Pre-workout powder can run the gamut. One of the most popular supplements on the market today (most common among gym goers), it’s an estimated $13 billion market and projected to reach well over $20 billion by 2027, according to recent reports. Pre-workout powder can also be one of the most confusing supplements to buy, with seemingly endless options. The biggest challenge is sorting through marketing claims, exaggerated performance benefits, and the opinions of every guy (or salesman) who’s ever taken one to find the best pre-workout powder for you.
The best way to figure out which pre-workout supplement is best for you is to evaluate which ingredients will actually help when you exercise—plus knowing the right dosage of those ingredients (if it’s even listed on the label) and making sure they’re not banned substances for any particular sport or competitive activity. First, let’s take a quick look at some of the evidence-based essential ingredients to amp your workout performance. Following this, check out our top ten recommended pre-workout supplements on the market.
Caffeine is the number one ingredient you’ll find in a pre-workout supplement—and the one you’ll actually feel the most. Benefits include elevated alertness, sharpened focus, faster reaction time, and an overall experience of increased energy. Broad suggested dosage for workout benefit is between 100-300 mg—but use with caution as caffeine metabolism and sensitivity is highly individualized.
Aim for between 100-300 mg of caffeine from coffee 45 minutes prior to your workout. Note: caffeine content widely varies from cup to cup. So does your tolerability and sensitivity, so you may need to use some trial and error to gauge your right dosage. Among countless brands, Wandering Bear is one of our favorites.
[From $26.09; wanderingbear.com]
Beta-alanine is a fatigue buffer and a non-essential amino acid that increases carnosine in your muscles. Carnosine helps control your muscle pH and lactic acid build-up while helping you add a few more sets or sprinting seconds during your workout. Best results are reported by non-trained individuals and those who take it consistently over time.
Creatine can help add power to your workouts by producing and circulating ATP, the energy unit used for muscle contractions. It can also boost immediate power and explosive movements during exercise and training—particularly in the first 10-15 seconds of movement.
Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid that can increase vasodilation (or widening) of the arteries to increase blood flow to working muscles. When consumed, citrulline is converted to arginine which is then converted to nitric oxide—causing the vasodilation of blood vessels that help with oxygen delivery for performance. L-citrulline and citrulline malate are the two forms typically found in dietary supplements—both providing benefits in the body.
5. Dietary Nitrates
Dietary nitrates are commonly found in certain vegetables (namely beetroot) that contribute to increasing plasma circulation of nitrite and ultimately conversion to nitric oxide availability. This provides a positive effect on enhanced muscle efficiency, fatigue resistance, and performance through its vasodilation effects.
Sodium, chloride, magnesium, and potassium are the main electrolytes that help with fluid balance, neural activity, and muscle contractions in the human body. Certain amounts of these are lost through sweat during activity, and if electrolytes aren’t replaced or become imbalanced you may experience fatigue, dehydration, cramping, weakness, or confusion. Proper hydration is essential for peak performance during training.
Jordan Mazur, M.S., R.D., is the coordinator of nutrition and team sports dietitian for the San Francisco 49ers.
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