When you’re pushing hard at the gym or training for an event and want an energy boost before your next workout, it’s tough to know where to start.
That’s where pre-workout supplements could help. Find out what they are, what they do, and the best pre-workout supplement for your lifestyle.
What are pre-workout supplements?A pre-workout supplement is a drink, powder or food you can consume before a gym workout, training session or endurance race. They’re designed to give your energy levels a boost, improve your performance or help you train for longer.1
A supplement can contain just one active ingredient – caffeine, for example – or a mix of several.
Who might need one?Anyone looking for more energy, speed or focus, or to push how long they can last when they work out.2 Bodybuilders, runners, cyclists and gym lovers could all gain by adding a pre-workout supplement to their exercise regime.
The most common pre-workout supplements
Creatine monohydrateCreatine is a molecule made from three amino acids, produced naturally by the liver and kidney, which is stored in our muscles. The biggest food sources are meat and fish, so vegetarians may be lacking.3,4 A supplement can raise your body’s own creatine levels, in turn helping your muscles produce energy, particularly during intense exercise or weight-lifting.5 In a statement released in 2007, the International Society of Sports Nutrition said creatine monohydrate is the most effective performance-enhancing nutritional supplement when it comes to boosting high-intensity exercise performance and lean body mass.6
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CaffeineResearchers say it only takes between 30 and 60 minutes after a hit of caffeine for levels to peak throughout the body, making it one of the most fast-acting pre-workout supplements available.17/sup> A 2001 study by the University of Guelph in Canada found that caffeine allows you to work out with greater power, and helps you train for longer without tiring. Entering a race? It could increase your speed too.8 Caffeine is also thought to reduce feelings of pain during a tough session – so you feel like you’re not working quite so hard – and improves motor skills, such as hand-foot coordination, during sports like football, tennis and rugby.9
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CarbohydratesYou can top up your energy levels with carbohydrates such as pasta, bagels and rice, before an intense training session, particularly for any activity lasting longer than 90 minutes.10,11 A study published in the journal Nutrients in 2014 reported that consuming carbohydrate before an exercise session increased stores of glycogen – essential for fuelling muscles – by around 40%.12
Scientists believe beetroot juice is a promising pre-workout supplement. Nitrate, a compound found in beetroot, is converted by the body into nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels to relax and widen.This boosts blood flow to the muscles, helping them work harder, while decreasing how hard your heart has to work in a training session.13 A double-blind study by St Louis University, USA, in 2012 gave 11 fit men and women a serving each of roasted beetroot 75 minutes before running 5K on a treadmill. They round that after eating the beetroot, the runners both ran faster and found the workout easier than after they ate a placebo.14
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.Shop our Vitamins and Supplements range
1. Jagim AR, et al. The acute effects of multi-ingredient pre-workout ingestion on strength performance, lower body power and anaerobic capacity. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4784458/
2. Joy JM, et al. A multi-ingredient, pre-workout supplement is apparently safe in healthy males and females. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471216/
3. Mendes RR, Tirapegui J. Creatine: the nutritional supplement for exercise – current concepts. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471216/
5. Cooper R, et al. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/
6. As Source 2
7. Buford TW, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048496/
8. Cameron M, et al. The acute effects of a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement on resting energy expenditure and exercise performance in recreationally active females. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5755346/
9. Medline Plus. Nutrition and athletic performance. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002458.htm
10. Graham TE. Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11583104
11. McLellan TM, et al. A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763416300690?via=ihub#sec0060
12. Burke LM, et al. Carbohydrates for training and competition. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2011.585473
13. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW and Baur DA. Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042570/#B2-nutrients-06-01782
14. As Source 5
15. Murphy M, et al. Whole beetroot consumption acutely improves running performance. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22709704