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Pre-Workout For Beginners – Everything You Need to Know Before Getting Started

Pre-workouts – exactly what is meant by this term? Does it refer to the actual pre-workout exercises you might engage in to stretch your muscles or, in essence, a warm-up for the big workout? No, pre-workouts refers to the powdered drink mixes available to those who wish to give a boost to their workout routine.

Pre-workouts are typically geared toward those who wish to build muscles, but pre-workouts can provide benefits to anyone who wants to improve the performance of their workout.

According to dietician Jessica Crandall, “There’s really no good definition of what a pre-workout supplement is – and a lot of companies are just slapping it on products because it is ‘in’ right now – but in general, it’s a product that’s intended to boost energy levels, generally through a combination of B vitamins, carbs, and antioxidants.” In fact, further research shows that while some of the aforementioned ingredients are beneficial to those who partake in a pre-workout, there are those that can actually be harmful in the products as these are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some pre-workouts include complex carbohydrates, but there are those that contain caffeine and amino acids or beet juice. The amino acids typically found in pre-workouts include:

  • arginine
  • citrulline
  • ornithine

Let’s take a look at arginine. Arginine is also known as L-arginine. It is naturally present in many healthy foods such as peanuts and eggs. That might lead you to believe that arginine is a safe supplement, right? Somewhat, but not in all instances.

Arginine can be made synthetically in a laboratory, so that means that it is not considered a natural amino acid. While this doesn’t make arginine harmful, it can make for some issues if the arginine in your supplement has been scientifically produced.

Citrulline is another amino acid that is often present in pre-workout supplements. Another non-essential amino acid (meaning that, like arginine, it can be reproduced synthetically in a lab setting), citrulline is used to increase the amount of arginine in one’s body. In other words, the kidneys convert citrulline to arginine in the body. The intended effect is the dilation of blood vessels to improve circulation during the workout.

Ornithine, like citrulline in how it changes in the body, converts itself to citrulline once taken in the digestive system. It is also a non-essential amino acid, and, as such, can be reproduced in a lab just as citrulline and arginine.

It is because these amino acids can be reproduced synthetically that they can pose harm to those who ingest them without proper research and recommendations.

One supplement that is often a part of pre-workouts is beet juice. Beet juice is all-natural, cannot be reproduced in a lab, and has many health benefits.

Frankly, pre-workouts are very trendy right now. Some of this is based on the fact that research is showing the benefits of extra circulation during the workout, but some of this is attributable to the fact that word-of-mouth has been a big factor in promoting the popularity of pre-workouts.

Bodybuilders have been using pre-workouts for decades. Creatine is one of the most popular pre-workouts, and it’s a product that has been on the market for quite some time. Just as creatine is full of amino acids that are meant to do the same thing as the aforementioned amino acids are intended to do in pre-workouts, so are those who are preparing for a good workout more inclined to use pre-workouts.

Proponents of pre-workouts boast that not only do the aforementioned amino acids increase blood flow, but they also increase the heart rate and increase focus so that you can maintain the intensity of a workout.

However, sports nutritionist Jordan Moon says that in the average person, unless the individual is continuously pushing him or herself to the limit of each workout, he or she is unlikely to reap any real benefits from using a pre-workout.

What Are The Benefits of Pre-Workout Anyway?

Varying pre-workouts provide a wide range of benefits to the individual. If caffeine in any shape, form, or fashion is included in your pre-workout (some forms of caffeine include guarana or taurine), you will definitely feel a boost during your workout. A 2012 study conducted by researchers and published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning and Resistance found that men who took a pre-workout that included caffeine were better able to lift heavier weights, bench press higher weight amounts, and deadlift more than if the man did not take a pre-workout supplement. Those who participated in more aerobic exercises such as running found they were able to increase the intensity of their workouts. It should be noted, however, that, as the user became more tolerant of the high level of caffeine in his or her pre-workout, the feelings of extra energy lessened.

The aforementioned creatine is still a popular ingredient in most pre-workout supplements. In fact, creatine offers the greatest benefit to the athlete when compared to other pre-workouts.

Creatine is meant to do two things – first, it draws fluid from the plasma in skeletal muscles, which actually improves the function of muscles during an intense workout; next, creatine increases the production of energy in muscle cells. Again, this improves the performance of muscle as the individual works out. Furthermore, research shows that creatine helps to lessen the incidence of dehydration and muscle cramps resulting from dehydration during a workout. In 2002, a study published in Nutrition showed that athletes who used creatine were able to definitely increase their body mass while also providing a power boost during activities such as quick sprints.

The only drawback to creatine is this – those who use creatine must do so on a regular basis. In addition, like the aforementioned amino acids arginine, citrulline, and ornithine, one must ensure that they are pushing themselves to the limits of their workouts to reap the greatest benefits of creatine.

