I've used pre-workout supplements for a long time and regularly before each workout (4-5x per week) for the past year. The first pre-workouts that I tried were rather intense. When you take certain pre-workouts, you experience an itchy/bug-crawly feeling as you start to feel a big burst of energy. My gut feeling after taking these a handful of times was that these supplements can't be good for you to regularly take. After I started researching health/fitness experts, I learned that they may not be as harmful as I thought and that their main components are ingredients like caffeine, which is well-researched and generally known not to be harmful.
Just last week, I worked out at a gym that served me pre-workout - it was a brand that I never tried before and I was pleasantly surprised with it. The trainer also told me that this was a "healthier" option that would not give me the odd itchy feeling and still give me great energy throughout my workout. This got me intrigued to do a deep dive into different products and their ingredients. The 4 products shown in the picture above are the ingredients lists that I looked at and I evaluated their ingredients by using Examine.com, which is a well-known source for credible "science-based nutrition & supplement information."
The common ingredients each of these products had were:
By "common" I mean at least 2/4 of these products contained each of these ingredients. The first 3 were in all 4 products and creatine was in 2, but is typical when looking at other brands. Let's take a look at each of these ingredients...
Caffeine is wildly popular and known for its attributes as a stimulant and nootropic, allowing you to stay awake and alert. This is definitely the main component of a pre-workout, ranging from 150-350mg/serving. I will not go deep into the caffeine research, what health experts have to say, and the controversy of if it is detrimental to your health - I went over this in a previous post so if you'd like to learn more on that, you can check out that out here: All About the Caffeine.
Cellucor's C4 - 150 mg/serving
Beyond Raw's Lit - 250 mg/serving
Redcon1's Total War - 250 mg/serving
Legion's Pulse - 350 mg/serving
To put it into perspective, an average cup (8oz) of coffee has about 100mg of caffeine.
Beta-alanine appears to have a wide variety of benefits including:
Cellucor's C4 - 1.6 g/serving
Beyond Raw's Lit - 3.2 mg/serving
Redcon1's Total War - 3.2 mg/serving
Legion's Pulse - 3.6 mg/serving
L-Citrulline is an amino acid that turns into Arganine, and therefore is said to be more effective than Arganine. Some of these products contain L-Citrulline and some contain Arganine. Either way, these ingredients have very limited evidence for their believed benefits of increasing blood flow and reducing fatigue.
Cellucor's C4 - 1g Arganine/serving
Beyond Raw's Lit - 3g L-Citrulline, 1.5g Arganine/serving
Redcon1's Total War - 6g (L-Citrulline Mixture)/serving
Legion's Pulse - 8g (L-Citrulline Mixture)/serving
Creatine is another popular supplement that is well-researched and proven to have muscle-building benefits with no harmful effects except possible GI discomfort. If you do have GI discomfort, I suggest trying a different brand/type.
Some experts say that creatine is actually more beneficial to take after the workout, which goes against the first bullet. Either way, most people get their creatine from a separate supplement and have specific doses so I would not say it is essential to have in a pre-workout supplement.
Cellucor's C4 - 1g/serving
Beyond Raw's Lit - 1.5g/serving
Redcon1's Total War - 0g/serving
Legion's Pulse - 0g/serving
Overall, nothing in the ingredients lists for these products showed any sort of red flag when I researched them at Examine.com. They are also all very flavorful but extremely low in calories, carbohydrates, and sugars. I researched the full list of ingredients for all of these products.
Here is a look at the products overall...
To match the other products' creatine and beta-alanine, you may want two servings to get similar effects. Experiment with 1 serving first and if it doesn't feel like enough, don't worry about taking another half or full scoop.
The only ingredients outside of what was already talked about is mainly essential vitamins, specifically B and C. These vitamins are good for your general health. They also may improve your cardiovascular health, blood flow, and brain function but there isn't a whole lot of research backing those claims. N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine has some scary symptoms but only in doses that are at least 30x greater than what is in a serving of C4. This ingredient has been shown to reduce stress from acute stressors.
This costs $1/serving on Amazon.com and can be found at just about any place that sells pre-workouts including Walmart, GNC, and popular gyms.
Beyond Raw's Lit
Redcon1's Total War
This costs $1/serving on Amazon.com and is sold at most places that have pre-workout supplements including GNC and popular gyms.
It is pretty incredible how much variety you get with pre-workouts. Face-value, you would think all these brands are the same except for the flavors. Personally, I do not feel much of a difference when taking these products - they all do the job, getting me pumped up for my workout and keeping me energized as I get through it without crashing. I'm glad I took this deep dive, really got to know the ingredients, and saw that there were really no red flags in any of these products revealing them as harmful. I feel as long as I monitor my caffeine and limit myself to 1-2 coffees for the rest of the day after taking my pre-workout, I am not doing any harm to my body and I feel fantastic after taking pre-workout. Many times, I workout very early in the morning, around 5:00AM so I need that extra boost.
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