How to Choose a Pre-Workout

So we often consider these qualities:

  1. Anabolism / Catabolism
  2. "Pump" or Vasodilation
  3. Stimulant or Energy
  4. Increased Strength

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy today to just “check the boxes” and succeed in this highly competitive market. It’s so difficult, in fact, that the pre-workout market has segmented into three distinct categories. We’re in an ambitious industry with ambitious customers. Customers want to be the best versions of themselves. In this pursuit of “one more rep” or a faster sprint time, we eat whole foods, supplement with heavy amounts of protein, and train hard and often. But in our rush to win, we often overlook the simplest questions. For example, why do muscles fail in the first place? And, what is the psychology of physical performance?
Why do muscles fail? It's best explained by these four verticals:
  1. Depletion of ATP and/or glycogen
  2. Accumulation of hydrogen ions from lactate
  3. Muscle failure contraction due to ATP-dependent calcium release/uptake
  4. Oxidative stress (excess free radicals) causing muscle damage

Past 10 Years of Pre-Workouts

Before we hit these four verticals, it’s valuable to take a step back and review the last decade of the pre-workout category. Essentially, why are we just now circling back to the basics of why muscles fail? We started the last decade in sports nutrition with N.O.-Xplode, which contained a heavy dose of actives and revolutionized the category. It actually started the category. Then, about eight years ago, Jack3d hit the scene with a “concentrated” pre-workout. The total dose of Jack3d was around 4g and it took the pre-workout category to new heights. It used DMAA (dimethylamylamine) (aka 1,3-DMAA) in addition to caffeine. DMAA provided a euphoric feeling and complemented caffeine extremely well. Unfortunately, DMAA was not regulatory-compliant and was largely removed from the market.

Five years ago, Muscle Tech started a line that fully disclosed its ingredient quantities. Then, three years ago, Jim Stoppani took it a step further and focused on really large, clinical doses of several key actives, all fully-disclosed. The formula was simple but effective, and it led to an industry focus on label transparency and ingredients with claims at validated doses.

Nearly two years ago, some people started taking out the “pump” portion of pre-workouts and putting them in a non-stimulant, “pump pre-workout" category. That history preceded what we have today, a category that has been divided into three unique categories. It’s these three differentiated subcategories that have led us back to the basics of why muscles fail.

Those 3 Categories are:

  1. Stimulant Pre-Workout
  2. Pump Pre-Workout
  3. Fully-Dosed Pre-Workout

The Science Behind Muscle Failure:

One reason muscles fail is ATP depletion. When people talk of ATP depletion, they are usually talking about creatine. With glycogen depletion, it’s typically a conversation about the use of carbs. Beta-Alanine dominates discussions about excess hydrogen ions from lactate, and no one typically discusses muscle contraction failure. Any talk of free radical damage to muscles is most often a back-burner issue for R&D. The consumer can be overwhelmed by these details about why muscles fail, so brands often take an easier, non-educational path. The consumer just wants immediate results. They want a sensory effect, something they can feel.


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