There’s a lot more to a good pre-workout supplement than just a caffeine boost! Pre-workouts can help to boost muscle protein synthesis (mps), endurance, strength, pump, energy, even help to limit muscle soreness. Listed below in no particular order, are 5 of the top pre-workout ingredients on the market. If you’re looking to take your results to the next level, read on to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your pre-workout.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is taken up by muscle fibers where it will combine with histidine to create carnosine. Carnosine helps to buffer metabolic waste such as lactic acid, resulting in increased endurance, strength, power, and recovery. (1) The wide variety of proven benefits offered by beta-alanine make it a top pre-workout ingredient for anyone looking to boost their performance in the gym. Optimal dosage ranges from 2-5 g. (2) Some people prefer to split up these doses due to the tingling sensation (called paresthesia) that is often caused by taking large doses of beta-alanine. Don’t worry though, this is a harmless side effect that some people actually enjoy.
- Citrulline Malate
Citrulline Malate (or L-Citrulline Malate) is simply the amino acid citrulline bonded to malic acid. Citrulline is one of the premiere pump-inducing ingredients on the market. A majority of arginine consumed is broken down by the liver long before it can cause an increase in NO levels (and give you a pump). Citrulline, however, bypasses the liver and is then converted to arginine within the body, and eventually to NO. In fact, citrulline has been shown to boost blood arginine levels more than citrulline itself! (3) Though L-Citrulline can provide great pumps on its own, combining citrulline with malate also provides the ATP boosting benefits of malate which helps to generate more ATP through the Krebs cycle to give you more energy. (4) Optimal dosage for L-citrulline itself is about 1-3 grams, while doses of citrulline malate should be about 6 grams in order to provide you with a full dose of L-citrulline (5). Also, look for citrulline-malate in a 2:1 ratio, meaning that there are 2 molecules of citrulline bonded to each molecule of malate, for optimal dosing.
- Betaine Anhydrous
Betaine Anhydrous (also known as trimethylglycine or “TMG”) is a vitamin derived from the amino acid choline. It naturally occurs in plants such as sugar beets. Betaine may cause increases in power output, anaerobic work capacity, energy levels, and cellular hydration. (6,7) Betaine may also help to lower body fat and cholesterol levels, though more research is needed on this. (8) Dosing ranges from 2.5 g- 6 g. If taking above 3 g at once, split it into 2 separate doses in order to avoid gastrointestinal distress.
Once in the body, choline becomes acetylcholine, the primary neurotransmitter involved in muscle contraction. Acetylcholine is also involved in memory, meaning that choline supplementation may help you to feel more focused and have more mental energy. (9) There are many forms of choline including Choline Bitartrate, Alpha-GPC, Citicoline (CDP-Choline). Each form has its own dosing, so be sure to check the label instructions of any choline supplement you order.
Lastly, we have one of the most common, and beneficial, pre-workout ingredients. Caffeine is the world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive drug. On top of providing increased energy, caffeine can cause increased alertness, sharpened focus, and improved mood. It has also been shown to increase pain tolerance, fat burning, strength, power, and endurance. (10, 11, 12) Caffeine has been shown to have some mild diuretic effects, though studies have been shown that concern over this is unwarranted. (13, 14) Although the dehydrating effects are minimal, be sure to drink plenty of water just in case. Caffeine is addictive, however, so taking a week off of caffeinated pre-workout every now and then is a good idea. It can also make it difficult to fall asleep, so avoid caffeinated pre-workouts if you workout at night. Caffeine comes in many different forms and caffeine tolerance is very individual, so I’ll let you decide on what dose is right for you. If you are not used to caffeine, start off small to assess your tolerance.
Additional Things to Note:
Just because a supplement was not listed here does not mean it’s not beneficial. There are several more pre-workout ingredients that are very well-studied and are proven to increase performance. When buying your next pre-workout, know that some ingredients mirror the effects of those listed above. Therefore, your pre-workout may provide the same benefits, even without some of these ingredients. On top of this, supplements such as creatine, BCAAs, and fish oil were excluded from this list. Though these supplements are extremely beneficial in many ways, there is no specific reason to take them before a workout.