Don Laubenthal, M.S., CSCS, aka “The Brofessor”
Professor and Coordinator – Exercise Science
Sport and Exercise Studies
We all want to have a great workout when we go to the gym, but some days we just don’t have the motivation, energy, or strength. If you work out after work, it can be hard to work up the energy to move some heavy weights or push through those sled drags, sprints, or lunges. If you work out early in the morning, it can be very difficult to get your body to wake up and move some heavy iron. The fatigue we all feel is what makes pre-workouts very popular, but what makes a pre-workout effective in helping you overcome fatigue, and what should you look for in a pre-workout? To answer this question, we will look at the physiology behind the pre-workout, the problems with some pre-workouts, and science behind one of the best pre-workouts.
Physiology of Fatigue
The physiology of fatigue is a very complex topic, but we will look at some of the basic concepts that lead us to feeling tired, unmotivated, or “weak” when we are trying to work out. There are some obvious causes of fatigue, such as a lack a calories, dehydration, poor sleep, or poor recovery strategies. All these causes of fatigue can be fixed with better diet, hydration, and better recovery strategies, but some causes of fatigue, or poor performance, can be linked to our Central Nervous System (CNS). Our brain dictates the number of motor units that will be “recruited” or activated, which determines the number of muscle fibers that will be activated. If, for some reason, our CNS is fatigued or, just not fully “awake,” such as in early morning work outs, we cannot activate enough motor units to produce enough force to move a lot of weight. Our performance during a workout is determined by the number of motor units the CNS activates. A motor unit is defined as a motor nerve and all the muscle fibers it innervates (controls). When greater force production is required, the CNS activates more and larger motor units.
If the CNS is fatigued, it will not recruit the number of motor units, especially the larger motor units, to move heavy weight. This is one reason why many people do not like to work out early in the morning, they feel like they do not have as much strength in the morning as later in the day when they are more awake.
The CNS will also send more nerve impulses, called action potentials, at a higher speed to the motor units when it is more “awake.” This will result in greater force production and a feeling that we are stronger. Through weight training, our CNS learns to activate more and larger motor units at a higher frequency of activation which leads to strength increases. CNS fatigue can interfere with this activation pattern and make us feel weak, sluggish, and unmotivated.
Another potential area of fatigue occurs within the peripheral nervous system (PNS). This type of fatigue occurs primarily due to the inability of a muscle to forcefully contract, which can be
caused by a depletion of the universal energy currency in the body, Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). This type of fatigue will occur during our workout and we will notice that we cannot perform the same number of repetitions, or sled drags, or sprints, etc., and we are fatiguing or “hitting the wall” midway through a workout. Those of us who perform fasted workouts can be especially prone to this type of fatigue.
Short, high intensity efforts, such as occurs during weight training, will heavily tax our Anaerobic Energy systems. The two anaerobic energy systems are the Phosphagen System and the Anaerobic Glycolysis system. The Phosphagen System is responsible for the immediate and rapid supply of ATP during the first 5-15 seconds of any exercise. As the Phosphagen System is depleted, the Anaerobic Glycolysis System takes over and will continue to supply ATP for an additional 30 – 180 seconds, depending on the intensity level of the exercise. As the Phosphagen System becomes more and more depleted and we rely more and more on the Anaerobic Glycolysis System, we begin to experience the buildup of Hydrogen ions and lactic acid which lowers the pH of the muscle cells (cell environment becomes more acidic) and causes a reduction in the ability of the muscle fibers to contract with any force.
Additional causes of feeling tired, unmotivated, or fatigued can be due to inactivity prior to your workout. For example, if you work out afterwork, you may have been sitting or standing all day without a lot of physical activity. Maybe you prefer the early morning workouts, and you roll out of bed and head to the gym, and you feel like there is no gas in the tank. This feeling of fatigue and a lack of motivation is normally corrected with a good warm-up. Once we get the blood flowing and our body temperature elevated, we start to feel better and more energetic. Why is this? Well, when we increase our blood flow, we get more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and, as our body temperature increases one degree (indicated by breaking a sweat), enzymes that are responsible for energy production are activated, and we go from feeling lethargic to energetic.
So, now that we have a better understanding of the potential causes of fatigue, we can better understand what makes some pre-workouts better than others.
