Written by Lisa Allen | Edited by Dr Mark Kapnoudhis
The basic purpose of l-arginine, if you were to ask a doctor or nutritionist, is to help the body remove waste and synthesize proteins. It is considered a semi-essential amino acids because you need l-arginine in your diet but your body will not synthesize enough of it on its own. One of the more important properties of l-arginine, and the one that is most important to bodybuilders, it is effect as a vasodilator. Now what is vasodilation, you might ask. Well, vasodilation is the opening up of the blood vessels, typically resulting from the relaxation of tiny muscle inside your larger veins and arteries. In bodybuilding terms, it’s the muscle “pump.”
Arginine is often used by patients with chronic hypertension and high blood pressure for its vasodilating properties. And since arginine is a key component in increasing blood flow, your likely to find it in the most popular male enhancement products. Arginine is a naturally occuring amino acid found in animal proteins, dairy products, soy, and various legumes. Supplement manufacturers typically derive the arginine that they put in their products from soy and legumes, in case any of you vegetarian bodybuilders were wondering (they DO exist!).
You should all be familiar with the effects of caffeine. If not, think about cramming for college finals, chugging down sugary beverages to stay awake on that 8 hour drive you had to make, or Vince from the sham-wow ads. OK I think that last one is more associated with cocaine, but you get the picture. Because nearly 90% of American’s ingest some source of caffeine each day, it is definitely America’s drug of choice (yes it is considered a drug). Alcohol and tobacco are also considered drugs as well, but caffeine is a drug that is popped, chewed, and guzzled down without any, or much, religious and societal objection. And that is Starbucks’ business model. Hell, I ‘ve seen a Starbucks inside of a church. But I’m getting off topic, and wasting your time.
Caffeine is a naturally occuring stimulant that can be synthesized from a variety of sources: coffee, guarana seed, mateine, and several others. The most popular form of caffeine found in nutritional supplements comes from the guarana seed, because of its high concentration and relative ease of extraction. Caffeine is an important factor in pre workout supplements because it is the leading man in the proprietary energy blend. While there may be other contributors (b vitamins, l-carnitine, ginseng, etc) it is the caffeine that makes the difference.
Try finding an energy supplement out there that doesn’t have caffeine. Trust me, there aren’t very many. So when it comes to a pre workout, make sure there is caffeine. A typical amount found in a pre workout supplement is 200 milligrams. An amount far exceeding or undershooting this will make you way too cracked out or won’t give you the proper energy you expect.
Creatine: a supplement so shrouded in mystery, despite its claim as the #1 most researched dietary supplement of all time. I remember when I first started working out (age 15) and wanted to begin supplementing with creatine. My dad was vehemently against my using this product but I was unaffected by his opposition. Hey its not like I was getting kicked out of school or knocking girls up. Anyways, I found a friend who had some left over creatine that he would sell me. Getting that stuff back then was like dealing in a black market or buying recreational drugs, in that I had to conceal it and pay in cash.
Creatine’s claim to fame lies in its ability to help the body synthesize adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the body’s primary source of energy. Stangely enough, creatine is usually taken post workout. However, in the case of pre workout powders, you are taking it before your workout. It doesn’t actually matter when you take it, because creatine can take some time to start working. Once creatine is built up in your system, it begins to take effect. Another effect creatine has is that it allows the muscles to retain water. At first you might consider this a bad thing. However, additional water in the muscle keeps them hydrated. Furthermore, having water stored in the muscle gives the appearance of bigger muscles, which is isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.
Now, many people will say that creatine only fills your muscles up with water and that, once you stop taking it, your muscle “deflate” down to their original size. This is only partly true. It is true that once you stop using creatine, the water leaves your muscle fibers. However, the extra energy and strength that you gain from supplementing with creatine should actually work to increase actual muscle tissue.
How it all works together?
OK here is a very basic overview of how the combination of these ingredients work together to increase pumps and focus and give you a better workout.
The first ingredient we covered, L-Arginine, is essential to pre workout formulas for two reasons. First is the reason we covered above: it increases blood flow and nutrient delivery to your broken down muscles. The second reason is that arginine assists the body in synthesizing creatine and expelling creatinine. The difference between creatine and creatinine can be explained in a complex way and in a simple way.
So lets keep it simple, creatine is anabolic (in that it helps BUILD muscle) and creatinine is basically a broken down form of creatine, and is catabolic (is destructive to muscle tissue). So that is how the l-arginine and creatine work together.
The caffeine is important because it helps arginine transport and uptake into your body. Without a transport agent like caffeine, l-arginine isn’t nearly as effective. Pre workout supplements will also contain a few other ingredients in their formula that allow arginine to uptake (l-norvaline and l-ornathine are two of them).
I hope this has helped you recognize the key ingredients in pre workout supplements. Please comment below if you have additional questions.