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Pre-Workout Beyond Caffeine.

Beyond Caffeine.

Caffeine is usually the main ingredient in pre-workout supplements. Caffeine has been well studied in the sports nutrition and performance field and has been proven to:

  • Improve energy levels
  • Improve mental concentration, focus and clarity
  • Relieve feelings of general malaise and general debility
  • Reduce mental and cognitive fatigue

Therefore, research has shown that the consumption of caffeine can improve mental and physical performance, increase physical endurance and reduce fatigue sensation during training.

This has sent the supplement industry into a frenetic competition for the highest amount of caffeine in their pre-workout supplement, with some brands adding over 3x the daily recommended intake of caffeine in one serve.

So, what is the problem with that?
If caffeine improves performance, the more the better… right? Wrong! Let’s understand why…

1. Cheap, easy, and low-quality supplement production:

If the supplement company is illegally adding higher amounts of caffeine of those permitted, you should ask yourself what else is being hidden and not tested. Fillers, illegal substances, and toxic compounds are often found in sports supplements, and they can cause damage to your liver and other organs and reduce physical performance. Looking for supplements that follow the Food Standards and Therapeutic Goods Acts is important to ensure you are consuming what your read on the label, only what you are paying for. Another important point to question is: if so much focus is going into the caffeine content, what would be missing from this formula? Many supplement companies don’t want to pay or spend time in creating a formula that will help you using other active ingredients that are also clinically proven to improve performance. Supplements formulations and the research behind it is an expensive process and very time-consuming.

2. Caffeine tolerance :

Consuming very high amounts of caffeine has been shown to increase caffeine tolerance. This tolerance moves from the need to increase the consumption of caffeine to a max type of tolerance where increasing caffeine intake will no longer have an effect. This also means you will no longer see the performance benefits from caffeine consumption during your workout.

3. Side effects of high caffeine consumption :

  • Confusion: excess caffeine over stimulates the brain leading to headaches and confusion.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: too much caffeine can also over stimulate your bowels causing gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea and heartburn.
  • Mineral imbalance: this can cause muscle aches, reduced muscle performance and prevents calcium absorption in the bones.
  • Liver issues: excess caffeine can overload the liver and prevent it from assisting in exercise performance and recovery. The liver is responsible for providing glycogen (glucose storage) to the muscles to be used as energy during a workout, with no glycogen available, muscle will be broken down to be used as energy. However, the liver is also responsible for filtering and detoxing your blood, if your liver is overloaded with toxic amounts of caffeine in the blood, it will be less effective at performing other tasks and therefore decrease physical performance and recovery.

The bottom line is: caffeine has been proven to improve physical performance and help you get the most out of your workout. Unfortunately, more does not mean better and excess caffeine can have the opposite effect by increasing muscle breakdown and muscle soreness and decreasing recovery and physical performance.

So, how to look for a good pre-workout supplement :

1. Be careful with supplements that do not obey to the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards and Therapeutic Good Administration Acts. Look for:

  • Caffeine content: In Australia the limit caffeine content per one serve cannot exceed 100mg.
  • If the label contains therapeutic claims, such as ‘improves performance’, ‘mental focus’ and ‘muscle gain’, the product should be a therapeutic good and display a AUST L number on the front label. If they do not follow the rules as a therapeutic good, most likely their claims are not backed by evidence and the product does not have to go through rigorous safety testing. (photo with front label with AUST L number highlighted and claims section)
  • Prohibited ingredients: many ingredients present in pre-workout and thermogenic supplements in Australia have been banned due to safety issues. These include: DMHA and DMBA.

2. Look for safe and high-quality supplements:

  • Supplements that are considered therapeutic goods are a great way to know that the product has been tested for dangerous substances, and quality and hygienic standards.
  • Look beyond caffeine and try to look for quality ingredients that are known to improve physical performance and are backed by quality clinical evidence.
  • Move away from fillers, colours and ingredients that you can barely pronounce.