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Maximizing workout performance: The comprehensive guide to pre-workout supplements

Many of us are familiar with that feeling of laziness that sometimes overcomes us before going to the gym. In such moments, we often look for ways to quickly invigorate ourselves and increase motivation for exercise

Coffee, espresso, a cold shower – what can help? Pre-workout supplements might be the answer! Especially if you regularly visit the gym, you've likely heard of them. But what are pre-workout supplements and what are their benefits? These supplements, studied in a 2024 research, are designed to increase energy, focus, and physical endurance, helping you cope with intense workouts.

They come in various forms – from powders that are mixed with water or juice, to capsules that are taken with water. Their composition often includes caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, and amino acids, making them a powerful tool to enhance physical and mental capabilities before exercise.

Why do athletes choose pre-workout supplements?

Most people use pre-workout supplements to boost their energy and enhance the intensity of their workouts, or to feel more comfortable and focused during exercises. There is a belief that such supplements can improve overall performance, primarily by increasing energy levels and enhancing concentration.

Studies show that pre-workout complexes affect various aspects of physical training, including strength, power, endurance, time to fatigue, and perceived exertion – how intensely you feel the exercises.

Therefore, people often resort to these supplements before various types of workouts: whether it's the aim to increase the maximum weight in a single squat repetition, improve results in high-intensity interval running workouts, or the desire to maintain enough energy to complete the last burpee in a HIIT session.

Pre-workout complexes: How do they work?

If you are aiming to increase strength or build muscle, a properly chosen pre-workout supplement can be very beneficial. However, it is extremely important to select a supplement that contains the necessary ingredients in adequate dosages to truly derive the maximum benefit. What are the key components to look for when choosing a pre-workout product?

Carefully study the product composition listed on the packaging. It should include a combination of various active ingredients. Choose a product based on its quality and composition.

The form of the supplement is also an important consideration. Whether it comes in powder, pill, or liquid form can affect how quickly it is absorbed and how convenient it is to take. Some prefer the quick and easy method of swallowing a pill, while others might like the ritual of mixing a powder into a drink.

It's also worth considering the flavor and taste of the supplement, especially if it's in powder form. A pleasant taste can make the pre-workout ritual more enjoyable, whereas a bad taste might discourage you from using the supplement regularly. Pre-workout supplement is designed to enhance your workout performance and should be used as part of a balanced approach to fitness and nutrition.

How can pre-workout supplements improve your physical fitness?

Pre-workout supplements often contain ingredients like carbohydrates, caffeine, beetroot juice, creatine monohydrate, and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), which are known for their positive impact on physical abilities.

Here is a brief overview of their potential benefits based on research:

  • Carbohydrates:

    Carbohydrates are a key source of energy for the body, so it's recommended to consume them before exercising to meet energy needs. Research shows that carbohydrates can be used for various purposes in sports: from consuming 30–60 grams per hour during marathons and long runs to mouth rinsing with a carbohydrate solution before short sprints.

    During workouts, especially those requiring high intensity, such as intense CrossFit workouts, spinning, or weightlifting, the body uses glucose and glycogen (carbohydrate reserves) as the main source of energy. Increasing energy levels before a workout can improve energy availability and enhance workout efficiency.

  • Caffeine:

    Caffeine is one of the most thoroughly studied ergogenic substances and has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to improve physical performance. Present in coffee, tea, and cocoa, caffeine enhances performance through various mechanisms. The addition of caffeine can improve aerobic endurance, muscle strength, muscle endurance, jump performance, and speed. Following caffeine consumption, there's often an increase in energy levels, heightened focus, and even improved pain tolerance.

    Caffeine also helps optimize metabolism during physical exercises and increases the availability of calcium in muscles, enhancing its effectiveness during physical activity. Research shows that the optimal dosage for improving sports performance is 3–6 mg per kg of body weight, while doses above 9 mg per kg can cause undesirable side effects and do not bring additional performance improvements.

  • Beetroot Juice:

    While beetroot juice has not been as extensively researched, a 2017 study showed its ability to consistently increase the level of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a natural vasodilator that expands blood vessels and improves circulation, contributing to a more efficient cardiovascular system.

