Finding the Right Pre, Perfect for You!
Toronto's own, Kalen Malan has been working at Popeye's Supplements for 6 years helping customers achieve their goals and make the best choices in their fitness journey. With a passion for weightlifting, he truly enjoys helping others with their health and in their athletic pursuits. You can find Kalen at the Pape & Danforth, Yonge & Adelaide, and Yonge & Eglinton locations, where he is always happy to connect and discuss training & supplementation.
Contributor: Warren Karr, Popeye’s Supplements
Pre Workout is the most exciting supplement category. Providing gobs of motivation and ratcheting up the intensity level during a training session, there is no question that Pre makes workouts WAY more fun!
With (literally) hundreds of options, you might be wondering how to find a pre that best matches you. That can be challenging, especially if you are new to this and want more than a hype video to guide your buying decision. Of course, your Popeye’s fam has your back and we’ve put together a handy guide on just that subject! To do this we need to start at the beginning and answer the question of why people use pre-workout and what it does before moving into ingredients and their intended effects. From there, you will be equipped to find your best match!
Part 1: Why People Use Pre’s & What They Do
Pre-workouts are an effective tool in the toolbelt of many a fitness enthusiast. From bodybuilders to powerlifters to marathon runners and all sorts of athletes, pre-workout can help with a range of workout goals that require more than the “energy” and “motivation”.
Energy & Intensity as a Starting Point
The elephant in the room is that many use pre-workout is to help them with energy, especially when they first start. Maybe you have to get up early to go to the gym before work or had a long day and just want to stay on the couch. Maybe you had a big workout yesterday and you need something to help you power through another workout. Pre-workouts deliver the punch that you may need to get up and get yourself into the gym, allowing for that extra day of training you might have otherwise missed.
But what if you have enough energy to get yourself to the gym? Why would you still want the energy provided from a pre-workout? Because you want a more intense workout of course! As you may remember from the Beginner’s Guide To Building Muscle blog, a sufficient amount of intensity is required from your workouts to effectively drive muscle growth. So, while getting to the gym is important, showing up ready to push yourself as hard as you can is even more important. Pre-workouts allow you to crank that intensity dial up to 11 on days where you need that extra push.
Sweet Pumps (and a PG-13 video)
Pre-workouts are more than just powders that help give you energy, they also help you achieve great pumps! If you are unfamiliar with what the term “pump” refers to then allow us to enlighten you. A pump is when extra blood rushes to the muscle being worked to help provide the muscles with the oxygen and nutrients needed to perform, while shuttling out waste such as lactic acid.
Pumps are amazing from a two-fold perspective. First, pumps assist in the building of muscle. Achieving a pump allows your muscles to work harder from the flush of oxygen and nutrients being delivered to the muscle. This allows you to get more out of each workout and increase the results of your hard work!
The second reason pumps are amazing is much simpler. They feel great! There is nothing that beats the feeling of a pump. It mentally stimulates you and lets you know that you are getting a killer workout in. If you need more proof about how amazing pumps are then this CLASSIC Arnold video tell you why a pump is his favourite feeling in the world. Warning - parental discretion is advised!
Getting yourself to the gym is one thing, being able to last through an entire training session is another. Sometimes our muscles are fatigued and struggle to keep up with the workout that we have planned for them. In these cases, many pre-workouts contain ingredients that allow you to maximize the longevity of your workout through increasing muscular endurance. By giving your muscles that extra bit of staying power you’ll be able to squeeze in a few extra sets and reps, leading you to greater muscle growth.
Focus & The Mind-Muscle Connection
Being mentally present in the gym can elevate a workout from being a “just okay” workout to an amazing one! This is why many pre-workouts contain ingredients that allow you to focus better and be more present during your workout. Being more intentional in your actions rather than just going through the motions allows you to deepen that oft-mentioned mind-muscle connection and bring a whole new level to your gains! Pre-workouts can help strengthen that intentionality and allow you greater performance.
