Pre-workout has become a very common term among the gym goers in past few years. It is sort of a performance enhancer, which doesn’t use any hormones or steroids.
It is basically, a combination of a number of ingredients that in a synergistic manner work to give you the boost required in the gym.
The combination of these ingredients vary from company to company and the proportions of these ingredients are usually hidden, using the “secret recipe” card.
This diversification in the set of ingredients may drastically effect the overall results. Keeping that in mind will help us understand the wide anecdotal evidences provided by different people in contradicting directions.
In this article, we will discuss in detail about the pre-workout, why you don’t need it and what are some natural alternatives to the pre-workout.
Common ingredients in a pre-workout
Caffeine – Caffeine is usually used as a stimulant. It helps you become more focused and pushes all the laziness out of your body. It enhances your endurance and delays muscle fatigue. Caffeine is time tested ingredient for better performance, not only in the gym, but for any sort of rigorous physical activity.
Creatine – Creatine helps in providing energy to your muscles. Actually, it helps ATP molecules provide energy to the muscles. When you exercise, your ATP get converted into ADP by losing a phosphate molecule. And, creatine provides that lost phosphate molecule.
Nitric oxide – Nitric oxide is a vascular dilator. What it means, is that it expands your blood vessels and increases the amount of blood flow, which helps to deliver more amount of oxygen to all the muscles and helps in improving performance.
Beta-alanine – It is one of the most important ingredient in a pre-workout. Many studies have clearly shown the effect of beta-alanine on muscle strength and endurance is far better than Creatine or any other supplement.
Beta-alanine is very important in keeping you fatigue free for longer duration of time.
It does that by providing increased level of carnosine in your muscles, which are responsible to neutralize the Hydrogen ions produced while you exercise.
L-citrulline – It is a very powerful supplement, when it comes to killing fatigue. L-citrulline can kill fatigue in number of ways. One of the ways involves production of Nitric oxide.
Why you should switch to natural alternatives?
First of all, I am not implying that pre-workout is always harmful to you. Until and unless, it has some illegal ingredients in it. DMAA is an example of such ingredient, which can have some harmful effects on your heart. It was found in around 40 supplements.
As most of the common people don’t get checked what’s really inside a product, you could be exposing yourself to danger. A story was reported by NYTIMES, about a well-known pre-workout, Jack3d; cause the death of a 22-year old, army private. Although no definite proof was presented that confirmed the JAck3d as the reason of death.
Secondly, it any case, it is better to go as natural as you can. Because these products have bunch of stimulant and other ingredients that can drastically change the dynamics of your body. This can be very dangerous when you have an aliment, that you are not aware of.
The amount of each ingredient used is not specified most of the time. For example, most of the pre-workouts have Creatine in them, but the amount of creatine you need is around 5 gm per day, and most of them don’t mention how much of creatine they have used.
Having creatine just before workout(as preworkout) has no effect on the performance or muscle growth. In fact, creatine that you receive from the food is stored in the muscles for later use.
What’s important here is the regular intake of the creatine, which mostly comes from non-vegetarian sources. Beef, chicken breast, salmon and tuna are some of the best sources of creatine.
Therefore, it is seen that vegetarian have less amount of creatine in there muscles. Although, the body has the capability to synthesis creatine on its own, using arginine, glycine, and methionine. And , all these 3 can be easily found in the vegetarian food. Arginine can be found in pumpkin seeds, walnut and peanut. Cheese, soy and nuts are some vegetarian source of methionine.
When we exercise, the energy molecules of our muscles(ATP) gets converted into ADP, the work of creatine is to provide a phosphate molecule to ADP to convert it back into ATP. ATP stands for Adenosine triphosphate and ADP stand for Adenosine diphosphate.
As I have mentioned, it helps in improving performance by dilating blood vessels. The problem with nitric oxide is that, your body can’t store nitric oxide. But, the good thing is that, the ingredients used to create nitric oxide can be stored in the body for later use.
