Pre-Workouts: Part 1
Pre-Workouts are an awesome supplement.
They’re designed to boost your performance throughout your workout, by increasing energy, endurance, intensity and focus. The idea is that by increasing your ability to perform at a higher level during a workout, the sooner you will see results.
There’s a lot of bro-science and overhype out there though which causes major problems with some of them, especially for inexperienced gym-goers. There are so many options out there that finding the right one for you and getting any accurate info on the topic can be very confusing. In this blog series we’re going to go over the topic of pre-workouts and touch on their problems, how to use them, their ingredients and the doses you should be looking for in a product.
Lets face it. There’s no point using them if you’re wasting your money on orange flavoured chalk powder laced with caffeine and amphetamine-like substances.
So without further ado, lets get started.
Problem 1: Irresponsible Manufacturers
First lets go over one of the biggest problems with pre-workouts. Irresponsible manufacturers.
Nobody gets in to businesses to lose money. Large companies are always out to maximise profits by minimising overheads and as a result for most companies that means making a few sacrifices in either the ingredients, manufacturing process or even lacing their products with cheap steroids to get a greater effect for their users.
Supplement manufacturers have been guilty of hiding ingredients, hiding doses and slipping other useless things in their products in the name of increased profits. Hidden ingredients can be anything from rice flour to a confusingly named proprietary blend like “Cell Charging Pump Matrix 4000” with a list of further confusingly named trademarked substances that they know you won’t read or research. When you take it you feel a sensation because they pack enough caffeine (and other stimulants) in to it to fuel a rave for 3 days.
They’ve been guilty of incorporating compounds meant for other things (like actual medicines) under the guise of keeping you alert and focused (whether they’re safe or not) in to their products before any adequate testing has been done on their effectiveness for the purpose.
Case in point: DMAA
DMAA was stimulant included in a bunch of popular pre-workouts (Noxpump; 3-D explosion; Beta-Cret; PreSurge; 1 MR; Cyroshock; Jack3D; Mesomorph; Neurocore; Oxyelite powder; Hemo Rage Black) before it was banned in 2012 by the Theraputic Goods Administration based on a few factors that included: Increased risk of stroke, heart attack and bleeding from the brain; having no health benefits and having no demonstrated long term safety.
The companies who put this stuff in your pre-workout wanted you to feel a hit from their products. Combining DMAA with caffeine gave a sensation that many gym-goers had not felt for a while.
Why hadn’t they felt it for a while?
Well, not long before DMAA was introduced, ephedrine had been banned from supplements. You know ephedrine right? The precursor to Methamphetamine? Well that used to be in supplements too for its “stimulant” properties…
So from about the early 1990’s through to the early 2000’s supplement manufacturers included ephedra, ephedrine or “geranium extract” in pre-workout products, then when that was banned they moved on to DMAA until 2012 when that was banned.
So what are they using now?
Some have also put Niacin in their pre-workouts as well. In large doses Niacin causes a “flushing” effect where your face will go red and feel hot. Its harmless, but it doesn’t benefit your workout at all. Its only put in to the powder to make you feel a sensation.
So you see, many supplement manufacturers will just pump their product full of caffeine and questionable stimulants to make you feel like their substance is doing something.
Problem 2: Marketing & Hype
Another huge problem with pre-workouts is the marketing and hype around them. I got caught up in this recently with a product I was looking to stock.
What happened? How did I get caught up in the hype?
Plain and simply, it was marketing.
The hype around this product when I received an email from a distributor was huge. It was touted as “The future of pre-workouts” and had the ability to work harder, the harder you worked through its revolutionary adaptogenic stimulants. It even came with a graph showing the study in which they had tested it against other pre-workouts and showed longer lasting effects.
I had to get some in to try.
After taking my first dose before a workout I can’t really say I felt anything different from any other pre-workout. Got to the gym and did my normal session. I found I had more energy and sweated a lot more than normal. I felt pretty good for about 30min. Then I found I had a pretty bad case of cottonmouth. I couldn’t get rid of it for ages. So I finished up and went home.
After looking over the ingredients list trying to figure out why I got such a bad case of cottonmouth I noticed something. Dose size was 5500mg. This was the label:
For a 5500mg serve they only listed 4410mg of the product in the serve. What else was in it!? I scanned the rest of the tub and couldn’t see it anywhere. So thats approximately 20% of the ingredients in the serve not listed.
Apart from that, I noticed 2 different forms of caffeine, totalling 225mg per serve. Thats huge. Thats like drinking 2.8 cans of Redbull. I have a pretty high caffeine tolerance and have had pre-workouts before that were 250mg+ so what was it?
Looking further in to it I investigated what Ampheta-Tea was. Well that’s actually that AMP Citrate substance I wrote about earlier. 400mg of something that is questionable at best…great. So I had basically just bombed up with 625mg of stimulants and hit the gym. I’m probably lucky I had such a good tolerance to caffeine already and didn’t have heart palpitations. No wonder I had cottonmouth and was sweating so much more than normal.
Lets recap. 625mg of stimulants (that I knew about) and another 1090mg of god knows what.
If I had read this beforehand I would never have bought it – and you shouldn’t either.
The lesson here: Don’t give in to the hype on products. Do your research and know what you want.
Problem 3: Dependence
The next issue with pre-workouts is dependence.
Almost all pre-workouts contain caffeine. Caffeine is addictive.
Caffeine is also a stimulant to the central nervous system. Long term use can cause physical dependence. The way in which it works within your body is by attaching to the adrenal glands. These stimulate your body’s “fight or flight” reaction and cause you to produce adrenaline. Continued use over a long period of time (varies from person to person) dulls this reaction and causes the body to require more and more to achieve the same level of stimulation. This is all well and good until you try to lift again without it. You feel…different. You may even get headaches without sustaining that amount of caffeine each day.
There’s also some anecdotal evidence that psychologically you will feel that you can’t lift weights or have a good workout without taking something beforehand. This problem is all mental. The only cure for this is to tough it out or try a placebo and in future, monitor your doses.
There’s also the Adrenal Fatigue hypothesis – Gym-goers who regularly use pre-workouts should cycle off caffeine from time to time to allow their adrenal glands to have some time off or you can risk causing adrenal fatigue. Whilst adrenal fatigue hasn’t been specifically proven, there is something going on with it. According to most of my googling, the telltale signs of adrenal fatigue are constant tiredness and craving of salty bad foods.
In those same searches it is said you can do some basic treatment of it yourself by having a relaxing hot bath with epsom salts, getting a massage, getting some good quality sleep and stopping the use of caffeine for a while.
Personally, I think if you have a quality product you won’t have any of these issues.
Where to now?
So what do you do? Who do you trust?
For starters you need to learn to check your labels and shop here – Our pre-workouts contain no banned ingredients and we strive to stock products with open labels that list their ingredients and doses.
Rest assured, an increasing amount of supplement manufacturers have jumped on the band wagon started by Dr Jim Stoppani who, since starting his own supplement line has crusaded against proprietary blends, the hiding of ingredients and substances that aren’t backed by science.
Everyone has the right to know whats in their supplements, how they work and how they are affecting their body.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll continue with the ingredients to look for, the doses to look for and how to find the right one for you so you can avoid the problems mentioned in this post.