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Should You Cycle Pre-Workout Supplements?
Is It Really Necessary?

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 12, 2021

Pre-workout supplements are very popular among athletes, bodybuilders, and other fitness enthusiasts as they give a nice boost of energy before exercise.

No matter if you’ve been taking these supplements for a while or you’re new to the concept, you may need a change in supplement cycling. Here’s what you need to know!

What are Pre-Workout Supplements?

Pink supplements compressed on a surface

Pre-workout supplements are created to help you go harder and longer in the gym while boosting your focus.

Not fueling correctly before a workout can lead to fatigue, nausea, and having less energy.

Pre-workouts are a great way to fight this and come in a couple of forms:

  • Meals
  • Shakes
  • Pills, and more

However, most athletes take their pre-workout supplement mixed with a drink some 30 minutes before a workout.

“By supplying your body with extra carbohydrates, the glucose in the pre-workout helps raise blood sugar levels and supply additional energy during a workout. In short, they're much more energizing than a banana, shot of espresso or a black coffee."

Edward Cooper, Deputy Digital Editor at Men's Health UK, and Daniel Davies, digital writer at Men's Health UK

Pre-workouts we recommend trying:

Main Ingredients

Pink supplements on hand

Pre-workouts are typically packed with:

  • caffeine
  • sugar
  • and energy-boosting stimulants

Caffeine may be the key ingredient, but its content varies from mild to excessive.

Too much caffeine can cause high blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia, but these supplements contain other ingredients, too, so you should always study the label before buying a pre-workout.

Generally, pre-workout supplements are safe for most men, but you can experience jitteriness and interrupted sleep if you go overboard. If you're new to these supplements, my advice would be to start with half a dose and increase the intake gradually.

Always Check Other Ingredients

Whether or not you should be cycling your supplements depends mainly on the ingredients they contain. Most pre-workout supplement blends have a mix of vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids, and herbal ingredients.

Amino acids are the most common pre-workout ingredients as they're building blocks of protein. They include creatine, alanine, citrulline, and BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Your body can create creatine and beta-alanine, but you have to consume other amino acids to get all the nutrients. They’re called essential amino acids and perform many vital functions, including repair and building up new muscle mass in response to exercise.

To put it simply — you’ll see much better results if your pre-workout contains amino acids.

4 Ingredients to Look for

Different kinds of pills on top of each other

Stimulants are essential ingredients to look out for. Many pre-workout supplements contain caffeine, but some also include alternatives such as guarana or less safe options like ephedra or Yohimbe.

A Drug Testing and Analysis report found that many supplements don't have accurate information about the risk and content of Yohimbe [1].

Caffeine, too, can cause side effects if you use it for too long or in too high doses. Another research has discovered that despite caffeine's proven benefits to athletes, overusing it can lead to increased caffeine tolerance and a dependency on the substance [2].

You could also experience side effects of caffeine, including an adrenaline rush, high blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety.

You should also look out for supplements that claim they'll give your body quick and miraculous composition change, unrealistic muscle gain, or fat loss. These kinds of supplements typically have unsafe, untested, even unlisted ingredients that could cause severe health issues.

Look for ingredients like:

  1. Creatine Monohydrate - This is a prevalent ingredient in this type of supplement. It's useful for increasing performance and muscle power.
  2. Taurine - It's a sulfonic acid found in meat. It promotes fat metabolism and fights oxidative stress during workouts.
  3. B Vitamins - Vitamins B1, B2, B5, and B6 are essential for energy production and efficiency. Moreover, vitamin B12 promotes blood production, while vitamin B3 boosts DNA repair and promotes healthier skin.
  4. NO-2 Boosters (Arginine and Citrulline) - Nitrogen dioxide boosters expand your veins and arteries, making it easier for blood to flow around your body, delivering nutrients quicker and more efficiently.

When You Should Take Them

Now, just because they’re called pre-workouts doesn’t mean you have to take them before a workout.

Sure, you can take the supplement some 15–20 minutes before exercise, but if you're planning a more extended session, it's optimal to take the supplement about an hour into the session.

How You Should Cycle Pre-Workouts

How You Should Cycle Pre-Workouts

Bodybuilders typically cycle their supplements on or off or change the supplement blend during different phases to get cycle-specific results.

Many use creatine on a cutting cycle to help maintain muscle mass while burning fat.

Researchers have discovered that for shorter, higher-intensity workouts focused on muscle-building, creatine is more effective.

This doesn't mean you have to take your pre-workout supplements every day or even before every workout.

Most commonly, pre-workouts should be cycled every 6–8 weeks for optimal results and to give your body a chance to reset. However, not all bodies are the same.

You should talk to your fitness coach to come up with the best solution about when it's time to take a pre-workout break. Consult your physician before you start, so they can help you choose which pre-workout supplements are safe and plan your doses and cycles.

Final Thoughts on Pre-Workout Cycling

Pre-workout supplements are great for boosting your performance. They’ll push you to your peak while letting you train harder for longer.

However, using them for too long can lead you to become too dependent on caffeine to get through the workout. If you feel you’re struggling to work out without caffeine, you should consider caffeine cycling to reset your body.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26391406/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462044/

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