Written by Myles Spar
Posted on: January 30, 2018
I’m not just a physician who works with a lot of athletes—I also regularly compete as an athlete in endurance triathlons and Ironman races myself. This means I have clinical and personal experience with products designed to enhance your performance. What’s the best pre-workout supplement for men? Here are some of my favorites.
As I explain here, creatine is considered by many to be the gold standard in workout supplements. Why is it so popular? According to bodybuilding.com, athletes and fitness enthusiasts love creatine because it appears to be safe and it works. There’s plenty of research out there showing creatine improves strength, increases lean body mass, and enhances performance. Although creatine may not be beneficial for those engaging in aerobic activities, the Mayo Clinic says it’s an effective performance enhancer for short bursts of intense exercise like weightlifting and CrossFit. A pair of meta-analyses found creatine supplementation improved upper and lower limb strength performance for exercises with a duration of less than three minutes.
Coffee drinkers are no doubt aware of the way it boosts your ability to accomplish both mental and physical tasks, so it’s not surprising caffeine is frequently used as a pre-workout supplement. As reported by Healthline, caffeine has been shown to increase power output during activities like sprinting, cycling, and weight training. Research suggests it may also enhance endurance during long-distance runs and bike rides. In one study where seven elite runners performed two trials each of running and cycling to exhaustion, those who took a caffeine supplement beforehand had significantly improved times in both sports compared to a placebo group.
Beets probably aren’t the first thing to cross your mind when it comes to exercise supplements, but maybe they should be. Science suggests beetroot may enhance exercise performance because it’s high in nitrate, a compound associated with increased blood flow. One 2017 study found nitrate-rich beet juice can increase oxygen efficiency in cycling when a person is exercising at less than maximum intensity. In the study, athletes who received beetroot juice performed better in a 1,500 meter time trial but not a 10,000 meter one, suggesting beetroot may enhance performance for shorter distances at a high work rate but maybe not for long distances at a lower work rate. Another study of soccer players who drank beet juice before doing high intensity intermittent running exercises performed better than those who drank placebo juice.
If this one sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve also included it on my list of best supplements for CrossFit, and it even makes the cut for my top five supplements everyone should take. Carnitine is a frequently-depleted enzyme that plays a critical role in the Krebs cycle, which powers everything in your body by converting food into energy. Research suggests supplementing with acetyl-L-carnitine can have a beneficial effect on athletic training, competition, and recovery. In one study looking at the effects of acute L-carnitine loading on professional footballers, those who were given the supplement before performing a running test showed increased speed and decreased heart rates compared to a placebo group. Taking 1,000 mg every day can improve your ability to make energy in your cells, translating to energy for your workouts.
Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B-6, biotin, folic acid, and B-1—collectively known as B vitamins—play a role in your body’s process of converting sugar and protein into energy. They’re also important for cell production and repair. One study conducted at Oregon State University found athletes and other active people who lack B vitamins may not perform as well during high intensity exercise and have a decreased ability to repair and build muscle compared to those with nutrient-rich diets. As researcher Melinda Manore explained in a press release, “Many athletes, especially young athletes involved in highly competitive sports, do not realize the impact their diets have on their performance.” In addition to getting B vitamins from a variety of whole foods, you can meet your pre-workout needs by supplementing with a B-complex vitamin. Just make sure to look for methylated forms of B vitamins that your body can absorb and use more readily. You can take too much, so ideally, get levels checked before starting on a B-vitamin complex.
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