09 Nov Understanding 7 Common Pre-Workout Ingredients
Pre-workout supplements are commonly used to enhance energy levels, assist with weight loss, and improve athletic performance during training. But with thousands of workout products on the market, it can leave your head spinning trying to pick the best one. There’s always a new ingredient being marketed as the “missing link” to health and fitness, but serious athletes want to avoid fads and go straight for what’s going to work.
Eliminate the confusion by educating yourself on the most common ingredients and how they might help you reach your goals. We’ve highlighted the most common pre-workout ingredients so you can pick the best supplements to get you through intense training sessions.
Do You Need Pre-Workout Supplements?
Pre-workout supplements are known as ergogenic aids, which means they’re intended to enhance energy levels, weight loss, athletic performance, muscular endurance, power output, or recovery. They’re generally taken shortly before your workout so that your body can use the pre-workout ingredients during and directly after training.
The pre-workout supplements you take should be based on your goals and how your body responds to intense exercise. For example, if you’re constantly exhausted after a workout, a simple cup of coffee or a caffeinated performance-enhancing supplement could help. And if you don’t see the muscle mass gains you want after a few months, it could be time to add creatine or BCAAs to the mix.
Before adding a pre-workout supplement to your routine, though, it’s always best to check with your doctor or a nutritional specialist. Your doctor can help you pick the best ingredients for your health and test you for deficiencies that could be impacting your athletic performance.
Top 7 Common Pre-Workout Ingredients
With so many workout powders, bars, pills, and drinks on the market, the first step to finding the best pre-workout supplement is understanding the ingredients. Here are seven of the most common pre-workout ingredients, along with a brief explanation of what they do and how they work.
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, refer to a set of amino acids with a branched structure. Amino acids help build proteins, and they play a central role in vital processes of your body, ranging from promoting muscle growth to allowing the synthesis of hormones.
There are three branched-chain amino acids: valine, isoleucine, and leucine. BCAAs are essential, which means that your body can’t make them on its own and requires a food source. They comprise around 35% of your body’s proteins.
BCAAs work by providing your body with easily-digested protein building blocks to repair and support your muscles. Using BCAA supplements may help reduce muscle soreness, reduce fatigue, and promote muscle growth, among other things. Learn more about how BCAAs work and if they’re worth it.
If you’ve spent much time in vitamin or health stores, you’ve probably noticed beetroot juice for sale. Some athletes drink this bright-red juice to enhance their performance, and for good reason. For one, beetroot juice contains nitrates, which stimulates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide can increase blood flow to your muscles, enhancing endurance and performance.
Beetroot also contains betaine, which occurs naturally in your body and is a derivative of glycine, an amino acid. Betaine may improve exercise performance, elevating nitric oxide levels in your blood while increasing the rates of creatine synthesis. In addition, consuming beetroot may help lower blood pressure and improve digestion.
3. Beta-Alanine (and other amino acids)
Beta-alanine is commonly found in popular pre-workout supplements. Like many pre-workout ingredients, it’s an amino acid. Specifically, beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that your body uses to produce carnosine, which can reduce lactic acid accumulation in your muscles.
Lactic acid build-up in your muscles can result in muscle cramps, pain, and fatigue. These symptoms can decrease the number of reps you can do, the weight you can lift, or the time that your body can sustain cardiovascular exercise.
By supplying your body with beta-alanine, increasing your body’s supply of carnosine, you can reduce lactic acid build-up. Doing so may help improve athletic performance while reducing muscle fatigue.
It can also be beneficial to supplement with individual amino acids, including:
- L-Citrulline: Acts as a vasodilator, meaning it promotes blood vessel dilation, while lowering blood pressure (commonly added as citrulline malate in pre-workout ingredients)
- L-Arginine: Acts as a vasodilator, helps lower blood pressure, and helps build proteins
- L-Tyrosine: Helps improve cognitive functioning, reduce stress, and enhance endurance
- Taurine: May boost exercise performance, improve heart health, and fight diabetes
Carbohydrates might not be the first thing you think of when considering dietary supplements, but they’re essential for every workout. Carbohydrates provide your body with glucose, which is stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. The glycogen stored in your muscles is enough to provide the primary source of energy for most high-intensity and short workouts. When it is depleted, performance will decrease.
For longer workouts, such as prolonged cardio, the degree to which your body uses carbohydrates depends on your diet, training type, and training intensity. Consuming carbohydrates can increase your glycogen stores, allowing you to exercise for longer before they’re depleted.
Creatine, or creatine monohydrate, is a substance found in muscle cells that assists with energy production during heavy lifting and high-intensity workouts. It is a popular pre-workout ingredient for bodybuilding, resistance training, and weightlifting. This is because of its capacity to increase lean muscle mass and exercise capacity.
Creatine supplementation is considered safe for healthy individuals, and side effects generally only occur in cases of overconsumption. Typically, creatine supplementation is most effective when taken shortly before or shortly after a workout. If you don’t feel that creatine is the best pre-workout supplement for you, it may be worth trying it as a post-workout supplement instead.
6. B Vitamins
Many pre-workout ingredient lists contain a proprietary blend of B vitamins designed to enhance your performance. B vitamins are necessary for high-intensity workouts and regular exercise may increase your body’s need for them. In particular, exercise might increase your need for riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin B6.
The most important thing that B vitamins do is help convert protein, fat, and carbohydrates into glucose. Riboflavin also works as an antioxidant and helps your body convert folate and vitamin B6 into forms it can synthesize. Moreover, vitamin B6 supports a healthy nervous system and immune system.
Since you may need more of both riboflavin and vitamin B6 with a regular workout routine, it’s worth consulting a healthcare professional to have your levels checked.
Electrolytes are vital for many functions in your body. They’re essential minerals like potassium, sodium, and calcium, and you’ve probably heard all about them in ads for common sports drinks.
Electrolytes have many functions in your body, including the regulation of hydration and muscle contractions. They’re also essential for balancing your pH levels and controlling nervous system function.
If you regularly do high-intensity workouts for extended periods (60-90 minutes), electrolyte supplementation may help improve performance. Electrolyte loss happens through your sweat. The total loss varies greatly among athletes depending on the total sweat produced and the electrolyte concentration in the sweat.
Symptoms of low electrolytes may include muscle cramps, dizziness, muscle weakness, nausea, and muscle spasms.
Choose the Best Pre-Workout Supplement
With so many supplements to choose from, trying to pick the best pre-workout supplement takes some knowledge. It can help to make a list of the pre-workout ingredients you’re most interested in based on your goals, health, and doctor recommendations.
Once you’ve noted the pre-workout ingredients you’re interested in, look for brands and products with high-quality ingredients and science-backed research. Avoid brands that overuse marketing hype without providing evidence to support the efficacy of their products and ingredients.
For example, Ingredient Optimized products, including ioWhey Protein, ioPea Protein, ioBCAA, and ioCollagen, are designed for enhanced bioavailability. Better bioavailability means that processes like protein synthesis are more efficient for your body and ensure you get the most out of the supplement you’ve chosen to buy.