To optimize any kind of workout, you need a lot of energy. In the bygone era, people would have a banana or a toast to give the energy levels a boost before hitting the gym or going for a run, but with changing times, people are moving onto more advanced forms of energy boosters.
Today, fitness enthusiasts, who are serious about making their workouts more productive, have what is known as a pre-workout supplement. This energy mantra is the buzzword with most of the gym-going people across all age groups.
So what exactly is a pre-workout supplement? How does it work? How long does it stay in the system? Read on to find out the answers to these questions…
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What Is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
A pre-workout supplement is a formula that comes in the form of powders, tablets, and bars. It is a combination of a few essential ingredients needed for the body undergoing a heavy physical workout. It includes caffeine, creatine, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), branched-chain amino acids (BCCA), niacin, and beta-alanine.
These ingredients are meant to stimulate both aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (strength) performance during any athletic activity. Every pre-workout supplement is a combination of the above-mentioned ingredients in varying quantities.
The main idea of the supplement is to give the energy the kind of boost it needs for the exercise routine. So if you want to amp up your fitness routine to the ‘beast mode’ it is time you started with a good pre-workout supplement.
Benefits of a Pre-Workout Supplement
Most athletes and hardcore gym-goers are never caught without their pre-workout supplement. These energy supplements are a must-have because they help:
Improve strength and power: A majority of pre-workout supplements contain creatine and caffeine that are known to give a boost in energy that helps you perform better. Caffeine stimulates the generation of beta-endorphin that pumps up the neurotransmitters that help fight fatigue. These supplements also enhance endurance thanks to the beta-alanine element in the pre-workout. It helps in fighting fatigue and gives the body that extra push when you think your tank is getting empty. (can the first and second point be combined as they both talk of endurance)
Muscle Build-up: Want to pump up those muscles? Consume supplements rich in BCCAs (building blocks to proteins). The amino acid compound has leucine, a form of BCCA that improves muscle protein synthesis rate, leading to muscle gain. BCCAs also help cut down on exercise-induced muscle damage.
Mental Impact: All regular exercisers know that half the battle is fought in the mind rather than the body. If your mindset is in the right place, your body is sure to follow. A pre-workout supplement does just that. It improves all cognitive processes including focus, reaction time, energy perception, and gives out happy vibes.
Burn fat: An important ingredient of pre-workout supplements is CLA, which helps to burn fat by delivering the fat directly to the muscles. Here it can be burned instead of making a fat lining around the thighs and bellies.
When To Take a Pre-Workout?
Now that you know all the benefits of taking a pre-workout, it is pertinent to understand when to take these supplements. It is essential to get your timing right else the pre-workout ceases to provide the desired effect.
It is best to take a pre-workout about 30 minutes before starting a training session as it takes caffeine (one of the active ingredients) that much time to reach peak levels in the bloodstream. However, it is largely dependent on your metabolism, the active ingredients, and the body’s pre-workout tolerance.
Both the timing and the quantity of pre-workout are crucial for getting the desired results. The amount of pre-workout will depend on your body weight and energy levels. You don’t want to be highly strung through the night with high doses of pre-workout. The idea is to go slow initially and then gradually work your way up to the ultimate ‘sweet spot’.
How Is a Pre-Workout Absorbed?
The time taken for a pre-workout supplement to be absorbed into the bloodstream is 30 minutes on average as it takes that much time for it to go through the stomach and for the small intestine to digest the Amino Acids. From here, they are taken into the bloodstream, and then the brain uses them for energy, strength, and endurance. The leftover bits of the supplement are cycled through the liver.
For What Duration Does a Pre-Workout Last in Your System?
A pre-workout usually lasts for about 1-3 hours in the body, but it is dependent on the ingredients of the supplement, your activity levels, age, muscle mass and weight, pre-existing fatigue, and the amount of supplement taken. As a rough guideline, you can also measure the time each ingredient will stay in the system to know the average time the supplement will stay in the body.
Caffeine: On average, caffeine stays in the system for 5 hours, but it does not provide stimulation for as long. Its effect usually starts wearing off after about 60-90 minutes.
Beta-Alanine: This ingredient gives a tingling sensation in the muscles and can make you feel itchy. The energy boost from it can last about 60-90 minutes while the tingling sensations wear off in an hour.
L-Carnitine: It is tough to estimate the lasting effect of Carnitine as the body produces it naturally, too. However, it starts acting in the system in about 30 minutes, and it is assumed to wear off in less than an hour.
CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid): It is being used more commonly in pre-workout supplements now. It does not have any stimulating effect, making it easier to process the fat to increase energy levels. The impact of this ingredient lasts for about 1- 1.5 hours.
Precautions While Taking Pre-Workouts
Pre-workout supplements are ideal for enhancing performance levels during an exercise routine, but they need to be taken in controlled amounts. It has been seen that even when taken judiciously, some people tend to react to the supplement and have adverse effects.
To avoid those reactions, it is better to take precautions and let your body optimize the gains out of the supplement. Let’s find out some of the side effects of these supplements and how to avoid them
Insomnia: One of the major side effects of pre-workouts is insomnia due to the caffeine they contain. Most of us avoid having caffeine at night otherwise, it leaves us staring at the ceiling at night.
Since it is high-dosage in a pre-workout supplement, it can surely cause insomnia. The best way to avoid the harmful effects of caffeine is not to take the supplement too late into the night or even reducing the dose or serving size so that the effects aren’t as drastic.
Diarrhea: Some of the ingredients used in these supplements, such as creatine, caffeine, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium, arginine, and taurine have a laxative effect, sending you to the toilet soon after consuming them. It is advisable to add more water to the powder than suggested on the label, to counter it.
This will ensure that the supplement is completely diluted and is easily digested by the system. Also, in general, if you take pre-workout supplements, it is recommended to have more quantity of water throughout the day.
Dehydration: Some of the ingredients in the supplement can extract the water from the system, causing dehydration. So it is best to keep yourself well-hydrated throughout the day. Grab a glass of water even if you aren’t thirsty to keep you upbeat and energetic for the workout.
Headaches: Water creates a protective layer around the brain but when dehydration happens the fluid around the brain becomes thinner and causes the brain to bump into the skull, leading to headaches. Also, some supplements have ingredients that lead to vasodilation or the muscle pump.
When this happens, the blood vessels throughout the body expand, including the head that can cause headaches. Thus, to avoid these killer headaches, it is best not to take supplements that have vasodilators or reduce the serving size of the supplement.
High Blood Pressure: Stimulants like caffeine increase blood pressure, and if you already have an underlying problem of high blood pressure, it can get aggravated. It is best to find pre-workout supplements that are sans stimulants or have them in small quantities.
To Sum Up
A pre-workout supplement is a great way to optimize the effect of your training regime. Whether it is to tweak your physique or give yourself a mental boost, a pre-workout supplement is sure to get you kick-started. The supplements are generally safe to take, provided you don’t take them in excess and stick to the prescribed quantities.
It is advised that you consult a nutritionist or your trainer to know the right method, timing, and quantity to consume the pre-workout, suited to your body type and your workout routine. Just remember that the pre-workout will stay in your system for about 1-3 hours so take it a few hours before your sleep-time else you might find yourself staring at the ceilings the whole night.