Thursday, February 12, 2015

What is a Pre-Workout Supplement and What Can it Do?

                By: Andrew Jagim, PhD, CISSN, CSCS

What is a pre-workout?
Pre-workout supplements are becoming increasingly popular among strength training individuals. So what's all the hype about? Well most pre-workout supplements fall into a class of dietary supplements referred to as multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements (MIPS). In other words, they are supplements that contain a WIDE variety of individual ingredients and herbal extracts to be taken together prior to a workout. They are purported to improve the overall quality of a workout or training session by potentially increasing your strength, power and muscular endurance during a single workout. In theory, over time these improved training sessions would lead to enhanced training adaptations (i.e. Bigger, Stronger, Faster). If we look at the individual ingredients in these products, a lot of them have shown promise when consumed individually. Typically the "core" list of ingredients includes some combination of caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine and brand chained amino acids in some formulation.

But do they work?
These products are relatively new to the market but initial research shows a lot of promise.  Early reports suggest that MIPS ingestion may enhance the overall quality of a workout. This has ranged from improvements in muscular endurance, 1 repetition maximum strength and feelings of energy & focus throughout a single training session. Essentially it appears as though consuming a pre-workout may in fact get you pumped up for your workout.  However will these benefits continue for future workouts? Will you build up a tolerance? Are the benefits just due to the caffeine content in the products? Unfortunately these questions have yet to be answered. Limited research is available regarding the long-term effects of these products with the exception of one study completed two years ago that looked at the effects of consuming Dymatize's XPAND2X in conjunction with a bodybuilding training program for 8 weeks (see below)..

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The results of the study are actually pretty impressive suggesting that long-term supplementation (keep in mind long-term only means 8 weeks in this scenario) can help increase upper strength and size compared to placebo. More research still needs to be done of the efficacy of these products and more importantly their SAFETY to ensure they are appropriate for long-term consumption.

If any of you have personally experimented with them and are continually taking them then you are probably aware of their benefits first-hand. Personally I enjoy them, if nothing else at least I am getting a good dose of caffeine before my workout (which has already been shown to enhance performance on its own) In addition there are other promising ingredients which are purported to improve strength performance.  Only time will tell to see if these products stick around but if I had to guess I would speculate that they are here to stay.


Spradley, B. D., Crowley, K. R., Tai, C. Y., Kendall, K. L., Fukuda, D. H., Esposito, E. N., ... & Moon, J. R. (2012). Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance.Nutr Metab (Lond)9, 28.

Gonzalez, A. M., Walsh, A. L., Ratamess, N. A., Kang, J., & Hoffman, J. R. (2011). Effect of a pre-workout energy supplement on acute multi-joint resistance exercise. Journal of sports science & medicine10(2), 261.

Lowery, R. P., Joy, J. M., Dudeck, J. E., de Souza, E. O., McCleary, S. A., Wells, S., ... & Wilson, J. M. (2013). Effects of 8 weeks of Xpand® 2X pre workout supplementation on skeletal muscle hypertrophy, lean body mass, and strength in resistance trained males. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition10, 44.

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