Pre-workout supplements have never been more popular. They provide you with increased energy and endurance for your workout; however, there are several issues to consider when choosing the best approach for yourself or your patients.
One of the most important things to consider when evaluating your options is that many popular pre-workout supplements are loaded with stimulants. There is nothing wrong with a little caffeine, but most of the pre-workout products on the market contain as much caffeine as five cups of coffee. In addition, many also contain food dyes and artificial sweeteners, with most powders being sweetened with sucralose. While food manufacturing companies and global health authorities have deemed sucralose safe for consumption, most health care providers know that this is not the case. According to a recent study in theJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, sucralose is a biologically active compound that decreases the number and balance of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; causes epithelial scarring, the depletion of goblet cells and glandular disorganization in the colon; and alters insulin, blood glucose, and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) levels.1
I started weight training 16 years ago and have been a competitive powerlifter for the past four years. I know the importance of nutrients for supporting focus, energy, and endurance. The challenge is finding good, health-promoting products that do not have excessive amounts of caffeine, while also being free of artificial sweeteners and food dyes.
These are some nutrients that I have personally found to be effective and safe to take prior to training:
Creatine has been heavily researched for the past 20 years and is ideal for people who are sensitive to stimulants. Creatine supplementation can increase tissue concentrations of this nutrient to a level that is unobtainable through the diet alone. However, it is important to use a creatine supplement in a stabilized, alkaline form so it does not raise creatinine (a metabolite of creatine). Many of the side effects of taking high-dose creatine supplementation are not from the creatine itself, but are actually from creatinine.
Acetyl L-carnitine is one of the most extensively researched brain nutrients with a proven ability to enhance mental energy. Most people associate acetyl L-carnitine with preventing age-related memory decline and slowing Alzheimer's; however, it is also very effective when used pre-workout for increasing mental focus and energy.
Glycerophosphocholine (GPC) is an activated form of choline that crosses the blood brain barrier. GPC is another brain nutrient commonly used for age-related brain conditions and brain recovery from stroke or trauma. GPC also has other benefits, such as enhancing growth hormone secretion. According to a study in Nutrition, plasma growth hormone secretion was increased significantly 60 minutes after taking GPC, whereas no significant change was observed with the placebo.2
L-Arginine is a non-essential amino acid that is important for many cellular functions. It is a precursor to nitric oxide, which increases blood flow, thereby raising the supply of oxygen and nutrients to muscles.
Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) provide a great energy source for weight lifters. MCTs are quickly converted into energy, sparing amino acids from being used as fuel. This is essential for athletes restricting their carbohydrate intake, intermittent fasting, carb back-loading, or following the "warrior diet.”
Caffeine is definitely beneficial but not a lot is needed to get the job done. It also depends on the time of day that you are training. I prefer to mix coconut oil in tea (coffee may be preferable to many, but I myself do not drink coffee) prior to training. A good alternative is to use an MCT oil supplement containing coconut and palm oils.
Choosing the right supplements can have a large impact on what you are able to get out of your workouts, but sifting through the stimulants, dyes and unhealthy sweeteners can be discouraging. This list presents safe and beneficial nutrients that support athletic performance, as well as some brain nutrients that are often not thought of when formulating a pre-workout regimen, yet can be extremely helpful for focus and mental energy in athletes. I can honestly say that I feel and see the difference in my workouts now.
by Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN