Best Pre-workout & Post-workout Nutrients for 2019
Posted on January 02 2019
By: Robert A. Schinetsky
Not a year goes by that the supplement market isn’t inundated by a swarm of new pre workout and post workout supplements.
Eager to capitalize on the millions of New Year’s resolutions made to lose weight, build muscle, and get healthy, supplement companies employ all sorts of flashy ads, sexy models, and massive sales to entice new gym-goers to buy their products.
And make no mistake, companies are pros at luring people to buy their products.
But, we hasten you to heed the saying caveat emptor.
And for those of you who don’t remember 8th grade Latin I, caveat emptor basically means “buyer beware.”
With that, we present the list of the best pre workout and post workout supplements you should buy in 2019, along with a few of the most overrated supplements you’re likely to encounter during your journey to get healthy.
Use the tips in the mega-guide to find the best pre workout money can buy all the while sparing yourself from yet again wasting money on supplements that don’t work.
Best Pre Workout Ingredients of 2019
If pre workouts were a house, caffeine is the concrete slab foundation providing stability, structure, and reinforcement for the whole building. Similar to an actual house, without a steady foundation, the chances of your house surviving the elements are slim to none. Likewise, without caffeine, your pre workout might be serviceable but it’s far from the best it could be.
Simply put, if there’s one supplement, and one supplement only you want immediately prior to training (regardless of what form of exercise) it’s caffeine.
Caffeine boosts energy and heights alertness (due to antagonism of adenosine receptors), but that only begins to scratch the surface of the numerous ways it impacts your performance.
During intense physical activity, dopamine becomes depleted, leading to a decline in motivation and performance while simultaneously inducing fatigue. Therefore, if you could increase dopamine, you should then reduce the onset of fatigue, maintain a high level of performance, increase time to exhaustion, and reach new heights of strength, power, and athleticism.
And here’s the good news -- caffeine is very strong stimulator of dopamine. Not only does ingesting caffeine induce a cascade of dopamine release, it also increases dopamine receptor availability. This is another of the many ways in which caffeine can enhance athletic performance, strength, and power.
Caffeine also has been documented to boost mood, performance, vigilance, and reaction, even when consumed in doses as low as 32mg.
And, if you think that caffeine is hindering blood flow and deflating your muscle pumps, you might want to reconsider that idea as long-term studies note that regular caffeine consumption is not responsible for hypertension (high blood pressure).[5,6] And, caffeine may actually improve blood flow due to the molecules ability to inhibit PDE enzymes and boost nitric oxide.
And, perhaps best of all, caffeine has been extensively studied and proven to be safe when consumed at reasonable doses (3-6mg/kg), which can’t be said for so many of the other stimulants commonly included in pre workouts supplements, such as higenamine, DMAA, or DMHA.
The bottom line on caffeine is that it is simply one of the best pre workout supplements, period. End of story.
The next best pre workout supplement on our list is the non-essential amino acid l-tyrosine.
You’re probably wondering, “if tyrosine is non-essential, how could it possibly be included as one of the best pre workout supplements for 2019?”
Allow us to explain…
From a physiological point of view, tyrosine is non-essential as it can be created from the essential amino acid phenylalanine. However, in regards to performance, focus, and combating stress, tyrosine is anything but non-essential.
The reason we say this is that the body uses tyrosine to produce the catecholamines/neurotransmitters: epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
If you remember from our discussion of caffeine above, dopamine is vitally important to maintaining a high level of performance during training or competition. And, as we also stated above being under siege by stress (physical or mental) can drain your catecholamine “bank account”. Anyone who’s ever faced a thermodynamics final or a set of 20-rep squats can attest that stress does leave you feeling completely drained and in a constant daze.
Supplementing with tyrosine helps replenish these key neurotransmitters before stress can deplete them, allowing you to stay focused longer without becoming stressed or “burned out.”[9,10]
In other words, supplementing with tyrosine supports better focus, less fatigue and reduced stress along with heightened mood and motivation which yields superior mental and physical performance in your training sessions.