A study done on the effects of exercise on the production and storage of nitric oxide, concluded that regular intense exercise can help in storing nitric oxide in blood for extend period of time, in the form its stable intermediaries.
“Our study provides new evidence that nitric oxide generated during physical exercise is actually stored in the bloodstream and heart in the form of nitrite and nitrosothiols,” Lefer says
Beetroot and leafy vegetables are considered the best source of nitric oxide. Especially, the beetroot. Although, many athletes prefer to take shots of beetroot just before training in order to maximise performance.
But, there is no robust scientific proof that backs that belief. Although, regular use of beetroot is known to cause increased level of nitric oxide.
The vascular dilation can be local or general, depending on the muscle group you are targeting. In a study, it was seen that working on small muscles, like forearms, cause local vasodilatation and vasodilatation for large muscles was more generalised.
So, in essence, in order to increase nitric oxide in your body you have to do two thing. Firstly, eat lots of green leafy vegetables and exercise with lot of intensity. Anaerobic environment is necessary for conversion of nitrate into nitric oxide and exercising does that job.
There are two reasons that Beta-alanine supplements(from pre-workout) can be replaced by some natural alternatives. First of all, there is no necessity of consuming beta-alanine just before the workout.
In fact, consuming it before a workout won’t enhance your performance at all. In order for it to enhance your performance and delay muscle fatigue a regular dosage of beta-alanine is needed. That means, you can receive all the beta-alanine from natural food sources.
From various studies conducted on the beta-alanine we can see that 3 to 6 grams of daily intake can cause significant improvement in muscle strength and endurance.
That brings us to the second reason. Beta-alanine is widely available in chicken and meat. 1 cup of chicken can provide you with 2-3 gm of beta-alanine and 1 cup of soya beans can provide you with 7 grams of beta-alanine.
ONLY BETA-ALANINE WON’T HELP.
Beta-alanine is one of the ingredients to produce aforementioned carnosine, which is the real deal. The other ingredient required to produce carnosine is histidine. Histidine is available in the food source like, green vegetables, wheat, rye and cheese etc.
Caffeine is a part of almost every pre-workout and an important one. As I said the amount of caffeine used is different for different brand. For example, Muscle pharma assault has 300 mg/scoop.
The recommended dosage of caffeine for enhanced performance is 200 mg. It is seen that any quantity above 200 mg doesn’t corresponds to any further improvement in performance.
Now, a normal cup of coffee contains approx. 100 mg of caffeine in it. I wasn’t very good at mathematics in school, but even I can see what it will take to fulfill the recommended dosage of caffeine.
Yes, 2 cups it is!
The amount of caffeine can depend upon the type of coffee you are drinking. How the coffee is roasted can also increase caffeine.
If you are not a much of a coffee drinker then you can also use Dark chocolate as the caffeine source. 100 gm of dark chocolate has 46 mg of caffeine.
Dark chocolate is considered a healthy food item. Basically, dark chocolate helps in reduction of cortisol(stress hormones). Increased levels of cortisol can mitigate production of testosterone.
L-citrulline like all the supplements mentioned above is very readily available in fruits and nuts. In fact, watermelon is a very good source of L-citrulline.
Not only the fruit, but also the rind. A study was conducted by Dr. Louis J. Ignarro, who happens to be a Nobel prize winner, concluded that, a combination of L-citrulline and L-arginine can increase the production of nitric oxide, which in-turn dilates blood vessels and allow more amount of blood to flow.
More blood flow means more oxygen, which in-turn means more energy.
But, in most of the pre-workout, you’ll see citrulline malate instead of just L-citrulline. Malate is nothing, but Malic acid is also very crucial in delaying fatigue and improving endurance. Malate helps in increasing the production of the ATP. In combination they can work wonders. Fortunately, Malate is also readily available in fruits, like apple, berries, apricot etc.