Pre-workout beginners guide: Finding the best option to fit your needs!
Author: Tyson Matthews Date Posted:12 February 2018
In my view, There are more pre-workout brands now then at any other point in history! We have all been there, when you walk into a supplement store and stare blankly up at the entire wall of crazy branding and colours. Where do I even start?
Well, most of whats up there is absolute rubbish. Not to say they don't work in one way or another, but for what you are paying they might just be a waste of money.
So you flip it over and read the label. "Mood Enhancing" this, "maximum pump" that. 99.95% of us are not bodybuilders. We are hitting the gym to look and feel a little better. So why would we pay for a level of complexity in a product that we might not need? Most people simply want to know how much energy a product will give them. To simplify it, read on!
Generally speaking pre-workouts can be split up into 1. Energy/focus (otherwise known as NooTropics), 2. Pump/blood flow/cell volumisation and finally 3. Performance/Endurance. Some preworkouts cover all 3 catergories, while others focus primarily on one category. For instance, Platinum Labs Awaken has a high amount of Energy/focus ingredients, Pump formulas or other pump focussed preworkouts are all about increasing blood flow to the muscles, while other brands focuss on helping you workout harder for longer. Bodybuilders may run 2 or even 3 different pre workouts depending on the muscle group they are working or the type of training they are doing. On top of this they may even supplement separately with individual components of pre workouts for extra efffect! But you, the average gym enthusiast, just needs to find a product that covers all bases for a good price!
1. Energy: The one you need to look at is Caffeine, the tried and tested. This is the cornerstone of almost every preworkout and for good reason. Studies show athletes supplementing with caffeine gain more muscle mass and worked out harder then those who don't. However, caffeine use, and more importantly abuse, can stop you achieving your goals. Many big brand preworkouts contain almost the entire recommended adult caffeine dose (400mg) in one scoop! Especially if you are then adding coffee or energy drinks to the equation. For me, at 100kg and 6ft, I never like to take a pre over 350mg caffeine/serve, and for afternoon or evening sessions I use one at only 200mg. Taking a big dose late will cause you big sleep issues and drain you adrenals and stress you out. A stressed body will neither burn fat or grow muscle.
2. Pump/Blood Flow: Everyone wants the pump! Nothing feels better then seeing your muscle all pumped up in the mirror during a session, thats what the mirrors are for! The pump is also important to help deliver nutrients to your muscle both during and after a session. Again, you will see a whole host of different names as part of a "pump" matrix. In my view, the most important are Agmatine, (around 1g/serve), Glycerol (in the form of a product called HydroMax) at 1-2g, and Citrulline Malate. Very few preworkouts I have seen have enough Citrulline in them, but look for at least 3g up to 6g per serve.
3. Performance/Endurance Factors: Citrulline also falls into this catergory. It is truly a wonder ingredient, helping generate pumps as well as helping you push harder for longer as well as increasing recovery. The other aspect is creatine. Some products have anywhere up to 8 different creatines. If you can just go for a preworkout that has good old creatine monohydrate in it (unless it doesn't agree with your tummy!), and look for 3-5g. If you find a preworkout highly dosed with creatine you will not even need to fork out for it seperately, saving you space and money! Finally, the tingles, due to Beta Alanine (sometimes known as carnosyn). A lot of people complain about this sensation but in reality it plays a really important role to help clear lactic acid and help you perform. Look for between 1.5 to 3.5g per serve. Many products have just enough to create the tingles, but not enough to actually work. Many products also contain Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA), to start the muscle recovery and building almost immediately. Often these products are a little more expensive.
4. Other factors: You will often find "hybrid" products, those that have a built in testosterone booster or fat burning/thermogenic component. In my experience, you are better buying one of these products seperately on their own rather then trying to get an all in one, as they are usually uderdosed. Keep It Simple!
Some General Rules:
1. Get a preworkout that fits your goal and experience. If you are new to the products, start with a good general allround product thats pretty good value ($1/serve) and not too high in caffeine. Ease into it. If you are not super serious about gaining size, don't get too carried away on the expensive, even well dosed products. There are some great bargain options that work really well but are not well known brands and are not well known.
2. If the goal is to lose weight and you have your food under control, maybe consider a fatburner. It will give you the energy and focus of a preworkout with the additional thermogenic ingredients to burn fat. Particularly if your training is cardio heavy. Don't waste money on ingredients intended for building muscle if its not the aim of the training.
3. If you don't want to read the micro typing on the back just assess these factors: A big tub generally means more ingredients or ingredients higher dosed, even though its trendy in the industry to run a small tub. Same goes for a big serving size/scooper. Also assess the weight of the product, some of the best preworkouts I have used have big tubs, big serving sizes and are very heavy! Avoid closed labels that don't specifiy the amount of each ingredients.
4. Don't buy on brand reputation or word of mouth from other people alone. This is the biggest mistake people make when buying any supplement. Remember, this industry is designed to squeeze as much money out of people as possible, particularly people desperate to achieve their perfect body. Some brands have a good reputation because they deserve it, some not so much. There are also new brands exploding on the scene almost every week, claiming a new ingredient or new ability that sets them apart from the rest. Try and see through the marketing and look at whether the ingredients are tried and tested or simply a fad.
Everyones goal is different. There is absolutely no point in a massive gym veteran telling a new guy to go and use every supplement he does! You are at a different level of committment. This is a sure fire to end up with an expensive bunch of supps you just do not need. Adjust your supplement needs and budget as your journey progresses.
5. Look for deals! I am talking about unknown brands or even out of date products. They are still perfectly fine to use. Remember, smart supplementation is about getting a mix of products that fit your goal. Blowing your budget on a branded preworkout thats no better then the no name brand prevents you getting another product like BCAA's or creatine.
So thats it! Preworkouts are a great tool to help you push harder in the gym. Once you know their role and how to use them, you can make better and more informed choices about what to buy!