Could a Pre-Workout Supplement Benefit Your
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
4) Maintain and Heal Cells under Heightened
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
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 Fitness 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. Learn more about the
four nutritional strategies which can help support a calmer state of
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 Fitness 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.