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For many, taking a pre-workout is a necessary staple to crushing it in the gym. Unfortunately, with so many options available, it can be difficult to decipher what pre-workout ingredients are the best for you. To help clarify the confusion, we’re here to help. From an increase in muscle pump to never-quit endurance, these are the 3 must have pre-workout ingredients you should consider.
Pre-Workout Ingredient #1: Citrulline
If you’re looking for a pre-workout ingredient for pump and vascularity, Citrulline is what you need.
Citrulline is a substance that is considered a non-essential amino acid. While found in many types of food, it is also naturally occurring in the body as well. Produced in the liver and intestines, Citrulline boosts nitric oxide production.
For health purposes, it functions as a vasodilator to increase the amount of blood flowing throughout your body. For those that lift weights, this is what’s called “the pump”. The influx of blood and oxygen into the muscles will not only allow you to lift heavier, but also gives your muscles a temporary boost in appearance too.
L-Citrulline vs Citrulline Malate: What’s the difference?
There are two forms of citrulline that are available as a supplement, these include L-citrulline and Citrulline Malate. The primary difference between the two types of citrulline is that L-citrulline is simply citrulline without any other substance, and citrulline malate is comprised of L-citrulline, plus DL-malate (a compound that may be instrumental in converting food to energy.)
In short, adding the Malate will not only give you the vasodilation effects of L-Citrulline, but also potentially give you a small boost of extra energy.
Research is still ongoing, but one other benefit of taking Citrulline Malate is that it has been shown to significantly reduce post-workout muscle soreness.
Does Citrulline Help Build Muscle?
In a study involving 41 men, a single dose of citrulline malate resulted in a significant increase in performance. Including the number of barbell bench presses increasing by 52% and a 40% decrease in muscle soreness after exercise. How they determine the percentage decrease in muscle soreness remains uncertain, but we’ll take their word for it.
How Much Citrulline Should You Take?
L-citrulline is commonly available in a powder form that can be mixed with liquid or added to nutritional shakes. Most forms of pre-workout already contain a certain amount for the performance enhancing properties explained above.
For exercise performance enhancement, 2 to 5 grams of Citrulline per day is an average dose. Studies have shown that doses of 3 to 6 grams per day of L-citrulline and 8 grams of Citrulline Malate can be taken with no side effects. Your average pre-workout contains 5 to 6 grams.
How can I get Citrulline in my daily diet?
Besides a supplement, citrulline is found naturally in some of the foods listed below.
- Bitter gourd
Pre-Workout Ingredient #2: Beta-alanine
Beta-alanine is an increasingly popular supplement among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. That’s because it’s been shown to enhance performance and benefit overall health. Beta-alanine, like Citrulline, is also a non-essential amino acid.
How Does Beta-alanine Improve Performance?
Unlike most amino acids, Beta-alanine is not used by your body to synthesize proteins. Rather, Beta-alanine together with histidine, produces carnosine which is then stored in your skeletal muscles. Carnosine reduces lactic acid accumulation in your muscles during exercise, which leads to improved athletic performance.
Lactic acid is what builds up in your muscles during each set, and the reason why you can’t get that last rep all the way up. Hence the saying, “Feel the burn”.
Other Benefits Of Beta-alanine
Taking Beta-alanine not only reduces lactic acid buildup, but has numerous other benefits as well, including:
- Contains antioxidant, anti-aging and immune-enhancing properties.
- The antioxidant benefits neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress
- Elevates nitric oxide production. This may help fight the aging process and improve heart health
- May increase the quality and function of muscles in older adults
Beta-alanine: The Pre-Workout Ingredient That Makes You Itch and Tingle
One very common concern/complaint of taking a pre-workout is the itchiness or tingly feeling your may experience.
Taking excessive amounts of beta-alanine may cause paraesthesia, an unusual sensation typically described as “tingling of the skin.” It’s usually experienced in the face, neck and back of the hands.
The intensity of this tingling increases with dosage size. It can be avoided by taking small doses — around 800 mg at a time.