Building on the best dopamine supplements is velvet bean. Also known as mucuna pruriens, velvet bean is a tropical legume indigenous to Asia and Africa that is chock full of L-Dopa -- the direct precursor to dopamine production.
L-Dopa is produced from the amino acid L-tyrosine by the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase. The reason to supplement with L-Dopa is that readily crosses the protective blood–brain barrier, something dopamine itself cannot do.
We’ve beaten the importance of dopamine in regards to performance enough, so we won’t beleaguer the point further. Just know that L-Dopa is a well-studied, and powerful, activator of dopamine.[11,14] L-Dopa is so potent that it’s even been explored as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease which is caused by declining dopamine.
L-Dopa also mediates neurotrophic factor release by the brain and CNS. In case you weren’t aware, neurotrophic factor are a collection of small peptides that support the growth, survival, and differentiation of young and old neurons.
Citrulline malate is one of those supplements that seems to make just about everything better. It’s one of the few pre workout supplements proven in humans to enhance performance, fatigue resistance, stamina, recovery, and muscle pumps! Not only that, but citrulline malate is particularly effective when it comes to improving performance in anaerobic activity, such as repeated sprints or resistance training.
A combination of the conditionally essential amino acid L-Citrulline and Malic Acid (malate), Citrulline Malate is an interesting ingredient that performs a number of unique functions in the body.
First and foremost, citrulline is a key player in the urea cycle (along with l-ornithine and l-arginine). The urea cycle is tasked with removing metabolic waste products generated from intense exercise, including lactate, hydrogen (H+ ions), and ammonia. As these byproducts accumulate fatigue sets in and forces you to end your set.
Supplementing with citrulline malate enhances the body’s ability to buffer these waste metabolites, allowing you to train longer and bang out more reps before succumbing to fatigue.
But that’s not all.
Citrulline also increases blood levels of arginine -- the amino acid that serves as the “fuel” for nitric oxide production. In fact, citrulline is actually superior to l-arginine for increasing blood levels of arginine. This is due to citrulline’s superior bioavailability.
Increased arginine levels in the blood promote greater nitric oxide production, which causes vasodilation. The end result is improved blood flow to working muscles, along with increased nutrient and oxygen delivery to every cell in your body (including the ones in your muscles).
As a result of this increased nutrient and oxygen delivery, performance and recovery increase while muscle soreness decreases.[16,17] Let’s also not forget that with greater vasodilation and blood flow also comes some pretty sweet muscle pumps, too!
Malic acid is involved in the Krebs (TCA) Cycle which is responsible for ATP production. Supplementing with citrulline malate provides more malic acid to enhance the body’s ability to produce energy more efficiently which supports better performance.
Grape Skin Extract
The importance of blood flow to optimal performance and recovery can’t be emphasized heavily enough and if you’re pre workout is doing things correctly, it should include more than one supplement to improve blood flow.
And no, we’re not talking about l-arginine, arginine AKG (AAKG) or even agmatine sulfate.
One of the best, yet least utilized, compounds included in pre workouts when it comes to improving cardiovascular system function is grape skin extract
What’s so special about grape skin extract?
Well, grape skins are rich in polyphenols -- phytochemicals well-known for their health-promoting properties, particularly in regards to heart health.
In recent years, researchers have begun exploring the potential for polyphenols to enhance exercise performance due to their effects on nitric oxide availability, vascular function, and the release of endothelial-derived constricting and relaxing factors.[18,19]
A recent study published in 2017 found that supplementation with a polyphenol-rich extract significantly increased average power developed (5%), maximal peak power output (3.7%), and total power output (5%).
Equally interesting was the fact that researchers documented that these power and performance increases came without an increase in heart rate, signaling that the polyphenol-rich extract improved endothelial function. In other words, the polyphenols in grape skin may help relax blood vessels, making the more “flexible” and thereby allowing for greater blood flow without increasing the amount of work or strain on the cardiovascular system.
