Professional athletes have genetics on their side, but that’s only a small part of what makes them elite. Hang out with any professional strength, endurance or hybrid athlete for a day and you will soon realize that the “best of the best” all have an impeccable drive and capacity to train and perform at 100 percent from day to day, without missing a workout. However, despite having superhuman work capacity, we can agree that athletes aren’t immune to the negative impact that excessive stress, sleep deprivation and low energy have on workout performance.
So, how are elite athletes able to maintain the daily grind?
Well, first, the people at the top of their game understand the importance of good nutrition, adequate sleep and proper rest. Second, they understand the importance of taking the right supplements at the right time — especially in the 30-minute window prior to training (aka preworkout). To give you the energy of a professional athlete, ensuring that you are just as focused and intense at the end of your workout as you were at the start, consider these key supplements.
MENTAL FOCUS AND INTENSITY
What it is: A potent and safe stimulant that is ingested daily by 90 percent of North Americans. Caffeine is one of the most effective supplements for priming your energy levels prior to training.
How it supports mental focus and intensity: In the brain, adenosine binds to nerve cells and makes them slow down in their activity; this is what makes you feel sleepy at bedtime. Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant by blocking adenosine’s effects in the brain, resulting in heightened nerve cell activity. This hyperactive neural environment produces effects of increased wakefulness, energy, rapid heart rate, dilated pupils and several other “fight or flight” symptoms. As well, caffeine ingestion promotes increased dopamine levels in the brain, giving the user a greater sense of well-being. Several studies have shown that preworkout caffeine ingestion decreases perceived exertion and increases workout intensity and endurance.
How to use it: Take 100 milligrams to 300 milligrams of caffeine anhydrous, 30 minutes preworkout (adjust the dose according to your caffeine sensitivity).
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
What they are: BCAAs are the essential amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. They share a unique branched-chain structure (hence their name) and are stored in skeletal muscle.
How they support workout endurance: During heavy exercise, the body depletes BCAA stores to use them as energy. In the short term, supplementing BCAAs prior to training leads to an elevation in blood BCAA concentration and spares muscle BCAAs, which has been shown to decrease fatigue and ratings of perceived exertion, enabling you to focus and push harder in your workouts.
How to take them: To energize your workouts use a formulation with a leucine:isoleucine:valine ratio of at least 2:1:1 (i.e., there should be at least twice as much leucine compared to the other two). Take 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs, 30 minutes prior to workouts.
What it is: This is a nonproteinogenic amino acid, meaning that it is not involved in synthesizing proteins. In skeletal muscle, beta-alanine and histidine form carnosine.
How it supports workout endurance: Beta-alanine supplementation can increase muscle carnosine levels by more than 60 percent in just four weeks. Elevated muscle carnosine levels boost muscle performance by buffering skeletal muscle acidity that accumulates during prolonged high-intensity exercise. Since one of the primary causes of fatigue during heavy exercise is metabolic acidosis, it makes sense that intramuscular carnosine levels are beneficial to strength athletes. High muscle carnosine also prolongs neuromuscular excitation-contraction coupling, enabling sustained force production in working muscle. In the end, beta-alanine can help you push harder for longer during your workouts.
How to take it: To boost workout endurance take 1.6 to 3.2 grams 30 minutes preworkout.
What it is: Betaine (aka trimethylglycine or TMG) is a methylated derivative of the amino acid glycine and exists in dark-green leafy vegetables, beets, shellfish and bran. In the body, betaine is produced during choline metabolism.
How it supports workout endurance: One of betaine’s main roles is methylation, which is a biochemical process involved in many of the body’s functions, including protein synthesis necessary for muscle building. Overall, betaine has been shown to improve muscular endurance at high power output; it also hydrates cells, reduces
inflammation, maintains intestinal function, protects DNA, and lowers cysteine and homocysteine thiolactone levels. High levels of homocysteine promote insulin
resistance and decreased protein synthesis, which can lead to fat gain and muscle loss, respectively.
How to take it: Take at least 1.5 grams of betaine 30 minutes preworkout. Research has shown that the ergogenic effects of betaine are most significant when using 2.5 to 5 grams a day, so make sure you get an additional one to three doses sometime throughout the day.
ENERGY DELIVERY, WASTE REMOVAL AND MUSCLE PUMP
What it is: Citrulline is a nonessential amino acid that plays roles in energy production and energy delivery. Citrulline malate is a mixture of citrulline and malic acid. This form is easily absorbed and may have enhanced potency over citrulline alone.
How it augments energy delivery, waste removal and muscle pump: This amino acid assists in the production of energy by increasing the rate of phosphocreatine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. Citrulline, also converts to arginine (a precursor to nitric oxide) in the body, which optimizes blood flow and nutrient delivery to working muscles. Research indicates that citrulline supplements boost blood arginine and nitric oxide levels more effectively than arginine ingestion. Citrulline malate has proven to be a great preworkout supplement, as a single dose of citrulline can combat exercise-induced fatigue, increase time to exhaustion and substantially decrease muscle soreness.
How to take it: Take 6 to 8 grams of citrulline malate, 30 minutes preworkout. <
Preworkout supplements are one of the fastest-growing categories in sports nutrition. That’s no surprise considering that the half-hour or so before training is critical, and taking the right preworkout supplements can boost your strength, endurance, focus and muscle pump.
If you’re new to preworkout supplements it can be difficult to sort through all of the products out there. You can build your own with the supplements listed above, or you can find most of them in PreW.O., Dymatize's exciting new entry into the category.
This powerhouse combination of fully dosed ingredients is a well-rounded preworkout that includes 8 grams of citrulline malate, 3.2 grams of CarnoSyn beta-alanine, 1.5 grams of betaine, plus 300 milligrams of caffeine anhydrous and 125 milligrams of Theacrine.