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Food & Nutrition

What Are Pre-Workout Supplements And Should You Be Taking Them?

Are pre-workouts the key to superior strength and fitness or is it best to steer clear?

You may have heard of pre-workout supplements and wondered what exactly they might entail. Some kind of dodgy power-pill for ‘roid heads? A drink that provides you with magical nutrients? Well, pre-workout supplements actually sit midway between those two extremes.

They’re designed to help burn body-fat quicker and accelerate muscle growth

Pre-workout supplements are more popular today than they’ve ever been. Formulated with ingredients that work together to increase your endurance and energy exponentially, they’re designed to help burn body-fat quicker and accelerate muscle growth. But do these benefits come at a cost to your body? And what exactly do they contain?

What’s in a pre-workout supplement?

Pre-workout supplements contain a plethora of ingredients

Not all pre-workout supplements are the same; there’s no set formula for them, which means the market is flooded with supplements loudly proclaiming themselves to be The Best.

This makes it rather difficult choose the right product, especially for beginners. There are, however, four particular ingredients that you’ll find in 99% of all pre-workout supplements – and these go a long way to explaining what the overall effects are.

Caffeine: Yep, the type you get in your morning coffee. It’s a powerful stimulant that increases alertness by binding to the receptors of your brain. This helps to keep nerve activity up, and feelings of fatigue down.

Creatine: Often found mixed in with protein shakes, creatine provides muscles with the quick, explosive energy they need during workouts. It also pulls more water into the muscles, which in turnstimulates processes within the body that lead to greater long-term muscle growth.

Betaine: A modified amino acid (the stuff that helps make up our cells and muscle tissue). It’s effective for boosting muscle strength and power by as much as 25%.

Arginine: One of the most popular pre-workout ingredients, as the body readily converts it to nitric oxide which helps to aid quicker recovery times and reduce fatigue levels during intense training.

How are they consumed?

Pre-workout supplements come in both powder and pill form

Pre-workout supplements are generally consumed in the same way as whey protein powders, i.e. a couple of scoops of the stuff with water – shake it up and away you go. Some companies do offer them in tablet form, but these don’t tend to have the same potency as the shakes.

When to take a pre-workout supplement is pretty self-explanatory. Consume about 30 minutes before a workout, and you’ll be buzzing your baps off by the time you hit the gym.

Should you be taking them?

A product with so many different supplements crammed into it is bound to split opinions. And while there’s no definitive answer as to whether or not you should be taking them, it’s important to understand the potential effects before you do.

“It’s important to make sure that the pre-workout supplement you’re buying has been approved by your country’s authorities,”says Fitness First personal trainer Wayne Chelliah. “Some unapproved products on the market actually contain high levels of heavy metals that can build up in your system over a period of time and cause issues.

Too much of the stuff can cause withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it

“Although pre-workout supplements do provide you with a helpful caffeine boost, some products do not specify just how much caffeine you’re consuming. Too much of the stuff can cause withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking it, which could cause an over-reliance on pre-workout supplements.”

Pre-workouts lead to reliance, rather than addiction

But that’s not to say that pre-workout supplements should be completely avoided, they clearly have their benefits.

“Pre-workout supplements are a great, legal way to increase motivation and boost energy levels prior to a big session,” says Bio-Synergy ambassador and GB Decathlete Ben Gregory. “I’m not saying you need them or should rely on them often, but they are an invaluable option to have in your supplement repertoire. Pre-workout supplements enable you to maximise your workouts and battle through the fatigue of multiple training sessions.

Pre-workout supplements enables you to maximise your workouts and battle through the fatigue of multiple training sessions

“If you’re aiming for a new personal best in the gym or trying to beat your best 10km time, adding a pre-workout supplement to your routine will reap instant results, getting your mind and body ready for action. Many of them contain myriad high quality ingredients that are beneficial for anyone serious about their training.”

Can pre-workout supplements be dangerous?

“Due to pretty strict guidelines in the UK, it is highly unlikely that you would find anything particularly risky within the pre-workout supplement market – although the same cannot be said for products found overseas,” says nutritionist Belinda Reynolds.

 There are certain ingredients that I would recommend avoiding if you are looking to maximise health

“However, there are certain ingredients that you are better off steering clear of if you want to maintain good health. Artificial flavours, sweeteners, colours and preservatives are commonly found in many powdered and liquid formulations. These certainly don’t contribute to good health, and sensitive individuals may find that these additives contribute to unwanted side effects, such as gut disturbances and headaches.”

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