If you’re prone to just peeling a banana before a workout, you might be wondering if there’s something more you could be doing to help boost your strength and endurance. This is where pre-workout supplements can come in handy, but not all supplements are created equal. Here’s how to easily find an effective and safe pre-workout supplement.
What Are Pre-Workout Supplements?
“Pre-workout supplements are products that are intended to boost your energy, improve focus, and reduce muscle fatigue during a workout,” Torey Armul, MS, RD, LD, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says. “Most of them contain creatine, amino acids, caffeine, and other stimulants.”
What to Look for in a Pre-Workout Supplement
If you want to have a stash of pre-workout supplements handy, Knapp says there are a few key ingredients to look for (ones that have been well researched in regard to their benefits). These include caffeine (at least 90 milligrams per serving) to help with energy and focus, creatine (2-5 grams per serving) or calcium hydroxymethyl butyrate (also called HMB, 1-3 grams per serving) to help with muscle strength, and beta alanine (800 milligrams to 5 grams per serving), citrulline malate (6-8 grams per serving), or betaine (1.25-2.5 grams per serving) to boost endurance and stamina.
“Always read the label to avoid cheap fillers, chemicals, and artificial ingredients,” Knapp says.
Most importantly, talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement routine, as certain ingredients can increase your risk of certain diseases and may cause an irregular heartbeat, depending on your health history.
Focus on a Whole Foods Nutrition Plan to Limit Deficiencies
Knapp explains that adding that a pre-workout supplement isn’t a shortcut for a healthy, balanced diet.
“A coffee and banana before a workout can also offer a good amount of caffeine, carbs, and electrolytes,” she says. “And foods containing natural nitrates, such as beets, spinach, and watermelon, increase blood circulation to muscles while also providing an array of other nutrients.”
But if you haven't eaten for hours, are planning a strenuous workout, and have no access to real food, Armul says that supplementing can help you get the most out of your training session and finish stronger.