In general, here at Summit Strength we believe in a whole-food-first approach to fueling for your workouts. However, there are a few supplements which can be extremely beneficial. Among those are fish oil, BCAAs, protein powder, and select pre-workout supplements. Notice I said SELECT pre-workout supplements. Many are full of the same sweetener as is in diet sodas (aspertame) or contain so much caffeine you’re likely to immediately have extreme jitters and a rapid heart rate from one serving. So, that being said, what should you look for in a pre-workout supplement in order to excel in the gym? And why should you even be taking one in the first place?
Pre-Workout Supplement Ingredients and Benefits:
Below are four ingredients you can find in quality pre-workout supplements, as well as their benefits. The goal here is simple: to explain why a pre-workout supplement can benefit you with your health and fitness goals.
Beta-alanine can help with a variety of aspects of your exercise routine. These include, but are not limited to:
- Increased aerobic capacity
- Increased muscle mass
- Increased explosive muscular strength and power
In layman’s terms, what this means is you can train longer, harder, and see more results from doing so. Who wouldn’t like that? The process through which beta-alanine improves your performance doesn’t happen directly from the supplement, but rather through it’s role in increasing your body’s production of carnosine.
When you exercise, your muscles become filled with H+ ions. This drops the pH of your blood, and causes the burning sensation in your muscles often referred to as lactic acid. Carnosine buffers this affect and balances out your pH level, thereby reducing the burning sensation and allowing you to carry on working hard in the gym.
2. BCAAs – Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine
These BCAAs are 3 of the 9 essential BCAAs, meaning your body cannot create them, and they therefore must be ingested via your diet. While there are many reported benefits of BCAAs, here are three which help you achieve your goals with health and fitness:
- Support increased fat burning and glucose tolerance
- Decreased muscle soreness
- Reduced diabetes risk
Basically, BCAAs can make you reap more benefits from the work you’re already been putting into your health and fitness routine, and let you feel less sore from all the effort.
Like the other items on this list, glutamine has a host of benefits you can take away to support your training and healthy lifestyle. Perhaps the most beneficial is its capability to improve muscle retention when you’re eating to lose body fat or weight.
Typically, eating less in an attempt to lose body fat or to simply lose weight causes your body to lose some amount of muscle. In many cases, losing muscle is a thing you want to avoid. Therefore, glutamine can be a big help to you during these times. Glutamine increases your body’s ability to retain muscle mass regardless of caloric intake (aka how much you’re eating). Of course, completely starving yourself and simply taking glutamine is not going to save the muscle you’ve worked so hard to build (nor would we ever recommend doing this). But, it can make your fat loss efforts pay off with much greater dividends in the long run.
You know that great feeling you get after your cup of coffee, first thing in the morning? That is caffeine, and it may be the best performance enhancer on the planet. Among other positive effects, caffeine can help:
- Reduce your perceived level of exertion
- Improved mental focus during exercise
- Reduced exercise-induced muscle pain
In summary, caffeine can make you feel like your workouts are easier (score!), help you concentrate better and that tough technique you’re trying to learn (double score!), and help you be less sore later (hat-trick!).
If those aren’t enough reasons to keep a little caffeine in your diet pre-workout, what is?
To summarize everything up, there are legitimate reasons to take a pre-workout supplement. They can help you gain more muscle and lose more fat from your exercise routine, and to be less sore while doing so. However, as always, don’t let easy marketing fool you. You don’t need 300mg of caffeine to have a positive effect. Nor does your bottle need to look like something from the future. Look for a product with the above ingredients in not too high of a dosage, and do your best to stay away from aspartame, which makes your pre-workout barely better than a diet soda.