You can get a supplement for just about every aspect of your life.
From boosting strength and muscle mass, to speeding up fat loss and brain power – even hangover cures and cognitive enhancement for exam revision. If you want to improve it, you’ll find a drug or nutrient to meet your needs.
In terms of exercise there are two main categories of supplements – pre workouts and post workouts.
In this article we take a look at the main differences between the two – from the nutrients that make up the supplement, to the effects they have on your body.
We’ve got you covered…
Why Take Supplements?
The pharmaceutical industry is worth billions.
No matter what part of your body you want to improve, or which element of your health – there’s a pill, powder or drink availalble.
Whilst supplements are rarely designed to replace the need for a healthy diet and exercise, they offer a simple and easy alternative to time consuming meal preparation or the hard work of dieting.
After all, with such a busy lifestyle it’s hard to make time for yourself, let alone your food.
Do supplements really help?
Sticking to a diet that is high in fresh fruit and vegetables, unprocessed grains and lean meat will give you a great foundation of health.
But there are still reasons why you might opt for a supplement on top…
- Modern farming methods have been shown to deplete the nutrient value of soil.
- Commercial harvesting, storage and shipping techniques used by global food manufacturers can affect the nutritional value of your food.
- You are less able to absorb nutrients from food as you age.
And lastly, the more you exercise, the more nutritional support you need.
For active, regular exercisers, supplements provide a simple go-to for your nutrient needs.
Government RDAs (recommenced daily amounts) are often based around minimum amounts of a nutrient – not for optimizing health and performance, but simply to avoid deficiency.
Sticking to low threshold RDAs can be an extremely limiting factor when it comes to working hard in the gym.
And a supplement allows to to get everything you need, with no effort at all.
Whats the Difference Between Pre and Post Workout Supplements?
You want to make your gym sessions count.
You want to crush your PRs, bend the bars and make the treadmills tremble with your power, strength and resilience.
It’s important that you prepare for your workouts as best you can by entering the gym fresh, focused and dialed in to the job at hand… and it’s also important that after an intense session you do all you can to repair, recover and replenish.
That’s where supplements come in.
What are Pre Workout Supplements?
As the name suggests, pre workouts supplements are taken before an exercise session.
They are a class of supplements designed to enhance your results in the gym, on the sports field or even at work.
Pre workouts improve athletic ability and help you perform better, whether you’re hitting the gym for some weight training, or you’re off on a long run.
The nutrients in these supplements focus on both physical and mental aspects of exercise, and have the primary aim of:
- Enhancing focus and motivation
- Increasing blood flow and muscle pump
- Boosting energy, stamina and endurance
- Increasing strength, power and force development
Stimulate energy and boosts productivity in the gym
Pre workout supplements often contain stimulant ingredients such as caffeine. This is because the potent ingredient triggers your adrenal glands to release catecholamine hormones into your bloodstream.
The result of this is a huge surge in brain and muscle energy, allowing you to channel this energy into a worthwhile workout.
Elevate strength and power
Many top-quality pre workout supplements also contain creatine.
Why? Because this compound increases levels of the organic chemical adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the muscles.
Because ATP is the primary energy carrier of the body, more of it means more immediate maximal energy during intense exercise such as strength training, HIIT or hard circuit training.
Use a pre workout to get a crazy muscle pump
If you’ve ever had one of those workouts where your muscles are swollen, your veins are busting with blood and your training top feels like it’s ready to rip to shreds, then you know how awesome a good muscle pump feels.
The problem is that this can be a rare occurrence without the proper nutritional support. More often than not you’ll feel flat and weak.
If your pre workout contains ingredients such as citrulline malate then you’re in for a blood bursting treat.
That’s because it contains compounds that widen your blood vessels and trigger the release of nitric oxide in your blood.
The combination of these results in cell-splitting pumps that are more than worth a quick selfie in the changing room after your gym session.
Should you take a pre workout supplement?
- Based on scientifically proven ingredients.
- Has a huge effect on workout productivity, progression and quality.
