When you go to the gym you might often see people taking a pre-workout supplement of some sorts. You will see many different varieties ranging from a powder form to an energy type of drink that contains caffeine. A lot of these are more personal preference and can affect individuals differently depending on a few different factors. Personally I’m a fan of just straight coffee but I will mix in some sort of energy drink (Either a Celsius or Alani) or, in very rare occasions, take a scoop of powdered pre-workout. The question is what are the benefits and drawbacks to the different forms of pre-workouts and how effective can they all be?
In general, why do people take pre-work out prior to exercise? The main reason is that almost all pre-workout supplements have caffeine as one of the main ingredients. Caffeine has the ability to wake the body up, increase alertness, and elevate the arousal level of individuals. When you exercise, you want your body to feel good and respond to the stimulus of exercise as efficiently as possible. By supplementing with pre-workout roughly 30 minutes or so before a workout, you allow time for the caffeine to process and start impacting the body.
There is scientific based evidence that shows taking certain pre-workouts can benefit in different forms of exercise. According to the ISSN (International Society of Sports Nutrition), caffeine has been shown to delay muscular fatigue and increase aerobic and muscular endurance. When it comes to the strength benefits caffeine can be used as an ergogenic aid (enhances production), with its most practical use being in strength-based sports such as powerlifting or weightlifting.
There can be a lot of different side effects when it comes to different forms of pre-workout or caffeine-based drinks. A lot of this has to do with the dosage that is ingested, but there are side effects such as insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, itchiness, G.I. problems, and, in rare occasions, can cause different heart irregularities. The ISSN recommends moderate doses of 3-6mg per kilogram of body mass to show safe and effective results. Again, this will vary from person to person so it is best that you test which ever type of pre-workout you were taking to see how your body will respond to that supplement.
Depending on when you take your pre-workout or drink your coffee, your quality of sleep can be affected. Our body runs on a close to 24-hour clock that is referred to as the circadian rhythm. Our sleep is in that cycle and what caffeine does is blocks some of the receptors in the brain that tell the body to sleep. This can cause inefficient sleep, makes it harder to fall asleep, and messes with the overall quality of sleep. The half-life of caffeine is 4-6 hours which means that if you ingest a pre-workout supplement or cup of coffee at 5PM that there will still be half of that caffeine working in your body at 11PM that night. This is why consumption of caffeine is most beneficial in the AM, but different schedules would be outliers (such as your training schedule, travel, and job schedule).
One pre-workout supplement that has been proven to help out endurance athletes is beta alanine. This has been referred to as “the third lung” to some athletes and can help reduce exercise induced acidosis and fatigue during high intensity exercise. Beta alanine can help with fatigue resistance, increased VO2Max, and increased lean body mass. Beta alanine itself is a non-essential amino acid, which is the building blocks of proteins, but is often paired with some sort of caffeine and other common pre-workout ingredients. Just like other pre-workouts, it is recommended to take 4 to 6 grams approximately 30 to 45 minutes prior to exercise.
The biggest thing when it comes to taking a pre-workout supplement is how it works for you as an individual. Some people swear by their powder supplement, others use coffee, while other individuals can get away without it. As long as you are able to exercise effectively and your exercise performance is enhanced (in a healthy and safe way) then go with whatever type of pre-workout is best for you.