boost energy build muscle exercise fitness improve athletic performance pre-workout working out workouts Jan 24, 2022
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You want to do the last thing after your workday is working out, and the fitness industry knows that. Enter the pre-workout, designed to improve athletic performance and boost energy.  

Pre-workouts are a combination of biochemically active products designed to improve energy, focus, blood flow, and energy to muscles and enhance recovery potential. Though many components of these pre-workouts have good scientific evidence to support your workout initiative, performance, and recovery, some elements can cause harm as well. So, to get a 360 view, let's explore the most common components and what can help and hinder you.

The common ingredients in pre-workouts include:

  • Caffeine
  • Vasodilators (Nitric oxide, Arginine, Citrulline)
  • Creatine
  • Amino Acids
  • High Dose B Vitamins
  • Sweeteners

Sweeteners aside, caffeine can improve your athletic performance, focus when consumed in doses of 3-6 mg/kg body weight. Caffeine can also spur metabolism by 3-11% and stimulate some fat loss up to 29%.  Studies in people showed modest weight loss; however, too much caffeine can harm your health.

Noticeable side effects of excess caffeine include jitters, anxiety, etc., but interference with sleep can be detrimental to your recovery and hormone regulation. Sleep is vital to recovery by peaking growth hormone-insulin-like growth factor and testosterone. You can also upregulate cortisol if you don't sleep (your stress hormone that also decreases testosterone), and caffeine can affect sex hormone-binding globulin essential for bringing your testosterone to your tissues.

As testosterone is essential for muscle growth in men and women, and lean muscle mass is the best way to burn fat, you will lose the beneficial effects of the big T. As if that wasn't enough; excess cortisol will cause people to retain fat and water around their trunk and may cause muscle wasting the arms and legs. So, it is best to moderate caffeine, lending benefits and not detriments. 

If you will consume caffeine before your workout, do it in the am, not the evening. Use natural sources like coffee or green tea. Green tea extract contains a small dose of caffeine, the anti-oxidant ECGC, and can burn fat using the hormone noradrenaline naturally. Green coffee bean extract may be another good alternative lending weight loss, assisting with lowering blood sugarsreducing blood pressure, and having anti-oxidant properties. 

Next, let's explore vasodilators. 

Throughout your entire body is a dense network of pipes called blood vessels that deliver nutrients and oxygen to your tissues. These pipes also remove waste and carbon dioxide from your tissues. Nitric oxide is present naturally in the human body and increases the size of the nutrient-delivering lines. Therefore, both physiologically and when evaluating athletic individuals, nitrate ingestion can improve your performance in the gym.

Compounds such as arginine and L-citrulline are amino acids that enhance the release of nitric oxide.

Arginine has very modest effects. However, an amino acid in watermelon L-citrulline correlates with improved blood flow and athletic performance. You can also receive nitric oxide metabolites directly through beetroot juice, which can help athletes with performance, endurance, and recovery. I prefer to add beetroot or watermelon into my peri-workout shakes for this reason rather than synthetic compounds.  

Creatinine and Amino acids

Creatine became popularized in the early 90s. However, the existence of the creatinine monophosphate system has been with us since the dawn of time. During the early stages of exercise, we use creatine phosphate to deliver energy to the muscle by lending phosphates to adenosine. Creatine creates explosive energy or adenosine triphosphate, present in all bodily processes.  

Creatine has shown consistent benefits in athletic recovery and performance

Post-workout dosing of 5 grams or 0.3 mg/kg is ideal, and many studies also recommend loading with 20 grams for five days first. However, I would add one word of caution: some people will develop neuropathy when taking high doses of these compounds, which is often reversible when stopping.  

Side note, you can also get creatine via consumption of animal protein, which brings me to my next pre-workout component, amino acids.  

Amino acids are vital for muscle fibril synthesis and repair of micro muscular tears after exercise. The literature regarding amino acids before exercise has fluctuated throughout the year. However, the consensus is that such components of a pre-workout are not needed.  

One caveat exists, a dipeptide (2 amino) called beta-alanine, demonstrating ergogenic effects around exercise by forming carnosine. Carnosine (also present in animal protein p.s.) helps buffer the muscle's internal environment, preventing lactic acid build-up. As we all know that muscle burning can limit those last few reps in the gym and recovery, so reducing this effect allows for improving performance and recovery for resistance training.   

Finally, b vitamins are often present in high doses in pre-workouts because they are vital for most cellular and energy functions and widely available in foods. In addition, taking B vitamins rarely leads to toxicity as the kidneys excrete excess B vitamins. Therefore, I take high doses of vitamin B, particularly during the winter, when fresh local produce is scarce. However, you should not need to supplement with B vitamins during the summer if you eat a diet rich in animal protein (B12) and veggies (the remaining B vitamins).  

To summarize, pre-workouts fill the demand of the busy modern human. Caffeine, vasodilators, amino acids, and b vitamins are the most common components, each with good evidence to spur your workout, but with some caveats. First, be wary of high doses of caffeine in unnatural sources as it can significantly alter your sleep which is THE most critical part of any exercise regimen. Instead, use natural sources of caffeine like green tea or green coffee, NO like beetroot, or B vitamins and amino with a balanced diet, and you will be on a great pathway to maximal being.           


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