Whether it’s for bodybuilding, strength training or endurance. Hitting the gym in an effort to gain muscle can be hard work. You’ve put in the hours training, so it only makes sense to get your nutrition plan right, right?
Studies have shown that altering the diet can have a profound effect on how amateur athletes perform during exercise. Nutrition author, Melvin H Williams said; “Vitamins function in the human body as metabolic regulators, influencing a number of physiological processes important to exercise or sport performance.” (I)
Another study showed that when non-athlete runners used scientifically based nutrition (supplements) they were able to reduce their run-time by over 10 minutes. Therefore highlighting how using sports supplements can boost sports performance. (II)
Furthermore, when you look at the numerous studies done on creatine (a world-leading sports ergogenic) or citrulline’s effects on blood flow and growth hormone levels. It’s safe to say that using scientifically studied supplements is definitely worth a look.
Without any more delay, let’s dive into my guide on the 12 Best Pre-Workout Supplements For Muscle Building:
12 Best Pre-Workout Supplements For Muscle Building [Guide]
In this guide, I’ll run through the facilitators to exercise performance and muscle building. These are often the most neglected elements in sports nutrition. These elements will supercharge and boost nutrient delivery, muscle endurance, performance and recovery.
So what am I talking about? I’m talking about micronutrients, amino acids, and intelligent fuel sources a.k.a carbohydrate supplements.
Micronutrients are classed as vitamins and minerals that increase blood flow, reduce fatigue, improve memory, focus, and endurance. These are split into two categories, trace minerals and vitamins. There are 9 trace minerals, and there are roughly 22 vitamins give or take.
A Micronutrients is defined as; “a chemical element or substance required in trace amounts for the normal growth and development of living organisms.” (III)
Furthermore, micronutrients help to increase hormone production, calcium delivery, and energy production – which assists in fat loss, and detoxification through the body – among many other benefits.
As for amino acids, they will dilate your blood vessels, extend endurance, and create more ATP energy. All whilst making your body more fuel-efficient by splitting between the use of fats and glucose as a fuel source.
To make this guide more beneficial to you! I’ve narrowed it down to the 12 best supplements that I believe are best for pre-workout performance and muscle growth.
So, with that said, here are the best supplements for pre-workout muscle performance:
#1 B Vitamins
B-vitamins are great as they not only help your body to break down food to be used as energy for exercise. But they’re also responsible for supporting our energy-producing pathways in the brain. They also create new blood cells and assist in the delivery of amino acids such as L-Leucine into the muscles, and much more.
Ultimately, supplementing with B vitamins works to offset the loss of nutrients from exercise. This is because they support the delivery of nutrients into the areas where they’re needed the most during exercise. It’s B vitamins that help your entire body and mind to recover more efficiently on a cellular level.
Known as electrolytes, magnesium, sodium and potassium increase fluid balance in your body, whilst helping to shuttle nutrients into your working muscles.
They also increase blood pressure, which assisting in oxygen delivery from your lungs into your mitochondria – which is the powerhouse of energy production in the body.
Furthermore, electrolytes help to keep hydration levels balanced during exercise. This is important because when fluid levels drop, so will your performance and your ability to exercise and recover to your full capacity – making electrolytes a must-have in any nutrition plan.
Iron is well overlooked as a pre-workout sports supplement. It helps to increase haemoglobin levels, which is also responsible for managing how much red blood cells your body can create.
And as we now know, the more red blood cells we can create, the more oxygen and nutrients we can deliver around the body. Therefore, when you exercise, the more iron you have (also measured as ferritin levels) you’ll be able to exercise with a higher threshold – helping you to make more progress.
As for where to get iron, many dark vegetables contain iron. Along with dark red meats. To learn how to increase iron absorption, read my guide here: How to Increase Iron Absorption
Zinc is a fascinating mineral as it increases testosterone production. Along with DNA formation, muscle tissue repair, cell division, and muscle growth.
Not just that, but zinc is also beneficial for macronutrient metabolism for most of our bodily functions. It works in-situ with the mitochondria. In summary, it helps your body convert foods more efficiently into usable energy.
You can find zinc in legumes, nuts and meats such as eggs, dairy and shellfish.
L-Citrulline helps your blood vessels to dilate. Whilst also increasing growth hormone levels, along with increased strength while reducing muscle soreness. It even helps to remove toxins from the body.
It’s typically known as a pre-workout endurance supplement thanks to its ability to boost performance whilst delaying fatigue. As for where to find citrulline, you’ll find citrulline in watermelon, pumpkin and cucumber.
L-citrulline is most often supplemented with malate which forms citrulline malate. This combination is well-known to improve sports performance. Furthermore, it’s an important amino-acid as it assists with the urea-cycle. Which is the removal of toxins from the body that build up during exercise.
It wouldn’t be a sports supplement list if creatine wasn’t included. Creatine can boost ATP production to enhance your short burst activity.
Creatine (once saturated in your muscles) can have a profound effect on your muscle size, volume, and your ability to exercise explosively. Ideally, it’s best suited for athletes who like to train in short bursts. However, it’s also been noted that it can help endurance athletes to create more energy via ATP production.
