Not so long ago, when you asked for advice on how to boost your energy during a tough workout, people would recommend eating a banana, staying hydrated, and maintaining a balanced diet.
While those definitely still ring true today, it is possible that you could get what you are looking for from a good pre-workout supplement.
Pre-workout are designed to provide you with more energy for maintaining high-intensity workouts for longer. Over time, pre-workout ingredient lists have expanded to include ingredients that are scientifically proven to strengthen your muscles, increase blood flow and help reduce fat.
However, it should be noted that not all pre-workouts are created equally. Each pre-workout uses a different combination of ingredients and volume to achieve a blend that is designed to focus on certain fitness goals. For example, our HYDE Thermo has been designed for those who are looking to build lean muscle mass.
To find the best pre-workout fit for you, it’s important to learn what these ingredients are and what mixture would be optimal for your workout needs.
If you find yourself constantly confused over the long ingredient list you sometimes see on the back of the packaging, look no further. We’ve compiled a glossary of 10 of the most common ingredients found in pre-workouts, what each of these compounds does and how much you should be consuming.
BCCA stands for branched-chain amino acids, which include three of the twenty different kinds of amino acids. These proteins are found naturally in protein-rich food, like meat and dairy, but are also part of many supplements, including pre-workout.
BCAAs may also be listed by their individual names on an ingredient list: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They have many benefits that are supported by research, such as decreasing muscle soreness, reducing tiredness from exercise, and even improving liver health. Those who are looking to increase mass will be pleased to know that the BCAA leucine helps to stimulate muscle growth.
The recommended dose of BCAAs is 5-10 grams per day, or 3 grams for those who weigh less than 150 lbs.
2. Beetroot or Pomegranate Extracts
Beetroot in your pre-workout? It's true. And it's there for a good reason.
Apart from enhancing blood flow, these extracts are known to improve exercise stamina for long workouts, such as cross-country runs or long weight lifting sessions.
That said, there probably isn’t enough beetroot or pomegranate extract in a single serving of pre-workout for any significant impact in these areas, so consider supplementing your pre-workout with a serving of beetroot or pomegranate juice to start the day.
Not to mention, beetroot and pomegranates are high in vitamins, low in calories, and naturally fat-free.
Beta-alanine is a complex compound that can help you train harder by delaying the onset of muscle fatigue. Beta-alanine reduces the amount of lactic acid buildup in your muscles, allowing you to work your muscles harder at high intensity get those few extra reps in!
The recommended daily dose is 1.5 to 5 grams. However, if you choose to take a larger amount of beta-alanine, you may experience some skin flushing or a tingling sensation as a result of increased blood flow.
Some people do like this sensation because it gives them tangible proof that their pre-workout has an effect, but for others, it can be quite uncomfortable. If you’re one of the latter, consider taking a lower dose of your pre-workout.
The same ingredient you get from your morning coffee is one of the main ingredients in pre-workout.
You’re probably already familiar with the effects of caffeine from consuming it in caffeinated beverages, but the dosage in pre-workout supplements is often much higher and takes these benefits to the next level.
Studies show that caffeine is great for improving both power and endurance in your muscles, increasing blood flow, and lowering the perception of effort. Put plainly, it means that you can do more in your workout without feeling like you put in a lot more effort.
That said, with the high levels of caffeine found in pre-workout, you want to ensure you're staying under the recommended daily caffeine intake of 400mg. If you find yourself loading up on pre-workout, consider cutting back or cutting out other caffeinated beverages.
A great way to know if your pre-workout contains carbs is to look at the sugar content. Chances are that if the pre-workout is not sugar-free, it contains some sort of carbohydrate.
This isn’t a bad thing. Carbs can be useful when you’re doing workouts to improve cardiovascular health, such as long-distance cycling or running a marathon. They give you energy and can support recovery and muscle growth.
However, if you’re more focused on lifting weights at the gym, perhaps carbohydrates are not the most important or useful ingredient. Depending on your preferences, you may wish to opt for a sugar-free pre-workout to cut out the carbs and added calories.
6. Creatine Monohydrate
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most common and more important ingredients in pre-workout, and you’ll find it in almost all brands.
Creatine monohydrate improves strength, helps build lean muscle and aids in recovery. It is especially helpful for workouts with a low number of repetitions but that require some explosive strength, like heavy weightlifting.
By enabling your muscles to create more energy, creatine monohydrate floods your muscles with what they need for that extra jolt.
If you’re looking to bulk quickly and build muscle, you may take up to 20 grams of this supplement a day. However, if you’re just looking to maintain, about five grams, or one teaspoon’s worth, would be sufficient.
Like BCAAs, L-citrulline is an amino acid found in your body. Its main function is to produce a chemical known as nitric oxide, which helps your blood vessels to expand, thus improving blood flow during your workout. With improved blood flow, it’s easier for oxygen and other nutrients to get to the muscles that need the additional boost.
Doses under 15 grams daily are considered to be safe, though most people only need about 3-6 grams to experience the effects of L-citrulline.
Another building block for proteins found in the human body is L-glutamine. When taken as part of a pre-workout formula, research has shown that L-glutamine may help to reduce muscle soreness post-workout and improve recovery rates. Specifically, L-glutamine helps to repair new muscles from the tiny tears that are sustained during intense training.
L-glutamine is found in many foods such as eggs, seafood, nuts, and dark leafy greens; most people consume about 3-6 grams a day without even knowing it. For pre-workout formulas, it’s considered safe to take up to 14 grams of L-glutamine per day.
Vasodilators are compounds that widen your blood vessels, which means that ingredients like L-citrulline fall under this category as well.
Other vasodilators include nitroglycerin, alprostadil, and hydralazine, but many pre-workout formulas will label this group of compounds as "vasodilators" on the ingredient list.
Regardless, their function is the same: increasing blood flow to your muscles during your workout. This helps you to keep pushing and building muscle mass without feeling tired too quickly or completely exhausted at the end of your session.
10. Vitamin B
If you see niacin, Vitamin B12, or other B vitamins on the ingredient list, it’s a sign that your pre-workout formula is holistic, offering not just energy boosters, but also the necessary vitamins to help you build up your long term metabolism and energy.
Not only do B vitamins help tone your muscles and fuel your workout, but they also help to regulate cholesterol production, and support gut issues and anaemia.
In terms of dosage, the recommended daily intake is about 2.4 micrograms. Taking more Vitamin B is not an issue, though you should note that your body can only absorb a limited amount at a time. Taking more B vitamins through your pre-workout won’t change how much the body can absorb at a time.
When it comes to choosing a pre-workout, you want to select one based on your training goals. Knowing what ingredients to look out for and what each ingredient does is the first step in making an informed choice that will benefit you and help you accomplish what you set out to do in the gym.
If you are struggling and need more help figuring out which pre-workout is right for you, take our short quiz, where we can match your training needs with our range of pre-workout powders.