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Pre-Workouts and Improvements in Both Physical and Mental Processes



Posted in..: Research & Development
By Chad Kerksick, PhD
Jan 29, 2013
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Nutrient timing has become widely accepted as an important consideration for both competing athletes and non-competing folks who hope to increase their strength and improve their body composition.  While carbohydrate loading was the first nutrient timing strategy to be used, the post-exercise anabolic window has also been researched heavily. 
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Most recently, pre-workouts or pre-workout nutrition have developed into a new category of sport nutrition.  Pre-workouts delivery an array of ingredients aimed mostly to target anaerobic exercise performance while also improving mental acuity, perceptions of energy and fatigue.

As more science becomes available on single key ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine, commonly included ingredients in pre-workout drinks, less research exists examining the impact of combining them.  To provide this evidence, researchers from the United States Sport Academy in Daphne, AL required twelve recreationally trained males to participate in a 3-week research study (Spradley, Crowley et al. 2012).  Each participant was required to report to the laboratory on three different occasions where they ingested either a pre-workout drink or a placebo while completing a battery of exercise tasks to determine changes in reaction time, upper- and lower-body strength and endurance as well as maximal aerobic capacity.

All participants were exposed to both placebo and active conditions in a crossover design and the testing battery began approximately 20 minutes after they ingested the drink.  This exhaustive battery of testing provided a number of important outcomes relative to mental and physical performance.  On the mental side of things, the pre-workout supplement increased levels of perceived energy, alertness and focus providing some initial indications that the ingredients aided in cognitive processes.  Further support for improved cognitive processing was found with an improvement in the performance of choice reaction tests involving single-step movements as well as multi-direction movements for both 15 and 30 seconds.  Finally, when the pre-workout supplement was consumed a significantly greater number of repetitions were completed using the leg press exercise in comparison to when a placebo was consumed.

The notion of delivering nutrients at opportune times is a concept that has expanded in popularity.  Recent interest in the pre-workout time period has resulted in a number of formulations containing various ingredients (e.g., caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine) that individually have been shown to have a beneficial impact on many different types of exercise, but studies which examined these ingredients in combination are starting to appear.  Results from this recent study tell us that this combination of ingredients exerts positive outcomes related to both cognitive and physical measures.  While interest will always be evident for increases in physical aspects such as strength, power, and muscle mass, improvements in various aspects of cognitive functioning and mental processing can also hold important implications.  In particular, results from this study and others provide evidence that consuming similar combinations of ingredients can improve many different aspects of performance.


References

Spradley, B. D., K. R. Crowley, et al. (2012). "Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance." Nutrition & metabolism 9: 28.





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