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What to Look for In Your Pre-Workout

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Kris Gethin

There’s no doubt that the supplement industry has grown exponentially. In fact, one recent report suggested that the global market for sports nutrition products could surpass $45 billion by 2022! The category of pre-workout supplements account for a significant portion of this global market – athletes of all levels love to take these products to get hyped up before training. Due to this knowledge, it comes as no surprise that supplement brands are focusing on these products, and are finding ways to sharpen their margins for bigger profits. Unfortunately, striving to make a big profit usually means a lesser quality product for the consumer as the company looks to cut corners to save money. Ten years ago, this may have gone unnoticed, but today things have changed - all the information is out there if you choose to look for it. I’m going to share some information which should change the way you select your pre-workout supplements forever. After reading this, there will be no more excuses for choosing a low-quality product. 

Patented Creatine HCl or the Generic Version?  

Creatine is backed by extensive research which shows that it can enhance performance, making it a widely used ingredient in pre-workouts. Not all creatine is equal though, and this is where attention to detail is required. Creatine HCl is broadly accepted as the “premium” variety of creatine supplementation. Numerous studies have found that the body can absorb it better, improving its effectiveness. Considering this knowledge, it makes the most sense that supplement companies would use Creatine HCl in their pre-workouts, allowing them to cite its benefits for marketing purposes. Unfortunately, things are not always as they seem. 

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Patented Creatine HCl, which was synthesized by Vireo Systems in 2003, is the actual formula which all the studies refer to. However, generic varieties of Creatine HCl exist, which haven't had this extensive research invested into them. Supplement companies will use these generic ingredients, yet still, make the claims of the patented ingredient on the label. For the consumer who believes all Creatine HCl is equal, this simply isn’t the case. Only patented Creatine HCl has the body of evidence behind it to help the consumer enjoy better absorption and experience no bloating or gastric upset. Be diligent as to whether the Creatine HCl in your pre-workout is patented or not – it matters!  

Does It Contain BetaPower? 

Betaine Anhydrous is a naturally occurring vitamin which is derived from choline. The benefits of having this in your pre-workout include improved strength, endurance, and power. However, the only variety of this natural super ingredient you should consume is the patented version—BetaPower.  

BetaPower is a 99% pure variety of betaine, coming from natural sources. This patented version has been subjected to the stringent athletic and performance studies which set it apart from generic alternatives, which haven’t been tested. 

Organic Green Bean Caffeine or Synthetic Caffeine?  

Synthetic caffeine is extremely cheap and helps pre-workout formulators boost the physical effects experienced. In this case, more isn’t always better. Excessive amounts of synthetic caffeine can overexcite the neurological pathways to your brain, which can upset performance and focus. It can also be the cause of acute cortisol elevation which is known to be catabolic to muscles and harsh on the digestive system.  

Organic green bean caffeine, such as PurCaf, provides benefits of increased focus and energy. However, the way in which it delivers these benefits are much longer lasting, and it doesn’t cause any crash effects or anxiety. Added bonuses of this clean version of caffeine include fewer impurities and higher antioxidant levels, both important factors for your general health. 

Pure Citrulline or Citrulline Malate?  

L-Citrulline is a widely regarded amino acid because of the way it enhances blood flow to working muscles. The outcome is a more intense muscle pump, which everybody looks for when selecting a pre-workout. Upon ingestion, it is converted into L-Arginine by the kidneys and is then distributed to the capillary network. Studies demonstrate that L-Citrulline is actually more effective at elevating L-Arginine blood plasma levels than direct use of L-Arginine itself. 

This particular ingredient showcases the points I opened within this feature—that most supplement companies like to cut corners to improve their profits. Using citrulline malate means that the active ingredient (L-Citrulline) has been bonded with malic acid, yielding around 50% less L-Citrulline per serving. My recommendation is to use Pure Citrulline because of its purity, quality, and effectiveness.  

Are Your BCAAs Fermented? 

Branched-chain amino acids protect muscle tissue against catabolism. This becomes far more important during intense bouts of training when cortisol levels quickly spike, exposing the muscle to the risks of catabolism. Unfortunately, many BCAAs have been found to be made from bird feathers and human hair! The very first time I learned of this it made me feel sick, I don’t want that inside my body and I’m sure you don’t either.  

Luckily, BCAAs that have been fermented are a much purer source, providing the anti-catabolic benefits of BCAA supplementation through cleaner, chemical-free processing methods. Using fermented BCAAs is an easy way to avoid the consumption of human and animal by-products. 

B Vitamins Matter 

Taking extra B Vitamins pre-workout can have a profound effect on focus and recovery due to the way they impact the health of the nervous system. Most supplement companies use niacin because of the tingling rush it provides at a low cost. My recommendation is to avoid this and consume niacinamide instead. While it doesn't give users that same rush, it does provide the B Vitamins required, which is beneficial for your performance.  

Coconut Water Powder for Hydration 

Pre-workouts shouldn’t only be about flooding the body with stimulants; they should be about covering all aspects of performance improvement. Without argument, hydration is at the core of performance and cannot be overlooked. During the time I spent living and training in India, I learned a lot about the benefits of natural coconut water. Since then, I have always advocated the use of coconut water, especially in a pre-workout supplement. Containing five essential electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and calcium, coconut water powder extract contributes towards better water balance within the muscle. In terms of preserving performance and enhancing recovery, this is crucial.  

Fight Back with Antioxidants 

The body cannot distinguish different types of stress; therefore, any form should be treated seriously. With intense training, stress levels peak, which can cause cell damage and the breakdown of other biological processes. Antioxidants help combat free radicals that contribute to this, which is why I recommend having them pre-workout. Consuming an antioxidant matrix such as SPECTRA Total ORAC blend pre-workout helps prepare the body for stress by flushing antioxidants through the system. 

Choose Sunflower Lecithin Over Soy Lecithin 

Soy lecithin is a widely used ingredient in supplements. However, in the USA this is typically genetically modified (GMO). My recommendation would be to use a pre-workout which uses a sunflower lecithin instead of soy lecithin because of the difference in purity.  

Avoid Artificial Colors and Flavors

Pre-workouts are infamous for being unnaturally vibrant in color, as well as tasting like a concoction of chemicals. Most pre-workouts contain synthetic ingredients such as Red 40, Acesulfame K, and unnatural dyes – all of which are not conducive to good health. It is possible to have a pre-workout which only uses natural colors and flavors, so don’t settle for anything less.  

Summary 

This is a very expansive list of things consumers should look for when choosing a pre-workout supplement. The points I have raised demonstrate the vast difference between what appears to be good quality and genuine excellence. Other points to help determine which pre-workouts are worth considering include the Informed Sport and Informed Choice guarantee. For anybody who is exposed to drug testing, such as those in the military, police, or elite-level sports, should only consume pre-workouts with these labels, otherwise, you run the risk of failing a drug test!  

Additionally, make sure the pre-workout you choose is third-party tested for complete peace of mind. This lets you know that the product has been tested by an unbiased authority to confirm that the product is safe and offers what it claims. If the product isn't third-party tested, then you're relying on the words of the company who created it, and that can be misleading.  

Finally, ensure the pre-workout you choose is Prop 65 Act certified. Recent evidence suggests that many supplements contain heavy metal contaminants. These contaminants can accumulate over time from the food chain, including supplements, and should be avoided at all costs. Remember, we’re in the health industry, therefore health should top your list of importance when selecting supplements – my tips are meant to help you prioritize your health as you shop for your next pre-workout product. 

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