A pre-workout powder or a pre-workout drink offers many health benefits. People often use these products for performance enhancement and greater energy. However, taking some pre-workout supplements can have dangerous consequences. Learning the best ways to reach your goals will help you stay safe while you improve your health.
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Set Your Goals
Dietary aids exist for almost every health goal. In addition to increasing your endurance, strength and speed, nutritional supplements can help you recover faster and heal better. They can also help you gain muscle and lose fat.
It's a good idea to meet with a trainer and a doctor when setting these goals. They'll screen you for medical conditions and then, hopefully, clear you for physical activity. They'll also help you find an effective and safe way to reach your goals by monitoring your progress.
Read more: List of Exercise Goals & Objectives
Think Long Term
Safety means something different to everyone. Most people think of it as not getting hurt or sick at the gym today. However, you'll want to protect your organs and joints so they remain functional tomorrow.
Taking a long-term approach will prevent you from using some dietary aids. Supplements like anabolic steroids can help you reach your goals, but those gains come at an unacceptable cost.
Read more: Long-Term Effects of Steroids
Keep It Simple
A 2018 report in Food and Chemical Toxicology described the complex nature of dietary aids. This complexity arises from both the source of the supplement and its processing. Having multiple ingredients further adds to the chaos.
So, you'll want to choose simple dietary aids that are minimally processed. You should also pick a product from a reliable manufacturer that follows the labeling guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration.
Use Natural Products
Exposure to many common pesticides may cause genetic changes and chronic disease, according to a 2017 review in Interdisciplinary Toxicology. Scientists have also failed to reach a consensus on the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Artificial sweeteners, additives and dyes can increase your risk as well. Buying organic, non-GMO products is an easy way to ensure that your pre-workout supplement is safe.
Read more: 6 Reasons to Avoid GMOs
Plan Pre-Workout Supplements
All pre-workout supplements work through a unique mechanism. Some substances have an immediate effect on your body, while others take a long time. Using the latter type requires strategic planning. You have to pre-load some supplements for days or even weeks to guarantee results.
For example, a 2016 review in Sports Nutrition and Therapy described the potent effects of creatine. This organic acid increases muscular power during explosive exercises like jumps and leaps.
However, many studies fail to show these benefits. The authors of the 2016 review suggested that the null studies failed to sufficiently pre-load creatine.
Read more: Protein vs. Creatine for Muscle Gain
Try Whey Powder
Manufacturers create whey during the cheese-making process. Once considered an unwanted by-product, dried whey has become a popular dietary aid. It offers many health benefits, including gains in strength and mass. A 2018 article in Nutrients illustrated these effects in older women.
Participants received daily doses of whey protein during a resistance training program lasting 12 weeks. Compared to a placebo, whey increased muscle strength and muscle mass. It also improved the women's daily functioning.
Use Alpha-Lactalbumin Protein
The chemical responsible for the impressive effects of whey remains unknown. However, one protein stands out — alpha-lactalbumin. Researchers think that this milk protein could play a critical role in your immune system. This protective effect suggests that taking a supplement featuring alpha-lactalbumin could help you combat exercise fatigue. A 2019 report in the British Journal of Nutrition tested this hypothesis in long-distance runners.
These researchers gave the male runners a supplement two hours before a 21K run. The capsule featured either (1) carbohydrate and alpha-lactalbumin or (2) carbohydrate and whey. Neither supplement improved running performance, but alpha-lactalbumin caused a greater decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and the feelings of fatigue.
Read more: Whey Protein of Goats vs. Cows
Add Casein Protein
Nearly 80 percent of the protein in milk comes from casein. Like whey, this milk protein can have many positive effects on your workout. A 2018 report in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition illustrates one of these effects in healthy men.
Participants received 25 grams of casein before a light run lasting 30 minutes. Compared to a placebo, this protein increased their metabolism post-workout to a greater extent. Such an afterburn effect is highly coveted because it allows you to torch additional calories while you are resting.
Read more: Casein Protein Benefits
Take Amino Acids
Substances other than proteins can also affect your workout. For example, a 2017 review in Nutrients concluded that branched-chain amino acids, or BCAA, can prevent exercise-related muscle damage. The authors noted that BCAA intake had especially potent effects when taken before exercise. However, they suggested that you need to take these for an extended period to reap the benefits.
A 2018 paper in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness looked at the impact of short-term use of BCAA in younger men. Researchers gave subjects a capsule containing either (1) the BCAA or (2) a placebo for three days before an intense workout. Compared to the placebo, BCAA intake decreased post-exercise inflammation and soreness. It also increased the participants' range of motion.
Read more: Branched Chain Amino Acids Benefits
Use Citrulline Supplements
Other amino acids can improve your workouts as well. The organic compound citrulline, for example, plays an important role in muscle respiration and force production. These effects suggest that citrulline might enhance your performance. A 2016 article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition tested this hypothesis in healthy men.
The subjects took daily doses of citrulline for seven days. On the eighth day, they took the citrulline before a bicycle race. Compared to a placebo, citrulline caused a 1.5 percent increase in performance. Participants getting citrulline also experienced greater concentration and less fatigue.
Read more: Benefits of L-Arginine and L-Citrulline
Take Curcumin Extract
Plant extracts also alter your body during exercise. Curcumin gives spices like turmeric and ginger their vibrant color. Such dyes seem to have antioxidant properties, which could benefit your workout. A 2014 report in the International Journal of Sports Medicine explored this possibility in healthy men.
