What is the best pre-workout for athletes? Besides protein and creatine, pre-workouts are probably one of the more popular supplements taken by both strength and endurance athletes; and for good reason.
Pre-workouts can provide an acute ergogenic benefit that can help athletes run faster, push further, lift more weight, and fatigue less quickly.
But with so many pre-workouts on the market how do you know which ones are the best?
This article will discuss what a pre-workout is, how to take a pre-workout, what makes a pre-workout the best for both strength and endurance athletes, and what ingredients should be found in a good pre-workout. Let’s get started.
WHAT IS A PRE WORKOUT?
A pre workout is any supplement or combination of supplements that are designed to enhance athletic performance. A good pre workout can provide both acute and chronic benefits when taken before exercise.
- Most pre workouts designed for the gym crowd contain ingredients that can enhance muscular strength and power, help you put on lean mass, and give you the energy to blast through an intense strength training routine.
- On the other hand, the best pre workouts for endurance athletes will contain compounds that improve stamina, increase VO2 max, buffer muscle acidity, and delay fatigue.
The best pre workout for strength and endurance athletes will often share similar ingredients but there are some key differences that make some better than others.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TAKE A PRE WORKOUT?
Pre workouts are best consumed 30-60 minutes before exercise or competition. This time allows the body to digest and absorb all ingredients necessary to produce peak performance.
For example, when caffeine, a common ingredient found in the best pre workouts, is consumed it takes 60 minutes to reach peak concentrations in the blood.
HOW FAST DO YOU FEEL AND HOW LONG DO THE EFFECTS OF PRE WORKOUTS LAST?
The answer to this question really depends on the ingredients found in the pre workout.
Generally speaking, you will notice the effects of a pre workout ~30 minutes after you consume it with the effects lasting ~2-4 hours.
Using caffeine as an example again, you will feel its effects after ~15 minutes and the energy you feel from it can last 4-6 hours.
With other ingredients found in pre workouts, it may take 20-30 days to notice the performance enhancing effects.
Creatine and Beta-Alanine are classic examples. Both of these ingredients, commonly found in the best pre workouts, require a loading phase of ~30 days for you to reap the benefits.
WHAT QUALIFIES A SUPPLEMENT AS THE BEST PRE WORKOUT?
To be considered the best pre workout, the supplement in question should contain:
- Research demonstrated ingredients tested in humans
- Clinical doses of said ingredients
- No proprietary blends
Let’s briefly discuss each of these.
THE BEST PRE WORKOUTS HAVE RESEARCH ON THEM IN HUMANS
I would guess 95% of the ingredients found in pre workouts have no scientific research on them demonstrating they enhance performance. Additionally, some ingredients found in pre workouts only have rodent research to back their use. This is no Bueno.
The best pre workouts should have ingredients in them that have been validated by scientific research to work in humans.
Meaning clinical trials conducted in a lab setting and better yet if the testing involved athletes.
Out of the thousands of supplements on the market today, probably only 50 (we’ll discuss these later) have credible scientific evidence to support their use in improving athletic performance.
Examples are creatine, beta-alanine, caffeine, protein, and choline. If ever in doubt use examine.com as a reference.
THE BEST PRE WORKOUT CONTAINS CLINICAL DOSES
Even if a pre workout appears to contain the best ingredients, it is also important to make sure it contains the appropriate doses.
For example, 1 gram of beta-alanine will not do anything to improve athletic performance. You need at least 3.2 grams daily.
Many supplement companies will put the right ingredients in their pre workout so it looks good on the surface. They’ll claim it is the best pre workout. But the correct dosages will not be used to support that claim.
THE BEST PRE WORKOUT FOR ATHLETES WILL NOT HAVE PROPRIETARY BLENDS
Proprietary blends are a well-kept secret designed to pad the pockets of those who make the supplements and rip you off.
In the simplest sense, a prop blend is a combination of many different ingredients but there is no disclosure in regard to how much of each ingredient you are getting.
This presents a huge problem.
For example, on the supplement facts panel on a pre workout, there could be a blend called the “Intense Energy Blend.” This blend might list 5-10 different ingredients and state the total amount of ingredients at 5 grams.
Here’s the problem…. the first ingredient in that blend could contain 4.99 grams of all the active ingredients with the others sprinkled in.
This is perfectly legal and supplement companies take advantage of this by loading up pre workouts with the cheapest ingredients first.
