To take pre-workouts or to not, that is the question

Hello fellow AFU readers. The topic is one of many discussed by athletes for years and that is to use pre-workouts or not. For those of you who do not know what pre-workout is, let me briefly explain. Pre-workouts are supplements that are taken between 30-40 minutes prior to any physical activity (read about the key 7 exercises for maintaining muscle). The reported benefits to these products are enhanced performance, strength endurance, explosiveness, and other superhuman feats. For those of you that do take pre-workouts, you probably experience these ‘benefits’, most times feeling the tingles, increases heart rates and veins protruding through your kit.

What’s in pre-workouts and their impact on you

The most common ingredient in pre-workout supplements is caffeine. This has been shown to have a direct impact on perceived exertion, which can be effective after a long day at work or first thing in the morning. However, there can be some negative impacts of the intense caffeine intake. First, one being the proportion sizes of these products often have way more than is needed for people. The daily recommended intake of caffeine should be around 3-6mg per kg body weight. So just to be on the safe side, make sure you are taking what is recommended and not on the scales of around 300mg, which some of these products can contain. Secondly, if you have a sensitivity to caffeine, some of these products can have concentrated amounts, and these, if taken in a huge quantity, can increase your heart rate to levels unsafe for activity.

A study conducted by the division of sport and recreation in Auckland University tested the effects of the caffeine of athletes. The main areas tested were strength output, endurance, and sprinting. The conclusion to this test was,

‘Caffeine provides several valuable performance-enhancing effects on simulated intermittent high-intensity team sport performance, making it a potentially useful supplement for games such as rugby, football, basketball, soccer, hockey, and tennis. Although the mechanisms for the effects are not fully understood, we speculate that caffeine influences several processes in the CNS (Central Nervous System) to reduce fatigue with repeated sprint and permit a higher level of motor drive and motor skills throughout games.’

What our AFU nutritionist has to say

Most pre-workouts are ineffective due to under-dosing, incorrect forms of ingredients (i.e. L-citrulline instead of Citrulline Malate) and so many ingredients that they all compete for absorption (competitive antagonism). The only ingredient that really makes a difference is the high caffeine.

Take 4-6mg/kg/bm of caffeine (320-480mg caffeine for an 80kg individual) pre-workout and you’re golden. This has shown to be the effective dosage range to elicit performance benefits.

Creatine needs to be saturated in the tissue and taken every day for it to have a benefit. Therefore, if the only creatine you take is in your pre-workout and you don’t take creatine on rest days, then you’re not gaining any benefit from it.

Beta-alanine improves work capacity in the 1-4 min duration so for lifting where sets are typically <30s in duration the beta alanine won’t be doing anything. Even if you get the ‘tingles’ (paresthesia) it’s a harmless side effect but doesn’t mean ‘it’s working’. Moreover, you must load on beta-alanine at 4- 6g/day for at least 2-4 weeks to see any performance benefit. Most pre-workouts have a lot less than this typically, and again, if you aren’t using it every day and not supplementing additional beta on your rest day it’s useless.

Long story short, save your money and just use caffeine tablets and coffee. Stick to the main three:

1) Protein

2) Creatine

3) Caffeine

1 Multiple effects of Caffeine on simulated high-intensity Team Sport Performance, Gene. Stuart, will g Hopkins, Christian Cook and Simeon P Carins, Division of Sport and Recreation, Auckland University, pages 1998-2005.

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