Here’s a quick fact that many people ignore. When it comes to getting the most out of you workout, your pre-workout is just as important as your actual workout. Pre-workout supplements can give you that extra push you need in the gym to get your maximum pump. However, if you’re new to the world of supplements it’s easy to get lost in the sea of names, packaging, ingredients, and price points.
So instead of over thinking it just start simple. All you need to set your pre-workout down the right path are the four ingredients I’m about to reveal. Each has multiple benefits, each one is important to conquering your next training session.
There’s a lot of info floating around the internet about what you should eat, drink, or do before your workout. But each of these four ingredients has loads of scientific data backing up their effectiveness. That’s why I suggest starting with these four basic ingredients for your pre-workout regimen above others.
Let’s start this list simple but effective ingredient.
Primary purpose: Energy
Optimal dose: 200-500 mg, or 1.8-2.7 mg per kg of body weight
Who doesn’t love a jolt of caffeine? Most people do, which is the reason why it’s the world’s most popular stimulant. Well, besides just waking you up in the morning. It can also give you an extra energy boost in the gym. Caffeine has repeatedly been shown to be an effective performance booster in both endurance exercise and short bouts of maximal exercise such as sprints. It has also been shown to increase workloads by decreasing how fast fatigue sets in and by lowering the perception of effort. And as most gym rats know, more workload equals greater gains.
Side Note: Doses will vary from person to person. Experiment with dose variations to see what works best for you.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Primary purpose: Foster an anabolic environment
Optimal dose: 5 g in pre-workout, 20 g total throughout the day
Branched-Chain amino acids are essential nutrients that the body obtains from food including meats, dairy products, and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs are key components when it comes to regulating protein metabolism, increasing protein synthesis, and suppressing protein breakdown. But there’s a science to using BCAAs for maximum effectiveness. You want to make sure you’re getting the right ratio of leucine to isoleucine to valine. You’re looking for a 2:1:1 ratio. Leucine holds the top rank because it has been proven to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
BCAAs effectively give you immediate protection against the catabolic environments exercise produces. Also drinking BCAAs may actually decrease muscle soreness the following day. Which means you won’t have as much down time and can get back to training quickly.
Primary purpose: Increased muscular endurance
Optimal dose: 1.5-5 g
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, and similar to the previous ingredient, beta-alanine will help improve your overall training volume. However, it works in a different way. This ingredient works by buffering hydrogen ions (H+) which in turn will increase your ability to keep up your workout intensity for longer periods of time. That’s great for pumping out extra reps and getting the most out of your fitness regimen!
Side Note: If you take a larger dose of beta-alanine you will likely feel a tingling sensation throughout your body. Don’t panic, it’s normal. What you’re feeling is called “paresthesia” and it’s 100% safe. If you don’t like the feeling consider breaking up your doses into smaller portions throughout the day.
- Creatine Monohydrate
Primary purpose: Explosive strength
Optimal dose: 5 g in pre-workout, up to 20 g per day
Do you want explosive strength? Then you want to be sure that you’re getting your doses of creatine. What this ingredient does is it helps saturate your muscles with the energy source required for really big lifts.
The dosage is pretty big but that’s only because most manufacturers suggest a “loading” phase to speed up the saturation process. This usually takes about a week followed by a maintenance phase of about 5 g per day. The dosage really depends on your individual goals though. If you’re not looking for a phase where you bulk up really fast you don’t need the 20 g. Just stick to 1 teaspoon, which is about 5 g.
Creatine is the ingredient on this list with the least scientific research to date. So even though I personally love this stuff, until more substantial evidence comes out I suggest you focus on the other 3 ingredients in your pre-workout and take creatine when you want.
Bonus! Bonus! Bonus!
Primary purpose: Increase blood flow
I know I said I would present only 4 ingredients for your pre-workout but I have to give you this really quick bonus tip.
Vasodilators are substances that open (dilate) blood vessels. They affect the muscles in the walls of your arteries and veins, which prevents the muscles from tightening and the walls from narrowing. As a result, your blood flows more easily throughout your muscles. The result is the “pump” that most lifters desire.
There are many ingredients on the market today, and many have different dosage recommendations. My personal favorite is pomegranate extracts. Which have been shown to enhance blood flow and delay fatigue.
Now let’s put it all together
I suggest focusing on the pre-workout ingredients in the order listed above. Each is placed in the order of most importance when it comes to your pre-workout. If you go and buy a proprietary blend, make sure the product contains enough of the ingredients listed, or it might lack maximum effectiveness.
Last but not least let’s talk about timing. Most pre-workout ingredients should be taken approximately 30 minutes before your workout. This ensures that the ingredients will have time to begin metabolizing in your body.
Now that you have the proper pre-workout ingredients you can go hit your best lifting session ever!