The use of pre-workout supplements is so prevalent among gym goers these day it may make you feel you are doing something wrong if you are not taking one! But are they really useful and safe?
A pre-workout is normally a formulation of several natural and/or synthetic ingredients that are intended to increase energy, endurance and overall performance during exercise. Each brand offers a different formula with different ingredients and dosages, so you have to look at each of them as a separate supplement with its own potential benefits and risks.
Common Pre-Workout Ingredients
Again, each product has a unique formula, but there are certain commonly used ingredients that can be found in many of the best-selling pre-workouts.
Caffeine is probably the most used ingredient in these supplements for a very simple reason — it works! Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that can boost vigilance, energy and focus, and it is usually safe when consumed in moderate doses. This may not always be the case though, as some people are highly sensitive to caffeine and will experience very unpleasant side effects, such as agitation and nervousness, even when consuming very little amounts of it.
Arginine and citrulline are amino acids that the body uses to produce nitric oxide, which works as a vasodilator prompting blood vessels to relax and expand allowing for increased blood flow. This can lead to improved strength and performance during exercise and boosts the so-called “pump” feeling.
Creatine is also found in most pre-workouts as it is proven to help muscles produce more energy, thus increasing endurance and reducing muscle exhaustion during an intense exercise session. Creatine monohydrate is the most used form of this natural compound.
APS Nutrition Mesomorph uses two newer forms of creatine that are claimed to have higher solubility, which are creatine nitrate and di-creatine malate, however, there doesn’t seem to be a conclusive evidence to suggest that any form of creatine is significantly more effective than the others in terms of bioavailability.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that increases muscle performance and endurance after it is converted into carnosine, which counteracts lactic acid that muscles produce during exercise, and as a result it increases the duration the muscle can contract until it gets tired.
Are Pre-Workouts Safe?
Some safety concerns have been raised by experts about certain ingredients used in pre-workout supplements. While those that only incorporate natural ingredients are generally considered safe when used properly, some products contain unapproved synthetic substances that may come with health risks.
For example, DMAA and DMHA are two synthetic stimulant compounds that are used to boost athletic performance, and while they do provide a noticeable effect, they are not proven to be safe for human consumption and can lead to heart problems and other serious side effects. After many complaints about supplements containing these two substances, the FDA has banned their use in dietary supplements and has issued warning letters to manufacturers who use these compounds in their products.