- Taking all of the ingredients in a pre workout separately is difficult and expensive.
- High level of benefit for minimal risk.
- The result – a definite yes!
What are Post Workout Supplements?
You’ve had your pre workout and had one of the best gym sessions you’ve had in ages – an absolute monster of a workout.
And now it’s time to rest and recover and start that process of laying down some new muscle cells and making gains.
Post workout supplements are designed to speed up and encourage optimal recovery from tough workouts. They are said to help you:
- Build muscle and increase muscle protein synthesis
- Decrease protein breakdown
- Replenish lost energy stores
- Improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness
While there’s pretty much one type of pre workout supplement (although quality differs between manufactures) there are lots of different kinds of post workout supplement.
From carb supplements to protein, there are many to choose from.
BCAAs – an overrated supplement that has little value
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of 3 essential protein building blocks.
Leucine – stimulates muscle building
Isoleucine – improves glucose metabolism
Valine – an energy source for muscle tissue, but less potent than the other BCAAs
BCAAs supplements are often taken by weight lifters in order to speed up recovery from strength training and stimulate more muscle building.
The problem is though that branched-chain amino acids don’t work that well and you don’t need them.
It’s completely true that BCAAs stimulate the metabolic pathways that boost muscle mass. This can’t be disputed.
But, there’s no evidence that supplementing above the level of a normal diet will provide any benefits.
For example, when you look at the main study used by manufacturers to sell BCAA supplements, it is full of issues.
When a group of trained wrestlers  were given 52 grams of BCAAs each day, they were seen to lose less muscle than a control group that didn’t take any additional amino acids.
At face value that seems great.
When you look at the research methods in more detail you see that both groups were on a seriously low amount of protein – as little as 80 grams per day. That’s less than half what a serious strength training guy should be getting.
It’s worth noting as well that there was no difference between groups in strength or fitness either. The supplement did nothing to boost performance.
Some studies have received complaint letters from other researchers
In 2016, expert researcher Brad Dieter wrote to the editor of the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition  to voice his concerns over a published paper showing benefits of taking BCAAs for muscle preservation during a low-calorie diet.
He suggested that although the original research had reported significant changes to fat mass when taking BCAAs, the results from the statistics section of the paper had ‘poor internal consistency’ – they we’re essentially wrong.
He also suggested that the results had been incorrectly interpreted too. The bottom line was that BCAAs had no benefit whatsoever.
Just get the BCAAs you need from food
The bottom line is that you can get the BCAAs you need from healthy food – in particular, foods like meat, eggs and soy.
It’s cheaper and provides a number of other nutrients at the same time. There’s no point in spending lots of money on building blocks of protein when you can just eat a protein-rich diet.
Should you take a post workout supplement?
- There are different types of post workout supplement, some that focus on replenishing energy and other to help you build muscle.
- You can get all of your protein and BCAA needs from food.
- Most BCAA research has methodological issues. Some have even received letters to journal editors from other researchers pointing out errors made.
- The result – there is no evidence that BCAA supplements are worth the money. You can get all you need from a normal diet, so don’t waste your time.
Smash Your Workouts With 4 Gauge
4 Gauge is an exhaustively researched, all-natural pre workout designed to rip the lid off your gym sessions, sports games or workouts.
Packed with performance-enhancing nutrients such as caffeine, L-theanine and creatine, 4 Gauge will take your training to a completely new level.
Smash your workouts – feel your nervous system firing on all cylinders
Cell-splitting muscle pumps – harness the power of vasodilation and deliver more nutrients to your muscle cells
Determination like never before – feel unparalleled focus and motivation
Relentless energy – train for longer without fatigue
- Mourier, A et al. Combined effects of caloric restriction and branched-chain amino acid supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in elite wrestlers. Int J Sports Med. 1997; 18(1): 47-55
- Dieter, BP et al. The data do not seem to support a benefit to BCAA supplementation during periods of caloric restriction. J Inter Soc Sports Nutr. 2016; 13:21