Low Carb Pre-Workouts - What To Look For


Let’s face it, the sports nutrition market is inundated with a plethora of promised results from pre-workout magic pills and potions. So, how is it possible to sort through this vast list of ingredients? Of even more significance, how can pre-workouts contribute to increases in performance and improve body composition?


How do they work?

Essentially what is most important is to understand that pre-workouts themselves do not directly increase muscle mass, speed, strength, time to exhaustion, but rather indirectly, on the notion that the combination of certain ingredients enhance the body’s ability to increase work rate, potentially handle greater loads and prolong time to fatigue.

For example, if one has the ability to perform:

x 3 sets, 8 reps 100kg back squat, this would equate to 24 reps, and 2,400 kg lifted in total.

If the addition of a pre workout gave the user the ability to lift for longer, harder, delay time to fatigue and, as a result, heighten the intensity of a session, equating to a greater total volume performed, this would result in:

x 3 sets, 10 reps, 100kg back squat, would approximate; 30 reps and 3,000 kg lifted in total.

Greater increases in total volume performed will eventually result in a subsequent increase in lean body mass (LBM) and strength.

From an adaptation standpoint, one’s body can only respond to the stresses placed upon it. Consistent and progressive overload are enough of a reason to increase strength and LBM, therefore improving body composition!


Top 3 evidence-based essential ingredients to look out for in your pre workout:


Beta alanine

Of the available evidence on beta alanine and exercise, it has been demonstrated that beta alanine enhances ones ability to exercise (1). Most notable were the positive effects attributed to improvements in exercise capacity, suggesting that beta alanine has the ability to enhance exercise endurance and, as a by-product, will prolong even the most strenuous and long workouts, thus, increasing total volume performed. This would therefore contribute in terms of periodising workouts and progressive overload, over a set period of time, contributing to changes in body composition.

Sensitivity to beta alanine is dependent on the individual and the only harmless side effect is paraesthesia (2) which is characterised by the notable prickling/itching of the skin, which most will experience when using a pre workout supplement. The performance enhancing effects of beta alanine have been shown to be greater for bouts of exercise lasting a minute or more, making it an astute addition to highly ‘volumous’ long working sets or prolonged bouts of interval based activity (4, 5).



One of the most well researched stimulant based ergogenic aids within the sports supplement market, caffeine has the ability to enhance mental clarity (5), energy, and time to fatigue (6). Caffeine’s effects have been shown to be more powerful when consumed in an anhydrous state – capsule/tablet, or with reference to the majority of pre workouts on the market, powder (7). This potent supplement also contributes to muscle endurance and muscle power (8), making it a shrewd addition to an already sound and solid nutritional foundation.


Citrulline Malate

Citrulline Malate has been researched rigorously and more specifically the inverse relationship between intramuscular citrulline and lactate. That is, its ability to delay fatigue through its contributory effect in increasing the body’s capacity to increase lactate absorption toward the resynthesis (production) of energy further contributing to muscle contractions (9). Enhanced ability to reabsorb lactate increases ability to perform reps and increase resistance performance (10), and delay fatigue, resulting in greater energy expenditure with regards the improvement of body composition and increased total weight lifted towards the adaptive process of increasing strength and adding LBM.

The aforementioned taken into consideration highlights some of more, well researched ingredients on the market and the contributory effects of those toward enhancing performance and the subsequent physiological adaptive responses, thereafter.

All the above can be found in PhD’s new pre-workout shot, VMX RTD, which has more beta alanine than its powdered counterpart per serving offering – not only more ‘bang for your buck’ but a convenient, easy to carry, ready to drink alternative. The added beta alanine and 200mg of caffeine provides just enough active ingredients without the ‘crash’ commonly associated to other pre workout formulas.



  1. Hobson RM, Saunders B, Ball G, et al. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012;43:25–37.
  2. Stellingwerff T, et al Effect of two β-alanine dosing protocols on muscle carnosone synthesis and Amino Acids. (2012)
  1. Derave W, Ozdemir MS, Harris RC, et al. Beta-alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J Appl Physiol. 2007;103:1736–43.
  1. Kern BD, Robinson TL. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25:1804–15
  1. Graham TE. Sprict LL: Metabolic, catecholamine, and exercise performance responses to various doses of caffeine. J Appl Physiol 1995, 78:867-74
  1. Kuhman DJ, Joyner KJ, Bloomer RJ Cognitive Performance and Mood Following Ingestion of a Theacrine-Containing Dietary Supplement, Caffeine, or Placebo by Young Men and Women. Nutrients. 2015 Nov 19;7(11):9618-32
  1. McArdle WD, Katch FI. Katch VL: Exercise physiology. Energy nutrition, & human performance Baltimore Lippincott. Williams & Wilkins 2007. (Series Editor)
  1. Chen HY, Wang HS, Tung K, Chao HH: Effects of Gender Difference and Caffeine Supplementation on Anaerobic Muscle Performance. Int J Sports Med. 2015 Nov;36(12):974-8
  1. Wax B, Kavazis AN, Weldon K, Sperlak J Effects of supplemental citrulline malate ingestion during repeated bouts of lower-body exercise in advanced weightlifters. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Mar;29(3):786-92.
  1. Wax B, Kavazis AN, Luckett W: Effects of Supplemental Citrulline-Malate Ingestion on Blood Lactate, Cardiovascular Dynamics, and Resistance Exercise Performance in Trained Males. J Diet Suppl. 2016 May 3;13(3):269-82.


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