Name of the game
Most natural supplements you’ll come across tend to do exactly what they say on the bottle. Or a quality one will anyway. Testosterone boosters, for example, will of course boost testosterone. Likewise fat burners burn fat and sleep aids help us sleep better.
Then there are some which are a little more mysterious. Pre-workout supplements for instance. That’s not really a description, more of a serving suggestion. I mean obviously it doesn’t take a genius to figure out if we’re taking it before exercise, they’re meant to improve performance.
But isn’t that testosterone’s job? Haven’t we only gone and built an entire website around showing as much? Well yeah and it still is, in large part, Testosterone’s job to help us operate at our healthy best.
So the question is, what exactly should a good pre-workout supplement be doing for us and what, if any, relationship does it have with our T levels?
What are pre-workout supplements?
A pre-workouts is technically any product which claims to improve performance if taken before exercise.
So with such a wide range it’s difficult to say what all these options can do for us as quality and effectiveness varies. Truthfully it’s such a vague title that some products just stick ‘pre-workout’ on the label to boost sales.
Ideally though, a good pre-workout supplement helps raise energy, focus and motivation levels. These are three key elements of any successful fitness regime so seeking out the real deal is well worth our time.
The selection of natural ingredients should aim to gently, physically prepare the body for hard work. Meaning we are up to speed quicker and able to carry on for longer. Carefully dosed choices like caffeine, B vitamins, creatine and citrulline can safely lift our heart rate, strengthen blood flow and support muscle endurance.
Pre-workouts typically come in flavored powder form to be mixed and drank before a session.
Some claim pre-workouts are pointless as we can get all the nutrients we need for productive exercise from meals. This is probably true, and a balanced diet is an absolute must, but supplementing has a place too.
While certain pre-workouts will contain carbs, an obvious source of energy, the majority are carb and calorie free. This is important if we’re exercising to cut weight and already on a finely tuned lower calorie diet. Pre-workouts offer the energy reserves to workout safely, without taking on any extra calories.
Sure sounds a lot like testosterone
Yeah we get that. All this talk of drive, power, and stamina makes it seem like pre-workouts should have an effect on testosterone. But there’s more than one way to energize a cat, and there’s actually not that much direct crossover.
Better energy, endurance and muscle performance be benefits that high T a pre-workouts share, but pushing up male hormone levels is generally not how these supplements get it done.
Healthy testosterone has many more benefits besides those of a pre-workout and they’re longer lasting. Improved heart and bone health, libido and erection strength, mood and confidence levels for example.
That’s not to say one doesn’t provide a certain amount of indirect help for the other though. After all, the act if working out itself causes a spike in T. So clearly if you’re able to work harder and longer (within reason) thanks to a quality pre-workout supplement, hormone levels will rise.
Actually, to be fair, there has been some suggestion that particular ingredients common in pre-workouts do boost T. Caffeine for example, one of the surprisingly few natural, safe and legal stimulants you’ll find in supplements.
Take a 2012 study by London Sports Council. This work reports that athletes taking a pre-workout containing 4mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight saw their T volume climb 12%.
Another study that same year from Harvard University gave 42 men 5 cups of coffee a day for 8 weeks. These were either caffeinated or decaffeinated so researchers could compare the stimulants effect on testosterone.
The team claim was no change to any sex hormone levels.
Maybe this doesn’t sound particularly good news, but 5 cups of coffee contain almost 3 times the caffeine in a good pre-workout and not undoing our good work on T is almost as good as helping it.
The best of both worlds
So even though they may feel similar in a lot of ways, even the best pre-workouts don’t have a huge effect on T.
There’s possibly a slight for the better, but not for the worse.
Pre-workouts only offer one temporary aspect of the many advantages healthily high testosterone will sustain for us long term. There’s nothing to stop the two working in tandem towards the same goal though. So here are a few things to be aware of as far as picking a pre-workout and using it effectively.
Firstly, do your research. In the same way that some companies are lazy about what they call a pre-workout, some are equally careless about what they put in them. Just because a good pre-workout shouldn’t work against T, that doesn’t mean rogue ingredients in the poorer ones can be trusted.
As with all supplements, it’s safest to avoid the ones that use proprietary blends. So any choice that gives you the name of ingredients but not the volume. Simply because there’s no reason to hold info back and the more we’ve got, the more confident we’ll be about quality.
Next, even with the best pre-workouts it’s probably not a good idea to use them before every exercise session.
Not that they’ll do you any harm, it’s more that they may start to do you a decreasing amount of good. It’s known we’ll eventually build up a resistance to caffeine for instance. Especially if we’re regularly taking the reasonably high levels in a pre-workout.
Same goes for creatine. Once our muscles have had their fill of creatine, piling more on top has no benefit.
It’s a good idea then to cycle on and off pre-workouts, or even save them for only our toughest gym days.