Everybody who has ever walked into a gym, and their dog, has heard of pre-workout supplement
ation at some point. Perhaps, you're even reminded of it every session by an overly-enthusiastic, influencer-wannabe buddy who has to update their feed every 30 seconds. But it's safe to assume that there's an overwhelming amount of misinformation on the internet relating to the proper use of this potentially excellent addition to an aspiring athlete's arsenal. Before we delve into the 'how,' it might pay to first discuss the 'what' and 'why.'
What are the benefits of taking pre-workout supplements, and what can you expect to find in the average dose?
Some products on the market have decided to move away from caffeine. However, it would be a disservice to suggest that caffeine doesn't play a pivotal role in boosting mental aptitude and short term physical exertion. Caffeine is a psychomotor stimulant that increases your central nervous system activity and has been shown to improve muscular endurance, reaction time, and attention.
Caffeine also owes its athletic utility to its ability to change our neural chemistry. The stimulant blocks adenosine, the neurotransmitter that makes you tired, from binding to its receptors. Its effect on other neurotransmitters like serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine can also contribute to an acute short-term increase in brain function.
Getting your dose right could either make or break your session and relies predominantly on what you intend to do and your caffeine sensitivity. If you're only in the mood for light cardio, then it's probably best to err on the conservative side. Aim for somewhere around 250mg half an hour before-hand for the desired effect. If you plan on stepping the routine up a notch and hitting the bench, then taking more is fine, but don't over-do it. It is possible, and it ain't pretty, especially mid-dead-lift.
If you're unfamiliar with a product, then read the directions carefully. Aim for a small dosage to begin and adjust to cater to your tolerance.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's).
Branched Chain Amino Acids are basically the ingredients for tons of different proteins your body uses to repair and build itself. This particular group, which only make up 3 of 9 essential amino acids, are not created naturally and must be obtained through diet. It's not hard to see why BCAA's are a beneficial addition to most good pre-workout supplements. They've been shown to increased muscle growth, decrease exercise fatigue and severity of muscle damage. Also, some studies have indicated a reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness(DOMS).
By supplementing appropriately before a strenuous workout session, BCAA's may help speed up the recovery time after the workout has been completed. However, in clinical studies, BCAA's have seen a 50% increase in effectiveness when taken alongside other essential amino acids. Luckily they're easy enough to add to your diet. They are commonly found in high protein foods and whey protein supplements.
Like anything, the recommended intake depends on several factors specific to the individual's physical demands, such as age, gender, and body weight. Given that subjective nature, there doesn't seem to be an awful lot of consensus on the matter. Most people who maintain a healthy balanced diet can probably get enough without the need to supplement. But if you find that you're on a first-name basis with your local 24/7 staff, then you may need to up those rookie numbers. If you're a high-intensity athlete, then 10g should be a minimum, and you could potentially require up to around 20g or more.
Keep an eye on our educational articles section for a more comprehensive look at BCAA's benefits, the broader spectrum of amino acids, and how to properly integrate them into your diet.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Another commonplace supplement in pre-workout mixtures is Cobalamin, better known as vitamin B12. Along with 7 other B vitamins, B12 helps the body produce energy by converting food into glucose. Although it's quite accessible through a healthy diet, it's worth pointing out that, like BCAA's, B12 is not produced naturally in our bodies. This incredible vitamin has been credited to a host of impressive features. Better cardiovascular health, improved energy levels and reduced fatigue, improved brain function and preventing loss of neurons, regulating mood, and improving depression symptoms, just to name a few.
When you think of the potential utility of B12, it's probably easy to see why this essential vitamin has made its way into the standard pre-workout repertoire. I mean, who the hell would say no thanks to more tacklin' fuel before a hard session? According to scientific evidence, B12 wouldn't be much more than a filler for some people. Studies have suggested that unless you were already deficient in B12, like a staggering 40% of Americans, an extra hit would most likely go unnoticed.
Keeping dosed up on Cobalamin is always a great idea—Albeit, attempt to gain the recommended daily intake through natural dietary methods before supplementing. The body will generally absorb the vitamin better this way. And if you're a healthy adult, that amount should be between 2.4-2.8mcg.
For a more in-depth look at each of these ingredients, or for more information on how to use supplements safely, keep an eye on our articles page for regular updates.