Pre-workout shakes decoded
From supercharging your energy levels to sharpening your focus, here’s what to look out for in your pre-workout shake
For HIIT workouts
Combat fatigue with this amino acid. It’s used to make carnosine, which is a compound that neutralises the burn of lactic acid in your muscles when you’re doing short, highintensity exercise. The average performance improvement is 2.85% – equivalent to shaving six seconds off your first four minutes of a timed workout or race, although it’s less effective for longer events. You need to take it consistently to raise muscle carnosine concentrations, rather than just before the odd session. Around 3g a day for six weeks followed by a maintenance dose of 1.2g a day has been shown to give the best results.
NEED TO KNOW High doses can cause skin tingles, but only for a few minutes – and you can prevent this by sipping the shake over 30 minutes rather than downing it quickly.
The primary benefit of this stimulant is to boost levels of positivity-promoting endorphins in your brain. This reduces the perception of fatigue and pain, and helps increase alertness and concentration. But the effects are also physical: it can increase muscle fibre recruitment, aiding anaerobic performance. You should take it 30-60 minutes before exercise and during your session if exercising longer than an hour. Between 70 and 210mg (equivalent to two cups of coffee) is an effective dose – more can blunt its effects over time.
NEED TO KNOW
Although it’s a diuretic, it doesn’t dehydrate you as much as once thought. Research shows that is because adrenaline, released during exercise, blocks caffeine’s effect on the kidneys.
For increasing size
Pre-workout powders often include the branched-chain amino acid leucine. Along with the other BCAAs isoleucine and valine, it’s essential for your diet because your body can’t produce these acids on its own. The reason to take leucine before a workout is that it triggers protein synthesis and can reduce protein breakdown during a resistance session for increased strength and size, but you can get enough for maximum muscle-building effect (2g) from just three eggs.
NEED TO KNOW
If your diet already includes lots of eggs, dairy products, meat, fish and poultry, you’re probably getting enough leucine to help resist muscle breakdown already when resistance training.
For a short-term pump
Hammering out 20 press-ups will give you a short-term muscle pump thanks to vasodilation, the process that increases blood flow to muscles. Alternatively you can get the same effect from L-arginine supplements, which increase nitric oxide (NO) production, helping deliver nutrients and oxygen where they’re needed. Combine the two and your muscles should swell appreciably. But if you’re more concerned with hitting PBs than strutting in front of the mirror, then other NO boosters such as beetroot juice are more effective.
NEED TO KNOW
Arginine supplements may produce small benefits for beginners, but not for more highly trained athletes.