Best Pre-Workouts and Essential Supplements, For Beginners and Intermediates!
A pre-workout is a supplement that you take… before a workout. No surprise there! But what’s less obvious is what exactly is in pre-workout. How can a supplement help you to workout harder and see better results from your gym sessions? Do you need one? And are all pre-workouts made equal? Let’s take a look at the best pre-workout supplement and how all this affects the body…
While all pre-workouts are made differently, there are some commonalities between them and some things that we tend to see fairly regularly.
Here are some of the most common ingredients in pre-workouts, how they work and whether or not you should consider using them…
Yep, as it turns out, one of the most common ingredients in a pre-workout is caffeine. So what does caffeine do? Well, as you’re likely well-aware, caffeine makes you feel more awake and more alert.
It does this by reducing a substance called ‘adenosine’ in the brain which in turn is a bit like giving your brain a cold shower. This triggers the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and other stimulants, which in turn make you more alert and wired.
The result? You don’t feel as tired in the gym, you burn more calories and your heartrate speeds up. Moreover, you the increase in adrenaline can actually make you slightly stronger during lifts according to the research!
All the best pre-workout supplements will include caffeine but many will also include other stimulants like bitter orange and guarana. All these will have similar effects to caffeine but the way in which they work is different.
What’s crucial here is to try and avoid overdoing the stimulants to the point where you can end up feeling too wired and jittery and possibly even placing a strain on your heart. Bitter orange is a beta agonist for instance and many people will find this a little too intense (and it may also have addictive qualities).
Note as well that in order to build muscle you need to allow your body to rest – this is what puts it in an anabolic state. Ironically then, too much stimulant could actually damage your muscle gains!
A vasodilator is any compound that makes your veins widen and blood pump around your body more easily. Taking a supplement that has large amounts of vasodilators in it will make your entire body feel tingly and will give you more of a sense of pump during workouts.
More importantly, it will fuel you with more blood and oxygen to the brain and muscles to help you train harder. Many of the top pre workout supplements include nitric oxide for this purpose – though you can trigger a similar effect yourself with beet juice!
A simple inclusion, many pre-workouts will also have protein in them. This is important to help fuel muscle recovery right after you’ve trained during your ‘anabolic window’.
This is a little confusing for many people, as the whole concept of an anabolic window is something that is very debated currently. Does it exist or not?
The idea of the anabolic window, is that it is the ‘optimum time’ at which to take protein. This is when your muscles are broken down and your body is flooded with anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. At this time, it is looking for protein and amino acids which it can use to restore and repair the muscles. While many people say that protein timing doesn’t matter, many other people say that it’s better to consume protein just after a workout.
Except that it takes one hour for protein to be absorbed into the blood… so if you take protein after your workout, then it might not reach your blood at the right time. Including some protein in the pre-workout then actually makes a lot of sense (if you subscribe to this theory, at least).
BCAAs are ‘Branched-Chain Amino Acids’. Amino acids are found in protein and are what we actually use to repair muscle. BCAAs are simply amino acids that are combined in a form that’s muscle ready’ and that therefore stimulate more protein synthesis. This is good news because it means you increase your capacity for protein synthesis. This also sends a signal to the body that reduces the rate of protein breakdown (it’s all to do with mRNA).
Oh and BCAAs also block the feel-good hormone serotonin. Why would you want that? Because serotonin makes us feel fatigued (it converts to melatonin!).
All this means that BCAAs in the top pre-workout supplements can prevent muscle breakdown and make you more driven during workouts.
Finally, the best pre-workout supplement will always be one that provides some readily available energy, in the form of glucose and potentially other types of energy – like ketones from MCT oil.
Either way, training hard takes energy and that means a good pre-workout should fuel you with the calories you need to burn through your workouts with ferocity.
So what does all this actually feel like? And is it really necessary?
How a pre-workout feels depends on the type you take. If you take a pre-workout that focuses on stimulants, vasodilators and BCAAs all at once, then you’ll feel like a raging bull. Your hands will be tingling, your heart will be racing and you’ll essentially enter beast mode. This is great if you’re looking to train longer and harder and especially if you’re struggling to overcome fatigue.
But those aren’t really the top pre-workout supplements. Rather, the best pre-workout supplement will focus on pre-workout nutrition. That means that the best pre-workout meal can potentially replace a pre-workout!
Remember: too much stimulation is a bad thing. Instead then, you need to focus on providing your body with useable energy, BCAAs and protein… all of which you can get from the best pre-workout food.
But a really good pre-workout supplement will provide this too, all in a form that’s convenient and affordable. So it all depends on how you prefer to train.