Are you confused or overwhelmed by the amount of supplement ads you’re bombarded with online, on television, or within your gym and feel unsure as to which are safe for you and worth adding to your regimen? Multiple times a week I am asked about various supplements and what they do, and if they are worth the investment. To provide clarity, education, and useful knowledge that will help to enhance your efficiency in the gym, the scope of this month’s article will be limited to the pre-workout supplements, and which, if any, may be best for you. This will be the first installment in what will be a series of supplement reviews that all Impact members, Flex Level Fitness clients, and general fitness enthusiasts may make educated decisions about what products are worth the money.
The most significant difference between the various pre-workouts on the market today is those that contain stimulants, and those that do not, and are often referred to as “stim-free.” This generally refers to the absence of caffeine in these products. Instead, these “stim-free” products contain ingredients such as beta-alanine, nitric oxide, L-Citrulline, L-Tyrosine, and L-Leucine to name a few, none of which are associated with the undesirable effects that are often experienced following consumption of a pre-workout that contains a host of various stimulants, all of which may lead to increased anxiety, trouble sleeping, and nausea to name a few.
Beta-alanine – A non-essential amino acid that is produced naturally in the body. Beta-alanine aids in the production of carnosine, which plays a role in muscle endurance during high-intensity exercise.
Nitric Oxide – Has been shown in some studies to increase blood flow to working muscles and help reduce time to fatigue during a workout
L-Citrulline – Increases the body’s production of nitric oxide, thus helping arteries to relax and work more efficiently, thus improving blood flow
L-Tyrosine – An amino acid, the body produces L-Tyrosine from phenylalanine, which is used to make chemical messengers involved in brain activity, this potentially improving alertness.
L-Leucine – Has been shown to have an anti-catabolic effect on the body, thus helping to spare muscle loss when dieting, and may help to heal skin and bones by increasing the body’s production of human growth hormone
These are just a few ingredients commonly found in stimulant-free pre-workouts that can improve your performance while sparing you of the negative effects many people feel from the stimulant-containing products.
When it comes to more intense, stimulant containing pre-workouts, the most common ingredient found in nearly all those available today is the most widely used drug on the market. Caffeine. Like most drugs, caffeine causes your body to build a rapid tolerance, thus losing effectiveness if used frequently, even in moderate amounts. For reference, a medium cup of coffee has about 95mg of caffeine. Most pre-workout formulas contain anywhere from 150mg to 400mg, with some containing even higher amounts by including as part of what is referred to as a “proprietary blend,” which allows manufacturers to skirt the laws requiring them to list the quantity of each compound in the product. Caffeine has been proven to enhance athletic performance and in some studies, has been shown to increase lipolysis (fat burning). Although not entirely absent of side effects, caffeine is generally thought of as safe for individuals with no underlying health issues when used in moderation. When combined with other stimulants often found in these products, the risk of side effects increases, and the need for caution and assessment of tolerance before determining the appropriate serving size for you becomes increasingly important.
All too often when reviewing a new client’s current supplement regimen, they will begin listing multiple caffeine-containing products, and this is before I have asked about coffee or energy drink consumption. It is almost always these same individuals that complain of fatigue and until the discussion is had, were unaware of just how much caffeine they were consuming daily. While I do not discourage the use of stimulants entirely, I do strongly encourage people to use them sparingly, no more than 2-3 times a week, opting for a stimulant-free product on alternate days. On many occasions I have been able to work with clients to improve their sleep, reduce anxiety, and improve energy levels by reducing stimulant intake while incorporating other changes such as reducing variability in sleep schedule, adding more structure to their day, and adding/removing certain foods from their diet. This is a process that takes a level of commitment, but without exception, the result is always improved mood, and a higher baseline energy level when compared with when they were relying on stimulants to get them through their workouts.
Most of us are well aware of the general feeling of well-being and heightened awareness that a rush of caffeine can provide, but are also aware of the accompanying comedown that often follows. In both my personal experience, as well as witnessing that of hundreds of clients over the years, the consensus is without question that the benefits of using stimulants sparingly, namely caffeine, provides a far greater impact on performance and a noticeable increase in energy than when relying on a whole host of stimulant containing products to get through the day like so many people do.
For more information on how caffeine works on the brain, and why efficacy decreases with continued use, I encourage you to take a few minutes to look into adenosine receptors. Having even an elementary understanding of this process and our body’s response will provide you with the ability to make a more informed decision about your own stimulant use, and whether decreasing your consumption may prove beneficial and result in improved overall health.
My recommendation for a stimulant-free pre-workout is a product called Bucked Up by DAS Labs and is available locally at Impact Fitness. Additionally, for those seeking the full power and stimulant effect of some of the strongest pre-workouts available on the market, DAS Labs offers a line of Bucked Up products that vary from minimal stim to high stim.
Feel free to ask me or any of the knowledgeable Impact Fitness staff about what option may best suit you and your goals. Flex Level Fitness and Impact Fitness are here to help you become the best you can be both in and out of the gym and look forward to assisting you in achieving your end-of-the-year goals as we enter the final months of 2021.
Adam Sjogren is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Sports Nutrition Consultant, and NASM Certified Behavior Change Specialist and not a doctor or registered dietitian. The contents of this message should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical problem, nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional for matters regarding your health.