You can find creatine in red meats. However, to get enough creatine in your daily-diet (recommended 5-10g daily) you’d have to eat a lot of red meats – preferably uncooked or slightly raw. This is because cooking denatures creatine levels. This is where supplementation comes in handy.
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid which has been shown to help the thyroid glands work more efficiently. This means that it can increase fat loss to a degree – in the way that it assists in energy metabolism.
Furthermore, it also helps to reduce fatigue during exercise in the way that it creates more dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. In summary, you’ll often find tyrosine in nootropic supplements- – but it also shows benefit as a pre-workout supplement as it delays fatigue.
Therefore, thanks to the way that L-Tyrosine improves your storage of stress hormones (dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine) you’ll effectively have more ‘left in the tank’ so to speak. This will allow you to train harder for longer, extending your training threshold.
Studies have shown that when supplementing with l-leucine pre-workout, it has the same muscle-building effect on promoting growth within muscle fibres when compared to eating a full complete meal.
This means, when leucine is present, it will enhance muscle protein synthesis – so much so that muscle-building can be achieved even without the use of whole-foods. Which makes supplementing with leucine pre-workout a highly beneficial tool for enhanced growth.
You can find leucine in a number of foods, from beans, eggs, meats such as chicken and beef and even tofu. However, if you are looking for a guaranteed way of improving muscle growth – using l-leucine can help.
NUTRITION TIP: Organic rice protein delivers l-leucine 30% faster than your standard whey protein. Read my review on Performance Lab Organic Brown Rice Protein.
Normally you’d use acetyl-l-carnitine in a fasted state, as it’s been shown to help the body tap into using fat stores rather than glucose.
Something interesting happens when using acetyl-l-carnitine; it allows your body to hold onto muscle glycogen when training in a lower intensity – so this means that your body can become more fuel-efficient.
But even if you were planning on using acetyl-l-carnitine pre-workout with food, it still shows benefits in energy metabolism by delaying fatigue whilst releasing fats into your mitochondria for enhanced energy production.
Fatty acids are important for energy production as they create important hormonal signals that stimulate muscle growth and fat loss.
Typically known as the main amino acid inside tea leaves, and while you might find it in nootropic supplements, it’s been shown that when using l-theanine it can delay fatigue and reduce stress to a degree.
Therefore, if you’re giving it your all in the gym, and your stress levels begin to rise (where too much cortisol is being released) then you might look to use l-theanine to calm down your nervous system.
Not only that, but it’s also been shown to help increase mental alertness and focus when combined with caffeine – where this combination is also known as smart caffeine.
Ashwagandha, also known as an adaptogenic herb has been shown to increase strength, hormone production, and recovery. This is thanks to the way ashwagandha encourages homeostasis – a hormonal balance throughout your body.
When you’re stressed, overworked (either in life or in the gym) ashwagandha will restore the balance. It will increase beneficial hormone production, such as luteinizing hormone and testosterone, and lower cortisol – the fat-storage hormone.
Personally, I use ashwagandha all-year-round. It keeps me relaxed, hormonally balanced, and it also makes me feel good ’emotionally speaking’. And when you’ve seen that ashwagandha has been used for 1000’s of years (6000 BC to be exact) with great effect, I know it’s a supplement I can trust to work.
Carbohydrates are vital for muscle growth. They help to fuel intense workouts and they also shuttle nutrients into your working muscles – such as the amino acids listed above. Therefore, if you’re low on carbs pre-workout, your performance will suffer.
And not only that! Carbohydrates also increase muscle protein synthesis whilst speeding up your rate of recovery. Both during, and post-training.
Using fruits, powdered glucose, or even fructose supplements is a good choice. However, these may disrupt your stomach before training – so use with caution.
The good news is there are scientifically designed sports supplements that work without side effects.
The supplement I’m referring to is Performance Lab Carb. It gets to work quicker than sugar, yet it sustains energy for 2+ hours. It really is an incredible supplement, and it’s something I use on a regular basis.
Sport Nutrition Expert recommendation?
There you have it! My 12 Best Pre-Workout Supplements For Muscle Building. Throughout the year I may alternate between specific ‘individual’ supplement as listed here. But most often, I use Performance Lab supplements.
Performance Lab Sport Supplements are the best value for money. They are lab-grown to mirror what nature provides, and they really work!
You won’t find any artificial ingredients inside their supplements, they are organic, vegan-friendly and better still, these supplements are state of the art – being the most bioavailable supplements currently available anywhere – worldwide.
However, if you prefer to use single ingredients to test for yourself how each one works, go ahead and give them a try! The studies don’t lie.
For more information on sports supplementation for the gym, running and endurance or muscle growth, visit my supplement page here. Or if you’re looking for nutrition advice, read my nutrition guides here.
(I) Williams, Melvin H. “Dietary Supplements and Sports Performance: Introduction and Vitamins.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, BioMed Central, 31 Dec. 2004. (source)
(II) Hansen, Ernst Albin, et al. “Improved Marathon Performance by in-Race Nutritional Strategy Intervention.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2014. (source)
(III) “Micronutrient: Definition of Micronutrient by Lexico.” English, Lexico. (source)