    Additionally, a 2024 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that participants who consumed a beetroot supplement before a 30-second bicycle sprint showed higher performance and experienced less perceived exertion compared to those who did not take such a supplement.

  • Creatine Monohydrate:

    Creatine monohydrate is commonly found in pre-workout supplements. It's a natural molecule that produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the primary energy source for muscle contractions. By adding creatine, you can increase the availability of ATP to muscles, which aids in more intense workouts and quicker recovery.

  • Beta-Hydroxy Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB):

    Beta-Hydroxy Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB), a metabolite of the amino acid leucine found in protein foods and produced by the body, has also received significant scientific support. The primary focus of HMB research is its role in the recovery process after physical exertion. HMB aids in faster recovery after intense and prolonged workouts that can lead to muscle damage, by reducing muscle breakdown, enhancing muscle recovery processes, and stimulating muscle growth.

    This is supported by numerous meta-analyses that take into account various dosages, ages, fitness levels of participants, as well as the type and duration of workouts.

For maximum effectiveness of HMB, it should not only be taken before workouts. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends consuming one to two grams of HMB one to two hours before a workout and a total of three grams per day over at least two weeks to maximize its positive impact.

Additional Ingredients for Effective Pre-Workout Preparation

  • L-Citrulline

    L-Citrulline serves as a precursor for L-arginine, a key component in the synthesis of nitric oxide (NOS). Nitric oxide is important for improving blood circulation and enhancing the efficiency of mitochondrial respiration. L-Citrulline attracts attention due to its ability to improve vascular function during physical exertion.

  • Betaine

    Betaine, extracted from sugar beet, is considered an ergogenic substance that can improve cardiovascular functions during physical exercises.

  • Sugar/Glucose/Carbohydrates

    Glucose is the primary source of energy for all cells in the body. During workouts, muscles use glucose for energy or ATP production. It has been shown that consuming 15-30 grams of carbohydrates 15-30 minutes before a workout can help delay the onset of fatigue at the end of intense exercises.

  • Vitamins

    B vitamins are essential for a number of metabolic processes related to energy production. A deficiency in one or more vitamins of this group can reduce the efficiency of metabolic pathways, decreasing energy production and increasing the risk of fatigue.

Important Aspects to Consider Before Using Pre-Workout Supplements

For most effective training ingredients, there is a more enjoyable method of consumption: food. When you consume whole foods, you know exactly what you are getting. For energy preparation for intense workouts, it is recommended to consume about 15 grams of carbohydrates, which can be obtained, for example, from half a banana or a piece of bread with jam. It is also beneficial to consume a small amount of protein while limiting the intake of fiber and fats, which can slow down digestion and cause discomfort during exercises

For caffeine lovers, a cup of coffee 30 minutes before a workout can provide additional energy. It's important to ensure adequate nutrition to satisfy the body's energy needs, drink water properly, and provide yourself with enough rest and sleep. On some days, when you feel tired, a pre-workout complex can help you get the necessary energy boost to start your exercises.

To take or not to take a supplement before working out?

When using a pre-workout supplement, the key aspect is its safe and effective application. It is necessary to carefully read the instructions on the packaging and strictly adhere to the indicated dosage.

For optimal effectiveness, it is recommended to take the supplement 30–45 minutes before starting the workout. This timing allows your body to properly absorb and utilize the ingredients, ensuring that you can maximize your energy levels and performance during the workout.

Also, it's important to consider the compatibility of a pre-workout supplement with your overall diet and nutrition plan. Ensuring that you’re consuming a balanced diet that supports your workout regime will enhance the effects of the supplement. Proper nutrition provides the necessary foundation for your body to perform at its best, and when combined with the right supplement, can lead to more effective workouts.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Pre-Workout Supplements

Pre-workout supplements can contribute to increased energy levels and improved performance during physical exercises. However, their effectiveness depends on individual characteristics and the specific composition of the supplement

It is important to understand that pre-workout supplements are not a one-size-fits-all solution and should be used in combination with balanced nutrition and regular workouts to achieve the best results.

These supplements typically include components such as caffeine, beta-alanine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), creatine, and L-carnitine, each offering unique benefits. They can enhance energy levels, focus, as well as aid in more efficient muscle mass building and increasing overall physical performance.