Author: Tara D. Thies • Fact checked by: Tara D. Thies • May 20, 2021
Preworkout mixes today are more complicated than ever before, thanks to a combination of nutritional advancements and an influx of people interested in improving their lives with health and fitness. But a greater availability in preworkout mixes can make it difficult to choose the one that’s right for you.
Like any other element of your diet, the best way to choose your preworkout is to pick one with ingredients that align with your fitness needs. To do that, you’ll need to acquaint yourself with the most common ingredients found in popular preworkout mixes. This will give you a solid foundation from which you can choose the right preworkout drink.
Each drink you come across will have a slightly different formulation and ingredient ratio. That said, there are a few ingredients that are found in preworkouts more often than others:
Creatine is often sold as its own workout supplement, because of its association with muscle strength and performance. Creatine may help you perform better in the gym, especially with quick-burst workouts, but some people may experience digestive discomfort when consuming creatine.
BCAAs are the building blocks of protein, one of the most important nutrients in your diet. There are two different kinds of amino acids: essential amino acids, which are not produced by the body, and non-essential amino acids, which are. Examples include tyrosine, leucine and valine. We will discuss a few of the most important specific amino acids in this list.
Electrolytes are simple minerals that are often found in sports drinks. They are associated with hydration and proper muscle function, as well as maintaining proper pH levels in the body. They're often described as "fuel" for a workout or activity, although they are just one component of proper preworkout nutrition.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients for an active person, especially if your goal is to build muscle, maintain or drop body weight. Consumption of protein before lifting weights has also been shown to improve performance in the gym. But when it comes to pre-workout supplements, some people don't like having a lot of protein directly before activity because it can cause digestive discomfort. Finally, you'll also want to decide what specific type of protein is included in your preworkout. Whey protein is popular because it digests quickly, meaning it is more readily available in the body. Those who don’t eat meat might prefer soy or pea protein, which are slower-digesting than whey but still beneficial for your workout. All types of protein can be effective at supporting your health goals.
Vitamin B12 is a type of vitamin that regulates blood and nerve cells to keep them healthy. It also works to prevent a variety of anemia called megaloblastic anemia which can lead to fatigue and low energy levels during the day. Vitamin B12 occurs naturally in meats like beef and fish, but can also be added to a plant-based mix.
A non-essential amino acid that occurs naturally in most mammals, taurine is also replenished by the foods we eat. It serves as an antioxidant, regulates the blood pressure and heart function, and could be beneficial for warding off cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that taurine combined with caffeine could boost mental performance, although more trials are needed to confirm this connection.
?Another non-essential amino acid, beta alanine is produced in the liver. It is involved with regulating the production of carnosine, which acts as a "buffer" in muscle cells. Studies also show that supplementation with beta alanine over time can help increase muscle performance.
Citrulline (or L-Citrulline in its basic form) is also a non-essential amino acid. It is converted to nitric oxide in the body by a process known as nitric oxide synthase. Citrulline helps with the regulation of blood flow through the body's blood vessels, which is important for fueling your workout.
Nitrates are a very common compound found in different types of foods but are commonly associated with meats and leafy green vegetables. The salt form (sodium nitrate) is often used to cure and store foods, particularly meats. When consumed before your workout, they can help maintain your blood pressure and increase performance.
These are just a few of the most common ingredients in pre-workout formulas. You'll also see other amino acids like carnitine and isoleucine, stimulants like caffeine and guarana, and other dietary supplements designed to make your workout better. As always, take time to read about any ingredient you're unfamiliar with so you can have a full understanding of what you put in your body.
Now that you have a better understanding of some of the more popular pre-workout ingredients, you may be wondering how to pick the ones that are right for you. Pay close attention to the label or ingredients list whenever you are looking at different pre-workout products, whether online or in a physical retail store.
Here are a few of gym goers' most common fitness goals and the preworkout ingredients they are usually associated with:
Muscle growth. If you are working out mainly to add muscle mass to your body, look for a preworkout with creatine, protein, and amino acids.
Fat loss. If you'd like to lower the amount of fat on your body, look for a mix with caffeine, protein, and healthy vitamins. You should also consider the calorie count in each serving to ensure it fits with your daily allotment.
Athletic performance. Athletes need to push themselves with high intensity exercise so that they can compete at the highest level. Creatine, protein, and amino acids are all vital for muscle strength, which in turn helps power performance on the court or field.
Improved endurance. If you want to be able to run, train, or compete for longer, you'll want to focus on endurance. Look for a preworkout with plenty of carbs and electrolytes to give you fuel for the length of your workout.
Of course, it's possible that you have multiple goals or will need to adjust your program depending on the time of year or season. Many ingredients will help you in multiple ways, so don't feel like you have to be too restrictive. However, you do want to make sure you aren't consuming too many ingredients that don't help, such as artificial sweeteners and gums.
The popularity of powder-based preworkout drink mixes is something of a double-edged sword. It's great to have more choices available, but deciding on the right blend can get confusing, especially if you are new to the world of fitness nutrition.
Now that we've outlined some of the most prevalent preworkout ingredients on the market, hopefully you'll have a better understanding of what you're seeing on product labels when you go shopping for preworkout mixes. Remember to do your own research and verify any marketing claims made by manufacturers before making a purchase. By taking some time to learn, choosing a preworkout with ingredients made for your goals, and experimenting with different doses and timing, you'll find a supplement that helps you get to the next level – whatever that means for you personally.
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