By Clare Keating - All Bodies Nutritionist and Ex-Chef
To start off, if you are an elite athlete that gets tested by WADA or ASADA you should approach supplements with extreme caution ONLY use HASTA certified products.
The HASTA sports supplement screen covers over 200 WADA prohibited substances but WADA and ASADA do not certify or endorse any supplement products so you can not be 100% sure they are completely okay. The general advice is to only use HASTA approved products and even then still proceed with caution and at your own risk
If you are someone who is a sports enthusiast or recreational athlete supplements like pre-workouts can be great for boosting your performance!
Keep in mind they are just a handy addition, don't feel you have to buy one. They can help, but they are just to supplement an already good diet, training and sleep regime
It's also important to find one that has the correct dosages for performance benefits as a lot of them are jacked up with waaaay too much caffeine and/or substances that aren't proven to have any benefits.
Keep reading for tips on what to look out for
The main ingredient in pre-workout that we get the most benefit from and is highly researched is caffeine.
Caffeine provides a small but worthwhile enhancement of performance in:
Short duration, high-intensity events (1-5 min)
Prolonged high-intensity events (20-60 min)
Endurance events (60+ min continuous exercise)
prolonged intermittent high-intensity protocols (eg team sports)
How is it of benefit?
Caffeine can decrease our perception of effort, eg the session/event feels slightly easier so we can push harder, run faster etc
There is in an increase in time to exhaustion with a typical benefit of ~3% (that is a lot when talking about sports performance)
What dosage should you look for in a pre-workout?
There are performance benefits at 1-3mg/kg with no additional benefits when going beyond that
Next up is Beta-alanine
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is added to pre-workouts because it too has some performance benefits
How does it do this?
Together with histidine, it produces carnosine (histidine levels are normally high and beta-alanine levels low, which limits the production of carnosine).
Carnosine is then stored in your skeletal muscles and reduces lactic acid accumulation in your muscles during exercise - which leads to an improved athletic performance by lessening overall fatigue and increasing your time to exhaustion
Who should take it?
People undertaking high-intensity and short-duration exercise lasting one to several minutes
What dosage do you need to look for?
Performance benefits are seen at 2 - 5g per day
Beetroot Juice / Nitrates
The excitement around beetroot juice comes from its particularly high content of nitrate
"Once consumed, nitrate is converted in the mouth and stomach to nitric oxide (NO). NO has several roles in the body but importantly acts as a vasodilator, opening blood vessels and allowing more blood and oxygen to be delivered to muscles. Nitrate may also reduce the energy cost of exercise and positively affect muscle contraction." source
Nitric oxide boosters are generally found in pre-workouts as L-arginine or L-citrulline
Although you can consume beetroot juice on it's own if you prefer
Who will it benefit?
This remains an area for further research but there appears to be beneficial effects on performance for a range of endurance and team sport activities
What dosage do you need to look for?
There are mixed figures on this with the research however ~300-600mg nitrate is a good figure to aim for
If using citrulline in a pre-workout aim for 6,000 – 8,000 mg
If using L-arginine in a pre-workout aim for 3,000 - 6,000 mg
When should you take pre-workout?
1 hour prior to exercise, during prolonged exercise and towards the end of the exercise when you are becoming fatigued
Remember, pre-workouts are not a necessity and will not fix a poor diet, sleep and training regime. They are a handy addition if you can afford it and feel a benefit