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Should you be taking a pre-workout supplement?

August 4th 2015 / Katie Robertson Google+ Katie Robertson / 1 comment

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Some wax lyrical about the abilities of supplements to help boost progress and performance, but should you take them?

Whether you drink it, spray it, chew it or swallow it, all workout supplements are designed for one purpose: to enhance performance. Initially, it was a practice that belonged strictly to the gym-bound and buff bodied, but now however, it has begun to filter through into the everyday of ordinary fitness folk, with every health follower and fan boasting the need to pre-prepare for a workout. As a result, this got the Glossy Posse wondering; how far will packing in a pre-power punch actually help in the quest for achieving big results, fast?

“Pre-workout supplements are designed to safely allow you to push your body to its maximum,” says Natural Health Specialist and co-founder of victoria Health, Shabir Daya. “In turn, this allows you to stave off muscle fatigue so that you can get a few extra reps in, or perhaps run that little bit longer than you would otherwise. The idea is to quickly get nutrients and amino acids to the muscles to help fuel them so that they can perform better - for longer periods of time.”

Shabir adds, “You may think that you do not require a pre-workout supplement and that your diet should provide you with everything. However, in most cases deficiencies of a wide range of nutrients exist in the adult population.” In cases such as this, or perhaps when the body hits its peak or plateaus, it is argued that the correct supplement can be an effective and valuable way to help give your body the boost it needs. Indeed, when taken correctly they can work to build up strength, help increase muscle mass, accelerate fat loss, help the buffering of lactic acid in the blood and help to reduce fatigue.

MORE GLOSS: 10 health food powders you need to know about

However, an understanding that a particular pill or powder is not going to work miracles should be carefully maintained. “Supplements are exactly that – they supplement your diet,” says Female Fitness Expert Rich Sturla. “Far too often many people assume that the missing link for why they’re not getting results is because of a secret supplement they’re not taking. The truth of the matter is usually that they don’t train anywhere near as ’hard’ and ‘smart’ as they think they do and that their diet doesn’t accurately reflect their goals. I like to think common-sense shows that taking some super-formula supplement which promises to drop three dress sizes and sky-rocket your sex drive (while instantaneously giving you washboard abs) - all by next Wednesday - is nonsense.”

Sturla adds, “This isn’t to say that supplementation isn’t beneficial and worthwhile - for some people it absolutely can be. However, far too often people resort to the ‘magic pill’ that promises easy results, when in fact they need to focus their effort on training intelligently (and doing so consistently), as well as being mindful of what they put into their bodies in the form of real, natural, minimally processed, nutrient-dense food. There are endless numbers of products to choose from, and the vast majority of people don’t need to overcomplicate things to this level of detail. Many of these pre-workout supplements from dodgy brands can also contain potentially harmful ingredients and may rely on stimulants to create a ‘buzz’ that masks any actual performance benefit.”

“That being said, if someone already has a solid, consistent foundation of exercise and diet habits in place, certain supplements are well worth their value for the evidence-based health and performance benefits they can provide.

However, before making any rash purchases Rich urges that you ask yourself two important questions first:

  • Firstly: What physiological system do I want to target with this supplement? “If you don’t know what the supplement you’re considering is supposed to do, you don’t need it.”
  • Secondly: Is there objective research demonstrating real, safe benefits? “Do your research and ask qualified experts about the merits of supplements and whether or not you should be using them. While many supplements do deserve the negative press they get, there are also many out there that do not.”

So, when combined with an adequate diet and fitness plan what supplements are the best to take? Depending on what form of workout you’re doing, Shabir recommends the following:

Weight training

“If you are a person who uses weight regularly, then Lamberts Branched Chain Amino Acids, £19.85, will be the important supplement for you because these nutrients extend muscle endurance, help muscle repair quickly and promote muscle growth.

Stretching and body conditioning

For those indulging in yoga and Pilates, it is not so much muscle growth as the loss of minerals that causes fatigue and poor recovery. Taking a good multi-mineral supplement such as Viridian Organic Mineral Complex, £14.90, on an on-going basis will help replenish lost minerals through sweat.

Cardio training

For long distance runners and for every other sports activity, I recommend the use of a very specific form of Coenzyme Q1O called Ubiquinol, £42. Ubiquinol is the most active form of this enzyme that helps to oxygenate all the muscle tissues in our body including the heart. Oxygenation of all the muscles leads to better performance and prolongs the time before lactic acid slows you down.

For general use Rich recommends the following. “I personally use (and advocate that most of my RHP clients do too) a select few supplements. For their health benefits alone, I recommend:

  • Fish Oil (for heart health, reducing inflammation, and a whole host of other benefits like improving joint health and blood/lipid profiles)
  • Vitamin D (deficiency in this vitamin is almost universal)
  • A powdered Greens product and Multivitamin tablet (as a mineral and vitamin ‘insurance policy’)

For performance, anyone who strength trains on a consistent basis should likely include a protein powder supplement. Granted, for some, protein powder may not be required, assuming someone ingests ample protein in their diet. Nonetheless, research routinely demonstrates that consuming a protein shake shortly after (or even better, before or during) training helps to promote protein synthesis (to retain lean muscle which promotes a faster metabolism) and recovery.”

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  • Jack braniff
  • August 4th 2015

Good article.

Totally agree with only using supps if you really need them. I think people need to be aware supplements should only supplement a good diet, not a fall back or substitution. See them as the sprinkles on top of the cake!

Couple of observations.

Totally agree with fish oils, a growing body of research proving their worth in muscle protein synthesis, their anti-inflammatory properties and SOOO many more. So definitely worth adding. Likewise greens are great!
Vitamin D - Again, great addition although not necessary in the summer when we synthesise it ourselves. Unless you stay in doors all day!!
CoQ10 there is currently little evidence that it increases athletic performance in healthy individuals. I would like to see your references, and for £42 is a 'maybe' supplement really worth it? Probably not?
BCAA's - This is context dependant and in a fasted environment they could be beneficial, but remember they're only the building blocks of protein and a complete protein source like whey or milk would be far more beneficial post workout.

I'm not trying to be overly critical here but as a sports nutritionist I'm just wary of promoting supps without the right evidence.

Either way, great post and very informative :)

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