There is a lot of debate on what people like in a preworkout but one thing is universally true and that is…the modern “preworkout” is all about stimulants. Stimulants are really all that people care about these days when it comes to preworkouts. Stimulants really pushed the preworkout market from being something that was only used by the hardcore to a “staple” supplement with hundreds of variations on the market.
Without stimulants, many people (myself included) just wouldn’t have the energy and motivation to get to the gym, much less pushing their best weights.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PREWORKOUTS
The modern “micro-dosed” preworkout is light on actual nutrients but filled to the rim with vein pounding stimulants but how exactly did we get there?
The first preworkout that I can remember was something called “Ultimate Orange” which basically was Tang (R) mixed with ephedrine. People loved this stuff because ephedrine is the most hardcore stimulant ever brought to market! Ultimate Orange was pretty advanced for its time because it gave a carb boost along with the focus and push of a stimulant. Still, it didn’t really provide any nutrients to speak of that would help the bodybuilder.
Ultimate Orange had almost legendary status because it was able to get people so cranked up before the gym that they felt like gods in the weight room!
CREATINE + CREATINE + CREATINE = CREATINE
After Ultimate Orange, a small company called EAS launched Creatine Monohydrate on the market and for years and years, creatine mixed with various other nutrients was the only thing people would take. Cell Tech from Muscletech mixed Creatine Monohydrate with ALA and Dextrose and that was really the beginning of mixing carriers and other agents in with the creatine.
Creatine Blends became the standard preworkout at the end of the 90’s and early part of the 2000’s. Creatine mixed with various carriers and cofactors were the staples that people used. Creatine blends like Creatine Ethyl Ester, Creatine Malate and Creatine Monohydrate dominated every formula. So, preworkouts moved to elaborate blends of creatine along with creatine support nutrients like Glycocyamine (a precursor to creatine) and others to enhance the creatine effect of pulling water into the muscle cell.
These ingredients really pushed the envelope on the science of the products, moving from simple non-specific amino acids to some really great mixes. I have to say that in my opinion this was the golden age of preworkout products. Instead of throwing every possible thing into a canister, the creatine blends were intelligently designed and had real science behind combining ingredients.
Next came the PUMP AGE which was dominated by Arginine AKG and then Arginine Malate and finally Citrulline Malate. These ingredients promised to deliver more nutrients to the muscle cells by opening up blood vessels and giving a greater pump…
Sadly, that theory has been blown to shreds. First off, I don’t even think that blood flow of that kind matters and even if it did, Arginine AKG didn’t do much of anything to boost NO, which was the basis of the theory. Arginine is still really good for you and great for people lifting weights, but it’s not a PUMP product and only increases NO in massive doses. It does stimulate mTOR and also help with growth hormone release along with a host of other benefits.
CREATINE + STIMULANTS + PUMP = A REALLY BIG COMPANY
Some smart fellow at BSN thought it would be a good idea to mix lots of creatine with arginine AKG and add in some caffeine and the modern stimulant based pre-workout was born! A heavy dose of stimulants before a workout made people work harder and push more weights. BSN became a household name, signed Ronnie Coleman and the rest is history! For the next 5 years, companies made slightly tweaked versions of NOXPLODE all claiming that their product was better due to some minor enhancement. NOXplode dominated the preworkout market and changed the nature of supplements forever.
CAFFEINE + DMAA + FEATHER DUSTING = MICRO DOSING
Poor Patrick Arnold brought DMAA to market in a pill and a drink and it got mixed reviews and limited success. It took some guys at USP Labs to make DMAA a household name. Jack’d supposedly took out all the “filler” in products and lowered the price.
To me this was the worst time of the pre-workout era’s because these micro-dosed products under dosed everything in my opinion. The “fillers” that everyone seemed to complain about were creatine, amino acids and other key nutrients at levels that made the products actually work better. This was also the start of the 1-3 scoops, which means that instead of a full serving of 30 ingredients you get 45 partial servings IMHO.
For the next few years every company had a concentrated product that tried to mimic the success of Jack’d and everyone jumped on board with DMAA.
THE CURRENT PREWORKOUT MARKET
After a few spiked products, the market is now a mix of concentrate products and full sized products with no real innovation. All of the products have the same cast of characters Beta Alanine, Creatine, Amino Acids, Agmatine… The market has settled on Caffeine and Yohimbine as their stimulants of choice.
Here is a list of stimulants that you might find in your preworkout:
- Caffeine – obviously the worlds most popular stimulant found in coffee and various energy drinks. Caffeine is safe and well studied. It has a half life of about 5 hours which means it will stay in your system for a very long time. Dosed at 150-400mg per serving it can make you feel sick if you take too much.
- Synephrine – this is a alpha agonist that constricts blood vessels along with increasing heart rate. CNS stimulation is not terribly strong and usually peaks at 1 hour with a 2 hour half life. Doses are usually 20-30mg per serving and can cause rapid heart rate
- DMAA – this ingredient was considered public enemy #1 in 2014 when the FDA tried to get it off of the market. DMAA is a decongestant that also increases heart rate and focus. Doses are usually between 20-40mg per serving.
- Yohimbine – this is an alpha 2 agonist that can give you a mental lift, help burn fat and increases blood flow. It can cause serious anxiety in a small segment of the population. Yohmbine can also help with erectile quality. It is dosed between 2-20mg per serving.
- Methyl-Synephrine – this hybrid between ephedrine and synephrine that shares similar effects to synephrine above. It’s a better stimulant for energy but also can raise blood pressure a bit more than synephrine. It’s typically dosed from 20-60mg per serving.
Often you will find one or many of these in your preworkout product. Just remember that the effects of these stimulants are additive. That’s why many people have to start with a half serving of their favorite preworkout and move up over time.
The rest of the ingredients in a typical preworkout will be covered in another article but this gives you an idea of what stimulants are right for you! Happy lifting…