By Max Zhu, ’23
This is part 2 of a series of articles concerning pre-workout and its ingredients.
Taurine (TLDR – not much research behind it, could work synergistically with caffeine to have positive benefits but many pre-workouts don’t even include it)
Similar to caffeine, it’s one of the few ingredients you may find in an energy drink. The research is currently inconclusive on whether it’s an effective ingredient or not, and to what extent. It’s said to support nerve growth (help focus and cognitive ability), keep electrolytes balanced, increase endurance, and increase performance. Although this may sound ideal, there is no significant research with reliable and consistent data on human subjects, which leads me to believe that it’s a filler ingredient or essentially useless. With that being said, I wouldn’t use this information as a deterrent to some brands but rather something to keep in mind. Many pre-workouts choose to opt out of this product but it typically ranges from 0-3g. I personally can’t recommend a dosage or a number to look out for just because I’m not sure of the benefits, but it may be linked to caffeine so scale accordingly.
I can’t go into the mechanisms of supplementing taurine or how it interacts with the body when it’s digested, because there’s a lack of research at this time. However, looking at the human body, taurine is found in higher concentrations around oxidative muscle fibres compared to glycolytic muscle fibres. The oxidative muscle fibres include both slow and fast ones, and they mainly use aerobic respiration (turning oxygen into fuel). The glycolytic muscle fibres mainly use anaerobic glycolysis. It’s unknown if taking excess taurine can increase those amounts or if it even reaches those fibres or other parts of the body.
Theanine (TLDR – 100mg-200mg recommended but really depends on caffeine. It helps counteract negative effects of caffeine and increases focus in the gym)
Although found to be an inhibitor on its own, when Theanine is combined or taken with caffeine, it can act synergistically. It helps prolong the effectiveness of caffeine and can sometimes counteract some of the negative effects associated with it. Symptoms of extreme jitters and anxiety can be slightly reduced, although this may not seem to be a favourable effect when working out, the combination can increase mental clarity. The benefits are similar to taking nootropics. The amount in pre-workouts can vary from 0g-300mg but I recommend sticking to 100mg-200mg, obviously going lower if the caffeine content is a bit smaller. Some pre-workouts choose to not include this at all because their target audience likes “high stim fuel.”
The mechanism by which l-theanine influences the brain is similar to that of caffeine (increases GABA, serotonin, and dopamine). However, another crucial aspect is the increase in alpha brain waves from taking l-theanine. Human brains emit 4 or 5 waves. From their hZ decreasing: gamma is a state of intense focus, beta is a high-stress state with difficult activities, alpha is the “ideal” state with relaxation and minimal thoughts, theta is a sleeping state, and delta is a deep sleep state. When a brain is in a certain state, it means that particular wave is dominant, while the others are still present. Your brain and thoughts are a collection of constant neuron movement, firing messages and temporarily changing their charges. The structure of l-theanine is similar to that of glutamate (for sending signals in your brain and learning) and GABA (for reducing anxiety), so when l-theanine crosses the blood-brain barrier it automatically targets the glutamate receptors. When these receptors are stimulated, GABA and glycine (amino acid for cell growth) get increased in the brain and when they are released they go to their respective receptors to trigger increases in dopamine and serotonin. This results in an increase in alpha waves without disrupting the other waves, so you don’t feel an onset of drowsiness from theta waves or the anxiety associated with beta waves.
Tyrosine (TLDR – dosage around 0.6g-1g, gives mental clarity through reduction of stress and increase in catecholamines)
L-tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid with effects that could technically be under the nootropic category, although it is actually an amino acid. Many pre-workouts often use it to improve mental clarity and “focus.” Although that can be the end result, L-Tyrosine can’t magically make you dial in on your workouts, instead, it helps prevent stress. One of the ways to achieve this is through the addition of dopamine and adrenaline. It’s thought to work well with caffeine. Dosages can range from 0g-2g but I recommend the 0.6g-1g range.
L-Tyrosine is created naturally from the amino acid phenylalanine. Then it is turned into a catecholamine, (a chemical used to send signals to other chemicals) which is normally responsible for responding to stress. L-Tyrosine has been shown to only affect the main catecholamines: epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, and dopamine. When the body is under physical stress, like lifting heavy weights, our physiological response can vary. When the biosynthesis of catecholamines begins, there needs to be a supply of tyrosine. It is brought into the cytoplasm of sympathetic neurons (responsible for “fight or flight” response) and adrenomedullary cells (responsible for hormone regulation). Then the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase helps catalyze the reaction from the tyrosine. Then the DOPA is decarboxylated (carboxyl group removed) to form dopamine through the enzyme DOPA decarboxylase. Norepinephrine and epinephrine work together to increase heart rate and blood, which is favourable during a workout. It also increases blood pressure and can break down fat to provide energy. Dopamine can give that feeling of success and the drive to reach that point of success.
DMAA (TLDR – pr or er, the last resort if you need to hit that pr, no matter the cost)
DMAA, or Geranium, is the best pre-workout supplement; it is a stimulant so effective it combats caffeine. There have been many attempts to replicate its effects, but substances like DMHA require too high a dosage without the same effect. Honestly, DMAA should be a staple in every pre-workout for how effective it is. Sadly, it was banned from being marketed as a dietary supplement in 2013 by the FDA and was classified as a drug in Canada in 2011 (meaning you can’t buy, sell, or use it). However, it’s said to give an insane energy boost, drastically reduce weight, increase athletic performance, increase cognitive functions, and clarify thoughts. Dosages at 10mg already prove to be extremely effective and pair great when added into very mild pre-workouts. The effects are non-parallel to any other substance you’ll see on the market. It should also be noted that this cannot be taken before any drug tests because DMAA is very similar to amphetamine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy). Taking DMAA in normal or large quantities may also rapidly increase heart rate, blood pressure, risk of heart attack, or chance of stroke. DMAA interacts unfavourably with lots of medication, can cause damage to the liver, and is known to cause death in many cases.
All in all, the blend of ingredients in your pre-workout should be something you experiment with to find whatever works best for you. There are definitely some that are better than others, but finding a formula that fits your specific needs (goals, workouts, intensity, and your own body) will need some experimenting. This article is meant to give a general outline of many popular ingredients on the market and further research is recommended. All the claims and data are backed by scientific evidence from a slew of research articles.
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