Pre-workout drinks 101

Pre-workout drinks occupy a large part of the supplement industry and their popularity is increasing rapidly. Many people are in a constant search for a better pump, better focus, more vascularity and better training sessions as a result of pre-workout drinks. But what exactly are pre-workout drinks? Why do we use them? And more importantly why do some people rely on them to train to their maximum?

Pre-workout drinks are a cocktail of performance enhancing ingredients that are taken 20-30 minutes prior to training. These ingredients combine to increase blood flow to muscles, oxygen utilisation, focus, drive, mental awareness, they delay the onset of fatigue, they can aid in resynthesizing ATP through creatine content and can actually aid in anabolism during your workout. Through doing this they provide for a much better workout and superior performance. This is the reason I believe that people use these products and can even become addicted. Pre-workout supplements can come in capsule form, RTD’s or most commonly powder that is mixed up with water to create a juice like drink. They are not of the same consistency or taste as protein shakes and usually come in fruit flavours.

So what exactly makes up pre-workout drinks? What are these key ingredients that give these amazing results?

Generally pre-workout drinks contain the following key ingredients in some form or another:
Beta alanine

These are just a few of the many ingredients that make up pre-workout drinks. These ingredients often come in many different forms as well. Creatine for example will be included in the form of monohydrate, ethyl-ester, gluconate and many more. The reason for these many forms of many ingredients is that they can combine to give best results and also a large part down to marketing. I strongly believe that a more basic pre-workout will give better results.

So what do these key ingredients do?

Creatine – will increase the rate at which your body can produce energy. Creatine resynthesizes ATP which is the chemical compound needed to produce muscular contractions. Having increased creatine stores allows for faster replenishment of ATP and therefore more energy available when you need it. However for creatine to really be effective it must be taken at a dose of 5g daily. Usually creatine content in pre-workout drinks is only 1-2g and this is not taken daily so in the most part is unnecessary. This is the same story for beta-alanine. Although BA is great as a supplement to delay fatigue, it must be taken at 4-6g daily to feel any benefit, therefore including it only pre-workout will pose little benefit to your training.

Arginine – Arginine is used in many different forms in all pre-workout drinks. Arginine converts to nitric oxide and thus dilates blood vessels allowing for increased blood flow to the muscles. This allows for increased muscle pumps and more oxygen to the muscle (this also replenishes ATP when doing aerobic training). The increased blood flow also helps the transportation of blood sugars and vital aminos to the muscle, aiding both performance and recovery.

Caffeine – Caffeine is a mental stimulant that is used in nearly all pre-workout drinks. The use of caffeine pre-workout has been shown in many studies to massively aid performance both physically and mentally. The increased focus and concentration can help when playing most sports and the physical benefits of caffeine will enhance performance for any athlete. Usually you will find caffeine dosed around 100-200mg per serving. 300mg is as high as I would recommend the average sized male to consume and this will be too much for most people.

Other ingredients will include fast acting carbs like glucose or dextrose to help with delivery of the other nutrients and to give an insulin response; amino acids like the BCAA’s and glutamine to aid anabolism during training; additions like glycerol monostearate and other ingredients to aid pump and vascularity can be added; as well as an abundance of other stimulants to affect the mental focus of the athlete throughout the full training session.

It seems like an obvious question but how exactly should pre-workout drinks be used? Obviously you take them pre-workout, but exactly when depends on the person. I personally recommend taking on an empty stomach roughly 20 minutes prior to training. I have a meal 90 minutes before training so my body has had 70 minutes to digest all of the food. I recommend starting on half the recommended dosage and then building it up with time. The longer you take a pre-workout for the larger your tolerance will be so you will have to take larger dosages. This is the very reason I recommend cycling pre-workout drinks. Only use these drinks when you feel you need to (not every training session) and have a break every 4 weeks at least! If you don’t do this your body adapts to the product and you don’t feel the mental benefits that you did when you first took the product.

Most products can be stacked with pre-workout drinks, and most companies that make pre-workout drinks make a post-workout drink to accompany it. These post-workout drinks are usually creatine based to account for the relatively low creatine content in the pre-workout drink. Good examples of these are BSN cellmass (to be stacked with no-xplode), gaspari size on (to be stacked with super pump), VPX synthesize (to be stacked with shotgun). The only product I would not recommend stacking with pre-workouts is a fat burner. They are ok when taken far enough apart but if taken together can lead to overdoing the mental stimulants.

So which pre-workout drinks would u personally recommend? Here are my top 4 picks:


PhD V-max pump

BSN NO-Xplode 2.0

Ronnie Coleman Myo-blitz

Gaspari Super Pump Max

Overall in my opinion pre-workouts are fantastic. They will not directly build muscle or burn fat to any recordable degree but that rush they give you and the satisfaction of knowing you had an amazing training session to me means they are worth the money. The muscle pumps that make you look how you want to look even if it doesn’t last and the joy of seeing those weights that normally you wouldn’t be able to lift, go up with ease mean a pre-workout drink is always a staple part of my supplement stack.

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