How to pick the right pre workout supplement

the right pre workout supplement

How do I pick the right pre workout supplement?

I get asked this question a lot, “do you take a pre-workout?” I also get, “what do you take for a pre workout?” and “how do I pick the right pre workout supplement?”  If you’re taking one already, you may be wondering if what you’re taking is really helping you achieve your fitness goals or just getting you jacked.

In this post, we’re going to take a deep dive into what to look for, what to avoid and what’s been working for me.

What should the right pre workout supplement do?

A good pre workout drink should do a few things.  Obviously and most importantly, the right pre workout supplement should give you more energy for training and powering through your workouts.  It should also give you more focus and help with strength.  By that logic, meth is a solid pre workout but it doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  The questions to ask are, what kind of energy are we talking about, where is that energy coming from and how will I feel during and after?

When shopping for the right pre workout, look for a product that will help the body use it’s existing energy sources.  What I mean by that is, for every pound of fat you’re carrying on you, you have 3500 calories of stored energy.  Why am I slugging something that’s one molecule away from Blue Sky when I’ve got all this energy already on me?  Literally!  Additionally, you’ve got anywhere from 350 – 500 grams of stored glycogen (sugar) in your muscles and liver.

Point is:  You’ve got all the energy you already need!

The right pre workout should help you use your existing fuel, not give you an abundance of artificial energy.  This is why you want to keep sugar, starch (waxy maze) and artificial sweeteners to a bare minimum.  I mean if we’re all looking to get ripped, why take something that stimulates insulin before working out?  If insulin is high, ain’t no fat getting burned.

Another thing to look at is; is it anti catabolic?  Meaning will your pre workout help to keep you from metabolizing muscle to make more glycogen?  Clearly, we don’t want that happening.  Muscle, as we know, is NOT built in the gym or during a training session.  Muscle is broken down.  It’s after the workout that the repair and subsequent growth happens.  Your pre workout should spare muscle.  This is why BCAAs and more specifically, Leucine is great to take before training as they are very anti catabolic.  Leucine is also good post training as it helps with protein synthesis and recovery.  [read the mTOR study]

Bottom Line:  A good pre workout stimulates fat burning, gives you focus, strength and energy while maintaining existing muscle mass.

Three warning signs that this is not right pre workout supplement:

Do you need a degree in chemistry to understand the ingredients?  Is there a highly convoluted “proprietary blend?”  Are there things in there that make you tingle, heat up, buzz, etc?  These are your warning signs.  Allow me to address them one at a time.

ONE:  Do you need a degree in chemistry to understand the ingredients?

First of all, the ingredients should be easy to find.  If they’re almost hidden, you should wonder why that is?  Or if the ingredients are listed but woven into a long winded sales pitch, you should also wonder why that is.  You should be able to look at the ingredients and know exactly what it is and what you’re putting in your body.

For example, if I offered a performance enhancer that can buffer lactic acid, would you be interested?  If you saw this as the ingredient [NaHCO3] would you know what you were taking?  What if the ingredient listed was “sodium hydrogen carbonate?”  OK, a little more clear, but what is it?  It’s good old fashioned baking soda is what it is.  Did you know that 200-300 mg of Baking Soda per kg of bodyweight has the ability to enhance performance in exercises that are short in duration? So why am I paying $34.95 for a bottle of baking soda?

Bottom Line:  If you see gobbly gook and terminology you don’t recognize or understand, Google that sh*t before you buy it.

TWO:  Is there a highly convoluted “proprietary blend?”

Does your pre workout have 3,247 mg of a Proprietary Blend containing… and then a bunch of the gobbly gook mentioned earlier?  That means two things.  Number one, you have no idea exactly how much of what you are getting.  Have you ever seen a product claim something like “studies show people who took XYZ gained muscle faster than those who took a placebo?”

They do that to validate the ingredient.  Yet, you don’t actually know how much XYZ is in the supplement nor do you know how much of XYZ was used in the study.  Are you getting enough XYZ to get the result claimed?  The second thing is that they can use more of the cheap stuff and less of the effective stuff.  Meaning it can be mostly 89% baking soda and 50mg of the stuff that works but the problem is it takes 200mg of XYZ to actually see a result.

Case in point, per, “To supplement L-citrulline to enhance sports performance, take 6,000 – 8,000 mg of citrulline malate about an hour before exercise.”  And you’re looking at a product where the citrulline malate is part of a 4000 mg proprietary blend of “Arginine AKG, Arginine HCL, Arginine Ketoisocarproate, L-Glycine, L-Citrulline, AKG 2:1, Waxy Maize, Red Wine Extract, Grapeseed Extract.”  You have NO (pun intended) idea how much you’re getting, but since it takes 6-8 grams to do anything, clearly, this one ain’t doin’ anything but getting Acme Supplements rich.  Follow?

