Is pre-workout helping or hurting your gains?
Having been a three-sport athlete myself, and an avid weightlifter to this day, I know how important supplements can be to an athlete trying to reach the next level in performance. This post is to help understand the different supplements affect performance, both good and bad.
As fall sports approach, the strength and conditioning programs are hitting their peak among high school athletes. One of the most common supplements found in a high school football locker room is pre-workout. Pre-workout powder usually consists of a blend of substances that are not regulated by the FDA and may include creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, L-Taurine, L-Leucine, and caffeine, to name a few. These substances are designed to increase anaerobic power, muscular strength, and improve body composition, and mood states. Sounds great, right?
According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, it was found there was no significant difference in body fat percent, fat mass, or lean body mass among those that used a specific blend of pre-workout. The study did, however, show a statistically significant increase in leg press max for the study group.
It is important to understand what goes into these pre-workouts, why the different compounds are included, and what the purpose is. Like anything that is consumed, there may be potential side effects!
Caffeine is often a key component to pre-workout supplements due to its stimulatory benefits and improvements in time to fatigue to help workout intensity last longer. A dose of about 3-6mg/kg of body weight can improve
sport performance in individuals. Caffeine is also a thermogenic, which is why it is included in weight loss supplements. Caffeine does, however, raise the user’s heart rate and blood pressure. This can be problematic when combined with long duration exercise. If the user exceeds the maximum working heart rate, it can decrease perfusion (carrying of oxygen to the body) and may cause chest pain or the user to faint. Additionally, caffeine is a stimulant and therefore will keep the user awake, even several hours after consumption. Most high school athletes have practice after school when the pre-workout is consumed. This caffeine can still be in the system when he or she tries to go to bed! Sleep is critical for next-level performance in an athlete. Growth hormone reaches its peak during the sleep cycle which is where your gains will be made!
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is a precursor to carnosine. Carnosine serves as a muscle buffer during periods of intense exertional exercise and helps to decrease muscle acidity. By increasing these stores with beta-alanine supplementation, the user can enhance this high-intensity exercise performance. Beta-alanine use has be found to increase the number of repetitions to fatigue and overall work capacity in athletes. The potential side effects of beta-alanine are skin paresthesia or tingling of the skin.
Creatine is one of the most extensively researched ergogenic aid. This supplement has been shown to increase strength and improve body composition in most individuals when combined with resistance exercises. Creatine works by increasing “adenosine triphosphate” or ATP which act as fuel or energy for the body. We store small amounts of ATP in our muscles and the rest is created through energy system metabolism. Creatine has been shown to increase size gains, improve strength, and activate satellite cells (muscle growth). Creatine is very well studied and has been proven to be safe for healthy individuals. Creatinine is used as a marker of healthy kidney function and may be slightly elevated while taking creatine. This is simply a byproduct of normal creatine breakdown and does not indicate an acute kidney injury. However, if you have liver or kidney problems, it is still a good idea to talk with a provider before using any supplement. Creatine should be reserved for the experienced athlete that is looking to improve from an intermediate to advance weightlifting level. Most 15–18-year-olds are hormone powerhouses and do not require creatine!
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are components included in preworkout that have been shown to improve muscular strength and mass, promote sarcomerogenesis in skeletal muscle and reduce protein oxidation. Taking BCAAs before and/or during a workout can provide energy to the muscle cells. BCAAs from natural sources such as animal proteins are very effective at increasing what you’re trying to achieve with your workout with minimal side effects. However, many BCAA supplements are created with synthetically made compounds and combined with caffeine, sugars, or chemical flavorings which are hard for the body to digest.
These are just a few of the major components included in many common pre-workouts. Some include other non-essential amino acids such as L-tyrosine or L-arginine which are also beneficial for working out. My BIGGEST concern with pre-workouts is the caffeine content. Many of these powders have 200-400mg of caffeine which is equivalent to drinking 3-5 cups of coffee…in a single serving! Additionally, these powders have many artificial flavorings and artificial sugars which are hard for the body to digest and can disrupt the normal gut flora.
I recommend eating a balanced diet to get the nutrients your body needs. You can get natural creatine and BCAAs from quality animal proteins that are more easily bio-available and digested. So, opt for grass-fed grass-finished beef, pastured chicken and pastured eggs, or wild-caught fish and shellfish instead of that synthetic powder. Your body and wallet will thank you!
While caffeine and beta-alanine give you a boost initially, there is a significant drop off in energy levels. I can almost guarantee the best pre-workout you will consume is a banana followed by a small glass of 50% orange juice and 50% water with a pinch of Celtic Sea salt stirred in. Trust me. This will give you a boost of electrolytes and glucose your body needs to sustain a heavy workout.
Your Health. Simple.
Matthew Bach PA-C