Part 2: Pre-Workout Ingredients
All of this information is great, but it only goes so far when you don’t know which ingredients are related to the desired outcome that you wish to see from your pre-workout. You may be looking at the back of a pre-workout label right now wondering “how do I know what does what?” This is why we have a handy list of the most common and effective ingredients that are included in pre-workouts.
Caffeine doesn’t need much of an introduction. Coffee is drunk daily around the world, and many of us struggle to get through our day without it and as most of us are aware, unless you ask for decaf, coffee contains caffeine! Pre-workouts are the same – unless you ask for non-stim, you will find some amount of caffeine present in the product.
Pre’s often opt to add caffeine anhydrous, a dehydrated form of caffeine. In this form, it is more concentrated, hitting noticeably faster. This is why a pre-workout may have you feeling more amped up than a simple cup of coffee even when in a lesser quantity. 100mg of anhydrous provide 100mg of actual caffeine. Natural forms like guarana, green tea or yerba mate offer a yield, measure in percent on the label. 100mg of Green Tea @ 50% means there is 50mg of caffeine present in that serving. As an example, see the breakdown in Ballistic Labs Shroom Boom, where they utilized 3 sources of naturally sourced caffeine:
Curiously, caffeine is not a true stimulant. While you might feel more energy, its actual mechanism is in blocking adenosine receptors slowing the breakdown of your energy-providing neurotransmitters. This in turn, keeps you flying high for a longer period, getting you through you session.
Whether you opt for herbal forms or the anhydrous version, caffeine gives pre-workouts that extra edge when you’re looking to increase the intensity of your workout.
Vasodilators are ingredients that help deliver you that sweet pump that take your workouts to the next level. They perform this by dilating (opening) blood vessels, making it easier for blood to flow in the body. As your muscle contracts and expands during training, blood rushes in at a higher volume, leading to greater pumps.
There are many popular vasodilators, including the likes of L-Citrulline, Agmatine and Arginine. These vasodilators function by increasing Nitrous Oxide (NO) production in your body. When your body produces more NO, it allows for the arteries to relax and work better, overall increasing blood flow and delivering you greater workouts.
Those vasodilators are also often accompanied by glycerol. Glycerol is a substance that helps shuttle more water into the muscles being worked, volumizing the muscle and helping it retain greater pumps and look bigger. Combining glycerol with any of the aforementioned vasodilators will help deliver you some of the most amazing pumps of your life!
Beta-Alanine & Peak O2
Beta-alanine is one of the most popular pre-workout ingredients, and has only grown more popular in recent months after CrossFit World Champion Matt Fraser said that he takes a “***t-ton of it every day” and that it makes him feel like he “grew a third lung”. This tracks very well with beta-alanine’s ability to greatly increase muscular endurance. Beta-alanine assists the body in the production of carnosine, which helps with delaying the accumulation of hydrogen ions in the muscle. An increased amount of hydrogen ions in the muscle leads to greater levels of fatigue and reduced performance in the gym. Thus, making beta-alanine one of the greatest ingredients that can be included in your pre-workout as it literally makes it harder for your muscles to be fatigued, increasing both workout longevity and performance.
If you are new to beta alanine, please know that you can experience a tingling sensation for the first few times you use it. This is normal so don’t be too concerned! If this isn’t your thing, consider Peak O2, a patented 7-mushroom adaptogen blend which improves oxygen uptake and efficiency. This translates into improved peak power output and VO2 max, time to exhaustion while also decreases lactate, similar to the effects of beta alanine. All without the tingles!
Some days, it’s just impossible to get into the zone, that’s why nootropic ingredients are included in many pre-workouts. Nootropics are a class of supplements that allow you to achieve greater focus. This allows you to approach your workout with a greater level of intent and helps put you in the right mental state to make the most of your lifts. Popular nootropics include ingredients such as Alpha-GPC, L-Theanine, and Lion’s Mane Extract. In studies these ingredients have been found to help increase focus, as well as provide many other cognitive benefits! They are a class of supplements that have become very popular with students and professionals for their cognitive boosting capabilities. Nootropics will help take your workout to the next level and give you a great mind-muscle connection!