B vitamins are often found in pre-workout supplements. Niacin, a mineral found naturally in many foods, is one such member of the B vitamin family that is regularly added to pre-workout formulas. Niacin is known for producing something known as the “niacin flush” – a condition in which the blood flow to muscles is increased as well as one’s propensity for sweating. Combined with what appears to be an enlargement – even a subtle one – of the muscles, the appearance of sweat and a reddening of the skin may make the individual feel as if he or she is indeed increasing muscle mass immediately. This is really an illusion, although it may give the benefit of encouraging the individual to keep working out as he appears to be accruing visible results.

Again, most people who decide to take a pre-workout do so in the form of a shake, energy drink, or, when possible, they mix a powdered form in water. There are some pill forms of pre-workout supplements, and there are those who actually purchase empty capsules (most are made from vegetable oil and dissolve quickly in one’s system) then fill the pre-made capsules with a pre-workout blend. There are those who make their own pre-workout shakes as well using beet juice or other natural ingredients. Whatever type of pre-workout you choose is completely up to you the user.

I’m a Beginner – What Should I Look for in a Pre-workout?

Pre-workouts should really be viewed as something that will help to prepare you for a great workout. Compare it to drinking coffee just as you wake up – it gives you a boost and helps you to get going in the morning. The same theory is behind a pre-workout. Pre-workouts, especially for beginners, are meant to give the user just a little extra energy. They aren’t meant to give you huge muscle mass or bulk the user up – the boost that you get from the pre-workout is meant to help you get there, however.

First, you’ll have an increased energy level – at least at the beginning of your workout. However, as you go further into the workout, you’ll feel the effects of your adrenaline pumping, and you’ll be able to complete the lift, the run, or the aerobics you’re working on.

Next, you’ll find that your pre-workout gives you greater power throughout the workout. If you’re using a pre-workout that contains the blood vessel dilating amino acids mentioned previously in this article, then you’ll see this benefit quickly. The increased blood flow feeds the muscles and makes them not only respond to the workout but also with greater strength.

Finally, you’ll find your endurance grows as a result of using a pre-workout. You’ll be able to workout longer and at a higher level of intensity than if you simply begin a workout with no pre-workout at all.

Ok, so now you understand exactly what a pre-workout can do for you as a beginner. However, there are some ingredients that you should look for in a pre-made blend that are beneficial to you. You should also be on the lookout for certain ingredients that can be harmful to the user.

First, let’s discuss caffeine. Caffeine is a natural ingredient that can give you just the right amount of an energy boost. In fact, you’ll find that caffeine is the common ingredient in most pre-workouts. The ingredient names are as follows:

  • natural caffeine
  • purified caffeine anhydrous
  • slow release infinergy
  • fast release caffeine citrate

A word of caution, however – many companies include much more caffeine than they should. This can be a problem for those who might have undiagnosed heart conditions or even if a healthy person takes in high amounts of caffeine, he or she may end up developing a great tolerance to caffeine – so much so that the user has to ingest huge amounts of caffeine to feel the same effects as before.

You want to make sure that the caffeine quantity in the supplement you are considering contains no more than 200 mg of caffeine. Once you go above 200 mg of caffeine, you risk, developing a tolerance that can weaken your pre-workout eventually. Furthermore, if you read that the amount of caffeine in your pre-workout is above 365 mg, then avoid that product. That is considered an unethical amount of caffeine in a pre-workout, leading to tolerance of caffeine over time and the potential for heart problems in those who have a tendency to such conditions.

Creatine should be a part of your pre-workout. As the old adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, manufacturers and fitness experts alike acknowledge the fact that creatine has always had a positive impact on one’s workout and ability to build muscle. Note – creatine CAN be taken after one’s workout, but it is also a great ingredient for a pre-workout. You’ll want to ensure that at least 2.5 grams of creatine hydrochloride is included in your pre-workout blend.

The aforementioned citrulline is an amino acid common to most pre-workout blends, and the reason why is that it helps to boost the endurance that you need to push through a tough workout. Look for the ingredient L-citrulline malate on the label. This amino acid increases circulation and the ability to garner more oxygen by muscles during a workout. In fact, the malate in this ingredient is directly responsible for giving energy to the muscle cells. You want to see a range of 5000 to 8000 mg of L-citrulline malate in the ingredients list of your preferred pre-workout.

While some researchers promote the inclusion of beta-alanine in your ingredients list for a pre-workout, this writer is somewhat reluctant to do so. Frankly, beta-alanine in certain amounts is a precursor to amphetamine, which can prove to be dangerous. It is not regulated by the FDA, and, therefore, I refrain from saying that this is the proper ingredient to look for in a pre-supplement blend.

Another natural amino acid that helps to do many of the same things as citrulline and the other amino acids listed previously falls under an “umbrella” term known as branch chain amino acids or BCAAs. Unlike citrulline and ornithine, these three amino acids are essential because they can not be synthetically reproduced. They include:

  • l-leucine
  • l-valine
  • l-isoleucine

The best time to take these amino acids is before a workout, and they will provide the user with a great deal of benefits when taken properly. That means that some companies will include much more of this product than necessary. Ideally, you want to see between 3000 and 6000 mg of BCAAs included in your pre-workout.

