The Pre-Workout Supplements That Work (Other Than Caffeine)

Often, when people think of supplements to increase their focus, energy, or performance, what usually comes to mind is a pre-workout product that stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and usually has high doses of caffeine. There is nothing wrong with a little caffeine, but numerous pre-workout supplements on the market contain as much caffeine as five cups of coffee! Pre-workout supplements have never been more popular. They provide increased energy and endurance for one’s workout; however, there are several issues to consider when choosing nutrients for this purpose. Many of these popular products can put a heavy burden on the adrenal glands, increasing the stress response and resulting in fatigue. They can also cause other negative side effects such as sleep disturbances, irritability and anxiousness, and can negatively impact appetite.  

In addition, many of these products contain food dyes and artificial sweeteners, with most powders being sweetened with sucralose. While food manufacturing companies and global health authorities have deemed sucralose safe for consumption, most health care providers know that this is not the case. According to a recent study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, sucralose is a biologically active compound that decreases the number and balance of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. It causes epithelial scarring, the depletion of goblet cells, glandular disorganization in the colon, and alters insulin, blood glucose, and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) levels.1

There is plenty of established research through which to understand and appreciate the importance of the proper nutrients for supporting focus, energy, and endurance. The challenge is finding good, health-promoting products that do not have excessive amounts of caffeine, while also being free of artificial sweeteners and food dyes.

When it comes to performance, we also have to consider an athlete’s psychological stability during training and competition, which also includes their nervous system and their ability to perform under stressful conditions. Mental performance and physical performance are interconnected, whether it may be reaction time, mood or focus. All of these cognitive processes should be optimal if you want to perform you best.

These are some of the nutrients that Biorna Quantics recommends taking prior to training to give you a performance advantage: 


Acetyl L Carnitine

Acetyl L-Carnitine is one of the most researched brain nutrients that has been shown to quickly enhance mental focus and energy. The acetyl group allows it to cross the blood brain barrier, which does not occur with L-carnitine.

Most people associate acetyl L-carnitine with preventing age-related memory decline and slowing Alzheimer’s; however, it is also very effective when used pre-workout for increasing mental focus and energy. Acetyl L-carnitine increases dopamine, which enhances focus and motivation. This is one of those nutrients that you really feel that increase in focus and energy within about 15 to 20 minutes. There are no side effects and only long term benefits on overall brain health.

A study published in Cell Metabolism last year specifically related to exercise demonstrated that acetyl L-carnitine plays an important role in modulating muscle energy during muscle contraction as well as decreasing muscle fatigue and reducing exercise intolerance.3


Acetyl-L-Tyrosine is the acetylated derivative of L-tyrosine. Acetylation helps to increase the stability and solubility of tyrosine. This makes tyrosine more bioavailable and efficient, and as a result, it is a superior choice for increasing the body’s levels of tyrosine. Tyrosine is the precursor amino acid from which the body makes thyroid hormone and dopamine, which is then converted to norepinephrine and then to epinephrine. Inadequate production of these hormones and catecholamines can compromise physical performance.

Acetyl L-Tyrosine can support optimal sports performance for the body and the brain by alleviating stress and stimulating the brain, as well improving workout intensity while preventing overtraining. This is essential for competitive athletes who have to perform at a high level. Tyrosine is a stimulating amino acid supplement that can be a good alternative to caffeine.

Adenosine-5’-Triphosphate (ATP)

Numerous studies have demonstrated ATP’s ability to increase strength and power, support recovery, and reduce fatigue. Specifically, extracellular ATP directly promotes the increased synthesis and release of nitric oxide (NO) and prostacyclin (PGl2) within skeletal muscle and therefore directly affects tissue vasodilation and blood flow.4 Research suggests that oral supplementation with ATP in combination with high intensity resistance training increases muscle mass, strength, and power.

Research from the University of Tampa demonstrated ATP’s effect on increasing vasodilation and blood flow post-exercise. In this study, twelve college-aged, resistance trained males were randomly divided into ATP and no ATP groups. Four hundred milligrams of ATP was taken daily for twelve weeks 30 minutes prior to weight training. At weeks 1, 8, and 12 there were significant differences in blood flow at zero and three minutes post exercise. This research demonstrates that oral ATP can increase blood flow during exercise recovery.4

There is no question that intense and prolonged training puts significant stress on the central nervous system. It makes sense that using nutrients that optimize brain function will be beneficial to the performance of an athlete. Choosing the right supplements can have a profound impact on what you are able to get out of your workouts, but sifting through all of the options, as well as seeking out brain nutrients that are often not thought of when formulating a pre-workout regimen (not to mention finding products that are free of stimulants, dyes and unhealthy sweeteners), can be daunting and discouraging. The choices I presented here provide safe and beneficial nutrients that support sports performance and can be extremely helpful for focus, power, and mental energy in athletes. And they work well synergistically along with other popular sports performance nutrients such as beta-alanine, citrulline, creatine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).  


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  1. Susan Schiffman, Kristina I. Rother. Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview Of Biological Issues. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 2013; 16 (7): 399 DOI: 10.1080/10937404.2013.842523
  2. Seiler S, Koves T, Gooding J, et al. Carnitine Acetyltransferase Mitigates Metabolic Inertia and Muscle Fatigue during Exercise. Cell Metabolism July 2015; Volume 22, Issue 1:65-76.
  3. Nyberg M, Mortensen SP, Thaning P, Saltin B, Hellsten Y: Interstitial and plasma adenosine stimulate nitric oxide and prostacyclin formation in human skeletal muscle. Hypertension 2010, 56(6):1102-1114.
  4. Lowery RP, et al. Oral ATP administration improves blood flow responses to exercise in both animal and human training models. Presented at 10th Annual ISSN conference. Colorado Springs, CO. June 2013.

Source: Michael Jurgelewicz, Director of Product and Clinical Support | Designs for Health

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