The goal of pre-workout drinks is to give you a boost of energy to carry you through your exercise routine. It is supposed to light a fire under your ass and get you going. Most people use pre workout drinks for energy. But if that’s the case why wouldn’t people just take a pre-workout energy drink like Red Bull or Rockstar? Are there actual benefits of pre workout drinks? Let’s take a close look at the various pre workout benefits and what would be right for you.
Benefits of Pre Workout Energy Drink vs Energy Drinks
So obviously drinking a Red Bull is not what I’m talking about when I talk about the benefits of pre workout energy drink. Yes your typical “energy drink” does give you a boost and get you going, but I don’t know about you but the crash I get after drinking one of those things is zombie-like. I mean I can feel myself coming down. Crash is not the word! And to be honest I do get that same feeling with some pre-workout drinks, but those are obviously ones that wouldn’t make my cut. The other difference with normal energy drinks is the nutrition factor. Let alone the fact that sometimes it actually tastes like you’re drinking rocket fuel. But the nutrition, or lack thereof, is astounding. They have actually “been linked to heart and neurological problems, as well as poor mental health and substance use among teens…” (Source: US News).
Another reason to steer clear of energy drinks is that the vast majority of them include ingredients that are a little too sketchy for my taste (no pun intended), such as guarana. Now when I was younger I thought that guarana sounded really cool and sophisticated. Kind of like a vitamin or something. So it must be good! Well, it’s actually not that great for you. Guarana comes from the seeds of a shrub found in Latin America. The seeds are absolutely packed with caffeine. It actually has more caffeine in it than coffee (Source: Livestrong). And while some may think that’s a good thing, when you combine that with about 3 handfuls of sugar per can, you can see why there are so many negative reactions to some of these energy drinks. Plus most energy drinks are carbonated. That just makes me burp. Not something I want to be doing when I’m trying to pick things up and put them down!
Now with pre-workout drinks, things are a little bit easier to handle. For one thing, they don’t contain anywhere near the amount of sugar that energy drinks do. They can’t. There’s no way it could all fit in that tiny scooper! If you pay attention to the actual ingredients in your pre-workout drink, you will notice that some are head and shoulders above the rest. I borrowed a chart from Muscle and Fitness that shows what ingredients are commonly included in pre-workout drinks. I will add my $0.02 on these ingredients below this chart as well!
Argenine – When Argenine changes into Nitric Oxide, it provides many benefits. One of the main ones as it pertains to a pre workout supplement is the fact that it helps blood vessels relax, allowing for more bloodflow, thus more oxygen being pumped into your muscles.
Beta-Alanine – This is the one that I believe causes the tingling sensation that many pre workouts give you. Now I used to think this tingling sensation was a bad thing or a negative reaction to something, but it’s actually a common side affect to beta-alanine. It is believed that beta-alanine delays muscle fatigue and improves physical performance during intense workouts.
Betaine – There are many recent studies that have shown that Betaine actually boosts strength and power. In the body Betaine transfers a methyl group to the amino acid called homocysteine. This results in methionine which plays a vital role in muscle protein synthesis. (Source: Bodybuilding.com)
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – BCAAs are often regarded for their ability to heal muscles that have been damaged, make muscles less sore and actually boost muscle function. There has been data that has shown us that BCAA supplements taken prior to and immediately following strenuous activity has exponentially positive effects for lowering muscle damage from exercise and in enhancing muscle protein synthesis. (Source: Men’s Fitness)
Caffeine – One of the oldest tricks in the book. I used to eat a Kit-Kat before every game when I was a kid. My parents believe it helped my performance because of the “sugar rush” it gave me. But let’s be honest, I just wanted a friggin candy bar! Caffeine has been shown to enhance performance in endurance. Exhaustion starts when Glycogen, the main fuel for muscles, is depleted. The body then uses fat, which is much more prevalent, for fuel. So long as there’s still a little bit of glycogen on the ready, firing muscles can utilize fat. Caffeine actually activates fat stores and inspires firing muscles to utilize fat as fuel. Obviously, that is a good thing!
Citrulline Malate – This is one of the best ingredients to have in a pre workout IMO. One of the benefits is that it increases nitric oxide by increasing plasma levels of arginine. It also reduces lactic acid in the muscles as well as removing ammonia, allowing recovery time to be quicker and more effective. There have also been studies that show that Citrulline Malate actually increases aerobic energy production, allowing you to keep going without “hitting the wall.”
Creatine – This is one of the most popular ingredients. I even remember using it way back in my day (yup, it was wround waaay back then). It will give you a boost of energy that need to be utilized immediately. It brings more water into the muscles, so unless you utilize it immediately, you’re just bringing more water weight into your body without using it for the a better pump!
Glycerol – This ingredient is one that I’m not so sure about. It claims to be able to retain water in the body, thus enhancing performance, but I’m not sold. Next ingredient.
Taurine – This is something that is often found in energy drinks. It is said to help reduce fatigue and increase blood flow. It is actually proven to help patients with a great number of ailments including congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.
Tyrosine – This is also a common ingredient in many of the top nootropics. Tyrosine is proven to increase alertness, memory, and overall performance under stress.
Pre Workout Drink Taste – The Elephant in the Room
So we all know that taste is my number one focus when choosing pretty much anything. I can’t help it. And I won’t apologize for it. The fact is that many pre-workout drinks are so horrendously awful tasting that it’s almost insulting. I have had some that were so bitter and sour that I thought someone was playing a joke on me. Then there are some all-natural pre workout drinks that feels like I’m drinking mud flavored sawdust. Then still, I have tried some that taste like a Jolly Rancher, which is delightful, but then I realized it was too good to be true one I saw the amount of sugar it had. You want to find a good balance. Most of the time you are only drinking about 8 ounces of water to mix with your pre workout drink. And you want to get it down fast. So it’s not like you’re sipping on a beverage shooting the breeze with your buddies. So whatever you can stomach for those 8 ounces. As long as it has the effects you’re looking for.
Speaking of effects, what does a good pre workout drink do? How should it feel? I have had some (and this is no joke) that made my face and lips tingle. I have had friends of mine say the same thing. It must be one of the ingredients really doesn’t agree with me. That’s obviously not what you’re looking for. You want something that makes you feel more energized. Something that makes you feel like you can power through your workouts when your mind wants to quit. I feel the effects more when I’m doing cardio or going on a long run. Or even when I’m playing racquetball competitively. In a tournament, you can play 6 matches in a single day (those days suck!). You want to make sure you have something that keeps you going, especially if it’s a one and done tournament!
So here is a list of pre workout drinks that I have used and have found work great for me (I will be adding to this list as more make the cut):
ANSI Xteme Shock Pre Workout Drink
First of all, this stuff tastes like Ice Blue Kool Aid, which was my absolute favorite flavor as a kid. So maybe I’m a little partial, but I honestly love this pre workout drink. It’s my go-to at the moment. I like that it has no sugars or dyes. It’s just white when you put it in and white when it’s mixed. It takes about 10-15 minutes for me to feel it, but once I do, I REALLY feel it! Check out my ANSI Xtreme Shock Pre Workout Drink review here.