Pre-Workout Supplements for the Busy Personal Trainer

In these modern times what with Blackberries, iPads, laptops, and iPhones there is no escaping work. People appear to be busier and busier and time is a very precious commodity for the majority of my personal training clients who have to find a balance between work, family and keeping to a regular training schedule. Unfortunately more often than not, when time becomes short sticking to a regular training schedule goes out the window. One of the most common questions I receive from my online personal training clients is “What supplements can I use to maximise my time in the gym?” When time is of the essence you need to hit the gym and hit it hard! You need to attack the session to get the gains you need in the short time you have available. One way to do this effectively is through your mindset and certain psychological techniques; visualisation exercises, mantras and various performance psychology methods. However, those techniques are beyond the scope of this article so what I am going to give you is the quick fix that most of my online personal training clients seek so readily. Pre-workout supplements are a great way to have a good workout in a very short space of time when you need to be in and out of the gym quickly. There are many pre-workout supplements on the market but if you look closely at the ingredients they tend to include the same substances. They can generally be categorised in 3 ways:

  1. Muscle Energy. (Increase energy for muscle contractions and allow you to perform more repetitions).
  2. Stimulants. (Temporarily improves in either mental or physical function).
  3. Neural support. (Concentration, alertness, support brain metabolism).
    The question is which of these commonly seen supplements will actually help you train harder in a short space of time?

Muscle Energy

Creatine is one of the most commonly used supplements on the market and has been around for a long time. A little known fact is that creatine is found in certain meats & fish (beef contains 4.5g/kg Herring 6.5g/kg). In supplement form it allows you to perform more muscular contractions by making more phosphocreatine available to the predominant energy system used during weight training. This is a tried and tested supplement and has a ton of research supporting its use in helping you build your physique. I recommend a loading phase of 20g for 5 days then switching to a maintenance dosage of g 5g daily.

Definitive Physique Rating: 8/10

Beta-alanine has a similar effect to creatine in the sense that it affects muscle physiology and allows you to perform additional repetitions. However, it works in a different way. Beta-alanine increases levels of intramuscular carnosine which in turn helps buffer the acid that builds up in the muscle during your working sets. Put simply the more carnosine you stored in your muscles the greater your work output in the gym. I rate this highly and recommend it to many of my personal training clients.

Definitive Physique Rating: 9/10


Caffeine is a very powerful substance and has a huge amount of performance enhancing research behind it. It has been shown to improve aerobic endurance, increase muscular endurance, enhance mood and lower the perception of pain. Caffeine works there is no doubt about that. The question is at what cost? The problem is for caffeine to have a sufficient physiological effect to improve your training it must be in high dosages (equivalent to 6-10 cups of coffee!). These high doses can negatively affect your adrenal glands and only make you more tired in the long run. Irritability, sleep disturbance, anxiety and “crashing” are some of the negative effects that may come with such high dosages. I recommend using this sparingly it works well but I would not use it every workout.

Definitive Physique Rating: 7/10

Ephedrine stimulates the release of epinephrine (a hormone similar to adrenaline). It has been shown to increase strength, increase metabolic rate and improve endurance. Ephedrine can increase metabolic rate by 10% which will lead to rapid fat loss. It also has strong appetite suppressing effects making it popular for dieting bodybuilders. However, like caffeine it can lead to negative side effects such as increased blood pressure, sleep disruption and can impair medications for certain conditions (depression, insomnia, diabetes).

Definitive Physique Rating: 6/10

Neural support

Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that has come to the forefront of pre-workout supplementation for its role in dopamine metabolism. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for increasing motivation. Tyrosine has also been shown to improve alertness and cognitive performance without the negative effects associated with caffeine and other stimulants. Interesting fact is that tyrosine is often used for people suffering from caffeine withdrawal symptoms. This is best taken on an empty stomach first thing in the morning and 30 minutes before your workout.

Definitive Physique Rating: 7/10

Huperzine is a plant alkaloid derived from the Chinese club moss plant, Huperzia serrata. It inhibits the breakdown of acytel choline, a neurotransmitter essential to memory. It also stimulates the synthesis of nerve growth factor to promote youthful cerebral functioning. Supplement companies claim that Huperzine will improve focus during a workout. Although some studies suggest this may help improve memory impairment, improve learning and cognition, I feel it has few benefits for improving your physique. It’s good for exams though!

Definitive Physique Rating: 5/10

So there you have it. Try these pre-workout supplements for yourself just be aware that some are a lot safer than others. Chances are if you are taking some kind of pre-workout supplement already they will contain some of if not all of these substances. See what works for you but do not rely on supplements to give you a good workout. As we often say here at Definitive Physique “It’s all in the mind”.

MikeH profile3 300x199 Female fatloss series: Breaking bad eating habits
Mike Hoad MSc Personal Trainer & Co-Founder of Definitive Physique

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *