2 Essential Ingredients for Pre-Workout Supplements | STACK Coaches and Trainers

2 Essential Ingredients for Pre-Workout Supplements

August 3, 2012 | Dr. T.J. Allan

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If you're interested in getting as much as you can out of your workouts, make sure to factor in pre-workout nutrition. Failure to do so results in limited gains in strength, power and muscle mass.

Your training starts with a pre-workout shake. Although there are hundreds of supplements to choose from, two ingredients are absolutely essential for maximizing gains: creatine monohydrate and beta alanine. Effective separately or in combination, they create a synergistic effect, allowing you to push your body to its limits, both in the weight room and on the field.

Creatine Monohydrate

What it does: Creatine monohydrate replenishes ATP stores within the muscles by adding a phosphate group. ATP is the fuel the body uses to create energy. Unfortunately, you only have so much creatine in your muscles to make ATP. By consuming additional creatine, you increase the creatine stores within your muscles. With more ATP available, you'll be able to lift heavier weight for more repetitions. In the end, you'll be bigger, faster and stronger.

What can I expect: Anywhere from 5 to 15 percent gains in strength on major lifts like the Bench Press, Deadlift and Squat. Plus, you'll see an extra two to four pounds of lean muscle mass over four to eight weeks.

How much do I take: Add five grams to your pre-workout meal or shake. Increasing the creatine stores within your muscles will take a few weeks; but you should notice an increase in your lifts within a week or two. On workout days, just add five grams to your morning shake.

Beta Alanine

What it does: Beta Alanine is a nonessential amino acid that, along with histidine, forms carnosine within the muscle. Carnosine helps raise the pH within the muscle by neutralizing H+ (hydrogen ions) generated through energy production. During prolonged periods of intense exercise (around 10 to 60 seconds), H+ are produced from the muscle's reliance on anaerobic glycolysis (glucose without oxygen) for energy production. Low pH levels are thought to be one of causes of fatigue within the muscles.

What can I expect: Most studies have shown a 20 to 40 percent increase in muscle carnosine levels, with one showing as high as a 64 percent increase. Research is a little less clear on whether increased carnosine levels lead to improved performance in the weight room. A handful of studies have shown improvements in anaerobic power, anaerobic endurance and aerobic power. Increases in muscle mass, decreases in body fat, fewer feelings of fatigue and increased work capacity have also been supported by research. It appears that the type of resistance training determines whether beta-alanine improves results. Strength training with high reps, increased time under tension and less rest tends to deliver the best results.

How much do I take: Add anywhere from two to six grams to your pre-workout meal or shake. Start low and slowly increase the dosage. If you start too high, you'll notice a prickling sensation. Like creatine, it takes a few weeks to increase carnosine content within the muscles.

Beta alanine and creatine monohydrate should be the foundation of any pre-workout supplementation. Combined, they create an instant anabolic cocktail that reduces the effects of fatigue while providing an extra boost in energy substrates. What does that mean for you? You'll be a bigger, stronger, faster athlete!

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