Watermelon Fruit Extract
Watermelon fruit extract is yet another great supplement for supporting greater blood flow and cardiovascular function during exercise.
This is because watermelon extract is an excellent source of both l-citrulline and l-arginine. Research has shown that supplementation with watermelon extract can reduce blood pressure. This, of course, is due to an increase in blood levels of arginine, which results in greater endothelial nitric oxide production.
And, as we discussed in great detail above when explaining citrulline malate, with greater blood flow comes improved performance, resistance to fatigue, stamina, recovery, and pumps.
Best Post Workout Ingredients of 2019
During intense exercise, muscle tissue is damaged and broken down. Following exercise it stands to reason that you would want to consume nutrients that stimulate muscle protein synthesis so as to initiate muscle repair and recovery.
Typically, post workout supplements include BCAA to stimulate protein synthesis, but the majority of BCAA supplementation benefits are solely attributed to the “king” of amino acids -- leucine.
Leucine is the “anabolic trigger” that ignites body’s muscle building pathways via stimulation of the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway.
In fact, studies show that leucine consumption immediately post-workout increased mTOR activity for several hours following exercise, resulting in elevated muscle protein synthesis. Another noteworthy piece of research documented that ingestion of leucine immediately after exercise increased muscle protein synthesis by as much as 33%!
In addition to its anabolic properties, leucine also exerts some fairly impressive anti-catabolic properties too. Specifically, the essential amino acid has been shown to reduce muscle protein breakdown following exercise (via activation of mTOR). This activation of mTOR also causes the inactivation of the energy-sensing molecule, AMPK.[27,28]
In case you didn’t know, AMPK stimulates the conversion of protein into amino acids for energy during periods of low energy, such as during exercise. AMPK does this to restore the energy status of the muscle cell. But that’s not all. AMPK also encourages the breakdown of muscle glycogen into glucose.
Leucine’s ability to nullify the actions of AMPK-mediated protein and glycogen breakdown halt muscle breakdown and promote glycogen resynthesis following exercise.
There’s not much to be said about creatine that you probably don’t already know. Quite simply, it is the most well-studied and proven effective supplement in the history of sports nutrition.
In other words, creatine flat out works.
But don’t take our word for it, here’s what the International Society of Sports Nutrition had to say about the king of bodybuilding supplements in its recent position stand:
“Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes with the intent of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training…
Creatine monohydrate supplementation is not only safe, but has been reported to have a number of therapeutic benefits in healthy and diseased populations ranging from infants to the elderly. There is no compelling scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate (up to 30 g/day for 5 years) has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals or among clinical populations who may benefit from creatine supplementation…
At present, creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective form of creatine for use in nutritional supplements in terms of muscle uptake and ability to increase high-intensity exercise capacity.”
The evidence is pretty clear that creatine supplementation is effective for increasing power output, strength, athletic performance, cellular hydration, and lean mass gains.
The ability of creatine to enhance muscle and strength primarily stems from its ability to improve ATP generation. As you probably know, ATP is the “cellular currency” of energy production, and anything that helps us produce more ATP will support our ability to train harder for longer before succumbing to fatigue.
Creatine also enhances muscle growth by activating a variety of cellular mechanisms, including protein synthesis and stimulation of muscle cell formation.[32,33]
Basically, if you want to get bigger, stronger, and faster, then you want to supplement with creatine.
There’s still more…
When creatine is combined with leucine, as it is in AML Post Workout, myostatin activity is reduced. For those of you not aware, myostatin is a dastardly little protein that restricts muscle growth. Therefore, anything that hinders myostatin activity supports greater muscle growth.
Research in isolated muscle cells notes that the combination of leucine + creatine reverses myostatin-induced atrophy via prevention of the inhibition of newly formed muscle fibers.
More research is needed to fully vet the potential myostatin-limiting effects of creatine taken with leucine, but the initial cell culture results are extremely intriguing.