Although each of these ingredients not only boosts your workout, they also aid in the recovery of your muscles after a workout.

One interesting point from one researcher is this – even if a person is taking pre-workout supplements to boost their energy and performance during the workout, he or she must also consider one’s daily diet as well as the supplements.

If you plan to work out regularly and boost your muscle mass or simply increase lean muscle mass, you should be following a high-quality protein diet that includes a healthy amount of whole foods – whole grains, chicken, fish, and more.

Finally, you are always cautioned before beginning any workout regimen to get a physical in order to rule out any health conditions that might be aggravated by intense workouts. Failure to do so then ingesting some of the ingredients present in a pre-workout can result in serious health problems. Therefore, if you have one of the following health issues, you might want to avoid pre-workout supplements, particularly those with caffeine:

  • heart condition
  • thyroid condition
  • irregular blood pressure

Other things you might want to know as a beginner taking a pre-workout are as follows. First, taking a pre-workout should feel like drinking an energy drink. You shouldn’t be overly jittery after, nor should you have an extreme boost in energy. You may get a headache as a result of the high amount of caffeine present in many pre-workouts. You may also be dehydrated, so drink plenty of fluids. You may also find that you are having more frequent bowel movements as a result of taking pre-workout supplements. This is very common as the stimulants in the pre-workout stimulate your entire body, including your intestines. You may experience a racing heart, again another effect of the large amounts of caffeine in a pre-workout. If you find that this sensation is too overwhelming for you, then back down on your dosage.

Pre-Workout Side Effects and Precautions for Beginners

While pre-workouts have a wide variety of benefits – even if nothing more than prompting you to give it your all during an intense workout, there are side effects of using pre-workouts. In fact, some of them can be quite dangerous.

First, let’s look at the rather innocuous and, let’s face it, more annoying than harmful side effects of pre-workouts. First, you may experience insomnia as a result of using a pre-workout, particularly if there’s a great deal of caffeine in the formula. This truly is annoying, but, many nights in a row without rest can cause problems in your health. Therefore, find a pre-workout that is not chock full of caffeine.

Next, you may also suffer from diarrhea or other digestive issues (increased bowel movements, for instance). Again, this is more aggravating than harmful to you. However, you should use caution as too much diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Speaking of dehydration, this is another side effect of using a pre-workout. However, you can combat this by drinking plenty of fluids. Continuing to take in the proper amount of fluids can also prevent the cramping sensations that many complain of when regularly taking a pre-workout.

One final annoying side effect of using a pre-workout is the often mentioned tingly or prickly skin sensations that go along with the practice of taking in beta-alanine. Again, this writer is not a fan of this particular ingredient in a pre-workout supplement, so, if possible avoid this side effect by avoiding pre-workout formulas with beta-alanine in the ingredients.

Next, let’s look at the more serious side effects of using a pre-workout. First, extreme amounts of caffeine in some pre-workout formulas can lead to heart health conditions. Sometimes these side effects include a racing heart or a temporarily increased heart rate. However, when one has an undiagnosed heart condition, this increased heart rate – n matter how fleeting it might be – can actually be rather dangerous. In fact, extreme amounts of caffeine can lead to an irregular heartbeat which may require medical intervention to correct.

In some cases, using a pre-workout regularly can also lead to high blood pressure. Don’t confuse this with an irregular heartbeat. Increased blood pressure might need to be treated with medication (and many blood pressure medications often cause complete lethargy in patients). Increased blood pressure can be deadly if a person has other heart conditions that are adversely affected by high blood pressure. Again, avoid high amounts of caffeine when possible.

One factor that puts many off from taking a pre-workout is the person’s propensity for getting a headache afterward. The increased blood pressure due to taking in high amounts of caffeine can cause these headaches, but some simply do not respond well to the stimulants in pre-workouts very well. Headaches aren’t just painful, but they can prevent you from enjoying life aside from your workout. They may also be attributed to dehydration, so, prevent headaches by drinking plenty of fluids and staying away from the pre-workout supplements with high amounts of caffeine or other stimulants.

Final Thoughts

Pre-workouts are usually safe if you will read the labels on the pre-made mixes and don’t exceed the recommendations. Across this site, you’ll find a variety of pre-workout supplements that have worked amazingly for beginners. Some of the reviews are extensive and cover the various ingredients that have been mentioned here. In fact, if you’re looking for a quality supplement, check out our reviews on the best pump pre-workouts as well as our reviews for the best workout supplements for women.

Most athletes would consider pre-workout supplements to be very beneficial for building muscle and losing weight. If you’re a beginner who is taking a look into supplementation for your workouts, be sure to let us know what your thoughts are of taking pre-workout, and if you’ve found it beneficial!

About the Author Erick

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