I get a lot of questions. The more I look like I know what I'm doing, the more people seem to be interested in what I'm doing. One of the most common questions is "Have you ever tried ...?" Since I started bodybuilding four years ago, I've done a lot of shopping around supplements-wise, so the answer is usually yes. Here are a few products that get the FM stamp of approval, plus a lengthy informational intro on this genre of supplements.
If you're familiar with weight training at all, you've probably heard of "NO" products; they all promise to make you bigger, leaner, and stronger--faster. NO stands for nitric oxide, and if you've ever watched a racing movie or know anything about cars, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what these products do. There's also about a million and a half *ahem* "youtube bodybuilders" doing before and after videos featuring these products; browse at your own risk LOL
NO supplements usually come in powdered drink mix form and are to be consumed before the workout. The purpose of these drinks is to improve vascularity, energy, and focus, as well as improving the enigmatic "pump." Prewo drinks typically include some form of caffeine (usually anhydrous) and a vasodilating precursor and, despite all the hype and fancy four page spreads in Muscular Development, these products are all virtually identical.
What are the effects of these other ingredients? Despite significant bro-logic floating around about branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and their purported anabolic effects on a workout, the reality is that BCAAs are proteins, and during a workout the only thing that is happening to them is an inefficient conversion to adenosine triphosphate (ATP (sugar in action, see also: energy)). By this not bro-logic, you can see that the anabolic effects, if any, are more likely coming from increased energy rather than some signalling pathway.
Herbal compounds such as tribulus terrestris and milk thistle (Sylimarin) are also often included in prewo supplements as "testosterone boosters," and although there is evidence to support these compounds as such, the amounts included in prewo drinks is not significant enough for there to be a noticeable effect.
Creatine is a catch-all compound included in pretty much everything. Creatine supplementation works to increase ATP output by introducing and maintaining additional creatine stores--this is why creatine must be supplemented consistently and also why inclusion in prewo drinks is useless. Creatine is stored in the muscle as phosphocreatine which, along with creatine kinase, enables adenosine diphosphate (ADP) rephosphorylation. Rephosphorylating ADP means adding a phosphate, converting the previously useless ADP into the ever useful ATP. Thus, creatine supplementation is only effective by maintaining high PCr levels, which would be nearly impossible with prewo amounts. If you want to try supplementing creatine, do so by consistently using it every day for a period of several months, after which you may choose to "washout" for a few weeks and start again--sporadic use will result in negligible effects at best.
Anyways, vasodilation during a workout is a plus for several reasons: increased blood flow to the area being worked pulls in nutrients and shuttles away waste products more efficiently; mainly vasodilation also increases your capacity for a pump, pushing additional blood, sugar and PCr into the muscle.
So, what is a pump? A pump is that weird tingly, numb, tight feeling you get in a muscle when each muscle fiber becomes activated and engorged with blood. If you've had one, you know, if you haven't, you don't :P The first time I ever had one I thought I'd torn muscles in both forearms. Theoretically, really intense pumps can actually stretch the muscle fascia (the sheath around the whole muscle), literally making room for more muscle volume. This is the basic tenet of Fascia Stretch Training (FST-7). Traditionally, "da pump," as Ahnold says, is an indicator of how well you are working the muscle; isolation, explosivity, and overload all lend themselves to "better" pumps, which in turn lead to improved isolation, explosivity and overload. Like many things with bodybuilding, this is how we think things work. So is it even worth it to improve your pump with a prewo drink? Yes. Here's what I've used:
1) Noxpump: By far the best NO product on the market, Noxpump is manufactured by DY Nutrition, which is owned and operated by Dorian Yates. Yates is an 6-time Mr. Olympia, arguably the biggest, hardest bodybuilder ever and certainly one of the most intelligent. Yates' products are just as carefully crafted as his physique: minimally speedy, maximally effective, but prohibitively expensive for me.
2) Superpump Max: Definitely the best mainstream product, Superpump Max is made by Gaspari Nutrition, another bodybuilder-owned supplement business. Rich Gaspari never made it to the center podium on the Olympia stage, but he is probably one of the better known "small men" from the 80's and 90's and his products are high quality. Superpump Max is a little more speedy than Noxpump, but just as effective, also can be found for cheap on the interwebz.
3) PlasmaJet (no longer available): PlasmaJet was Gaspari's pill form prewo supplement, and has been discontinued since I last used it. PlasmaJet is a great product; bone-deep pumps that last and last, but you have to take it waay ahead of time, which is a pain in the ass. Not speedy at all, you need to take some caffeine with this.
4) Jack3d: A lot of people call this Jack 3D LOL--it's obviously pronounced "jacked" newbs. Anyways, Jack3d is a decent product, the problem is the price per use. Jack3d comes in a small tub with an even smaller scooper and contains a paltry 45 servings for 45 bucks. They say each dose is concentrated but you have to use more than one scoop to get any kind of effect. Much weaker than all the previously mentioned varieties but not too speedy and does give decent pumps.
5) Old School: A-AKG + Coffee: Arginine alpha ketoglutarate powder is available at most nutrition stores for dirt cheap and it works great. Take with caffeine cuz there ain't none in there.
6) Nano Vapor: This stuff blows and doesn't even get an href. Feel like crap and don't want to work out? Take this stuff--it will get you to the gym. You're on your own once it wears out though. Super speedy, minimally effective. Don't waste your money on this "supplement."
If I haven't tried it, it's probably not worth trying.
Questions, comments, think I got something wrong? Let me know!