Best Pre and Post Workout Supplements of 2019
Betaine, a.k.a. trimethylglycine, is a compound naturally occurring in wheat, spinach, shellfish and sugar beets (from which its name is derived). It serves a number of roles in the body, the most important of which is its role as a methyl donor.
Betaine contains three methyl groups and it donates one of them to methylate an inflammatory chemical called homocysteine. In case you weren’t aware, homocysteine is one of the big risk factors used to identify and track coronary artery disease.
The versatile compound also operates as an important fluid regulator in the body due to is osmolytic properties. As an osmolyte, betaine encourages cells to draw in additional water and nutrients, which promotes better hydration, stamina, and performance. As you’re probably aware, intense exercise causes significant water loss. The cell-saturating properties of betaine help encourage preserve and restore hydration before, during, and after exercise.
Human research has documented that supplementation with 2.5 grams per day of betaine increased power output (bench press and vertical jump), force production, muscular endurance and lean mass gains.[21,22,23]
Additional studies have noted that betaine supplementation leads to 7.8% increase in IGF-1 levels and a 6.1% reduction in the catabolic hormone cortisol.
Researchers also believe that betaine’s ability to serve as a methyl donor also enhances creatine uptake into muscle tissue by stimulating the conversion of homocysteine into methionine. Since elevated homocysteine levels have been noted to impair insulin signaling, lower homocysteine levels (caused by betaine) should enhance insulin sensitivity, thereby improving insulin-mediated uptake of creatine into the muscle cell.
Electrolytes are minerals that help regulate the amount of water in your body as well as balance your body's pH level. They also serve important roles in optimal function of skeletal muscles.
As you’ve seen for yourself, intense exercise brings with it buckets of sweat. And, in addition to all the water lost during training also comes the loss of valuable electrolytes. Failure to replace these essential minerals can lead to increased feelings of fatigue, impaired performance, decreased focus, and lots and lots of cramping.
In fact, even as little as 2% dehydration can lead to declines in exercise performance.
Two of the most important electrolytes to consume pre workout and post workout are potassium and magnesium citrate. These two compounds enhance hydration and muscle cell volume as an osmolyte, and they work synergistically with creatine and betaine to enhance muscle recovery and growth.
Furthermore, several studies have shown that higher potassium and magnesium intake lowers the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, likely due to their capacity to increase nitric oxide production and vasodilation, which reduces blood pressure and enhances blood flow.[45,46]
Citrate has also been shown to improve exercise performance and reduce fatigue. This is most likely due to its ability to buffer lactic acid buildup in the muscle and support TCA cycle functioning.
Most Overrated Pre Workout and Post Workout Ingredients of 2019
When looking at the nitric oxide-boosting portion (a.k.a. “pump matrix”) of most pre workouts, chances are pretty good you’ll come across agmatine sulfate.
Derived from l-arginine, agmatine sulfate is a popular choice for those looking to enhance and prolong their nitric oxide-fueled muscle pumps. This is due to some research indicating that agmatine may indirectly support nitric oxide production via inhibition of arginase -- the enzyme that breaks down arginine.
Theoretically speaking, by limiting the actions of arginase, blood levels of arginine should remain elevated longer leading to stronger, longer-lasting NO production, and with it muscle pumps.
However, research demonstrating the NO-boosting effects of agmatine when consumed orally in humans is severely lacking. There is some research may have some neurological and endocrine benefits, including a reduction in perceived pain, but it terms of improving athletic performance the evidence isn’t there yet.
Taurine is one of the most common ingredients included in pre workouts supplements and energy drinks. It is a non-essential amino acid located mostly in the brain, heart, and skeletal muscle system that maintains cell volume, aids muscle contraction and promotes antioxidant defense systems in skeletal muscle.
Similar to our next ingredient (BCAA), taurine isn’t exactly something you want to see in your pre workout if you’re wanting to increase energy levels, performance, or productivity.
