What Is Pre-Workout? The Complete Beginners Guide!
Look, by now most of us have knocked back a few pre-workouts. We know that we load one or two little scoops of this magic dust into a cold glass of water, smash it back and twenty minutes later we are in the gym blasting PBs on a triple drop, 4 exercise supersets. We know WHAT it does and that it works! But the thing is, most people don’t understand WHY and HOW it works. So, without any further ado, let’s get into it!
Not All Pre-Workouts are Created Equal
Chances are, you’ve probably tried a few different pre-workouts in your time. And if you have, you’ll have noticed a huge difference in the effects that they produce and the way that you react to them.
Some are designed for faster or slower energy release, some for muscle-bursting pumps, some have thermogenic properties and others simply ram as much as they can in for all-out war on your senses! This is usually down to the varying levels of certain key ingredients found in most pre-workouts.
So, let’s run through a quick list of the most commonly included ingredients and what they do.
- BCAAs – Branch Chain Amino Acids
You can think of these guys as the building blocks of proteins. All those shakes and chicken breasts you’re chugging down every day are no good without a decent helping of additional BCAAs to help your body actually use the protein.
A lot of people choose to take BCAAs as a separate supplement, simply because of the amount you need to take if you’re hitting the gym hard. However, you will find a lot of more generic pre-workouts choose to include BCAAs as an additional top-up. This is partly because the ideal time for consuming BCAAs is pre, during and post-workout.
If you’ve used a pre-workout with a high BCAA content, or even a BCAA drinks supplement itself, you’ll probably have noticed they all have the same bitter aftertaste. This is because BCAA’s are notoriously bitter and covering up the taste is such hard work that we think most people just gave up trying.
But, at Overdrive Nutrition we will never be defeated.
We poured (probably way too much) time and effort into making our AX1 BCAA/EAA Custom Blend, not just drinkable, but damn delicious. It’s designed to be consumed before or during training and then additionally throughout the day.
The one is the face-tingler.
Although it is yet another amino acid, beta-alanine is different from most. It is not actually used to synthesise proteins like most other amino acids. Instead, it is responsible for producing carnosine, which is stored in your skeletal muscles.
In turn, carnosine then helps your body to reduce the accumulation of lactic acid build up in your muscles, balancing PH levels as you work out. The lactic acid build-up is felt as the burning in your muscles, particularly when doing high rep sets or endurance exercises.
So, when you supplement beta-alanine, you can work out with both increased levels of endurance and greater recovery. This is why you will find beta-alanine in nearly every pre-workout on the market today.
Most people will be able to tell whether they’ve had beta-alanine from the tingling/ itching sensation it can cause in higher doses or if you aren’t accustomed to it. Beta-alanine causes this phenomenon known as paraesthesia and it’s completely harmless and will subside once you start working out. But for unaware consumers, this is a side effect that has scared some people into steering clear of pre-workouts. We just like to think of it as the pre-workouts way of telling you to get going already…
Caffeine is the number 1 ingredient found in nearly every single pre-workout available in the market today. In fact, it’s the most used stimulant of any kind worldwide!
Its main role is as a mental stimulant, helping to keep you focused and alert. How many people have a cup of coffee first thing in the morning to wake them up, or have an energy drink later in the day to keep them topped up?
This is caffeine!
It’s also used in a lot of supplements and pre-workouts designed for fat burning. This is partly because caffeine, in larger doses, acts as an appetite suppressant and also increases thermogenesis (slightly raising your temperature and telling your body to burn more calories).
While fantastic when dosed correctly, caffeine is also the ingredient that causes most people’s bad experiences with pre-workouts. If you haven’t built up a strong tolerance to caffeine, large single doses of it can make you feel anxious and jittery.
Some pre-workouts pride themselves on absurdly high caffeine content and some people have unknowingly put themselves off for life after having a bad time with it. For example, a typical energy drink contains about 77-78mg of caffeine in a 250ml can. A decent cup of coffee will normally contain about 95mg. The highest caffeine levels in pre-workouts we could find are somewhere between 500-600mg of caffeine (depending on who you believe). It gives us the jitters even thinking about it…
Our very own PX1 Plus Pre-Workout contains 200mg of caffeine. We’ve found this to be the sweet spot for maximum benefits without the anxious feelings and heart palpitations from taking excessive levels of caffeine!
While most people already know what caffeine and BCAA’s are – citrulline is one of those ingredients that makes its way into nearly every single pre-workout, but not many people really know what it is or what it does.
Citrulline is another amino acid. You will usually find it in one of two forms: citrulline malate and l-citrulline. L-citrulline is an isolated form of citrulline with nothing added to it, whereas citrulline malate has malic acid added.
The benefits of taking it include increased blood flow (meaning better pumps), better cognition and alertness (like caffeine) and overall increased levels of endurance as a result. Our PX1 pre-workout includes a hefty serving of l-citrulline, weighing in at 8000mg (the most of any ingredient in it). This is part of the reason why we can include a much more modest dose of caffeine, and still produce the same levels of mental sharpness you get in other pre-workouts.
Creatine is another amino acid found naturally in meat and fish. In your body creatine aids the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP’s primary use is for storing energy to be used in the contraction of muscles. So, by supplementing creatine, you can increase muscular energy stores meaning better endurance and increased recovery time.
In a similar fashion to BCAAs – many people choose to take creatine as a separate supplement. But it is still one of the most frequently used ingredients in pre-workouts. When you work out intensely, your body’s natural creatine stores are rapidly depleted, making supplementation almost essential.
But because of the amount of creatine that you will need for noticeable benefits, it is often better to supplement it separately rather than relying on a small amount found within some pre-workouts.
Believe it or not, your body has a continuously firing electrical circuit responsible for energising cell function. Electrolytes are minerals that are responsible for carrying electrical signals around your body. They are responsible for aiding hydration and energy production used for muscle contraction (including your heart).
When you work out, you sweat. And if you don’t – you’re not working hard enough… Sweating causes your body to lose essential electrolytes including sodium, magnesium and potassium. If these aren’t replaced, you will begin to rapidly fatigue.
So, topping up on electrolytes before and during a workout is essential to maintain peak levels of endurance, keep your muscles engaging and your heart pumping.
You’ve probably heard of this one from the age-old internet rumour that it is bull spunk. Pretty grim we know. But we’d like to categorically dispel that myth!
Taurine is a naturally occurring essential amino acid found in meat, fish and dairy products. It’s found naturally occurring in the human body too, with the most concentrated levels in your eyes, brain, heart and muscle fibres.
Taurine’s role in the body is to maintain mineral levels in your cells. As a result, one of the most important functions then becomes balancing the electrolyte levels essential for decent hydration. This is why we include both taurine and an electrolyte mix in our PX1 pre-workout. Used together, they are a fantastic combination to keep your body energised and hydrated while you work out.
Taurine’s benefits actually extend much further though and it is also used in supporting the overall function and health of your central nervous system including your eyes and brain!
Which Pre-Workout is Right for Me?
While these are some of the most regularly used ingredients in pre-workouts, there are a crazy number of others that we haven’t included on this list. We haven’t even included everything that features in our own PX1 pre-workout!
The most important thing that you can do before using pre-workout of any kind is to do your research and work out which is the best and right kind for you. You will want a very different kind of pre-workout if your training program is fast-paced, ultra-high-volume bodyweight exercises versus a much slower powerlifting training session.
It also comes down to personal preference a lot. Some of you guys will love the short sharp burst of pure adrenaline-like energy to blast your session out in 45mins, whereas some of you will want a much more sustained and focused pre-workout to get you through a two-hour session in the gym.
PX1 Plus – The Thinking Man’s Pre-Workout
The pre-workout game is a funny old world. For as long as we can remember, it was about maximum EVERYTHING. There was no nuance or refinement. None of us train the same, eat the same or supplement the same. So why were pre-workouts all trying to cater to one type of person?
We heard the cries for refinement.
So, we designed our PX1 Plus Pre-Workout around maximising insane muscle pumps and razor-sharp focus with a much slower and controller release of energy. Our aim was to deliver the thinking man’s pre-workout. One that allows you to focus on every squeeze and contraction of your lift without the eye-twitching caffeine dump and crash half hour later.
Not a bad idea if we do say so ourselves…
If this sounds like the pre-workout answer you’ve been looking for and want to check it out click here! You’ll be able to view the product and read the reviews from genuine customers vouching for our new-school pre-workout!