Could a Pre-Workout Supplement Benefit Your Performance?
Commonly referred to as a “pre-workout supplement,” an ergogenic aid is a mixture of ingredients that professionals, enthusiasts, and beginners alike consume prior to a workout in an effort to boost performance. An ergogenic aid is officially defined by the USDA as “substances that are claimed to help enhance energy utilization and performance in the body.”
The whole class of products on the market that will assault your computer screen when you Google “pre-workout supplement” include a multitude of pills, shots and powders claiming enhanced mental focus, vasodilation (wider blood vessels for better circulation), and strength that may improve fat burning, recovery time, and that post-workout pump!
Some ingredients are well-studied and well-understood like caffeine, taurine, rhodiola, pine bark, creatine, beta-alanine etc. On the other hand, other popular (albeit suspect) ingredients are not so thoroughly researched or recommended.
While we clearly should avoid certain ingredients, that doesn’t mean we should forgo the benefits that a safe and effective ergogenic aid brand might offer.
Let’s unpack this further. Which ergogenic aids are best? Is taking a pre-workout supplement a good option for you?
The Multi-Dimensional Power of Ergogenic Aids
A GREAT pre-workout supplement should do 5 things:
1) Support Energy Production
A great pre-workout supplement should make your body more efficient at getting energy from foods and fat stores into your muscle cells for peak performance while you exercise. Vitamins B12 and B6 have been extensively studied and shown to play a key role in releasing energy from food at the cellular level, which supports muscles throughout your workout (endurance). Creatine, perhaps the most rigorously studied supplement of all time, supports the energy availability and restoration of ATP in muscle cells both during and following maximum intensity or override efforts (strength, power and agility).
2) Increase Blood Flow
A great pre-workout supplement should improve the way blood gets to the muscles, heart and lungs to allow oxygen and energy to easily enter those systems while waste quickly moves out. Citrulline malate (found in Watermelon rind) and pine bark extract (AKA pycnogenol) both increase vasodilation (blood vessel expansion) by way of nitric oxide production in the body. This enhanced circulation improves aerobic activity and, thereby, better muscle recovery and fat burning!
3) Promote Lactate Tolerance
A great pre-workout supplement should support your ability to work out hard (to “feel the burn”) but also to help you tolerate it! Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that can reduce the perceived intensity of exercise. In other words, hard work doesn’t feel so dang hard! A side note… Too much beta-alanine for a person’s body weight can cause a harmless sensation known as paresthesia or “itchy skin,” which can be easily eliminated by reducing dosage.
4) Maintain and Heal Cells under Heightened Intensity
A great pre-workout supplement should protect cellular health and function under new loads of more intensive exercise. Antioxidants like citrus bioflavanoids and taurine have both been shown to shorten recovery periods and buffer DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Additionally, betaine is an especially promising compound found in quinoa, beets and spinach that enhances performance, improving recovery times as well!
5) Improve and Maintain Mental Focus
A great pre-workout supplement should help you stay laser-focused on your workout’s quality and completion. A moderate amount of caffeine (~100mg) and L-Theanine (an antioxidant in green tea) can improve concentration while enhancing your mood so you can more easily enter a flow-state and mentally power through the challenge of your workout. Supplementation has been shown to improve cognitive function and willpower.
Bonus: No Artificial Junk
A great pre-workout supplement should do all of the above, but it should do so without the addition of unnecessary artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners that are often used to mask the inherently bitter or sour taste of many of the ingredients mentioned.
Until now, the market for these types of performance enhancing supplements has been missing a cleaner, less artificial option.
In partnership with leading sports scientists, Life Time has done the hard work for you and put it all together – a health-conscious pre-workout supplement and branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) formula called StrengthStack℠.
Our PreWorkout Complex
is designed to be safe and effective for any exercise enthusiast with continued use.BCAA Recovery
is specifically designed to enhance recovery from exercise by reducing muscle soreness and supporting muscle protein synthesis.
Remember, a good pre-workout supplement helps you safely add intensity to your workout for the purpose of more positive adaptations to higher physical stress. It’s like flooring the accelerator to maximize the output of your system and to test its limits. If your engine needs an oil change before you up your intensity, consider a detox first
to reset your system so you can maximize benefits from the start of your StrengthStack℠.
Not only does protein steady blood sugar, but its core components — amino acids — help your body make serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters. Dietary protein contains several essential amino acids, some that contribute to a sense of calm, and some that excite the nervous system. Phenylalanine, for example, stimulates the brain by creating norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure — which you need for the fight-or-flight response. (Research suggests various forms of phenylalanine may effectively treat symptoms of depression.) The amino acid tryptophan, meanwhile, can ultimately have a soothing effect. But because it’s smaller than its amino-acid counterparts, tryptophan tends to have a hard time crossing from the blood into the brain where it can help calm you. Click here
to learn more about the four nutritional strategies can help support a calmer state of mind.
Curious about BCAAs? Our expert explains what they’re good for — and how to right-size your intake.
Your body requires three branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine typically gets most of the attention because of its ability to stimulate muscle growth, but each offers key benefits. Isoleucine helps regulate blood sugar and create hemoglobin (proteins that carry oxygen within your body), while valine acts as a mild stimulant.
Taken together — and combined with an appropriate nutrition and training plan — they can be a powerful tool for muscle health, performance, and recovery, says Paul Kriegler, RD, program development manager at Life Time in Chanhassen, Minn.
The body is unable to produce BCAAs on its own, so it’s critical to get them through food. Red meat, eggs, and whey protein are common sources.
If you don’t consume much animal protein, or if you have a hard time digesting food before or after a workout, a BCAA supplement can be helpful. Kriegler recommends mixing one scoop of a flavored BCAA powder in 6 to 8 ounces of water and drinking it within 30 minutes either before, during, or after your workout. It’s useful as a pre-, post-, or intra-workout beverage, he says, so don’t stress too much about timing as long as it’s near your workout time.