What to Look for In a Pre-Workout
What makes a good pre-workout? From the information provided regarding CNS fatigue, PNS fatigue, and general lethargy, we can conclude that a pre-workout should excite the CNS, improve energy production, enhance blood flow, and assist us in elevating our body temperature. Most pre-workouts contain caffeine, which reduces CNS fatigue by binding to adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a chemical that makes us feel sleepy, so caffeine simply blocks adenosine by binding to its receptors. Caffeine does a great job of waking us up, but it can also cause stomach issues, which makes training very difficult. Sometimes there is a caffeine crash that occurs right in the middle of the workout. Wouldn’t it be great if someone developed a pre-workout that contained multiple types of caffeine that did not cause stomach upset or a crash in the middle of your workout? Fortunately, Max Effort Muscle Pre-Workout contains several types of caffeine that work together to produce a lot of CNS stimulation without the stomach upset or caffeine crash. Let’s take a look at these different caffeine products:
- This type of caffeine is made from the seeds and leaves of the coffee plant and it provides a concentrated, fast acting form of caffeine that stimulates the CNS.
- This is a compound of caffeine and Malic Acid. Malic Acid calms the digestive system, which helps to prevent stomach problems related to caffeine. Malic Acid also weakens the caffeine crash so you can maintain energy levels throughout your workout.
- Caffeine Citrate is a combination of Caffeine Anhydrous, Citric Acid Monohydrate, and Sodium Citrate Dihydrate. This product rapidly raises blood caffeine levels for a very quick performance boost.
This caffeine combination provides for an amazing stimulus for the CNS without some of the potential negatives related to caffeine.
Not only does the CNS need to be stimulated, but overall nerve health and mental focus is a must when training hard. If you have ever squatted heavy weight, you know how important mental focus is to perform proper technique with big weight. So, can pre-workouts help with mental focus? Max Effort Muscle’s Pre-Workout contains some products to help your mental focus as you train.
- Choline Bitartrate is important for nerve and brain health, as well as memory and focus.
- Increases mental alertness and focus.
- Essential for mental focus.
Focus will not be a problem with Max Effort Muscle’s Pre-Workout. You will be dialed in and ready to move some iron.
Nerve function is very important for proper body movement and exercise. It takes a lot of CNS input and nerve function to work out, so nerve health is important. We often do not think about nerve health, but without proper nerve function, we cannot recruit, or activate, the number of muscle fibers we need to move weight. Max Effort Muscle’s Pre-Workout also contains important ingredients for nerve health and function.
- Supports nerve health and function.
Vitamin B6 and B12
- Supports nerve health and neurotransmitter production (serotonin, dopamine).
A good pre-workout must also contain ingredients that can assist with combating PNS fatigue by assisting with energy production throughout a workout. Max Effort Muscle’s Pre-Workout contains some great products to help you sustain an intense workout.
- Increases phosphagen storage in the muscle which provides energy (through ATP resynthesis) for greater intensity and quicker recovery between sets. Creatine Monohydrate also aids in muscle hydration which contributes to better muscle performance.
L – Leucine
- An essential amino acid that is used to generate ATP and regulate protein synthesis and metabolism. ATP is the energy currency used in the body.
L – Isoleucine
- Controls blood sugar and boosts energy and performance.
Another characteristic of a good pre-workout is to enhance blood flow and help warm up the body. The process of slightly increasing body temperature is call thermogenesis and this caused by a slight increase in metabolic rate. Both blood flow and an increase in body temperature can be accomplished via a general and/or dynamic warm-up, but you can start the process before your warm-up, so when you get to the gym you will feel more than ready to warm up and then conquer your workout. Max Effort Muscle’s Pre-Workout contains some outstanding ingredients for creating a thermogenic effect and enhancing blood flow.
- An amino acid that is converted to L-Arginine in the kidneys and creates an increase in Nitric Oxide synthesis. This causes vasodilation of the arteries and enhances blood flow to the working muscles.
- Enhances blood flow and energy production.
- Acts on endothelial cells in the arteries and causes them to secret nitric oxide, which causes vasodilation of the arteries and enhances blood flow to the working muscles.
- Promotes heart and blood vessel health.
- Produces a thermogenic effect.
Caffeine Anhydrous, Dicaffeine Malate, Caffeine Citrate
- Produces a thermogenic effect.
This list of ingredients is what makes Max Effort Muscle’s Pre-Workout one of the best you can use. Personally, I have used a number of pre-workouts, and I consume a lot of caffeine, so it takes a lot for me to feel amped up, and most pre-workouts do nothing for me. However, the very first time I used Max Efforts Pre-Workout, I felt amped and ready to lift, and I did not experience a crash in the middle of my workout. Two years later, I am still using Max Effort’s Pre-Workout and it is still very effective at getting me ready to train. Another positive attribute of Max Effort Muscle’s Pre-Workout is that it comes in a number of great flavors. Give this product a try and you will fall in love with it.