Written by Dave Lipson
If you have flipped through any popular fitness magazines you have probably seen advertisements for products like “N0-EXPLODE”, “Jacked-3D”, “Black Powder” “Hemo-Rage” and “Assault.” While these may sound like new band names on the “Warped Tour”, these are actually pre-workout supplements that you could find at your local vitamin/sport supplement store. They are coupled with tag lines like “Amazing Pumps!”, “Unleash Hell in Your Workout!”, and “Ignite Yourself!” These products claim to increase performance in workouts, providing more mental focus, energy, endurance and blood flow to extremities…but what do they really do? How do they work? And what are the real risks and benefits of consuming them?
Most of these supplements are based on caffeine, containing anywhere from 100-300 mg of caffeine in a serving. Just to compare, there is about 100 mg in an 8 ounce cup of coffee. When caffeine enters the body, systems start working harder to evacuate the substance from inside. There are events in the body like increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, the kidneys working harder causing frequent urination, and mental excitement. Make no mistake, caffeine is a powerful drug and has been associated with such silent killers as hypertension. Like many drugs, people tend to develop tolerances and are de-sensitized to the effects of caffeine, resorting to larger doses to achieve a mental high. Chronic and immoderate caffeine use can put undue stress on the adrenal glands and even lead to symptoms such as adrenal fatigue.
Having said that, there are also many advantages to using pre-workout supplements. I use pre-workout supplements from time to time, but I try to do it with an understanding and respect of their power, and a strategic application to my training. These products work. There is definitely a performance advantage when applied in the correct doses to the correct training. The University of Connecticut performed a study clearly showing an increase in bench press and grip strength for groups using pre-workout caffeine stimulants. Research has also confirmed the increased mental focus and acuity from the use of caffeine. For individuals who are trying to loose weight, caffeine can serve as an appetite suppressant and has been shown to increase both lipolysis (breakdown of fat) and thermogenesis (calorie burning).
In addition to caffeine, these pre-workout products are often stacked with other substances such as arginine (N.O.) a powerful vasodilator that is used to increase blood flow to the extremities – providing the “pump” to your arms. The intent is that the increased blood flow will increase performance.
Many of these products contain stimulants that are banned in significant doses for competitions by organizations like the USOC and the NCAA. I would recommend being careful and cross-referencing all the ingredients with a banned substance list in your sport. (Remember, even caffeine is banned in certain doses, so make sure you clear the substance with the appropriate organization.)
Due to the fact that these substances increase heart rate and blood pressure, I would not recommend them for activities where heart rate is already elevated, such as endurance events and metabolic (lactic) training. I have heard of many athletes that claim to feel like they are drowning due to overuse of caffeine in conditioning workouts and end up with nausea and vomiting.
To avoid becoming desensitized to the effects of these products I would recommend using them sparingly. I only use my pre-workout go-go-juice for a long and heavy strength training session to help with the mental fatigue that often accompanies such a stressor. Cycle these products on and off. Take a break after a few weeks and let your body normalize for a while with no or less caffeine. This will help you avoid many of the potential side effects of these pre-workout supplements. Remember, choosing the right supplements, like choosing the right diet, can assist you in your training, but in the end YOU are the determining factor in your training success.
Here is a quick overview of all the Pro’s and Con’s of pre workout stimulants:
- Increased Focus
- Increased Energy
- Increased Upper Body Strength
- Fat Burning
- Weight Loss
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Possible Drug Test Failure
- Feeling of racing heart couple with nausea and vomiting