According to the IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), “more than 71 million people utilized health and fitness services at a fitness center, gym or studio” in 2018 — up 55.7% from 2008.
And with more and more people trying to get toned, the desire for good pre-workout drinks continues to grow.
A relatively new phenomenon, the first major pre-workout supplements did not start hitting the market until the 1980s, according to Conor Heffernan, author of the “Physical Culture Study” blog. Heffernan points out that the Father of Bodybuilding, Eugen Sandow, for whom the Sandow trophy (awarded to the winner of the annual Mr. Olympia contest) is named, eschewed even coffee.
Then came Ultimate Orange.
Formulated by Dan Duchaine and first sold in Venice, California in 1982, Ultimate Orange was a pre-workout powder that contained ephedra and copious amounts of caffeine. It quickly became a hit among the bodybuilding crowd before a series of lawsuits starting in the late 1990s forced the company to cease production in 2001 (it has since been reformulated).
But the genie was now out of the bottle and other pre-workout concoctions began to flood the market — especially after Experimental & Applied Sciences (EAS) introduced creatine to the general public in 1993.
And with each new product release came bolder and bolder names: No-Xplode, Pulse, Jack3d, C4, Pre-Kaged, Mr. Hyde and, our personal favorite, Ball Refill… actually, that may not be a pre-workout, but it’s a must-buy nonetheless.
What Pre-Workouts Do?
The goal of a pre-workout — any pre-workout — is to boost energy and, ideally, strength and endurance, with the ultimate aim being better results in the gym.
Toward this end, there are key ingredients all the best pre-workout powders or drinks share:
Essential amino acids, or EAAs, are amino acids that are not produced in sufficient quantities by the body and must be obtained from food sources. All nine essential amino acids — histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine — are crucial to good health, with three considered particularly beneficial.
Those three (leucine, isoleucine and valine), commonly referred to as branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, have been shown to increase muscle growth and prevent muscle wasting. Although BCAAs can be found in whey protein, there’s a strong case to be made for taking them separately as well. A 2017 study noted that people who consumed 5.6 grams of BCAAs after their resistance workouts had a 22% greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to those who did not.
Likewise, the other EAAs may help maintain skin elasticity, increase protein synthesis, boost immunity and even improve sexual functioning.
Not only is caffeine classified as a nootropic due to its positive effects on the brain, including increased concentration, it also has a tremendous thermogenic effect on the body. In other words, it increases metabolism — by as much as 3-11%, according to numerous studies — so it can help you lose weight.
Caffeine also increases physical endurance and a University of Georgia study showed that it decreased post-workout muscle pain by up to 48%.
Better still, for those on a ketogenic diet or drinking Bang® Keto Coffee, caffeine in moderately high doses (162 mg or higher, depending on body weight) has been shown to drastically increase ketone production in the body (ketones are used for energy in the absence of carbs).
Nearly all the best pre-workouts have caffeine in them for these reasons.
Creatine, in its various forms, is the most popular nutritional supplement in the world. According to MarketWatch, global creatine sales are expected to reach $604.55 million by 2023 — up from $407.41 million in 2016.
French philosopher and scientist Michel Eugene Chevreul was the first to successfully extract creatine from meat way back in 1832. However, creatine as an athletic supplement did not gain widespread popularity until 1992, when it was discovered that the British track and field team used it during the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Just four years later, it was speculated that 80% of the athletes competing in the 1996 Olympic Games were using some type of creatine supplement, according to Raymond J. Geor, author of “Equine Exercise Physiology.”
Not only does creatine help your body produce more ATP — the primary energy source during heavy lifting and high-intensity exercise — it also helps you gain muscle. A 2010 study showed that creatine supplementation in conjunction with resistance training led to a decrease in levels of myostatin, a substance responsible for regulating, i.e. limiting, muscle growth. This is why all the best pre-workouts have some form of creatine in them.
However, be aware that creatine breaks down very quickly in liquid, so if you want a ready-to-drink (RTD) pre-workout, you might want to try a Bang® energy drink, which contains Super Creatine®, a dipeptide of creatine and L-leucine (creatyl-L-leucine) that is stable in water for an extended period.
4) Citrulline Malate
Those familiar with the old “Saturday Night Live” bit featuring two mythical Austrian bodybuilders named Hanz and Franz are well aware of the “pump.” Simply put, it refers to the temporary increase in muscle size that is achieved when blood enters the muscles faster than it can exit, as is often the case when one lifts weights — particularly when doing more reps with shorter rest times between sets.
It also has a satisfying mental effect as well.
Citrulline malate is believed to widen blood vessels and that’s why so many people love it: it helps them achieve a pump, something all the best pre-workouts strive to do.
5) Betaine Anhydrous
Betaine anhydrous (dehydrated betaine) is a chemical that appears naturally in the body and can also be found in foods such as beets, seafood, wine and Popeye’s favorite food, spinach. A 2013 study concluded that six weeks of betaine supplementation “improved body composition, arm size [the whole arm, not just the forearm] and bench press work capacity.”
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that, along with histidine, produces carnosine, a substance that is stored in your skeletal muscles and has been shown to reduce lactic acid buildup during exercise. Daily supplementation with 4 to 6 grams of beta-alanine for at least 2-4 weeks “has been shown to improve exercise performance, with more pronounced effects in open end-point tasks/time trials lasting 1-4 minutes in duration,” according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Bottom Line on Pre-Workouts
There are a lot of perfectly good pre-workouts out there, but if you’re looking for one that has been tested and proven to work, check out Bang® Master Blaster®. It has all the ingredients highlighted above and, in a recent four-week study, produced a lean-muscle increase of up to 6.9 pounds in test subjects.