Finding the right supplement is a lot like being in the dating scene: big claims are rarely true and you have to deal with a lot of disappointments before you find a good one.
I’ve been a personal trainer for more than 12 years and one of the questions that I get asked the most by clients is, “Do you recommend pre-workout supplements?” I’m definitely an advocate for pre-workouts but it’s not easy to only say yes and not follow up with an explanation of what I look for in a pre-workout.
Anyone can add flavoring to caffeine powder and call it a pre-workout so the important thing is to find a brand that really goes above and beyond with their ingredient list.
I look for scientifically shown and user-tested ingredients when I am on a supplement hunt. For a pre-workout supplement, here are my top five must-have ingredients:
- Beta alanine
- AAKG (Arginine Alpha Ketoglutarate)
Cellucor C4 Original was one of the first supplements to pop-up when searching for my favored top five ingredients. It contains 150mg of caffeine, which I believe is the ideal serving size. It’s not overkill and you’re not getting short-changed. I like having a pre-workout that I can use early in the day for a workout and again in the afternoon for when I’m writing articles, creating programs, or reading studies.
Right next to caffeine, I prefer to have theacrine. I like to think of it as caffeine’s significant other. Both are energy boosters but I find that theacrine helps me to avoid the jitters and anxiousness that I may ordinarily get from taking a big dose of straight caffeine.
I know I’m not alone when I say that I love that famous flushing and tingling feeling from beta alanine. I’m a big advocate of beta alanine because the research on the benefits of this amino acid has been consistently positive for years. It has been suggested to promote strength and performance while aiding in recovery.
I'm a big supporter of using creatine. Again, the studies have been consistent on what creatine can do for you. It provides a usable form of energy for muscle activation, it boosts your intra-workout performance, and it supports recovery. C4 Original contains creatine nitrate, which is suggested to have a higher rate of absorbability. I’m happy with creatine monohydrate so any upgrades are a welcome addition.
AAKG (Arginine Alpha Ketoglutarate) is an ingredient that I’ve come around to liking in my pre-workouts because of the pump that I’m able to achieve with it. Sure, it definitely helps to have several nitric oxide boosters in one shot but AAKG does a decent job on its own. What’s more, I feel that my recovery is more on point when I’m supplementing with AAKG.
When I use a pre-workout, I will typically consume 75% about 20 minutes before I begin to exercise. I’ll refill the shaker with water and sip on the remaining 25% during the workout.
I used C4 Original during a standard full-body workout of split squats, Romanian deadlifts, barbell rows, and incline chest presses. It was during the split squats that I could really feel the difference with C4 Original. I always use the heaviest weights on the first exercise of my workout so I need to be in the zone and as engaged as possible. C4 definitely provided the focus and extra push that I needed to crank out those extra repetitions with intensity.
As the workout progressed, that initial spike in energy did gradually come down and level-out but it didn’t crash. I was able to move through the workout without needing another boost.
After the workout, I was impressed at how my attention and focus stayed elevated. I’ve used certain pre-workouts that resulted in nap-time once I returned home from the gym so it was nice to be able to get home and continue being productive.
On the days that I plan on using more than 85% of my one-repetition maximum, I would probably consider trying the next level up, which is C4 Ultimate. This is because C4 Ultimate contains the higher dosages of certain ingredients like caffeine and beta-alanine.
C4 Original is a solid pre-workout that I would definitely recommend for anyone who needs that extra boost before a workout or throughout the day.
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