Participants received either the supplement or a placebo two hours before a brisk walk. Men in the placebo group showed an exercise-induced increase in free radicals. The treatment group showed no increase. This finding indicates that curcumin blocks free radical numbers and increases circulating antioxidant levels.
A 2015 paper in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine recommended that physically active adults regularly use antioxidants like curcumin. Describing the effectiveness and safety of such an approach, they still emphasized the importance of eating a well-balanced diet to get abundant antioxidants.
Read more: What Are Turmeric & Curcumin Good For?
Increase Your Nitrate
A growing number of people are using dietary nitrate to improve athletic performance. Found in beetroot juice, nitrate increases exercise tolerance by increasing oxygen efficiency. A 2015 report in Nitric Acid illustrated the performance-enhancing effect of beetroot juice in younger men.
For three days, the men received either beetroot juice or apple-black currant juice, which, thought to offer no therapeutic value, served as a placebo. On the fourth day, the men participated in an intense exercise session. Compared to the placebo, the beetroot juiced increased endurance by raising red blood cell count and oxygen availability.
Get More Calcium
Supplementing with even simple minerals like calcium can improve your workout. Exercise decreases calcium storage. This decrease triggers the release of parathyroid hormone which breaks down your bones. The authors of a 2015 study in PLoS One wondered whether calcium supplementation could prevent this unwanted process in female athletes.
The women ate either a calcium-rich meal or a normal meal before a 90-minute cycling test. All subjects participated in both conditions on different days. As expected, the cycling test decreased calcium and increased parathyroid hormone. The cycling also increased markers of bone breakdown.
The calcium-rich meal mitigated these effects and attenuated bone breakdown. The protective effects of calcium happened both during and immediately after exercise.
Read more: Why Is Calcium Important to Muscle Function?
Ingest Probiotic Microorganisms
Many people use probiotics to improve their digestion, but these microorganisms might enhance your training as well. Probiotics are known to bolster your immune system. Enhancing your defenses against infection could lead to better athletic performance. A 2014 paper in the European Journal of Physiology tested this interesting hypothesis in endurance runners.
These researchers followed participants during two four-week periods. In one period, the subjects ingested several different microorganisms every day. In the other period, the subjects received a placebo every day. Each four-week period ended with an intense bout of running in a hot, humid environment. Compared to a placebo, the probiotics increased the subjects' running endurance in the challenging conditions.
Read more: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods
Combine Carbohydrate and Caffeine
You can also take multiple supplements before working out. This strategy might produce additive effects, which is when a supplement mixture results in greater effects than either supplement acting alone. This strategy can go awry, but combining supplements typically gives you more reliable results.
A 2014 report in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport tested a carbohydrate-caffeine combination. Both of these dietary aids can enhance performance, but few studies have looked at the impact of their simultaneous administration.
Recreational soccer players ingested a supplement containing carbohydrate and caffeine or a placebo before participating in exercise tests. Compared to the placebo, the combination increased sprint speed, blood sugar and sodium levels. It also caused dehydration, which emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated when taking caffeine before a workout.
Read more: How to Neutralize the Effects of Caffeine
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: Naturally Complex: Perspectives and Challenges Associated With Botanical Dietary Supplement Safety Assessment
- Food and Drug Administration: Dietary Supplement Labeling Guide
- Sports Nutrition and Therapy: An Update on Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Performance
- British Journal of Nutrition: Effect of Pre-Exercise Ingestion of Alpha-Lactalbumin on Subsequent Endurance Exercise Performance and Mood States
- Nutrients: Is Branched-Chain Amino Acids Supplementation an Efficient Nutritional Strategy to Alleviate Skeletal Muscle Damage?
- Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: Effect of BCAA Supplement Timing on Exercise-Induced Muscle Soreness and Damage
- Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance: L-Arginine and L-Citrulline in Sports Nutrition and Health
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Oral L-Citrulline Supplementation Enhances Cycling Time Trial Performance in Healthy Trained Men
- International Journal of Sports Medicine: Effects of Curcumin Supplementation on Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress in Humans
- Asian Journal of Sports Medicine: Exercise-Induced Oxidative Stress and Dietary Antioxidants
- Sports Medicine: Dietary Nitrate Supplementation and Exercise Performance
- Nitric Oxide: Effect of Dietary Nitrate Supplementation on Tolerance to Supramaximal Intensity Intermittent Exercise
- PLoS One: The Effects of a Calcium-Rich Pre-Exercise Meal on Biomarkers of Calcium Homeostasis in Competitive Female Cyclists
- European Journal of Sport Science: Probiotics Supplementation for Athletes — Clinical and Physiological Effects
- European Journal of Applied Physiology: Effects of Probiotics Supplementation on Gastrointestinal Permeability, Inflammation and Exercise Performance in the Heat
- Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport: Effects of Carbohydrate-Hydration Strategies on Glucose Metabolism, Sprint Performance and Hydration During a Soccer Match Simulation in Recreational Players
- Environmental Sciences Europe: No Scientific Consensus on GMO Safety
- Interdisciplinary Toxicology: Organochlorine Pesticides, Their Toxic Effects on Living Organisms and Their Fate in the Environment
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Metabolic Impact of Protein Feeding Prior to Moderate-Intensity Treadmill Exercise in a Fasted State