Bottom Line:  Study, research, question, scrutinize.  Always ask what is the MED (minimum effective dose) of a supplement and how much of that is actually in the product I’m considering or how much of this product do I have to take to reach the MED?

THREE:  Are there things in there that make you tingle, heat up, buzz, etc?

Does your pre workout contain Beta-Alanine and or niacin?  Remember the ECA stack from back in the day?  When you took that, you KNEW it was working.  There was no doubt in your mind.  None.  Ephedra, Caffeine and Asprin worked.  Period.

When ephedra came off the market, it was replaced pretty much across the board with synephrine.  Mostly because it has the potential to mimic the positive side effects of ephedra without the whole exploding heart thing.  Problem with synephrine ironically is that it doesn’t make you feel like you’re “on something” especially when compared to ephedra.

Pre workout designers started to enhance the caffeine, tinker with caffeine sources and also look for other promising herbs and compounds that made you feel something.  Taking niacin gets you flushed and Beta-alanine makes you tingle.  Add a little caffeine and boom, an ephedra like experience.  Beta-alanine fortunately is also a lactic acid buffer and may increase work capacity, much like baking soda…

Bottom line is you’re probably getting more of a placebo effect than anything.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The right pre workout supplement for me (and maybe you too)

Because let’s face it, who doesn’t need a kick in the pants sometimes?  Who doesn’t need a little octane boost, right?  I take, believe it or not, three pre workouts.  Not at once mind you, that’d be cray-cray.  Here’s my pre workout menu in order of importance:

  1. Water.
  2. Keto//OS.
  3. Coffee/Espresso (buttered)

Training in a completely fasted state can enhance fat burning and boost metabolism.  Sometimes I’ll get up, slug about 32oz of H2O and go run for 3-5 miles.  If I’m doing any heavy lifting or high intensity training then the right pre workout supplement for me is Keto//OS or Buttered (bulletproof) Coffee.

ONE:  Water is the most important pre workout drink you can have.

Being dehydrated causes a whole slew of problems for your body and it just won’t work at it’s optimum level.  So before you start chugging the artificially flavored legal crack blue powder, consider that you may just be thirsty.  Your body just functions better when you have plenty of water.  How flexible is beef jerky?  How easy is it to tear off a strip of beef jerky?  Consider this.  Water is the most important pre workout drink.

TWO:  Keto//OS has been a massive game changer for me.

The primary ingredient is Beta-hydroxybutyrate.  It is a ketone.  Since starting on this product and taking it as a pre workout I have experienced one major thing and multiple minors.  The major is way more endurance.  I can go and then keep going…  like Energizer bunny style keep going.  When I’m running or doing high volume burpees or push ups, I just seem to step on over that point where I would normally gas out and am able to continue on.  Before getting on Keto//OS I would just stop.

Now, I’m able to push through and keep getting after it.  This is the major thing.  MAJOR.  From there, I’ve noticed a positive shift in body composition, more strength across the board, deeper sleep, no more mid-day mental flatulence and over all I just feel better.  Taking Keto//OS can help your body use existing energy as fuel, spare muscle, reduce inflammation and help keep insulin in check.**

THREE:  Coffee/Espresso (buttered)

I’ve been doing the buttered coffee thing for a while.  I’m a coffee drinker.  I love coffee.  I love espresso.  It is the nectar of the gods.  I take it black or with heavy cream.  I also like to to make the buttered coffee with espresso.  4 shots + 1 Tbl spoon grass fed unsalted butter + 1 Tbl spoon MCT oil whipped up in the Nutri-bullet and life is good.

The company I get my Keto//OS from Pruvit** also makes a product called Keto//KREAM which I also enjoy in my coffee or espresso.  It’s very rich in flavor so I only use half a serving when putting it in coffee or espresso.  When I’m going into a hard session or I’m feeling like I need that extra boost than this is what’s happening before training.  I’ve also been known to mix Keto//OS (Chocolate Swirl) into my coffee for a solid one two punch.


**FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am a promoter of these products.  If you decide to try Keto//OS or Keto//KREAM I will get a piece of that action.  This is one of the ways I make my living and I got into this side of things based on the dramatic results I’ve experienced.  This blog is about what’s working for me.  Your results may vary based on your body and especially your commitment level.