Monthly Archives: February 2017

Ingredients to Look for in Preworkouts

I am a scientist by training, not a shill.

So I am not going to try and convince you to buy some mysterious powder from the Himalayas that will make you jacked.

I am, however, going to cut to the chase and tell you about why a few supplements might be worth taking to maximize your training.

The main reason for each of these is that they increase your ability to do work, which we know is the main dictator of how jacked you get during your bulk cycle.

The three on the list today are caffeine, beta-alanine, and citrulline.



Caffeine is touted as one of the most efficacious pre-workout supplements for increasing energy, focus, and training capacity. It is also thought to elicit the following: increased anaerobic running capacity, power output, adrenaline, aerobic exercise, blood glucose and fat oxidation, as well as decreased insulin sensitivity.

Related: 4 Supplements You Should be Taking This Bulking Season

Caffeine primarily works by antagonizing (essentially blocking) adenosine receptors. Adenosine normally binds to these receptors, causing drowsiness. By antagonizing these receptors, caffeine can increase alertness and combat drowsiness.

Caffeine is also distributed throughout the body and interacts with receptors on the surfaces of other cells to elicit different physiological processes including the release of adrenaline and cortisol.

Several studies have shown that caffeine pre-workout can increase power output1, 2, 3. However, it appears to not be related to improvements in 1 repetition maximums but in “sustain power,” e.g. 3-5 RM and Wingate.

It may be due to a reduction in pain perception, and mobilization of intramuscular calcium (the stuff that lets your muscles actually contract).

There have been documented increases in aerobic capacity from caffeine supplementation4, 5, 6. This is potentially mediated by increased free fatty acid (FFA) release. However, contradictory evidence shows that adrenaline increased FFA release, thus decreasing FFA oxidation.

Related: How To Choose The Right Supplements According To Science

Dosing of caffeine is highly variable. Your genetics and habitual use of caffeine play a large role in how much is needed to elicit an effect. The more you consume on a daily basis, the more you will need to consume in order to see any training benefit.

Additionally, there appears to be a “saturation” limit where you only receive an anti-fatigue benefit and no additional effects from higher levels of caffeine intake.



Beta-alanine is the beta form of the amino acid alanine (meaning the amino group is in the beta position). It is the rate limiting (read bottleneck) precursor to a chemical called carnosine which acts as a buffer to prevent reductions in pH.

Beta-Alanine is purported to increase your training capacity by improving the body’s ability to buffer exercise-induced decreases in pH. In essence, Beta-alanine isn’t doing the work; it is providing your body with the ability to make more carnosine.

Stimulant Fat Burning Supplements

Fat loss is on everyone’s mind at one time or another.

It’s natural; as human beings we like to look good, and there is nothing wrong with that. Diet and exercise are both definitely the recommended first line protocol for burning fat, and if executed correctly, will lead to fat loss.

However, a time may come after losing some weight when things “plateau”. You may feel like you’re doing everything necessary for fat loss, but week after week the scale does not budge.

This is the time when the assistance of a fat burning supplement is usually recruited. This is a good next step, but is also the point where many things can go wrong, especially if you just consume any random supplement without knowing what it contains and what it does.

The most common fat burning supplements broadly fall into one of two categories; stimulant or non stimulant based.

Stimulant based fat burners typically include one or more compounds related to caffeine, and work by increasing levels of catecholanmines – chemicals in the body which boost alertness, and fat burning potential.

On the other hand, are the non-stimulant fat burners – those without stimulants that work via mechanisms separate from elevating catecholamine levels. These supplements are usually stacked in order to boost their efficiacy, as used alone their effects may seem underwhelming.

Related: How To Choose The Right Supplements According To Science

In regards to stimulant based fat burners, the increased levels of the catecholamines that they result in are essential to the fat burning process, but can be troublesome in individuals who do not realize that they may possess some degree of genetic intolerance to them and are generally sensitive to stimulants.

A Fat Loss Myth or Supplement Staple

Sometimes there is a chemical so central to a process in human physiology that it would defy logic that supplementing the amount or function of the molecule should do anything other than make our health better.

Certainly, the example of creatine monohydrate and the benefits of creatine supplementation on not only muscle mass and strength, but also bone density, neurological function, and other vital processes is an obvious demonstration.

Insofar as fat loss is considered, a number of key molecules have been investigated, such as ketones, beta-2 and beta-3 agonists, specific fatty acids, monoacylglycerides and diacylglycerides, and various hormones.

Yet, in the process of transporting free fatty acids from the cytosol (insides) of a cell to the mitochondria where fatty acids are “burned” to generate energy (ATP) and heat, there is one key molecule— L-carnitine.1

L-carnitine acts like the hostess at a restaurant, escorting you to your table.

Free fatty acids are either taken up from the bloodstream or released from fat stores in metabolically active cells (e.g., skeletal muscle, heart) into the cytosol (cell’s “insides”).

In the absence of L-carnitine, the fatty acids would pretty much stand around or get converted into stored fat.

It is similar to walking into a restaurant when the hostess is on break— you end up standing around in clusters, while some wander to a random table or just leave without “fueling up.”

For purists, L-carnitine’s action relative to beta-oxidation occurs between the outer and inner mitochondrial membrane, but let’s keep it simple for clarity’s sake.



Much like creatine, L-carnitine can be made in many tissues, so healthy people tend to have “enough” L-carnitine. As the “L” form suggests, carnitine is an amino acid, so the body is able to convert precursor amino acids (L-lysine and L-methionine) to L-carnitine in the kidney, liver, and brain.

Related: Capsaicin – A Potent Fat Loss Supplement

However, there are recognized cases of carnitine deficiency. Also, endogenous (in the body) production can only produce a limited amount, so the diet is the primary source of L-carnitine in omnivores, sourced primarily from meat; red meat has the highest concentration, with poultry and fish containing much less.

Vegans are nearly dependent upon endogenous production, accounting for 90 percent of their total L-carnitine. This sounds very similar to creatine’s story, if you are familiar with that. Also, when L-carnitine supplies are low, the kidneys will work harder to pull back any that spills into urine so it is not excreted.1



So, is there any need to supplement L-carnitine? Certainly, there are people who have been identified with L-carnitine deficiency, often due to transporter issues (difficulty getting L-carnitine into cells, or absorbing it from the diet).2

Additionally, newborns and infants may have a greater need for L-carnitine. But what about athletes, or healthy adults looking to lose fat? Initially, the answer appears to be “no.”3 Certainly, L-carnitine has not made a splash as a stand-alone product in the supplement market; it is not a banned substance; and there aren’t even any celebrity endorsers.