Posted 2 months ago

The “what” and “why” behind pre-workout supplements

As bodybuilders/physique athletes, we all want to maximise training performance in the gym. We want to perform at our highest possible level whilst ensuring that our muscles are receiving as much “fuel” (i.e. food) as possible too.

Enter, pre-workout.

If you were to simply google the search term “pre-workout”, your search would give you millions of hits. You will see an abundance of different brands all claiming that their product is the best on the market, but have you ever asked yourself the question of “what are you really looking for?”.

The answer will more than likely be no; and to be honest, if most of us were to look at the ingredients list, we may confuse it for a foreign language. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to discuss in detail some of the most common ingredients you may see in pre-workout supplements, and to give you an understanding of how the aid in performance. The pre-workout ingredients that will be discussed will be from the pre-workout products offered by the brand Complete Strength.

Stimulant or Non-stimulant (Stim or non-stim)
The first thing you may want to consider when buying a pre-workout product is whether you’d like it to contain caffeine or not – this is what distinguishes “stimulant” and “non-stimulant” pre-workout supplements.

Caffeine has to be one of the most researched ingredients when it comes to performance nutrition (alongside creatine – you can read all about it here). The conclusions are pretty clear in stating that caffeine does have a positive impact on performance. This is because it stimulates the body’s autonomic nervous systems “fight or flight” response – when activated, this response will elevate our heart rate, increase our breathing rate and will prepare the body for the work that is about to come.

Surely that is something you want, right? Of course, that is if you’re not too sensitive to caffeine. If you are, then the “side effects” of caffeine might be so heightened that they negatively impact your ability to train. For example, it might be that heart palpitations increase your feelings of anxiety to the point you don’t even want to go into the gym. In this case, caffeine is something you might want to avoid before training.

Another side effect of caffeine that’s rarely discussed is its effect on the digestive system. If you’re a coffee drinker then you know exactly what I’m talking about: it makes you go #2, which isn’t a bad thing! However, when it comes to training, the last thing we want is to be rushing to the toilet mid-session or having to go frequently. Whilst training, we ideally want as little digestive stress as possible, and to stay as focused as possible. Therefore, if you are a sensitive to caffeine in this sense, a caffeine-free – I.e. non-stim based – product would be more beneficial.

Most companies will offer both a stim or non-stim product, and the only difference to the ingredients panel will be the inclusion or exclusion of caffeine. This is most certainly the case for Complete Strength’s products Pre.V2 (Figure 1) and Pump (Figure 2)


Figure 1

Figure 2

The second thing you want to consider – aside from caffeine – is the actual ingredients contained within the product. Based on the products above, let me talk you through what each ingredient does.

L-Citrulline
This is a non-essential amino acid, and after consumption, our bodies change it into L-arginine and nitric oxide. This nitric oxide production opens blood vessels throughout your body and improves blood flow. As more blood flows around the body, we see a direct improvement in performance. This is because oxygen is able to get to the working muscle more readily, as is fuel in the form of carbohydrates – together, these will both help muscle contraction. L-Citrulline also enables us to have an increased ability to eliminate metabolic waste products created from exercise, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid.

Beta-Alanine
This is another non-essential amino acid, but it’s is not used to synthesize protein. Instead, it combines with another amino acid to form a molecule called Carnosine. This is stored in the muscle and reduces the accumulation and build-up of lactic acid, ultimately improving muscular endurance. Lactic acid inhibits muscles’ ability to contract, so if this build-up is reduced, then you will have an increased ability to get an extra rep or two. A common side effect of beta-alanine is feeling slight tingling in your face.

Beta Anhydrous
This is a naturally occurring compound found within the body and prevents the build-up of homocysteine. This is an amino acid that is produced when proteins are broken down and can be harmful to the body when concentrations reach high levels. As such, beta anhydrous will enable these homocysteine levels to be managed when we’re breaking down muscle as we lift weights, ultimately helping us manage performance and recovery.

Glycersize
This is another naturally occurring compound in the body and is involved in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.  After consumption, it is rapidly absorbed by the body and has properties which increase fluid distribution and retention. It is therefore involved in enhanced hydration and increasing muscle fullness, both of which will improve performance.

L-Tyrosine
This is a non-essential amino acid that is involved in chemical messaging within the brain, including (but not limited to) mental alertness. Upon consumption, you should see an improvement in your ability to focus, which is imperative on heavy sets when you need to be accurate. Improved accuracy will lead to increased muscle fibre recruitment, increased performance and as such, muscle breakdown.

Taurine
This is another non-essential amino acid that is not used to build protein but is found in several organs with widespread benefits. Amongst others, it supports nerve growth and the functioning of the central nervous system, maintains proper hydration, helps form bile salts (important in digestion), and regulates immune health and antioxidant function. In sports performance studies, it has been shown to reduce fatigue, protects muscles from cell damage, and increases your body’s ability to use fat as a fuel source.

Vaso6
This ingredient has similar properties to that of L-citrulline with regards to eliciting an increased production of nitric oxide. As you already know, nitric oxide production opens blood vessels throughout your body and improves blood flow. When you hear bodybuilders talk about “The Pump”, it usually has something to do with training and the use of these ingredients which aid in cellular swelling (muscle fullness). This swelling often dissipates sometime after training.

Astragin
This is a naturally occurring compound that increases the absorption of many vital nutrients, such as amino acids and omega 3s, promoting a healthy gut environment. It has been shown to increase protein synthesis in muscles (muscle building), promote glucose metabolism, and increase mitochondrial functions – these are the powerhouses of cells which regulate energy production.

As you can see from the list of ingredients, the benefits you receive by consuming them in a pre-workout formula are vast. Not all pre-workouts will have the same ingredients panel, as some might include different compounds, but they will no doubt be similar to what you see here.

From personal experience I have often found my performance to be much better when I take a pre-workout vs when I do not. Is it needed? Not at all. Does it help if your goal is to add muscle and increase training performance? Absolutely. I am currently sponsored by Complete Strength and if you head over to their website you’ll get discount at check out by using the code CSVW. As a side note there Pre Workouts are also Vegan friendly.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons