Supplements are always tempting, am I right?
As humans, we are naturally wired to look for more efficient routes to achieve our goals … and supplements are like a dangling carrot that whispers: “I can get you there, faster.”
However, is this true, especially when it comes to performance-boosting supplements like pre-workout and Branched-Chain Amino Acids?
The answer is less than black and white, since these supplements do contain ingredients that have benefits to your workouts. However, the question remains if they’re actually necessary for the average gym-goer.
I get into this below.
Potential Benefits Of Pre-Workout, BCAAs, And Other Performance Formulas
The lowdown with performance-supporting supplements like pre-workout powders and BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) is relatively simple: they can help provide extra nutrients to fill in gaps that may be caused by intense training, while providing energy and assisting in repair.
BCAAs in particular have a lot of research behind them involving stimulating enhanced muscle growth, reducing exercise fatigue, and reducing post-exercise soreness by providing your body with extra and specific “branched chain” amino acids.
Pre-workout follows a similar vein, but is more focused on preparing for and supporting your body during workouts through increasing energy levels, circulation, oxygen intake, and more. This one is a little harder to pin down in terms of exact effects since their ingredients vary so much from brand to brand, but in general, you can expect a mixture of herbs, minerals, b vitamins, amino acids, creatine, etc …
Now, to the meat of it: both of these supplements have benefits on the surface, simply because they provide your body with nutrients, compounds, and minerals needed to support life itself, which includes movement.
However, these are nutrients that can be found in food.
For instance, BCAAs are definitely found in beef, chicken, turkey, and other protein-rich foods. B vitamins, creatine, and minerals are also found in protein-rich foods and mineral-rich veggies and fruits.
This isn’t to discount either one offhand, as many of these formulas are designed to get these nutrients and amino acids into your body and muscles faster in their isolated forms than they would through digesting whole food. This is of course a benefit, but not necessarily an intense need.
So, Do You Need Them?
The honest answer is: it depends.
If you’re someone who is working out regularly with a few intense workouts every week (aka: not an athlete training for hours per day), you can likely get what you need from a varied diet containing whole, real food.
If you are taxing your body with several intense workouts per week and find your energy levels are low and you’re having trouble recovering, then it may be time to consider supplements (after making sure you’re getting enough calories and adequate nutrition from food, including essential minerals). Some pre-workout blends contain minerals you might be lacking due to such and intense regime, which can help keep your performance levels high, while protein powders and BCAAs can give you a little extra recovery boost for taxed muscles.
The key takeaway here is to realize that you can take as many pre-workout and other performance-enhancing supplements as you want, but none will substitute for hard work. They may give you an extra energy boost, but they aren’t going to be a sole source of motivation. And, on top of that, they aren’t able to substitute for a well-rounded diet and other habits that contribute to recovery and performance, like quality sleep and reducing your stress levels.
If you do decide to try a form of pre-workout, I recommend Onnit’s line of natural performance formulas. Their ‘Shroom Tech has scientific backing by using mushrooms like cordyceps, which have been proven in studies to increase tolerance to intense exercise, increase oxygen utilization, and increase blood flow, all of which can lead to increases in performance. [*]
The Bottom Line
• There are no magic pills to optimal performance – it takes work
• Certain herbs, mushrooms, and minerals can help compliment and boost your cellular energy levels, potentially leading to increased performance
• Supplements shouldn’t take the place of whole, nutrient-rich foods
• Extra minerals and amino acids may be beneficial for athletes who are heavily taxing their body with intense workouts every week.
• Choose clean formulas with no artificial ingredients