Most of us are looking to get the most out of our workouts – more reps, more distance covered, more weight on the bar – and any advantage we can bring to the gym is usually more than welcome. The supplement industry is built around this desire for peak performance, and one particular type of supplement is beginning to grow in prominence and popularity – pre-workout.
Historically popular in the USA, it’s starting to see increased exposure in the UK with products like NO-Xplode, Grenade and (the now banned) Jack3D being marketed heavily in most fitness magazines and blogs.
The claims are bold – increased focus, strength and endurance for the duration of your workout, resulting in better all-round performance and ultimately better results. But are these claims well-founded? Here we’ll look at the pros and cons of pre-workout to hopefully help you decide if it’s right for you.
The Pros – Why Take Pre-Workout?
The vast majority of pre-workout supplements are built around caffeine, the most commonly used stimulant in the world and the only thing that gets a lot of people out of bed in the morning. The effects of caffeine are well documented, and the increased alertness, focus, and energy levels it provides can make a big difference to your performance in the gym.
The typical dose of caffeine is usually between 100-300mg, which is about the same as a couple of cups of strong coffee. If you’re a big coffee drinker you might not feel the same intensity as someone who abstains, as the body develops a tolerance fairly quickly. Consider cutting back if you’re looking to get the most benefit from your supplement.
Various other stimulants are used in pre-workouts, such as Taurine and Methylhexanamine, to help give users that extra boost. Many also include creatine and BCAA’s to help aid muscle recovery, as well as various other performance enhancers.
Taking pre-workout can help you get a little more out of your workout, but if you’re using it every time you go to the gym you’ll develop a tolerance and lose a lot of the intended benefits. For peak performance, stick to using it before your heavier lifting sessions and try to cut back on caffeine outside of the gym.
The Cons – Why Avoid It?
There are various reasons to avoid pre-workout supplements, particularly if you’ve had and cardiovascular issues in the past. The increase in blood pressure can be problematic for many people, and those with a history of heart issues are probably best to avoid these products.
Many people simply don’t respond well to these kind of stimulants, with headaches and nausea a common complaint. Keeping well hydrated at all times can help negate these issues, but if you find yourself suffering regularly then pre-workout may not be for you.
The increased intake of strong stimulants can also have an impact on sleep, which will have various long term health effects that no amount of good workouts will solve. Stick to the same general rules as coffee – try to avoid taking your pre-workout within the 8 hours before you intend to go to sleep, and you should find the impact is minimal.
Extensive use can also cause adrenal fatigue issues in some people, which will leave you feeling tired and slightly unwell most of the time. Not ideal if you’re looking for better performance in the gym!
Pre-workouts can be useful when used appropriately and in moderation. Save it for before your heavier workouts and those days where you’re really struggling for energy and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Misuse it and you’ll most likely feel the side effects, which will ultimately do more harm than good for your performance.
Stuart is the lead writer at Take Fitness, a site dedicated to providing quality information of workouts, nutrition and health.