For the avid weightlifter, when you take a pre workout powder you are usually getting a high dose of caffeine, a powerful central nervous system stimulant that boosts adrenaline and helps provide instant energy. You have higher energy levels that last longer. Having the extra motivation that continues throughout your entire workout is a huge bonus when your mind and body start to tell you that you are exhausted.
Some pre workout powders have other ingredients in addition to caffeine that directly correlate to improved performance in the gym. For instance, you’ll find beta alanine, an ingredient that has been shown to provide more aerobic and anaerobic endurance and increased stamina during your lifts, in high quality pre workouts like Animal Fury or Animal Rage. Although your muscle would normally fatigue after a heavy set, you are able to lift longer (more reps) with beta alanine. You may notice tingling if you use a high dose or if you are sensitive to it, but this is normal and not a concern. A combined dose of caffeine along with beta alanine will help provide higher energy levels, possible tingling, increased stamina and strength, and longer lasting training sessions via delayed fatigue. With just two ingredients, your performance has already improved.
Another ingredient that pops up in some pre workouts, including Fury and Rage, is the amino acid L-Tyrosine. L-Tyrosine plays an important role in the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are important for healthy cognitive and brain function—important for honing focus in training.
I am personally a big advocate of using citrulline malate. Citrulline malate, at a proper dose of 6 grams as found in Animal Fury, can stimulate a great amount of blood flow. By increasing more blood flow, you are able to pump the muscles fuller and expand them farther. The bigger and fuller you can expand the muscle, the more muscle fiber tears. If you are causing more fiber tears in the muscle by a bigger pump or blood to the muscle cells, the nutrients in the blood cells will aid in repairing the muscle fiber tears.
Recovery is the key to gaining muscle tissue. With a massive pump from the pre workout and your training, you are left with larger muscle cell volume and an overall bigger muscle. The results of retaining muscle tissue will only be true if you are consuming enough protein and amino acids consistently throughout the day and around the workout.
If you can find a pre workout that includes all these ingredients and some additional ingredients to aid in recovery, you are almost certain to get a great product. Amino acids are important for recovery when the muscle fibers have been brutally broken down in training. I always drink BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids) and EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) during the workout. Having additional BCAAs and EAAs in your pre workout will kick start recovery and only be a benefit to you.
The great thing about BCAAs is that they have both anabolic and anti-catabolic benefits. BCAAs are considered anabolic because of their ability to increase protein synthesis, help naturally boost hormones such as growth hormone, IGF-1 and insulin, and help to maintain a favorable testosterone to cortisol ratio. EAAs are also critical for sparking protein synthesis. On the anti-catabolic side, BCAAs can help prevent protein breakdown and muscle loss. Remember, recovering from muscle fiber break down is the only way to build up more muscle tissue.
So, who should take pre workout powder? Unless you have an underlying medical condition that prevents you from taking anything that is a stimulant or increases blood flow, then a pre workout supplement may be a good option for you. You should always consult a doctor before using a product or supplement of any kind. Personally, I’ve always used a form of pre workout powder since the beginning of my bodybuilding journey. I currently use Animal Fury. It's my favorite.
Now that I’ve had some experience using pre, intra, and post workout powders, along with my daily vitamins and minerals supplements, I can better direct an inexperienced bodybuilder to what is best for them. Everyone is different in their genetics, metabolism, tolerance, and preferences. A product that works well for one person may not be the best choice for another. Some like very high dosed stimulants that really amp up their workout, while others may like a smoother feeling of energy and focus.
I don’t believe anyone would disagree that everyone is looking for blood flow and recovery. Those who are interested in trying a pre workout but may not want high energy or is sensitive to caffeine can always start with a half dose (or a half scoop). Just like weight training, it’s ok to start “lighter” and work your way up to something stronger. And best of all, when you use less than a full dose, your container will last you longer.