Pre-workout supplements are a somewhat newer category of products designed to increase workout intensity and energy as well as enhance the pump and improve in-training strength levels. They typically contain a lot of caffeine and other energy enhancers, as well as creatine, nitric oxide, beta-alanine (in some cases), amino acids (including bcaa's), carbs and other nutrients to help you take your workout to the next level. This is a major category which ties into the cell volumization concept and also has several sub-categories, such as creatine-free products, concentrated dose products and stimulant free products.
Concentrated dose pre-workout supplement are powders that require a smaller serving size due to the heavy concentration, making them more cost efficient than regular pre-workout drinks. As well, there are no fillers added, giving you a bigger bang for your buck at a cheaper per serving price.
Stimulant-free pre-workout supplements these products do not contain caffeine so they do lose the energy and focus benefits but they do everything else a pre-workout does but is meant for those people that can't tolerate stimulants, those who train late in the day and don't want stimulants at that time of day or those who just don't like to use stimulants. I myself prefer a stimulant free product because most of the time I train late and need to be able to fall asleep. On the other hand, if I'm training in the morning, I'll use a stimulant based product.
Creatine free products are for those who, for whatever reason, do not want to use creatine. One reason may be the fact that many college sport programs have banned creatine. This line of thinking ties into the idea that Congress views creatine as a “steroid”. This is too bad as creatine is one of, if the, most effective natural products on the market today and in fact, can be considered a pioneer of the cell expansion or pump aspect of these products as well as a pioneer of one of the main current muscle growth theories, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This is a term I have referenced a lot in these guides, it should be noted that it is just one theory, certainly not the main one and it should also be noted that each theory ties somewhat into the other. Actually, the topic of muscle growth can become quite complex, as any of you who decide to research it will discover!
There is another newer sub-category of per-workout products that dramatically increases mental focus as well as promotes greater muscle pumps. The products in this category take focus and the pump sensation to the next level, resulting in an even more intense workout! Demo-Rage by Nutrient and Dark Rage by MHP are two prime examples of this type of product.
The per-workout category is definitely cutting edge with the newest supplements often being included in these formulas – supplements that have a tie-in to obtaining the pump,and providing training focus and energy. This category also has a strong tie-in to the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy theory as well, with it's big emphasis on the pump. Yet, it's more than that as you will find more than enough energy to want to train hard, even after a tough day at work, if you are on restricted calories and therefore lacking energy or just if you simply lack motivation. A definite, specialized purpose is served by these products and here again, especially with the more advanced formulas, you can't duplicate the effects otherwise. Now, don't get me wrong and think I'm anti-food, the reference here is simply to the fact that food doesn't always provide the unique benefits that specific supplements can, which is why they have a prominent place in the programs of the serious athlete, bodybuilder, power-lifter and fitness enthusiast.
- Increased blood flow
- Increased mental focus
- Increased energy
- Enhanced muscle pumps
- Ability to train harder and longer
This is one product -type you can definitely judge quickly, usually within the first serving. You will know how effective it is right from the first time you use it. For this reason and to make your buying decision easier, here is a rating system to use based on the benefits list above:
- Workout intensity - you should see an increase in workout intensity right away. This means you can train harder, longer and should be able to lift a little more weight.
- Pump - since these products tie into the idea of cell expansion, you should get a great pump from the product.
- Mental Energy - you should have a feeling of wanting to get in there and attack the weights!
- Mix-ability - It has to mix well, no clumps or settling at the bottom. If you have to eat it, it doesn’t mix well!
- Taste - while not critical, it should be tolerable.
- Cost - let’s face it, what’s the point if you can't afford to use it? Included in this is the number of servings for the price and the number of scoops required to get the suggested serving amount.
How well the product meets these criteria helps determine how good the product is. One of the best ways to judge a product is to read user ratings, in this way you can make a better choice for your hard earned cash. If you choose a caffeine free product, however, the effectiveness and the “feel it now” aspect drops dramatically.
Pre-workout supplements usually come in powder versions, some products are available in tablet or capsules form. Timing is always about 30-45 minutes prior to training, only on training days, these are not used on off-days. The dosage requirements are typically, because of the high amount of caffeine, starting off with a small serving to assess your tolerance and you increase from there as need be to the maximum dose. Depending on how much you train, you may find yourself adjusting to the caffeine content in which case you should take a few days or even weeks off from using the product. Dosage is always product specific so, as usual, take the time and completely read the label before purchasing and your first use of your product.