Beginner’s Guide To Pre-Workout Supplements

Need a caffeine jolt to lift heavy weights, or finish your HIIT class? Even a small amount of pre-workout supplement can give you that extra edge. Here’s what you need to consider on pre-workout supplements.

By D Tejaswi
13 Jul 2022

You've had those days when you just don't feel like working out and would much rather relax on the couch! You may be in a bad mood, lack energy, or just have some tension on the back of your mind. All you need is a little motivation and some energy, and a pre-workout supplement can give you that.


Commonly referred to as "pre-workouts," these supplements improve your energy, strength and endurance to exercise. The supplements are often a combination of caffeine, Vit B complex, carbohydrates and antioxidants, to help you stay longer in the gym and make your sessions productive. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, finds that pre-workout supplements improve your performance when going for high-intensity training and resistance workouts. Another study published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2014 finds that overweight participants who consumed a pre-workout supplement containing 240 mg/day of caffeine for eight weeks achieved a significant amount of weight loss and fat mass loss.


Though there are benefits, it’s always better to talk to your health practitioner before choosing your supplements because these can have certain side effects too.


How do pre-workout supplements work?

The magic of a pre-workout supplement lies in its ingredients. The main ingredient caffeine interacts with the central nervous system (CNS) to delay fatigue and improve performance through increased energy, focus and power. Most pre-workout supplements also contain creatine, which boosts energy production in muscle cells. The beta-alanine in the supplement increases the concentration of muscle carnosine levels (a protein building block naturally produced in the body), which allows for improved performance during high-intensity exercise, notes Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2016. Also, the other variety of selected ingredients such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), citrulline malate, arginine, Vitamin B-6, Vitamin B-12 have been found to improve choice reaction time (a reaction to multiple stimuli responsible for good driving performance), focus and alertness.


Pre-workout Supplements: Ingredients to look for

A study published in Nutrients, 2019 finds that almost half, 44.3 per cent, of ingredients in pre-workout supplements are labelled as “propriety”, which means there is no way of knowing what is in them. But apart from the secret stuff, the major chunk you should look for is caffeine, amino acids such as beta-alanine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), creatine, citrulline, sodium bicarbonate and nitrate. Caffeine activates the areas of your brain and nervous system to reduce tiredness and improve focus and performance, explains Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 2016. Other amino acids such as beta-alanine and BCAA help regain strength after workout and increase lean muscle mass, says Nutrients, 2019.


While this is the general blueprint, note that how you choose your pre-workout supplements also depends a lot on the type of exercise you do, body type, and medical history. It is a good idea to talk to a medical professional beforehand.


Pre-workout supplements: What should you avoid?

The ingredients to avoid in pre workout supplements depends a lot on your individual requirements. For instance, if you are a light sleeper or a borderline insomniac then you should think twice before picking up a supplement which is high in caffeine due to its anti-sleep effects. Similarly, if you have any limitation on salt intake, you may want to pass on the sodium bicarbonate heavy mixes.


It is always better to avoid pre-workout supplements with added artificial sweeteners, which brings nothing but more sugar into your body. And most importantly, it is sensible to avoid supplements which are not backed by science-based formulas.(Eg: all natural) or marketing gimmicks (Eg: exaggeration of results). For instance, “maltodextrin” is just a fancy way of saying “cheap sugar with no nutritional value”.


Is it ok to take pre-workout supplements everyday?

Short Answer: Yes. Long Answer: It depends. Pre Workout supplements are often safe not causing any major harm to the body, but, everyone is different and the impact may vary from person to person, says Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2018. If there are no side-effects and if you feel they are working for you, then there is no reason to stop.


But, if you feel queasy after taking any supplement, then it is essential to consult a medical professional before taking another sip. It is always better to replace the supplements with more natural supplements such as a banana and a cup of milk before workout. The potassium in bananas promotes muscle function and prevents cramps, and the milk before workout improves the synthesis of muscle proteins.





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