Choosing the right supplement for you is all about reading labels and knowing your ingredients — we’ll look at some common ingredients in an average pre-workout supplement and what they do.
The shelves of your local nutritional supplement store are stocked full of pre- and post-workout products, recovery agents, protein blends, exotic botanicals and herbals, stand alone amino acids, and vitamin combos of every description.
And as you work your way through trying some of them, which obviously can get pretty expensive for a poor working stiff musclehead like me, you end up throwing out products that just don’t work..
Once you’ve bought and paid for a supplement, nobody at the vitamin store is gonna care whether it works or not– your money is now their money.
That may seem fair to them,
but me, I want what I thought I paid for–
— a product that will do what it says it will do.
Being able to intelligently read the label, and knowing your ingredients–
Those are the first steps toward knowing which products will do what.
So, today, we’ll look at a typical pre-workout supplement, and I’ll show you what I mean.
Serving size: 16.4 g Servings per container: 50 Calories 0 Cell Hydration Matrix 5 g Duralast Matrix 3 g Nitro NO 2 g Neuro Enhancing Substrates 5 g Proprietary Blends Cell Hydration Matrix (Dicreatine-Malate (Dicreatine-Malate is protected under U.S Patent 7,109,373), Creatine-Malate, Creatine-Ethyl-Ester HCI, Guanidinopropionic Acid (3-GPA) Neuro-Enhancing Substrates (L-Taurine, N-Acetyl-L-Glutamine, L-Tyrosine & Caffeine Anhydrous) Duralast Matrix (Glucuronolactone & L-Aspartic Acid, b-Alanine), Nitro NO (L-Arginine-Alpha-Ketoglutarate & L-Ornithine Alpha-Ketoglutarate) Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet Ingredients: Citric Acid, Calcium Silicate, Natural and Artificial Flavors (Maltodextrin, Nat & Art Spray Dried Orange Flavors, Spray Dried Orange Juice, Beta Carotene E160, E Curcimin Extract Color E100, Grape Skin Color E163), Aspartame, Acesulfame-K. Made in the USA
disclaimer: None of this constitutes medical advice, or any other advice that you can blame me for later, either. I’m trying to give you the hot skinny, but don’t take it, or anything you read on the internet, as absolute gospel. See your doctor (if you can afford it) , otherwise, use your best judgement and make your own decisions about this stuff. Remember – it’s your body, and you’re ultimately responsible for it’s care and feeding. OK ? Ok.
Serving Size: 16.4 grams.
This tells you how much, in dry weight, the recommended one-dose serving is .
If it’s a supplement in capsule or pill form, it will tell you how many pills are in one dose.
It’s important because if you want to titrate – meaning customize the amount that will work for you – you need to know where to start.
Why, you may ask, would you want to deviate from the suggested amount?
Well, for one, most of those suggestions are geared to an average 160 pound male with little athletic background.
The bigger you are, and the more training you have done, the more you might take to get the effect desired.
Secondly, many supplement companies try to reduce the side effects of a product by keeping the suggested dose very low.
If you learn your ingredients, you’ll know what the expected side effects will be, and then you’ll be more interested in finding the most efficacious dose, and not the one that does nothing.
Most supplements come with a one-serving scoop or such, so this tells you how much the scoop holds.
Over the years, I have collected many of these in differing sizes, so I always have one for the amount I want to take.
Just remember, if you plan to deviate from the directions, you should start out at the recommended level and build up to a higher dose slowly and gradually.
Servings per container: 50
This tells you how many one-dose servings are in the can.
Why you need to look at this is because many times, the instructions on a supplement will call for taking more than one scoop or pill… ( remember ‘serving size’ ? )
Example: if the instructions for this product said: “take 3 before workout” — that means, that 3 is the ‘serving size’, and according to the number under servings per bottle, that there should be 150 in the bottle.
Calories : 0
This section tells you how many calories the one-dose serving has in it.
You look at this for a variety of reasons, but usually it’s related to weight loss concerns….
If you’re trying to burn fat or lose weight, you want to know how many calories this supplement will add to your calorie count.
If the number is zero, the product either has an artificial sweetener, or there’s no reason to sweeten it.
It also means there is NO nutritional value in it – no carbs, no fats, no proteins-
remembering that proteins and carbs contain 4 calories per gram, and fats 9 calories per gram.
If this number was not zero, the next lines on the label would detail how calories came from each.
In this case, as we’ll see as we go through the ingredients, the product has an artificial sweetener.
Cell Hydration Matrix 5 g
Duralast Matrix 3 g
Nitro NO 2 g
Neuro Enhancing Substrates 5 g
As is very common with athletic supplements, the actual active ingredients are somewhat disguised by cleverly designed proprietary names like “Cell Hydration Matrix”.
Theoretically, this implies that all the ingredients in the ‘matrix’ are working synergistically , and that the whole effect is greater than the simple sum of it’s parts, but realistically, most of the time it is just a commercial gimmick to avoid disclosing exact information about what’s in the supplement.
Happily, the government now requires all such commercial gobbledygook to be broken down into their component ingredients …. which is next.
It also tells you how much of each proprietary ‘matrix’ are in each single serving.
