Pre-Workout Supplements: Why, When, and Which Ones to Take?

November 18, 2022

There have been many discussions about supplements for athletes throughout the years, and they have not always been very positive. In many cases, the problem lies in misinformation that ends up in choosing the wrong products, leaving the consumer with the feeling that they have wasted their money in vain.

Choosing the right supplement has to do with studying the percentage of nutrients the product provides concerning athletic activity. For example, the famous protein shakes have, at least, carbohydrates and fats, in addition to proteins. 

So, considering the plastic function of the latter or the energetic function of carbohydrates, we can deduce that it is an appropriate supplement for high energy expenditure and muscle wasting, as in strength training.

But in addition to looking at the nutrients, we must also look at their type, because not all are the same and do not behave in the same way in terms of metabolism and hormones. The speed of assimilation can vary, so at times of the day of high energy demand, a high glycemic index derived from simple carbohydrates can be a good idea.

Pre-workout supplements: why take them?

Supplements during pre-workout help the body prepare for the activity, also considering the athletic goals. Normally, those who take supplements do so because they want to gain or define muscle mass, increase their endurance or enhance weight loss.

What supplements do, then, is reinforce the physical activity carried out during training, to enhance its results. This explains why they are so popular.

These products often combine different elements, so the range of possibilities is endless. It pays to be well-informed and, importantly, to choose brands that offer certain guarantees. 

It is common for someone to try a product because a family member, friend, or gym partner has recommended it. It's a starting point, of course, but not everyone works the same, nor does everyone take the same care in selecting products. 

Whatever motivates the choice, the intake of supplements makes even more sense when we are talking about a hectic lifestyle, with a poor distribution of meals and uncontrolled caloric intake.

All in all, we can gather the properties of pre-workout supplements:

  • They serve to improve performance.

  • They help to increase strength and endurance.

  • Provide energy and improve concentration.

  • Stimulate fat burning.

  • Increase protein synthesis.

  • Reduce catabolism.

Recommended supplements

Before making a decision, it is necessary to consider which compounds can be used according to the wanted results. Here are some suggestions:

  • For strength and power

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements, which has to do with the scientific literature that supports its use. Although it can be used in pre-workout, as a way to replace the adenosine triphosphate loss during physical activity, it can also be taken at the end of the session.

  • For more energy

If the activity exceeds an intensity threshold, a supplement focused on raising glucose levels will help progression by maintaining adequate glucose levels. Carbohydrates are necessary and, apart from those we usually take at meals, there are products capable of releasing energy in a sustained manner, useful in endurance training.

  • To stimulate muscle growth

In this case, it is a matter of optimizing this process that involves an increase in muscle tissue, so it is best to use supplements that improve protein synthesis from the stimulus to which the body is subjected. You can use BCAA supplements for this purpose (branched amino acids metabolized in the muscle tissue itself).

  • To burn fat

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, acts on the nervous system, and accelerates metabolism. It also improves concentration and mental clarity. It has thermogenic effects and delays fatigue. Guarana offers similar benefits.

  • For concentration

The previous ones could be valid, but tyrosine seems even more complete. Tyrosine is an amino acid related to palliative effects in case of overtraining. It is also an ally against fat.

Acetyl L-Carnitine and the nootropic DMAE can also be good for concentration.

  • For endurance

A supplement that increases endurance can help do more repetitions or prolong training time in general. Beta-alanine can increase performance by extending the duration of high-intensity activities and increasing muscle carnosine concentration. Another popular option is taurine, an amino acid produced from cysteine and involved in multiple physiological processes, such as muscle contraction.

  • To gain muscle mass

The most popular are protein and carbohydrate shakes. It is usual to take them approximately one hour before training.

How to take pre-workout supplements?

It is necessary to follow the instructions of the manufacturer or, at least, the mentor who advises it or the specialized store that provides the product because each has its peculiarity.

It is usual to recommend taking the supplement about 30-60 minutes before starting the activity, depending on when your last meal was. It is not advisable to eat and train at the same time because it can cause stomach discomfort. 

However, there are supplements that, due to their characteristics, can be recommended on an empty stomach, such as those for improving performance and those focused on fat loss.