Thus far, researchers are a little unsure exactly what causes the tingles, but so far there is no evidence that the paraesthesia is harmful in any way.
How Much Beta-alanine Should You Take?
You can get beta-alanine from foods that contain carnosine or through supplements. The recommended dose is 2–5 grams daily, again falling into the serving size in your average pre-workout.
Although excessive amounts may cause tingling in the skin, beta-alanine is considered to be a safe and effective supplement to boost exercise performance.
Pre-Workout Ingredient #3: Caffeine
There are few people who are not aware of the stimulating effect that caffeine provides. In fact, caffeine is considered the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world! A majority of adults consume it on a daily basis, and research is being done on its health benefits and consequences.
What Is Caffeine And How Does It Help Your Workout?
The term caffeine is almost synonymous with the word coffee. Yep, that black gold that everyone is hankering for in the morning is largely sought out for its caffeine content to help “grease the wheels” of your morning wakeup ritual.
As ubiquitous as it may be, very few realize that caffeine is naturally derived from over 60 plants including tea leaves and cocoa beans to name a couple.
For working out, caffeine acts as a stimulant on the nervous system. When caffeine binds to certain receptor cells, a temporary increase in muscle performance results. But users should beware, not everyone responds the same and side-effects may vary.
How Much Caffeine Should Your Pre-Workout Have?
We can’t emphasize this enough, but caffeine is a drug and should treated as such. Without knowing your own tolerance to caffeine, you should always take less than more. Better yet, consult with your doctor before you goes nose deep into any pre-workout powder.
With that small warning aside, according to the Dietary Guidelines of Americans, an average adult should consume no more than 400mg of caffeine a day. To be clear, that’s not in one sitting, but spread out throughout the day. On average, one serving of pre-workout contains anywhere from 100mg of caffeine up to 400mg.
Every pre-workout powder contains variable amounts of caffeine. For that reason, carefully read the nutrition label before ingesting. Pay close attention to the dosing as well. Serving sizes vary based on brand, so don’t assume 2 scoops of pre-workout is the same across the board. Consuming too much caffeine can very quickly land you in the hospital or morgue.
Best Pre-Workout Based On Ingredients: Final Word
Like it or not, the pre-workout market is inundated with an innumerable amount of flashy products. Each promises next-level fierceness, focus, and intensity during your workout. But take it from us, stick to the basics and exercise caution when it comes to hype.
As much as we love a quality pre-workout, many contain questionable amounts of ingredients and “proprietary blends”. Proprietary, meaning a concoction of ingredients that they aren’t required to divulge to the consumer.
Our best advice before buying a pre-workout is to read the nutrition label first. Find a pre-workout with an acceptable dosage of the most important ingredients: Citrulline, Beta-Alanine, and Caffeine. Once you do that, consider the other added ingredients and ask yourself if they’re truly needed. A reputable brand generally has nothing to hide.
As mentioned, a quality pre-workout will include Citrulline, Beta-alanine, and Caffeine. The addition of other ingredients such as creatine, betaine, BCAAs, and Taurine are also effective. If possible, avoid any pre-workout with added sugars, dyes, and/or preservatives.
The efficacy and safety of taking a pre-workout for whatever reason, is not determined by the FDA. Therefore, there are more safety variables than there ought to be. If you're determined to take pre-workout, consider taking one from a reputable brand with transparency. Also, if you've never taken one before, we suggest you take at least half the recommended dosage to assess your tolerance.
For the majority, a pre-workout drink is an effective means of pushing through a grueling workout. Although some of that drive may be derived from a placebo effect, research has confirmed that the active ingredients found in most pre-workouts do in fact facilitate increased athletic performance.
Editor-In-Chief at Recovatech. Dr. Ben is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic with over 10 years of clinical experience. He specializes in structural and neurological imbalances with an emphasis on functional movement patterns, exercise performance, and muscle recovery. He has been the team chiropractor for professional baseball and soccer organizations, as well as collegiate athletes. In his personal life, he’s always been driven when it comes to athletics and personal performance.