The supplements industry has exponentially grown over the past decade as people look to improve their performance and recovery.
From protein shakes to fat burner pills, an incredible range of products now exist. Many hold much promise while others are nothing more than a fad.
Pre-workout supplements are one of the more popular products that can be purchased. The purpose of a pre-workout is to optimize exercise performance and improve recovery.
This article will investigate pre-workout supplements and provide detail on the potential benefits and side effects.
What Is Pre-Workout?
Pre-workout is what is known as an ergogenic aid. This simply means that it is a tool that can be used to increase energy, improve performance, and enhance recovery.
Most pre-workout supplements come in a powder, liquid, or pill form. They are typically taken just before a training session to stimulate the nervous system.
There are several stimulating substances found in pre-workouts that cause this reaction. Common ingredients include BCAA’s, Beta-alanine, caffeine, creatine, and glycerol.
These substances all combine to prime the body most effectively for exercise.
Caffeine tends to be the main ingredient of pre-workout. The drug stimulates the central nervous system to sharpen focus and provide boost energy.
Several amino acids are also included. Specific amino acids can help to fight off fatigue, allowing us to exercise for longer at a higher intensity.
Amino acids also play a huge role in muscle protein synthesis (or muscle repair). Therefore, consuming pre-workout can also enhance the rate of recovery from the bout of training.
Why Do We Take Pre-Workout?
As touched on, pre-workout is taken to boost energy levels and improve exercise performance and recovery.
Not only does it appear to be effective, it is also highly convenient. Most supplements are palatable, mix well, and don’t require a great deal of prep or effort.
Pre-workout is commonly taken by a range of athletes, lifters, and gym users. The purpose of taking pre-workout is very individual.
For example, the athlete may use pre-workout to give them a slight edge over their opponent.
Whereas lifters may use pre-workout to allow them to lift heavier and make substantial progress with their strength.
Finally, those looking to generally improve their fitness may consider using pre-workout. It may allow them to work harder in gym sessions and make the most optimal progress.
Over the years, there have been several scientific studies investigating the impact of pre-workouts on exercise performance.
In this section, we will review a number of these benefits and briefly discuss how pre-workouts actually work.
1. Increased Energy
Regardless of whether we are lifting weight, distance running, or participating in sport, we all need energy. Low energy levels and fatigue can detrimentally impact performance.
Therefore, pre-workout can be used to provide energy, fight fatigue and ultimately improve how we perform.
Caffeine will help to stimulate the nervous system, whereas creatine and specific amino acids can directly boost energy.
Feeling energized will allow us to exercise at a high standard for longer. In addition, pre-workouts may help to minimize the impact of fatigue thus enhancing endurance.
2. Enhanced Blood Flow
There are a number of substances, such as arginine and citrulline, have been found to enhance blood flow (1).
When these substances are consumed, the body produces a compound known as nitric oxide. This compound causes vasodilation and allows blood to flow more freely.
Improving blood flow to the working muscles will allow for the delivery of critical nutrients and oxygen. As well as this, waste products can be removed more efficiently.
This will cause improvements in muscular endurance and athletic performance.
3. Improved Muscular Endurance
One of the most well-studied substances in sport science is creatine. The research indicates that creatine can be supplemented to improve muscular power and endurance (2).
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance that is stored with muscle. Its primary function is to provide the muscle with energy.
Therefore, by consuming creatine, we can effectively improve the amount of energy produced by the muscle. The more energy available, the more endurant the muscles will be.
In addition to this, it has also been associated with enhancing muscular strength, size, and exercise performance.
4. Better Mental Focus
For many years, caffeine has been considered an effective ergogenic aid. Research has indicated that caffeine onsets a range of physical and mental changes.
Not only does it energize the body to boost performance, it also sharpens mental skills to contribute towards a better performance (3).
Studies have shown that it impacts explicitly mental alertness, mood, attention, and concentration.
This may allow us to maintain focus throughout training sessions and consequently perform to a better standard.
Pre-workout Side Effects
While pre-workouts have the potential to impact performance, they may also come with specific side effects.
This section will detail several potential side effects that are associated with pre-workout supplements.
1. High Blood Pressure
A typical pre-workout may contain up to 300 mg of caffeine, which is three times the amount found in a cup of coffee.
Because caffeine is a stimulant, it has been found to increase blood pressure in the short-term dramatically.
Consistently having high blood pressure can put excess strain on the heart and blood vessels. It may also lead to the development of cardiac diseases like coronary heart disease.
2. Tingling sensation
One of the most common side effects of pre-workout is the sensation of tingling or prickling. This is caused by ingredients in the pre-workout, mainly beta-alanine and niacin.
Some individuals may be more sensitive to specific substances than others and may, therefore, experience this to a higher degree.
While this sensation may be disconcerting and unpleasant, it’s not usually a sign that something is wrong.
There are several ingredients in pre-workout that increase water retention and contribute to dehydration.
In addition to this, intense exercise will cause the body to sweat and the working muscles to use up water.
A combination of these things can severely impact hydration levels. Dehydration has a detrimental impact on health, performance, and cognitive abilities.
Headaches are not uncommon for pre-workout users. There are two main mechanisms that appear to contribute toward this.
As mentioned in the above section, pre-workouts may cause dehydration and, often, dehydration can lead to a headache.
Additionally, caffeine may also be a contributing factor. As caffeine wears off, a substance known as adenosine builds up, which may cause a headache (4).
Some of the ingredients and combinations used may have a laxative effect and consequently cause diarrhea.
Therefore, those who have particularly sensitive stomachs should be wary of pre-workout use.
Diarrhea has the potential to cause other issues too. It increases the amount of water lost from the body and can contribute towards dehydration and headaches.
Considering that many of the ingredients of pre-workout stimulate the body and increase alertness, sleep can be affected.
The effects of substances like caffeine take a long time to wear off. Studies have shown that taking caffeine up to six hours before bed can significantly impact sleep. (5)
Therefore, if the pre-workout is taken in the evening, there is a higher chance that it will interfere with sleep.
How To Avoid Pre-Workout Side Effects
There are a number of actions that can be taken to minimize the risk of experiencing these side-effects.
Firstly, it would be wise to consult a medical professional before starting to take pre-workout regularly. This is essential for any who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions.
Next, consider the quality of the pre-workout supplement. It is essential to use a popular pre-workout that contains high-quality and safe ingredients.
Many cheap pre-workouts will have been manufactured poorly and may come with many side-effects. In addition to this, these products may even be ineffectual or even hazardous.
Finally, consider the ingredients used in the product. Always read the nutrition label carefully to ensure that the product is most suitable.
For those who are particularly sensitive to stimulants, it is recommended to start with a low-dose pre-workout. Using a highly stimulating product may increase side effects.
Several other steps that may be useful to reduce or avoid side effects include:
- Avoiding extremely stimulating products
- Lowering the dosage
- Avoiding pre-workouts that contain tingling ingredients
- Maintaining hydration levels throughout the day
- Adding more water to powder products
- Avoiding taking pre-workout in the evening
If we seek to improve performance, it may be worthwhile purchasing a pre-workout. Not only are they quick and convenient, but scientific research has also demonstrated their effectiveness.
When selecting a pre-workout, a high-quality supplement must be chosen and used responsibly. If this is not adhered to, side effects may be experienced.
Ultimately, whether or not pre-workouts are used comes down to a personal choice. However, any supplement that interferes with sleep, diet, or hydration should be avoided.