Should You Use a “Pre-Workout” Formula?

One of the most popular and fastest growing areas in the supplement industry are “pre-workout” drinks. Basically, a pre-workout product contains a combination of advanced supplements that are designed to be taken before you train with the goal of improving energy, strength, work capacity, pump and nutrient delivery, mental focus, etc.  They are typically used by high level intermediate to advanced trainees, and come in an almost unlimited combination of formulas and potencies.  Many people swear by them and won’t train without them. But are they right for you?

Most pre-workout formulas contain a few standard ingredients.  In fact, there are a great number of people who take these items separately or in combination instead of a pre-mixed formula to make their own custom, pre-workout option.  Most of the top formulas will contain some combination of the following:

Nitric Oxide Enhancer like arginine or citruline malate.  This is used for vaso dilation (opening up the blood vessels) which gives better nutrient delivery and enhances blood flow for better “pump” during training.

Caffeine – For energy, mental alertness, and thermic effect which can help with fat metabolization

Creatine – For strength increase and cell volume improvement, ideal when you’re trying to build or keep size and strength.

Beta Alanine – For improved workout energy and muscle endurance.

BCAA’s – To fight muscle breakdown and aid in recovery.

Neuro Transmitting Amino Acids (like Taurine and Threonine) for better mental focus and alertness.

Formulas may include extra protein, fast acting carbs, specific amino acids, or herbal adaptogens like ginseng, yohimbine, etc.  Formulas may come as concentrates with less additional ingredients but higher levels of caffeine per volume, or they may be completely caffeine free.

On paper, all of this sounds very ideal.  In truth, pre-workouts are extremely advanced formulas meant for people who are training with the highest of intensity.  Using a formula like this at an entry level wouldn’t be necessary. Pre-workout formulas can definitely help with energy, focus, pump, and workout intensity.  But caution must be taken not to rely on them, especially the energy aspect.  Also, some of the combinations used to create a new, improved formula may have little or no credible research behind them.  You should aways take care to review every ingredient included in any product you try.

If you do choose to try a pre-workout product always follow appropriate directions.  Start with the lower serving size amount to assess your tolerance and how it effects you.  Make sure if you have any health concerns you speak with your physician.  Do not take anything that can put you at risk.  If you are a coffee drinker or using other products that contain caffeine, make sure you are not getting additional stimulants in your pre-workout formula by either using a stimulant free option or simply combing the individual items you wish to use like creatine and bcaa’s for example.

Pre-Workout formulas can definitely help take your workout intensity and performance to another level.  But they are not magic.  You need to be serious about your training before you ever use them and have advanced to a point where your training is such that you can benefit from them.  You can be successful without them, by only using them for your more difficult workouts, or by using them regularly and responsibly.

Personally I like using pre-workout formulas.  But I have been training for decades and I didn’t start out by using them.  I like the energy, increased pump, and mental focus I get.  That being said, if the rest of my diet isn’t good or if I do not get the proper amount of rest, a pre-workout formula cannot make up for this.  I have also never encouraged my clients to use them.  My beginning clients simply don’t need them.  Most of my advanced and competition clients do use them, but that’s a decision they came to on their own independent of me.

If you are training seriously and consistently and looking to continue to improve, then using a pre-workout formula is a viable option for you.  You can either try a pre-designed formulation (stay with reputable companies) or a few well researched select items.  A pre-workout can be very beneficial to some people.  But if you’re just starting out, don’t think that you need to try everything you come across, or that anything will take the place of your own efforts and hard work.

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