A number of research trials conducted in humans indicate that that the combination of taurine + caffeine does not improve performance, energy, or attention.[47,48,49,50] Yet, these two ingredients are routinely paired together in countless pre workout supplements.
But there’s more...
The combination has been documented to reduce feelings of vigor and dampen the stimulating effects of caffeine. And, to top it off, some research even notes that the combination of taurine + caffeine actually increases feelings of fatigue.
In other words, if you want to make your caffeine less effective and less stimulating while also inducing greater fatigue, then go ahead and combine taurine with caffeine.
But, if you want to make your pre workout dose of caffeine work for you, avoid taurine pre workout. This is why AML Pre Workout DOES NOT contain taurine.
BCAAs (Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine)
You’re not seeing things.
Despite being one of the most popular, best-selling products on the market, BCAAs are one of the most overhyped pre workout (or intra workout) supplements you can take.
Above, we did list leucine as one of the best post workout supplements you can use. However, you would be better served to avoid supplementing with BCAA (as well as free form leucine) immediately prior to training.
Why is that?
Well, there’s some solid evidence indicating that supplementation with the BCAAs decreases dopamine levels.[36,37] This is due to the fact that branched-chain amino acids, leucine in particular, competitively inhibits L-Tyrosine -- the dopamine precursor.
Additionally, as we mentioned above when discussing leucine in the best post-workout supplements, it stimulates glycogen replenishment, which meals it also hinders the breakdown of glycogen into glucose. This leads to decreased cellular energy -- something you don’t really want before heading into a tough training session.
All of this drives home the point that leucine supplementation should take place post workout, but certainly not pre-workout.
And, if you’re concerned about going catabolic during your workout, just realize that so long as you’ve had a meal at least 2-3 hours prior to training, you’re not at risk of losing excessive muscle tissue. Furthermore, the need to supplement with BCAA is entirely unnecessary if you’re consuming adequate dietary protein during the day.
L-Glutamine is one of the oldest supplements around, and it’s also one of the most overrated and overhyped ones too.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body, with roughly 61% of body stores located in skeletal muscle tissue. As an amino acid, glutamine is rich in nitrogen and carbon, and it’s involved in protein synthesis, which has led many to believe it can be an effective “muscle building” or post-workout recovery supplement. It serves as a sort of “fuel” for various cells in the body, including lymphocytes and macrophages.
However, multiple studies have documented that in otherwise healthy individuals (e.g. those not suffering from severe trauma or horrific burn wounds) glutamine supplementation has absolutely no benefit on recovery, muscle growth, athletic performance, or strength.[38,39,40]
The reason l-glutamine is so ineffective is that it suffers from terrible bioavailability. You see, the stomach, liver, and intestines love them some glutamine, which means that any free form glutamine you ingest is likely to be broken down and gobbled up by those organs before it ever gets a chance to enter the bloodstream and reach your muscles.
To make matters worse, supplementation with l-glutamine actually may impede recovery and muscle growth.
A 2014 review noted that glutamine supplements did not reduce muscle protein breakdown and they also increased de novo glutamine production, suggesting that consuming supplemental L-glutamine may accelerate muscle breakdown.
FYI, that same study also found that glutamine supplementation may potentially increase the inflammatory response, which could result in excessive inflammation and further complications.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to sourcing and purchasing the best pre workout and post workout supplements for your 2019 training program, you’ll going to run head first into a lot of flashy advertisements littered with all sorts of fancy-sounding marketing jargon.
Rest assured, the best pre workout and post workout supplements don’t need to rely on hype and gimmicks. They let their formulas speak for themselves.
Advanced Molecular Labs formulates all of its products, including AML Pre Workout and AML Post Workout, on solid research conducted in humans. It doesn’t rely on a bunch rat studies and cell cultures.
When choosing which products to spend your hard-earned money on this new year, choose your supplements who formulates their products based on legitimate research studies.
Choose Advanced Molecular Labs.
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