Are Pre-Workout Supplements Worth It? This is a question I get a lot. Using a pre-workout supplement can be a great way to help you get more out of your workout, but there are many different kinds of pre-workout supplements—ranging from your daily cup of coffee to a precise powder cooked up in a lab—and which one you need is going to depend on your goals.
Most pre-workout supplements fall into one of two categories: boosting your endurance, or ramping up your energy. But the tough part is that all of these different kinds of supplements are marketed together and simply labeled as “pre-workout,” so the key is to get educated and zero in on certain ingredients.
Which one is right for you?
These are geared more toward experienced gym-goers who are looking to up their mid-workout endurance.
The key ingredient to keep your eye out for is called Citrulline Malate. You can find in a product like Carbon Prep or as a stand alone ingredient.
Citrulline Malate helps to reduce the muscle fatigue you feel mid-workout, so you can eek out those few extra reps you’ve been plateaued on for weeks.
While this is great for helping you get over the hump, Citrulline Malate is not going to dramatically increase the number of reps you do. For that reason, I don’t recommend these for people starting out, as they are more appropriate for someone who has a more advanced training age and is training at a higher level of intensity and training volume. Research studies with Citrulline Malate show that you need a 6 gram dose to get the effect you are looking for.
If you’re looking to feel more energized walking into the gym and throughout your workout (almost a requirement for many early morning exercisers), you need more of a stimulant-based supplement, like caffeine.
Caffeine has both mental and physical effects that can help improve your performance in the gym, no matter how or when you have to squeeze your workout into the your busy schedule.
We’ve all experienced that feeling of just being too tired, whether it’s after a long day or early in the morning, caffeine helps to perk you up and get you ready to power through—making you feel more alert, focused, and ready for whatever your tough workout is about to throw at you.
From a physical perspective, it also improves your coordination, and may even work to moderately increase your strength and aerobic capacities, so you can maximize your time in the gym.
The tricky part with caffeine-based supplements is that different people tolerate it differently. For some, 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine will jolt their heart into overdrive to the point that it impedes their workout, while for others, it might not be enough to get them going.
That’s why I like supplements that allow you to scale your intake based on your tolerance, like Modern Pre from USPlabs. No-Xplode by BSN is also a favorite of mine, if you have a high threshold for caffeine. But if you’re pretty susceptible to the jitters, even a simple cup of coffee could do the trick. The other key piece to consider with caffeine is that with greater frequency of use, you get less and less of an effect. This adaptation to caffeine is a hard truth that many people like to ignore, but as your body adapts to the effects of caffeine giving it more isn’t going to give the effect you are looking for. If caffeine doesn’t agree with you, try Teacrine. It provides a similar stimulous, without some of the disagreeable side effects. Another upside to Teacrine is that there is not adaptation, so you get the same effect day after day. Research shows that combining Teacrine with caffeine can get an even better response from a focus and energy perspective (even at a lower dose of caffeine).
Like with many things, the more prudent and selective you are in your use, the greater effects you’ll feel when you do need them. Not every workout requires pre-workout supplements—especially if you’re doing lower-intensity exercise—but they can be a great resource to help you push yourself on more intense days of training.