Recently I got this question on Facebook, “Travis, what Pre-Workout do you recommend?”
SHEEEEET… that is a loaded question.
First off, let me just say that pre-workout is not mandatory for every workout, BUT I do understand that it’s almost the equivalent of a proverbial switch that flips in the brain to let you know it’s time to kick a$$ and work out. To a lot of people, it’s ritualistic that they fill their shaker cup with water and start chugging their liquid energy.
Hey, I get it, I have been guilty of this myself on many occasions and still find myself picking up an RTD (ready to drink) pre-workout if I was ill prepared for the day.
The Problem with Pre-workouts
The problem with a number of pre-workouts (but not all), is that a majority are filled with junk that you don’t need. In fact, I’ve seen some that is the equivalence of a Mountain Dew in chemical content.
Can you imagine drinking a coke (yes, I’m from the south) before you workout!? Well, quite a bit of Pre-Workout drinks are filled with the same ingredients.
People are subjected to overly hyped marketing, promising insane record-breaking workouts, and muscle pumps so crazy that you will get biceps as large as Arnold’s and have gym orgasms on the weight floor (yep, I read that on one supplement bottle). Obviously, this can mislead anyone.
Then, if you are somewhat savvy with the supplement world, you’ll take a look on the back to see the basic ingredient list and not really be sure what the heck the contents and “proprietary blend” actually mean. <=== I’ll save this for another blog
As a guy that is a self-professed recovering supplement addict, I can tell you that when I really started to research more of what was on the ingredient list, I was shocked to see how unregulated the supplement world actually is AND to find out how much of what is in the bottle is just filler that your body doesn’t need.
If you want further proof of what I’m talking about check out this clip from the documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger:
What I look for
I would be a hypocrite if I told you to avoid pre-workouts drinks because, as stated above, even I will take a pre-workout, so let me help you be a bit more educated on the basics when it comes to pre-workouts.
Two things I personally consider with a pre-workout:
1. Stimulant factor – how much caffeine or other stimulants are there per serving. This is the “awake” Superman/women feeling you get… also known as feeling “cracked out.”
2. Pump Factor – ingredients that lead to vasodilation and increase blood flow to the muscles. Think of the feeling you get when your muscles feel like balloons pushing against your skin; almost as if they want to explode. The pump is a great thing for those wanting to really work on growing a muscle.
If you were to speak with any supplement guru I’m sure they would tell you there’s a lot of other things to consider, and maybe they are right, but these are the primary two for most people that read this blog.
Ideally, you want to determine your goal before you pick your pre-workout because if there’s too much stimulant, you will feel cracked out and intense for about the first 45min but then you have a HARD crash followed by zombie mode for several hours afterward.
Too much pump and you may notice that your performance suffers with certain lifts. Think of cross fitters that have to do a ton of hang cleans in their timed WOD: your forearms could be too pumped to even hold onto the weight! <=== Seriously I have personally run into this with a kettlebell workout and nearly launched a 50-pound bell through a wall. Phewwwww, scary stuff there.
So needless to say, Pre-Workout should be individual and situational based.
My Pre-workout Hack
However, I will tell you a pre-workout hack that I personally use; it’s VERY simple and a LOT cheaper than most supplements you’ll get.
Coffee – Seriously most of the stimulants in pre-workouts are just caffeine anyways so just go straight to the source! Personally, I will have the equivalent of a Starbucks tall coffee which is typically a little bit over 200 mg of caffeine but even your basic Folgers will do just fine.
Caffeine tolerance is pretty much subjective so I would start with whatever you would typically drink in the morning when you wake up. If you do find that you are sensitive to caffeine (trust me, you know who you are), then you can air on the lighter side or forgo this all together.
Citrulline – This is one of the MAIN ingredients for the pump factor you may want. You may have heard that you can use arginine but it’s not as good as citrulline due to poor absorption rates in the gut AND it turns into arginine anyways in the kidneys. The dosages I use are typically between 6,000-8,000mg.
Again dosages can vary per person and per goal; I always recommend starting with the smallest amount and working your way up from there.
Beta-alanine – It’s an acid buffer, so for gym rats, this can help your body flush the lactic acid out faster and maybe get you a few extra reps for those higher sets. The dosages are typically between 2,000 -5,000mg. Side Note: this is also the ingredient that’s responsible for the tingle feeling that you may get from some pre-workouts and is perfectly harmless.
That’s it! Seriously, that is what I use and I like the basic ingredients because I know I’m not getting a lot of other fillers plus I can alter the dosages depending on my work out that day.
You can pick up any of those ingredients at any major supplement store or even a health food store for less than $10 a bottle (even Amazon). Just be sure to check the dosage per pill because sometimes supplement companies have been known to make the dosage per pill very small so that you have to take more pills and go throughout their product faster.
What about other ingredients?
Guys this is MY pre-workout hack and it’s what I use or have recommended to those that are looking to save money OR just are not sure where to start with the pre-workout world. Sure, there are a ton of other ingredients that you can add and some of them may work, but from my experience, most do not.
I like to think of it this way: If I were to take a mixture of supplements and I started to get intense workouts, which supplement was it!? Was it the SUPER MAX MEGA PUMP that guaranteed orgasms on the gym floor or the one with the PCP like effects that promised intense focus and beastly strength?
Me personally, I’d like to know what ingredient works and what is just crap, so from my experience, I can brew a small cup of coffee take a few pills of beta-alanine and citrulline and get in a damn good workout.
When I really do have a lot of ingredient questions I go here www.Examine.com (<=== no affiliate).
HANDS DOWN, the BEST independent/unbiased organization that does not sell any supplements with a focus on the actual scientific evidence when it comes to supplements and nutrition. Or as I like to call it… supplement porn. :-p
Again, I’d like to go on the record and say that pre-workouts are absolutely NOT necessary, contrary to what a lot of media would like you to believe. To really see any kind of fat loss and muscle or strength gains, you really need to make sure your diet is nailed down because that pre-workout won’t do crap if your eating like crap; but if your diet is clean and you know your stuff, then a pre-workout can help you get the most out of the workout.
In Health and Awesomeness,
Travis Merritt, BS, CPT, (and other letters behind the name) is the Owner of Rowlett Transformation Center in Rowlett, TX.
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