We’re all looking for that competitive edge before a game or practice. What can pre-training supplements offer? Are they sketchy? What do they do?
What they are: There are a HUGE number of pre-workouts available on the supplement market, and that means a wide variety of formulas and ingredients. Generally, a pre-workout will contain:
- A Stimulant (Caffeine, yohimbine, synephrine, dendrobium, sugar, etc.) for energy
- Beta Alanine (an amino acid) to help reduce lactic acid, which lets you train harder and longer
- Arginine (another amino acid) or Nitric Oxide to dilate blood vessels, delivering oxygen to your muscles faster and giving you a “pump”
- Vitamins C & B to help with metabolic stress, reduce inflammation and help produce energy
- Electrolytes to keep you hydrated, and keep your muscles working
There are certain pre-workouts that do not include the amino acids (Beta Alanine and Arginine) and there are some that include even more amino acids (taurine, creatine, tyrosine). Really, there’s no end to the variety of boosters that you can find in a pre-workout, so you really need to research what you want from an energizer before investing.
What they claim: Again, different supps will make different claims, so beware of any outrageous ones. Most offer:
- Improved energy throughout your workout
- A boost in endurance, performance and focus
- Replenished electrolytes and better muscle recovery
- Improved body composition and reduced body fat (through the ability to work longer and harder)
Do they work?
In a word, yes. In four words, yes – to varying degrees.
Any stimulant will give you (at least a temporary) energy boost. A huge dose of caffeine will get you going, but it may lead to an energy crash as well, so make sure that the ingredients don’t just dose you hard at the beginning of your exertion and leave you with nothing to sustain that energy. A good pre-workout will use more than one type of stimulant to avoid burn-out. Make sure you’re buying a brand that releases all of its ingredients on the label – don’t fall for “proprietary blends.”
Stimulants work – your body will react to clear the substance, which raises your heart rate and blood pressure, and sharpens your mental focus. Electrolytes will help to keep you hydrated so that you can perform longer, and the various amino acids will either give you a pump or help keep you pumping.
That said, there can be drawbacks. Frequent side effects include jitters, digestive upset, and a feeling of over-stimulation.
Should I take them?
The big question is, “What do I want from my pre-workout?”
Do you want a quick burst of energy or a sustained level of intensity? Do you want a pump or not? Do you want help with recovery, or do you want to be able to go hard and fast for longer?
Each different pre will offer you different benefits and you need to be a smart shopper. For example:
MusclePharm Assault – A pretty traditional body-building pre-workout uses caffeine for its initial stimulant, as well as dextrose and some other sugars for slow release. It also contains Vitamins C, E and B, sodium, and potassium. For pump, it gives you a nitrate matrix and L-Tyrosine; BCAAs and Beta Alanine for performance, endurance and recovery; and Taurine, L-Glutamine and coconut water powder to cover your electrolyte and hydration needs. Does it work? Sure. Is it worth the price and the questionable taste? You can be the judge – or Booty can, in our next installment!
Vega Sport Pre-Workout – A popular pre among the derby set for its vegan-ness and good corporate reputation. It contains caffeine (100mg) and various sugars (quick and slow release) as stimulants, some electrolytes and fats, curcumin and Devil’s Claw for recovery – but contains none of the amino acids that more traditional pre-workouts would (it replaces them with kombucha and rhodiola). It also has ginseng instead of Vitamin B for recovery. While many claim it works for them, it’s also essentially sugary caffeine water (which you can find in most energy drinks).
Herbalife 24 Prepare – Another product often marketed to derby skaters. It’s a pretty traditional pre as well, offering caffeine (100mg) and stevia for stimulants, L-Arginine and L-Citruline for pump, all of the expected vitamins (B, C, E), sodium and potassium for electrolyte replacement, betaine to boost muscle synthesis (read: MAD GAINZ) and creatine for quick energy bursts. Remember what we said about creatine, though: for it to be effective, you have to build it up in your system and the dose in 24 Prepare is pretty low – you’d need to be supplementing with it elsewhere. It may be as effective as other comparable pres – but the price tag is often higher.
Though it seems innocuous enough, caffeine is a drug, and experts say we should limit our intake to 200mg/day. Most pre-workouts dose you with 100mg, so you would need temper your additional caffeine intake to stay under 200mg for the day. We can also develop tolerances to caffeine (as coffee drinkers no doubt can attest), and chronic use can lead to stress on your adrenal glands.
Your best bet is to find a pre-workout that suits your needs and that you tolerate well and use it sparingly. Maybe you only use it for games, and not practice, only for practice. Tempering your use will help to avoid tolerance and you’ll get the desired benefits without many of the potential problems.
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