The athletic world is strongly beholden to the use of sports supplements. Recent surveys have claimed that roughly 50% of gym goers utilize supplements, with 80-90% of these being male. Among the veritable sea of available items on today’s market, a few have managed to stand the test of time. One such supplement is the creatine-based preworkout. The usage of preworkouts has increased greatly since their introduction, and there’s no doubt that they are among the most popular products. Let’s take some time to explore the more common ingredients in such products and the benefits offered by each of them.
Creatine (a nitrogenous organic acid) is of course the base ingredient in such supplements. Its most important function in the human body is to enable the recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in muscle and brain tissue. ATP is a muscle cell’s primary source of energy, and is recycled by adenosine diphosphate (ADP) via the accumulation of a phosphate group molecule. Creatine has seen clinical use in treatment of individuals with muscular dystrophy, and has also been commonly utilized by the athletic community for decades. Roughly one half of the human body’s creatine is synthesized in the liver, with animal sources of protein (wild game, fish, lean red meat, etc.) providing the rest. The main benefits associated with a creatine-based preworkout are increased endurance and strength improvements. A dose of 5 grams per day is typically recommended for peak performance.
Another common ingredient is caffeine. Caffeine is a widely-used stimulant in products across the world, and has found a place in many workout supplements as well. 100-200 mg (or about the amount found in 1-2 cups of coffee) should be sufficient. The basis of caffeine’s use is its ability to block the action of the nucleoside adenosine on its receptor. This serves to block or delay the onset of drowsiness, which is typically prompted by adenosine. In practical terms, this means that its value in a preworkout is its propensity to discourage fatigue among athletes who choose to utilize it. Like all stimulants caffeine will somewhat depress the appetite, making it somewhat unhelpful for weightlifters engaging in a bulk phase.
L-arginine is an α-amino acid that, when used in preworkout, converts to nitric oxide upon metabolism. Products that contain this ingredient or are based on it are typically referred to as “vasoactive.” Nitric oxide serves to promote capillary and pulmonary dilation, allowing for faster and more efficient transport of oxygen to muscular tissues being used during training. This increased oxygen flow will result in better muscle contractions and higher production of ATP (created via certain enzymes through a process known as oxidative phosphorylation). Three grams is considered an effective dose. While it also serves other purposes and functions, its use among bodybuilders and similar athletes is by far its best documented.
The presence of a ph buffer such as taurine is also common. During a workout, skeletal muscles function at their best when the blood flowing to them is within a certain alkalytic ph range. A mitochondrial ph gradient exists across the inner membrane of cells, a fact that was demonstrated and proven in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Taurine’s role in the maintenance of this buffer is to stabilize it, keeping it safely within a ph range of 7.5-8.5. If a cell’s buffering capabilities are too low the gradient can potentially shift, ultimately disrupting ATP production in that cell. Simply put, taurine’s role (and that of other ph regulating substances) is to enable cells to produce ATP for energy. Taurine dosing is typically done at around one gram.
The amino acid tyrosine can also be found in many preworkouts. Its most common physiological role is to enable signal transduction in the brain. To this end it serves as a precursor to the organic chemical norepinephrine, which stimulates metabolism. Norepinephrine reserves are depleted as a result of prolonged intense training. 1-2 grams of tyrosine is sufficient to raise norepinephrine levels and enhance brain function.
At the end of the day it is the consumer’s responsibility to carefully analyze and select supplements that will best serve their personal needs. Many seek to enhance their endurance, strength, focus, and intensity at the gym. For these individuals a preworkout substance may hold great potential benefits. Having such a substance in your supplemental arsenal makes your goals more achievable, and allows your ambitions to rise higher. A good basic understanding of common supplement ingredients will greatly benefit such a person, helping them to select the product best suited for their interests and allowing them to pursue their goals with much more confidence.