What is pre-workout?
- What is "pre-workout"? "Pre-workout" is short slang for "pre-workout supplement". Pre-workout is great for weight & strength-based workouts (such as lifting weights, powerlifting, or Crossfit).
- What does pre-workout do? Pre-workout helps support energy, focus, and strength, amongst other benefits.
What are pre-workout supplements?
Gym bros may laugh, but for many people, this is a common question. The world of nutritional supplements can be confusing and intimidating, especially for people just getting started.
Unfortunately, the supplement industry tends to attract more than a few charlatan hucksters promoting modern-day snake oil. This can make an already intimidating subject impossible to approach.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to publish a series of posts explaining pre-workout supplements. Subjects will include:
- What are pre-workout supplements? What is “pre-workout”?
- What does pre-workout do?
- Should I use a pre-workout supplement?
- What makes a good pre-workout supplement?
- Is there scientific evidence behind pre-workout supplements?
I’ll keep these posts short and sweet. My goal is to give you an introduction to pre-workout supplements, without going too deep into the weeds.
What is pre-workout?
Pre-workout supplements - commonly and hereafter referred to simply as “pre-workout” - are exactly what they sound like: supplements used before a workout.
What kind of workout?
Pre-workout is typically used before lifting weights or some sort of strength-based workout. It doesn’t matter if you are lifting for size or strength - you’ll still benefit from taking pre-workout.
Is it good for Crossfit? You bet.
Heavy leg day? Yup.
Volume-intensive arm day? Check.
A two-hour cycling ride or walk through Central Park? Not so much.
While there are many products created to assist with cardio workouts, they are almost never marketed as a “pre-workout” product. The benefits of pre-workout supplements are geared toward weightlifting and strength-based workouts, rather than cardio or long endurance events. You’ll understand why after reading the next section.
What does pre-workout do?
Pre-workout is used to improve performance, specifically, performance in strength or weightlifting-based workouts. There are a wide variety of ingredients used across dozens of different pre-workout supplements. Below is a very basic summary of what a pre-workout can do. Understand that this will vary from product to product based on factors such as the ingredients used and dosage consumed.
Pre-workout supplements enhance your workout by providing ingredients which benefit your workout in a variety of ways:
Some pre-workout ingredients increase your “pump” - the swollen feeling in your muscles that Arnold Schwarzenegger famously claimed is better than orgasming.
Contrary to popular belief, the “pump” isn’t just for vanity. Increased blood flow causes your muscles to swell, and they stretch to accommodate the excess fluid. This enhances protein synthesis, promoting muscle growth and repair.
Some pre-workout ingredients help with strength. This can occur through several mechanisms, such as: increasing neurotransmitter synthesis, providing additional “energy currency” in the form of ATP, or by increasing blood flow (as discussed above re: “pump”).
Some pre-workout ingredients help with energy. Some ingredients, such as caffeine and theobromine, are stimulants which provide energy. Others, such as beta alanine, combat lactic acid production, keeping your pH within optimal range and decreasing fatigue.
Some pre-workout ingredients help with recovery. L-Citrulline malate has been shown to relieve delayed-onset muscle soreness - the dreaded “DOMS”. L-Citrulline is also a key ingredient in increasing muscle “pumps”, which, as discussed above, help with recovery by increasing blood and nutrient flow to where it is needed most.
Some pre-workout ingredients help with focus. For example, Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR) has been shown to improve cognition and concentration, and decrease mental fatigue. L-Tyrosine has been proven to keep you focused under acute stress.
You should now have a better understanding of:
- What pre-workout supplements are, and
- What pre-workout supplements can do.
In the next post, I'll cover why you should (or shouldn't) consider using pre-workout.