If you're considering pre-workout supplements, be careful. As the STACK website notes, there are roughly 30,000 supplements available in the United States, and the sad fact is that research shows only a handful have actually proven to be effective. Furthermore, even supplements that might be effective have side effects, in some cases potentially fatal side effects. So check with your health care provider before you start downing supplements. Okay, now that we're gotten those sobering facts out of the way, there are a number of pre-workout supplements that can help you get fitter and stronger in a shorter period of time.
Creatine Monohydrate and Beta Alanine
These two supplements might be the most effective, according to STACK. Creatine monohydrate works on your adenosine triphosphate (ATP) level. ATP is stored in the muscles and creates energy. Creatine monohydrate supplements increases ATP, enabling you to lift more weights with more repetitions. Adding five grams to your pre-workout meal or shake can result in a two-to-four pound gain in lean muscle in four-to-eight weeks. Beta alanine is an amino acid that increases carnosine in your muscles, which according to STACK may increase muscle mass while lessening fatigue. Take two-to-six grams in a pre-workout shake or meal, starting at the lowest dose. If you take too much, you'll feel a prickling or numbing sensation. STACK says that the combination of these two supplements results in a bigger, stronger and faster athlete.
Sodium Bicarbonate and Nitrates
Sodium bicarbonate has been used since the mid-twentith century to reduce lactic acid build-up and thereby aid in increasing endurance. Some track athletes have reduced times in middle distance races by two or three seconds, which can make the difference between victory and defeat. Nitrates, particularly in the form of beetroot juice, as well as in spinach, arugula and celery, have been shown to boost the performance of cyclists by about two percent. Taking one-half liter of beetroot juice two or three hours before training is recommended. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics cautions that nitrate should only be derived from natural sources, such as whole vegetables or vegetable juices. Black box warning -- don't confuse nitrates with nitrites, which are toxic at low levels.
Caffeine is another pre-workout supplement that should be handled with care. It enhances performance for many marathon runners and endurance athletes by lessening fatigue. It also tends to boost the effects of strength training. One cup of coffee is sufficient to improve performance for many athletes. But a cup of espresso, which contains substantially more caffeine that regular coffee, can accelerate your heart rate, make you anxious and shaky and impair your coordination. In addition, caffeine-laden energy drinks reportedly were linked with over one dozen deaths in 2012.
Pre-Workout Supplement Research
A 2010 study, reported in the "Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition," evaluated the effects of a supplement containing caffeine, creatine, ginseng, whey protein and amino acids on moderately-trained recreational athletes over a three-week period of high-intensity interval workouts. The subjects who took the pre-workout supplement increased their endurance, running performance and body composition more than the control group. A similar 2012 study, reported in "Nutrition & Metabolism," found that a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine and beta-alanine increased endurance, improved reaction time and enhanced the strength of people undergoing strenuous exercise for three weeks.
- STACK: 2 Essential Ingredients for Pre-Workout Supplements
- STACK: The Best Pre-Workout Supplements
- Los Angeles Times: Food FYI: 5-Hour Energy Drinks Linked to 13 Deaths
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: The Effects of a Pre-Workout Supplement Containing Caffeine, Creatine, and Amino Acids During Three Weeks of High-Intensity Exercise on Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance
- Nutrition & Metabolism: Ingesting a Pre-Workout Supplement Containing Caffeine, B-Vitamins, Amino Acids, Creatine and Beta-Carotene Before Exercise Delays Fatigue While Improving Reaction Time and Muscular Endurance
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.