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WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PRE-WORKOUT

What we want out of a pre workout varies from person to person and even then we’ll want different things from pre workouts on different occasions. Ultimately, the goal of a pre workout is for us to improve performance acutely. We’ve included what ingredients we commonly see in pre workouts, why they’re there and what they do as well as dosages you’ll want to look out for. We’ve also included some honorable mentions for ingredients that are a little less common but deserve some credit!


key ingredients


CAFFEINE

WHAT IS IT?

Caffeine is an ergogenic aid and powerful stimulant, it can be made synthetically or naturally. It’s considered a nootropic as it provides mental stimulation.


HOW IT WORKS

One mechanism for caffeine’s ability to improve strength performance is by reducing the users perception of pain while increasing calcium mobilization in the muscle cells, which can increase power output.


WHAT IT DOES

Caffeine can be used to improve physical strength and muscular endurance. In lower doses it can be used as an anti-sedative. Caffeine can increase 1-rep max strength as muscles have shown increased power output through Wingate testing, although studies seem to show null results with 1RM testing.


WHAT DOSAGE?

For athletic performance benefit we want to see a dosage in the region of 3-6mg/kg bodyweight. Although this is the case, doses lower than this may be beneficial for an anti-sedative effects.


ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?

Caffeine intake of 250 mg or more can acutely raise blood pressure. Some individuals can also experience: Restlessness and shakiness; insomnia; headaches; dizziness; rapid or abnormal heart rhythm; anxiety or increased symptoms of it.

 

L-Citrulline / Citrulline malate

WHAT IS IT?

L-Citrulline is L-citrulline is one of the three dietary amino acids in the urea cycle, alongside L-arginine and L-Ornithine. Citrulline malate is citrulline bound to malate and is the most researched form of citrulline.


HOW IT WORKS

Taking L-citrulline increases plasma levels of ornithine and arginine and improves the ammonia recycling process and nitric oxide metabolism which is important for athletic performance.


WHAT IT DOES

Citrulline works to increase performance in high-intensity anaerobic exercises and in turn it can help allow for greater training volume accrual. As well as this it can also reduce DOMS.


WHAT DOSAGE?

Clinical studies identify an enhanced sports performance at doses of 6,000 – 8,000 mg of citrulline malate. This is equivalent to doses of approximately 2000mg of L-citrulline.


ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?

Some users (14% in some studies; Perez-Guisado and Jakeman, 2010) experienced stomach discomfort when supplementing with citrulline malate.

 

BETA ALANINE

WHAT IS IT?

Beta-alanine (a modified version of the amino acid alanine) is the building block of carnosine.


HOW IT WORKS

When beta-alanine is ingested, it turns into the molecule carnosine, which acts as an acid buffer in the body. Carnosine is stored in cells and released in response to drops in pH. This helps to protect from exercise-induced lactic acid production and in turn allows for more reps to be completed.


WHAT IT DOES

Beta alanine helps buffer lactic acid in muscles, increasing physical performance in the 1-4 minute range.


WHAT DOSAGE?

Clinical trials have noted beneficial impacts with a standard daily dose of 2–5 g. While beta-alanine is popular in pre-workouts, supplementation is actually not timing-dependent as it works over time to raise carnosine levels.


ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?

Large doses (>2g) of beta-alanine may cause a tingling feeling called paresthesia. It’s a harmless side effect but may be uncomfortable for some.

 

EXTRA BELLS & WHISTLES


HUPERZINE-A

WHAT IS IT?

Huperzine-A is a compound extracted from the Huperziceae family of herbs. It is a cognitive enhancer/nootropic.


HOW IT WORKS

It’s known as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which means it stops an enzyme from breaking down acetylcholine which results in increases in acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is known as the learning neurotransmitter, and is involved in muscle contraction as well.


WHAT IT DOES

Increases acetylcholine which is the chief neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system and is also associated with muscle contraction.


WHAT DOSAGE?

Most use of huperzine-A tends to be in the range of 50-200 μg daily, and while this can be divided into multiple dosages throughout the day it tends to be taken at a single dose for convenience.


ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?

Huperzine-A has been reported to (rarely) cause some side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, dry mouth, constipation, and sweating.

 

RHODIOLA ROSEA

WHAT IS IT?

Rhodiola rosea is a herb in the rhodiola genera (Crassulaceae family) which has been used traditionally as an anti-fatigue agent and adaptogen compound.


HOW IT WORKS

The main chemicals that are thought to be responsible for its performance improving effects are rosavin and salidroside.


WHAT IT DOES

Rhodiola has been shown to significantly reduce the fatigue and 'burnout' that come from stress and anxiety. This may extend to exercise, since there's evidence that acute supplementation before exercise can reduce fatigue, however, the research on this one is limited.


WHAT DOSAGE?

Acute usage of rhodiola (like an athlete would use in a pre-workout) for fatigue and anti-stress has been recorded to be taken in the 288-680mg range (Abidov et al., 2004; Schutgens et al., 2009)


ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?

As with pharmacologically notable herbs in general, there is the possibility of drug interactions.

 

One final notable mention is creatine! Whilst we aren’t debating the value of creatine, you don’t need to have creatine in a pre. It improves performance through a cumulative effect rather than acute performance benefits. On top of this, some users of creatine experience gastrointestinal distress – because of this, it makes sense to have a regular daily dose rather than rely on having it in a pre-workout.


With all of the above in mind you should be well equipped to identify which pre-workouts out there are under-dosed and which give you a decent set of ingredients based on what you want to get out of them! Of course, the list of pre-workout ingredients out there is never ending but we think these ones are pretty much essential and nice additions.


REFERENCES

Abidov, M., Grachev, S., Seifulla, R.D. and Ziegenfuss, T.N., 2004. Extract of Rhodiola rosea radix reduces the level of C-reactive protein and creatinine kinase in the blood. Bulletin of experimental biology and medicine, 138(1), pp.63-64.


Blancquaert, L., Everaert, I. and Derave, W., 2015. Beta-alanine supplementation, muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 18(1), pp.63-70.