It seems like everyone nowadays is on some sort of workout supplement.
From pre workout supplements to creatine, and from bodybuilding multivitamins to testosterone boosters, everyone is taking something.
But, just what does the evidence say? Will a pre-workout help you build muscle and lose fat? What are the benefits? And more importantly, are there any side effects that shady companies might be hiding from you?
Well, in this article, we’d like to take a look at what the evidence has to say about pre workout supplements. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Pre Workout: What Is It?
A pre workout supplement, sometimes just called a “pre-workout” is a powder that you mix with water, and take 30 minutes before working out.
Pre workout supplements often contain ingredients, like:
- Caffeine Anhydrous
- Creatine Monohydrate
- …and more
Proponents of taking a pre-workout supplement say that it can help increase strength, build more muscle, and even boost testosterone.
Others however, say that pre workout supplements have dangerous side effects, like increased heart rate, and higher blood pressure.
…but, what does the evidence say?
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of evidence when it comes to pre workout supplements. They’ve been around since the early 1990’s, so numerous studies have been conducted on their effectiveness.
What Does The Evidence Say?
As I said before, thankfully there’s been a lot of research done on pre workout supplements. No, you don’t have to just blindly listen to your personal trainer or GNC rep to know the facts.
First off, understand that many pre workouts have a lot of different ingredients in them, but they usually all contain caffeine.
One study, conducted at the Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences department at the University of Guelph, Ontario, found the following:
“Caffeine does not improve maximal oxygen capacity directly, but could permit the athlete to train at a greater power output and/or to train longer. It has also been shown to increase speed and/or power output in simulated race conditions.”Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 31, Issue 11
This should come as no surprise, seeing that millions of Americans consume coffee every day, for extra energy, and an added boost in productivity.
…and, of course, the primary psychoactive ingredient in coffee is, you guessed it, caffeine. Pre workouts are loaded with the stuff.
In a roundup article published by Science Alert, researchers reviewed over 300 clinical studies regarding caffeine, and here’s what they found:
“Those who respond most strongly to caffeine might see improvements of around 16 percent, but this is unusual. For the average person, improvements will likely be between about 2 percent and 6 percent.”Science Alert, April 21st, 2019
They went on to add that even though 2-6% might not seem like a big deal, in the context of athletic performance, even a slight edge helps a lot.
The evidence on caffeine is clear, but what about the other ingredients often found in pre-workout supplements? What does the science say?
Pre-Workout Ingredient Research
As stated before, many of the best pre workouts on the market don’t just have caffeine. They have a whole plethora of other ingredients.
So, what does the research say about these other ingredients?
One meta-study, cited by 331 other research papers, found that beta alanine does, in fact, have a positive effect on exercise and exertion:
“BA improved (P = 0.002) the outcome of exercise measures to a greater extent than Pla [median effect size (IQR): BA 0.374 (0.140–0.747), Pla 0.108 (−0.019 to 0.487)]. Some of that effect might be explained by the improvement (P = 0.013) in exercise capacity with BA compared to Pla; no improvement was seen for exercise performance (P = 0.204).”The Forum for Amino Acid, Peptide, and Protein Research, Volume 43, Issue 1
Researchers clarified that, while beta alanine does seem to positively impact short term exercise, it doesn’t have much of an impact on longer term aerobic exercise.
So, if you’re planning on doing some strength training, it’s quite possible that a pre workout containing beta alanine would be beneficial.
Another common ingredient in pre-workout supplements is creatine monohydrate, sometimes just shortened to “creatine.”
This powerhouse of an ingredient has a whole host of clinically proven benefits, and in many ways, is the most powerful (legal) supplement.
One study, for example, published in the Journal of Molecular Cellular Biology, found that creatine can drastically increase strength:
“For example, short-term creatine supplementation has been reported to improve maximal power/strength (5-15%), work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions (5-15%), single-effort sprint performance (1-5%), and work performed during repetitive sprint performance (5-15%).”Journal of Molecular Cellular Biology, February 2003
They also went on to say that creatine supplementation may also promote significantly greater gains in strength, fat free mass, and performance.
Everywhere you look, there’s ample evidence supporting the claim that preworkout supplements help users improve gym performance.
…but, with that in mind, what about the side effects?
Potential Side Effects
Now, I’m sure you might be wondering… “Yeah, that sounds great, but what about the side effects? Isn’t pre workout dangerous?”
The truth is that any stimulant-based supplement can have potential side effects, especially if you have a pre-existing heart condition.
For the vast majority of people, pre workouts have minimal side effects, but there are some side effects to be concerned about, however.
Potential pre-workout side effects may include:
- Rapid Heart Rate
- Profuse Sweating
- Shortness of Breath
While these side effects may sound dangerous, most fitness professionals agree that unless you have a heart condition, pre-workout is relatively safe.
If you do experience any of those side effects however, it is recommended that you cease pre-workout usage at once, and reassess your tolerance.
How to Choose A Pre Workout
If you don’t have a pre-existing condition, and are eager to try a pre workout supplement, then we’ve got you covered.
Usually, you want your pre workout to contain several ingredients, namely caffeine, beta alanine, and potentially some creatine, too.
Here are a few popular pre-workouts:
- C4 By Cellucor
- Bulk by Transparent Labs
- Pre-Kaged by Kaged
- Pulse by Legion
The author’s favorite pre workout is Nitraflex by GAT, which not only contains a lot of caffeine, but testosterone boosting ingredients, as well.
Nitraflex contains 325mg of caffeine per scoop, though—so be sure to assess your tolerance by taking half a scoop to begin with.
Personally, I take my pre-workout on an empty stomach, because I combine it with intermittent fasting for the growth hormone benefits.
Many people, however, prefer to eat before they hit the gym. Be sure you’re eating the right pre-workout foods to give yourself a boost, however.
If you do eat before the gym, be sure to wait at least an hour before consuming your pre-workout, otherwise the effects will be delayed.
Summary & Tips
In conclusion, a pre workout supplement can drastically increase performance in the gym, and help you get jacked fast.
Be sure to check with your doctor before you try any new supplement routine, as a medical care professional’s advice is always best.
If you want to gain an extra edge in the gym, you can also consider adding in some kratom for the bodybuilding benefits, too.
All in all, pre workout supplements are a powerful way to enhance your performance in the gym… so be sure to use them responsibly!