I’ve been weight training for nearly 15 years and in that time I’ve tried all sorts of concoctions. However, in recent years I’ve become a bit of a minimalist when it comes to my pre-workout stacks. Here’s what I typically do prior to hitting the gym:
• Caffeine (approx. 200 mg): My favorite way to take caffeine is in the form of about three cups of coffee. I typically work long and strange hours in the Booth Laboratory at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and oftentimes the last thing I want to do at 5:00 PM is lift weights, so caffeine is an absolute necessity.
Some folks argue that caffeine may negate the effects of creatine, but I typically respond to creatine even when drinking upwards of six cups of coffee per day.
• Creatine (5g): I’m one that responds very well to creatine. Without it, I’m typically struggling with weights which, in turn, cripples my gym psyche altogether and makes me more prone to avoiding the gym.
• BCAAs (10g): As many are aware, good data exists supporting the notion that pre-exercise BCAA supplementation augments muscle protein synthesis during workouts. That said, I can attest to the fact that I feel more energetic during workouts when I take my BCAAs versus when I don’t.
• Arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (3-4g): I was never one to go to the gym for the purpose of gawking at my arms in the mirror as I curled dumbbells. That is, until I tried AAKG. I’m simply amazed at how vascular I become when I time it prior to working out. Folks typically ask why I take it when its effectiveness has been in doubt. I typically have a two-part reply:
1) I was intimately involved with the one study they are usually referring to, and
2) That study had some limitations, such as the fact that it was only eight weeks long, AAKG wasn’t given prior to workouts nor was it given with BCAAs with the intent of increasing nutrient delivery during workouts.
I believe that AAKG taken prior to working out likely increases the delivery of the other compounds I mentioned (except for caffeine) to the working muscles during exercise.
• Arachidonic acid (3-4g): I only take AA when I have extra income to blow, and I take it solely because I believe in the theory behind it. The theory behind AA supplementation is that it’s a precursor to inflammatory compounds, which, a) increase with muscle damage from resistance training, and b) increase muscle protein synthesis and satellite cell activity in the midst of muscle damage.
Just like with AAKG, many folks ask why I take AA when it’s effectiveness hasn’t been scientifically proven. Once again, I typically have a prompt two-part reply:
1) I was intimately involved with the one study in which the critic is usually talking about, and
2) That study also had limitations. For instance, it was also only eight weeks long, AA was given to untrained subjects who underwent a very strenuous regimen, and the subjects consumed two protein packets per day, which likely overrode the effects of AA.
For me, I feel sorer following a training bout when I cycle onto AA, which indicates to me that potentially muscle-building is occurring. However, outside of cell culture models that prove its anabolic affects, this data has yet to be proven so I’m strictly going by personal experience. Your mileage may vary.
Mike Roberts, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia
Dr. Mike Roberts' Pre-Workout Stack
(click on bullets for more information)
• 200 mg of caffeine
• 5g creatine
• 10g BCAAs (2:1:1 ratio)
• 3-4 g Arginine AKG (AAKG)
• 3-4 g Arachidonic Acid (AA)
Take 30-45 minutes before the start of your weight-training workout