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After doing much extensive reading and self learning I've always been under the assumption that the only things that can genuinely give you "energy" are macro nutrients since the body can utilize them for energy through the process of gluconeogenesis. And I know that creatine provides a little bit of extra oomph by sparing ATP when you're used up all your stores for the moment.

But what exactly do more pre workouts do that provide energy? A lot of the time people associate words like "buzz" and "jittery" with them, increased body temperature, among other things. But most of the time there really aren't any direct compounds in them that are responsible for giving you USABLE energy.

If I had to guess I'd say the primary actor in most pre workout energy powders are psychoactive stimulants(such as caffeine and taurine) with dosages multiplied to exponential amounts combined with current trending blends of "bodybuilding cocktails" e.g. BCAA's, in essence giving consumers a greatly increased feeling of anxiety. Anxiety in the sense of "I feel like I ought to do something" but greatly amplified.

So what do you guys think?

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It really depends on the supplement and the placebo affect. Examine.com will boil down all the supplements and the studies that have been done on them so you can understand a) what effects will happen, b) the relative strength of that effect, and c) how good the studies were that gave that result. Also food for thought: gregnuckols.com/2014/02/26/… –  Berin Loritsch Apr 14 at 19:45

1 Answer 1

The mechanism for specific preworkout supplements will vary based on the supplement in question. It helps to frame the question around certain preworkout supplements specifically. I can go down a common list:

  • BCAAs can help with protein synthesis and uptake for people with low protein in their diet (below 1g/kg body weight). In novices it can help lower the intensity of DOMS. However, for people who consume over 1-1.5g/kg protein they already get enough BCAAs in their normal diet and supplementation does nothing more than provide a placebo effect.
  • Caffeine is a nootropic stimulant with well studied affects for increasing physical strength and endurance. Continued use causes you to be tolerant to the substance.
  • Creatine is a well studied supplement that increases your pool of creatine phosphates, allowing you to regain ATP more quickly. It increases power output, available muscle creatine content, and water retention.
  • Taurine is a semi-essential amino acid that assists in anti-oxidant defense systems. It's primary benefit is increasing blood flow.

There are other pre-workout supplements and supplement stacks, but research is still being compiled. For example Nitric Oxide (NO) has a lot of marketing behind it, and is supposed to improve blood flow--however independent research is still being compiled.

One component not yet covered that is present in many pre-workout stacks is dextrose or glucose. This is simply a form of sugar and works by providing a direct source of quickly metabolized energy.

NOTE: do not use any pre-workout that contains DMAA as this is considered harmful by the FDA, and has been implicated in psychiatric disorders, heart problems, nervous system disorders, and death.

If you are unsure of how any supplement works, check out Examine.com. They compile independent research and grade how useful the research is and the amount of effect the supplement had. There are a number of supplements that simply don't do much.

Lastly, it is not uncommon for the placebo affect to affect many friend's recommendations. They hear it's supposed to do something, so they make it true. One such example is a pair of studies where all the participants were told that there were going to be two groups: those taking steroids and those not taking steroids. All the participants were administered a placebo and told they were in the steroid group. All the participants saw increases in ability in line with steroid use. Then one group was informed that they really weren't in the steroid group and they were getting a placebo all along. That group dropped back to their pre-study capabilities. This was in face of the fact that the participants saw real improvements without steroids. The placebo affect can be very strong.

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