Before exercise or competition, athletes and active consumers are looking to maximize energy, fill their muscles with nutrients and sharpen their minds for better performance. Pre-workout supplements offer to help with these goals by delivering dietary ingredients researched for cellular energy production, central nervous system stimulation, blood vessel dilation and cognitive function.
Inside muscle cell mitochondria, energy is released by breaking the bonds of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) through numerous aerobic and anaerobic processes. Ingredients such as creatine (in various forms) and carnitine play key roles in ATP synthesis and resynthesis. Also, ingredients such as beta-alanine and glutamine have become popular for supporting the ATP process and delaying fatigue.
Many sports nutrition users want some “stim" in their pre-workout supplement, to provide alertness or perceived energy. The most popular is caffeine, which works on receptors that manage fatigue, but other ingredients include theacrine from tea, which promises fewer negative side effects common to caffeine.
Delivering more nutrient-rich blood to the muscles can mean better endurance and performance. Pre-workout formulas provide this via nitrates and other compounds that boost production of nitric oxide (NO), a vasodilator. The amino acid arginine, a precursor to NO, and citrulline, a precursor to arginine, are commonly found in pre-workouts, as are beetroot ingredients.
More recently, brain boosters or nootropics have been included in pre-workout supplements to help improve attention, focus and overall cognitive performance. Cogntive ingredients include theanine, an amino acid from tea; choline, a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; and huperzine A, a constituent of a moss.
Check out “Prepping for Exercise" in the INSIDER Digital Magazine Sports Nutrition: Before and After for more on the key ingredients being used in pre-workout formulas.