bigger ‘hit’ to get the same effect as when you first use them.
4 U Body Fitness
Mobile Personal Training Specialist