Take home point. The best pre workout will not contain proprietary blends.
WHAT INGREDIENTS & DOSAGES SHOULD THE BEST PRE WORKOUT FOR STRENGTH ATHLETES HAVE?
At minimum the best pre workout supplements for strength athletes should include:
- Creatine Monohydrate at 5 grams: Creatine hands down in the most researched supplement. It increases strength, power, endurance, and speed by helping to replenish ATP (energy) rapidly.
- Beta-Alanine at 3.2 grams: Beta-Alanine works by buffering muscle acidity, especially as exercise intensity increases. It does this by saturating muscle carnosine stores.
- Caffeine at at least 200mg: Caffeine provides energy and delays fatigue by competing with adenosine for the adenosine receptor. It may also help promote more efficient and prolonged muscular contraction by increasing the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum.
- Citrulline Malate at 6 grams: Citrulline malate is a potent nitric oxide booster which promotes relaxation of the blood vessels. This leads to more blood going to working muscle and extended muscular endurance.
- Betaine at 3 grams: Betaine's two main functions in the body are as a methyl donor and osmolyte. As an osmolyte, betaine protects proteins, cells, and enzymes from heat, dehydration, and other physiological stresses. As a methyl donor, betaine is used to convert homocysteine to L-methionine, and is therefore, a precursor to creatine.
- Branch Chained Amino Acids at 5 grams: The BCAAs leucine, iso-leucine, and valine help stimulate muscle protein synthesis…the process that helps build muscle.
WHAT INGREDIENTS & DOSAGES SHOULD THE BEST PRE WORKOUT FOR ENDURANCE ATHLETES HAVE?
At minimum the best pre workout for endurance athletes should include:
- Caffeine dosed at 3-6mg/kg body weight: While this ingredient is commonly used in gym pre workouts, the majority of research on caffeine has been done on endurance athletes. Thousands of studies have demonstrated that caffeine, taken 30-60 minutes before endurance exercise, can improve time trail performance, time to exhaustion, blunt fatigue and pain, and give athletes a boost of energy.
- Beta-Alanine at 3.2 grams: Another ingredient shared with gym pre workouts, beta-alanine is extremely for intense efforts lasting 1-4 minutes…. like breaking away from the pack, grinding up a hill, or a sprint towards the finish line.
- Cordyceps at 1-4 grams: Cordyceps are mushrooms that are classified as adaptogens. This means they minimize the stress of exercise. Cordyceps, more specifically Peak O2, has also been shown to improve VO2 max and power output.
- Choline at 1-2 grams: Choline serves to create a mind to muscle connection that increases focus and muscular contractions. Most endurance athletes are choline deficient.
- Beet Root Powder at 1.5 to 10 grams: Beets are a high source of dietary nitrates the lower the energy cost of exercise. This means hard exercise feels easier and requires less energy.
- Huperzine-A at 50 – 200mcg: Huperzine decreases the breakdown of acetylcholine. This means extended focus and a greater mind/muscle connection.
- Taurine at 1.5 – 2 grams: Taurine increases insulin sensitivity, reduces lactic acid, and promotes the formation of new blood vessels. All of these are important as it relates to endurance performance.
WHAT IS THE BEST PRE WORKOUT FOR WOMEN?
Truth be told, women do not need to take a different pre workout from men.
The best pre workout for women will include the ingredients listed above in the proper dosages.
While several supplements companies will lead you to believe that women need a separate pre workout, this is a blatant lie. Here’s why. Most of the research done on the ingredients in the best pre workouts have included both male and female subjects.
ARE THE BEST PRE WORKOUTS FOR ATHLETES SAFE?
The answer to this question is yes and no.
- Yes, if the pre workout contains clinically validated ingredients in the proper dosages.
- No, if the pre workout contains several stimulants, grey area ingredients, or compounds that have been tested only in rodents.
It cannot be stressed enough to do your research on what you are putting in your body. There have been several instances of severe illness or even death from taking a pre workout with red flagged ingredients. When in doubt use examine.com as your reference.
THE BOTTOM LINE ON THE BEST PRE WORKOUT FOR ATHLETES
By now you should have your PhD in pre workouts. To sum things up the best pre workout supplements should have research-validated ingredients, in the proper doses, and have been demonstrated to enhance strength or endurance performance.