Pre-workout supplements are some of the most popular supplements out in the industry right now. Ranging from everything from Cellucor's C4 to BPI's One More Rep (1MR) these supplements are supposed to help kick start your workouts and help you get more out of each workout by helping you push further.
But with all of the added ingredients that are sometimes put in these pre-workout supplements to either make them more effective or make you think they are more effective, sometimes they can do more harm than good.
In this post I wanted to share with you the dangers of taking a pre-workout supplement and then I'll also give you my recommendations for my favorite pre-workouts, when you should use them in your training, and my favorite whole food options as well.
The Main ingredients of a Pre-workout Supplement
There are a few main ingredients that you'll find in pre-workout supplements. These ingredients are:
Arginine: the body readily converts this amino acid into Nitric Oxide, which is important because it opens up the blood vessels allowing the body to pump blood to the working muscles more efficiently.
Beta-Alanine: an amino acid that is essential for increasing strength.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): This is a combination of the most common amino acids that helps boost strength, endurance, and fight fatigue.
Caffeine: We are all familiar with caffeine---it's America's most famous drug and stimulant. Many pre-workouts contain caffeine because it helps you to push further, have more endurance, and increase alertness. Most pre-workouts claim to have anywhere from 1 to 3 cups of coffee worth of caffeine.
Creatine: helps to increase strength. This pulls more water into the muscle which leads to a greater "pump" during strength workouts and helps increase overall power.
Taurine: This amino acid works very similar to Arginine as it helps increase the production of Nitric Oxide as referenced above.
When You Should Use a Pre-workout
Pre-workouts are definitely something you don't want to have to rely on every day for each workout. Yes, they are pretty cool because you feel super pumped going into your workout but just like with caffeine you can become dependant upon it (plus you'll become less sensitive to it so you'll have to up your dosage to feel the same effects).
What I recommend is to cycle your pre-workouts.
For example, if you are using C4, I'd use it for 3 weeks and then take one week off (this works out well if you take an easy or lighter recovery week---otherwise you'll have to simply suck it up!) This will keep you from becoming insensitive to it and you'll get more out of using a pre-workout in the long run.
The other tip is to save the pre-workouts for near the end of your program when you might start to take in less calories (sometimes referred to as the "cutting" phase when you try to shed that last layer of fat before you take your after pictures or head to the beach to show off your hard work!)
Is during these last few weeks when you'll need that extra boost so don't waste it during the beginning of your program when you could probably just rely on your everyday nutrition to fuel your workouts.
My Quick Reviews on Popular Pre-Workouts
1 More Rep Vortex
I was actually really looking forward to this pre-workout because I'm a fan of their protein powder and their BCAA supplements. However, when I tried this I didn't notice any increase in endurance, strength or energy. The taste wasn't bad but it did seem to make my wife and I nauseous at first. I'm not saying that you'll have the same experience, it's just wanted happened to me.
This is probably my favorite for a few reasons. The first one being the variety in the flavors and the taste. The Orange Creamsicle was good as well as the Blue Raspberry flavors. And I noticed the most "energy" during my workout. However, after doing some research I've learned that a certain ingredient called Niacin gives you that "tingly" feeling and the pitch is that if you "feel it" it's working. Some of their competitors argue that it doesn't really doing anything but I seemed to notice the most difference in this preworkout formula.
The other thing I really liked was that there wasn't that much of a withdrawal effect if I did not take it, which I'm assuming means there is less caffeine. However, using some of the other pre-workouts I tend to get headaches on days I don't use them and that didn't happen with C4.
Beachbody's Energy and Endurance Drink
The taste was a plus for this one and again, this is one that you could feel. Although when I first used this one I did not cycle it so after about 40 or 50 days it didn't feel like it was working.
If I had used cycling like I did with the other preworkouts I may have found this one more effective.
The other issue I had with this one was that when I didn't use it I almost always suffered from a bad headache. This made rest days kind of rough!
However, this is by far the most effective pre-workout I have used so far so if you use my tips on cycling it and only using it for your hard workouts you'll be fine!
Be sure to cycle your pre-workouts and only use them when you absolutely need them---either on just your low energy days or near the end of your program if you are cutting back on calories and therefore energy.
As far as my favorite whole food pre-workout goes?
Here's my go-to recipe:
1 cup of coffee
1 tsp of butter (yes, some fat!)
1 tbsp of protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
1 tsp of coconut oil
Yes, it's bulletproof coffee, which I have not been very successful in using it as a breakfast meal, but my own twist makes it a nice pre-workout meal. Enjoy!
I hope you enjoyed this post! I really enjoy pre-workouts but using them regularly has gotten me into trouble a bit so hopefully you can learn from my experience!
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Until next time,