Cell Hydration Matrix (Dicreatine-Malate (Dicreatine-Malate is protected under U.S Patent 7,109,373), Creatine-Malate, Creatine-Ethyl-Ester HCI, Guanidinopropionic Acid (3-GPA)
Neuro-Enhancing Substrates (L-Taurine, N-Acetyl-L-Glutamine, L-Tyrosine & Caffeine Anhydrous)
Duralast Matrix (Glucuronolactone & L-Aspartic Acid, b-Alanine),
Nitro NO (L-Arginine-Alpha-Ketoglutarate & L-Ornithine Alpha-Ketoglutarate)
Now we get down to the nitty gritty.
The proprietary blends are broken down into their ingredients, although there is no requirement for them to tell you HOW MUCH of each is in the blend… you’ll have to glean what you information you can from the previous section.
Note the first blend is called a “Cell Hydration Matrix”– and contains Dicreatine-Malate, Creatine-Malate, Creatine-Ethyl-Ester HCI, and Guanidinopropionic Acid (3-GPA) .
This is another way of saying three forms of Creatine, and 3-GPA.
Creatine is an important supplement for weightlifters.
It helps hydrate and ‘bulk up’ muscle fibers, making longer and heavier workouts possible,
— thereby helping to build permanent lean muscle.
Whether these three forms of creatine are more effectively absorbed than just Creatine Monohydrate, well, I have serious doubts…
In the Creatine Phosphate form, it is one of my “MUST HAVE” supplements.
The other ingredient here is 3-GPA.
3-GuanidinoPropionic Acid has been shown ( in animals ) to improve uptake of creatine and ramp-up insulin production.
This is one of those novel compounds in supplements where a little bit will help, and a lot will ruin ya.
I’d rather have had a phosphate form added, which has been solidly shown to improve creatine uptake, and is both safe and effective, but that’s just me, I guess.
The second group is called a ‘Duralast Matrix’.
It contains Glucuronolactone, a metabolite of glucose, and by some kind of voodoo science is considered to aid the body in synthesizing glycogen- which is the body’s preferred energy store of carbohydrate energy found in muscle and the liver.
In other words, it’s supposed to give you energy.
L-Aspartic Acid — several recent studies indicate this is a potent amino acid in relation to ramping up the metabolism and building muscle.
It’s often taken with Lysine, one of the essential amino acids. Taking too much might actually be lipogenic.. that is, cause one to store it as fat.
Beta-Alanine — an effective amino acid for eliminating lactic acid in muscle during exercise, it will help you work out longer and harder. This is another one of my five “MUST HAVES”.
The third group is called ‘Neuro-Enhancing Substrates’:
L-Taurine is an amino acid, and is thought to increase muscle mass, muscle strength, reduce muscle damage, aid recovery between workouts, and may modulate insulin response.
N-Acetyl-L-Glutamine is a stabilized form of L-Glutamine, supposed to be more readily available to the body.
L-Glutamine is a valuable supplement in relation to recovery after exercise, reduction of muscle soreness, protein synthesis, and hormone production — and as such is one of my “MUST HAVES” .
L-Tyrosine is another amino-acid, and an interesting supplement.
In the body, Tyrosine contributes to the production of neuro-transmitters like serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.
It’s important in making hormones, and organ function.
It’s very possible that adding tyrosine as a supplement might make for a more active body and mind, and several studies seem to indicate this.
Caffeine Anhydrous — have you had your cup of coffee before your workout?
Yep, this is the central nervous stimulant found in coffee.
The fourth group is referred to as “Nitro NO”.
L-Arginine-Alpha-Ketoglutarate — A salt of the amino acid L-Arginine, and alpha-Ketoglutaric Acid.
L-Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide production, and has been shown to increase maximum power in blind studies, improve blood flow and oxygen absorption.
It’s basically the stuff that gives you a ‘pump’.
I am not aware of any studies that prove AAKG is more effective than taking L-Arginine and L-Glutamine seperately, however.
The same goes for the form of L-Ornithine – called L-Ornithine Alpha-Ketoglutarate.
An excellent Japanese study found that L-Ornithine itself reduces exhaustion, and improves endurance and fat burning.
It’s also important to take Ornithine when supplementing with Arginine- to reduce the possibilities of side effects.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet .
This simply means that any percentages of minimum daily requirements listed as part of the ingredients are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
The majority of ingredients in sports supplements don’t have any minimum daily requirement, although vitamins and mineral supplements certainly do.
Ingredients: Citric Acid, Calcium Silicate, Natural and Artificial Flavors (Maltodextrin, Nat & Art Spray Dried Orange Flavors, Spray Dried Orange Juice, Beta Carotene E160, E Curcimin Extract Color E100, Grape Skin Color E163), Aspartame, Acesulfame-K.
Another important place to look are these ‘inactive’ ingredients—- most of this stuff is pretty harmless, but you can see ‘Aspartame‘ and ‘Acesulfame-K’ are also listed.
If one is avoiding artificial sweeteners, then, this is important information.
Acesulfame-K is widely used in Europe, and there isn’t all that much in the literature about toxicity….
There is a good deal of adverse information on Aspartame, however.
So… what’s the bottom line here?
One should use due discretion when selecting any product —
Carefully scutinize the ingredients,
with the aim of positively balancing the potential benefits with the possible risks.
( Note: I have personally used the product, and I like it, overall. Your mileage may vary. )
Have a product you’d like us to look at more carefully ?
Drop us a line !!!!