Pre-workouts are designed to give you an extra edge when you train, so you can push those boundaries and achieve your maximum potential. They contain – in essence – a cocktail of ingredients designed to enhance performance.
Usually, a stimulant (caffeine) will be included as a basis which serves to combat fatigue and psyche you up for training, providing a motivational, helping hand. They’re ideal for when you have a particularly gruelling session planned; the ones that require that little bit more ‘oomph’ to power you through. For those days when you feel uninspired (even the most dedicated gym enthusiasts have these) pre-workouts serve a great purpose.
Being a very popular sports nutrition product, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to pre-workout formulae. Usually, they’re usually available as a powder which you mix with water and drink some 15-30 minutes before heading to the gym. Some are available as capsules/tablets for ultra-convenience; for example, fat-burners sometimes double-up as pre-workouts.
Below, you’ll find what might be considered the ‘blue print’ of ingredients that most pre-workouts are likely based on, with variations occurring across brands:
As mentioned above, this functions primarily as a stimulant, to increase energy levels. This is not ‘true’ energy, but a result of arousing the central nervous system, increasing alertness, mental focus and stamina. Caffeine can be useful when you’re fatigued/sleep-deprived, but refuse to let this affect your workout! Sports professionals sometimes refer to it as an ‘ergogenic aid’ (performance enhancer). Strength can differ – usually somewhere between 150-200mg.
This amino acid helps to increase muscle power and strength, so that you can train at your peak for longer. It works as an intracellular buffer, helping to re-balance muscle pH by ‘mopping up’ the (+) hydrogen ions that are released during exercise. Along with lactic acid build-up, these lower muscle pH, leading to fatigue.
This functions to regenerate ATP which sustains muscle contractions. This helps you to train at a more intense level, helping to increase endurance and muscle power output.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The essential aminos leucine, isoleucine and valine are an integral to the growth and repair of muscle tissue and maintaining an anabolic environment. If supplied around the time you train, this can help to suppress the breakdown of muscle proteins (catabolism). For maximum effect, these are added in a 2:1:1 ratio (in the order mentioned).
Nitric Oxide Percursors
Nitric oxide functions as a vasodilator (dilates blood vessels). This improves nutrient and oxygen delivery to the muscles and organs, giving a muscle pump; this can increase energy levels and boost recovery. Niacin is a popular NO precursor, thus often features in pre-workouts.