It can be a bit overwhelming when you first stroll into a local supplement store to buy supplements. The sheer amount of pre-workout products on the market makes choosing the right one a daunting task. Regardless, pre-workout supplements are now a staple for many active individuals.
Many of these products claim to increase endurance, improve focus, boost energy, and enhance nitric oxide production (which regulates blood flow). Obviously, these are all great benefits before and during a workout.
The tricky part, however, is finding quality ingredients that are science-backed and have actually been shown to enhance an active lifestyle.
Thankfully, we’re going to make the process a little less tricky by guiding you on the path to optimal pre-workout supplementation. Better yet, you will also learn which supplement ingredients you should avoid before a workout.
A proper pre-workout supplement is more than just the sum of its parts; it’s about finding the perfect synergistic blend of ingredients that provide energy, strength, focus, and endurance.
Not sure which ingredients are truly best for this?
Check out the following section for a list of supplement ingredients you should incorporate in your pre-workout stack.
5 Best Pre-Workout Supplements
Caffeine is a potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant derived naturally from coffee beans and various plants, such as green tea leaves. A large body of evidence shows caffeine is effective for increasing focus, energy, and fat burning during exercise.
Furthermore, ingesting caffeine before a workout boosts muscle contraction, force production, and burn calories. All in all, caffeine is much more than just a supplement that perks you up before you exercise.
L-theanine is a non-dietary amino acid and one of the major active components of matcha green tea leaves. This amino acid acts to relax you without making you drowsy. In turn, L-theanine is great for relieving stress and enhancing cognition. It also works synergistically with caffeine to promote clean, lasting energy.
Citrulline is an alpha amino acid that efficiently increases levels of nitric oxide in the body. While this amino acid is found abundantly in the rinds of watermelons, supplementing with it is the only prudent way of reaching an effective dose.
The key with L-citrulline is to find a product that contains at least 4g per serving, as upwards of 8g appears to be beneficial when taken pre-workout. All Jacked Factory pre-workout products contain four or more grams of L-citrulline, with Pumpsurge containing 5g per serving.
Beta-alanine is the limiting amino acid necessary for producing the compound carnosine. A large body of evidence demonstrates that supplementing with beta-alanine pre-workout effectively increases strength, stamina, and blood flow by boosting muscle carnosine synthesis.
Be wary of products that underdose beta-alanine, though. Anything less than 1.5g per serving will likely have minimal benefit. You should also notice a slight tingling sensation under the skin after taking beta-alanine, which is completely normal.
5. Betaine Anhydrous
Betaine anhydrous, also known as trimethylglycine, is a modified form of the nonessential amino acid glycine. There is a large amount of evidence on the performance-enhancing effects of betaine, especially for increasing strength and power during training. It appears these effects arise from betaine reducing homocysteine levels in the blood and altering energy metabolism.
In fact, one study giving subjects a 2.5-gram dose of betaine pre-workout (which is the amount in Pumpsurge) resulted in 4 pounds of lean muscle gain, 7 pounds of fat loss, and 10% increase in arm size in merely six weeks compared to a placebo.
5 Pre-Workout Ingredients to Avoid
Don’t get us wrong, many foods and ingredients from natural sources can certainly be healthy when consumed in small amounts. Nevertheless, there are certain ingredients to keep an eye out for as they tend to be on the unhealthier side of the fence, especially for active individuals.
1. D-Aspartic Acid (DAA)
For some reason, many supplement companies sneak small doses of DAA into their pre-workout products. This is an odd trend as of late as DAA is mainly meant to increase luteinizing hormone (LH). The acute effects of DAA, however, are not so promising.
In fact, supplementing with DAA can rapidly deplete GABA levels in the brain. The result of this is feelings of anxiety, depression, and general malaise. This is exactly what we found when testing pre-workouts containing DAA.
2. Creatine Ethyl Ester
There seems to be a multiplicity of ‘new-age’ creatines coming out that it’s almost impossible to keep up with them all. The fact of the matter is that pure creatine monohydrate is undoubtedly the king of creatine supplements, and probably always will be. Creatine monohydrate is the most researched sports supplement known to man, providing tons of benefits in the gym.
Creatine ethyl ester, on the other hand, has actually been shown in research to be rapidly converted to creatinine: a rather useless byproduct of creatine. Essentially, supplementing with creatine ethyl ester just makes you urinate out more creatinine and doesn’t effectively increase muscle creatine stores.
Yohimbine is a stimulant compound derived from the plant species Pausinystalia yohimbe. Some data suggest that yohimbine may be useful for fat burning and acting as an aphrodisiac, but this stimulant tends to pose more risks than it does benefits. In fact, many users report that taking yohimbine before a workout leaves them feeling nauseous, lazy, and anxious. In extreme cases, yohimbine may even induce panic attacks. If you see this ingredient on the label of a pre-workout product, your best bet is to proceed cautiously.
4. Artificial Food Coloring
Have you ever been so fortunate as to witness the miracle of Kool-Aid spilling onto your carpet? It’s quite a spectacle, and the resulting stains are even more fun to deal with. Why is it, though, those deeply colored fluids are often the worst spills to clean? In short, that’s the power of artificial food coloring and dye working its magic.
A vast majority of pre-workout products come in powder form; thus, companies tend to sneak some “Blue 1” or “Red 40” in their products to give the powder a more aesthetic appearance. Unfortunately, these synthetic food coloring additives appear to be linked to cancer, gastrointestinal issues, and the worsening of ADHD symptoms (particularly in children). You will commonly see food colorings listed as an “other ingredient” towards the bottom of the label of pre-workout powder products.
5. 1,3-Dimethylamylamine (1,3-DMAA)
1,3-Dimethylamylamine (1,3-DMAA) is a stimulant existing in various pre-workout supplements, usually in the form of a “geranium extract.” This compound actually has a similar structure and effect as ephedrine, a popular fat-loss ingredient that was banned by the Food and Drug Administration over a decade ago.
A case study from 2012 reports that two active-duty soldiers died from cardiac arrest after consuming pre-workout products with 1,3-DMAA. Shortly after that, many companies began to remove the harmful ingredient from their products.
In a world that’s becoming more on-the-go, people tend to lose sight of their nutritional needs, especially before hitting the gym, playing field, or wherever your active life takes you. This is why we created Jacked Factory, a lineup of premium dietary supplements made with research-backed, essential ingredients that work together to maximize your health, physique, and performance.
When it comes to optimizing your pre-workout stack, supplementing with Nitrosurge will increase energy, focus, power, and endurance! Jacked Factory makes pre-workouts with proven ingredients so you can conquer every workout.
About the author
Elliot Reimers, CNC, M.S. Candidate