C4 is perhaps the most well-known pre-workout supplement out there but its ingredient profile is fairly standard…FIND IT HERE
You may have also seen this ingredient listed as Velvet Bean extract on other supplements (PowerFULL by USP comes to mind). To make a long story short, Mucuna Pruriens contain a compound called L-Dopa which primarily acts as a precursor to the neurotransmitter Dopamine as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine. You may also come across the actual compound L-Dopa as an ingredient in certain supplements which most likely means it was created synthetically or extracted from the plant. Usually, we don’t condone messing around with your neurotransmitters because by drastically altering the level of these chemicals in your brain on a consistent basis, you may end up with some sort of chemical imbalance. That being said, since the proprietary blend is only around 700mg, the level of mucuna pruriens is probably low enough to be safe.
Synephrine, commonly extracted from Bitter Orange, became popular after the FDA banned ephedra as a dietary supplement for weight loss. While Synephrine has been touted as a replacement for ephedra, it is important to understand that it is much less potent (which is why it is not banned). However, that’s not to say it is completely useless. Synephrine acts as a CNS stimulant, as well as an appetite suppressant to some degree. While Synephrine itself has been around for almost 100 years, studies regarding its energy enhancing abilities are scarce and those that have been conducted generally combine synephrine with other stimulants such as caffeine. For that reason, it is difficult to examine the efficacy of the supplement as it pertains to exercise or weight loss alone alone.
Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid which serves as a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine, the three of which are collectively referred to as ‘catecholamines’. A 1981 study found that subjects who consumed 100mg/kg of Tyrosine experienced a significant increase in urinary catecholamine levels, but supplemental Tyrosine has failed to produce the performance enhancing effects commonly associated with increased release of catecholamines. This is because Tyrosine does not instantly get converted into noradrenaline, dopamine, or adrenaline. It forms a pool, and when there is a deficit of catecholamines, the pool is drawn from to create more. So rather than directly improving physical performance, Tyrosine has demonstrated the ability to restore levels of these neurotransmitters to baseline, thereby improving aspects of cognitive function in the presence of an acute stressor (sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, and possibly exercise). In other words, Tyrosine may restore levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and adrenaline when necessary, but does not increase them beyond normal levels.
Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world, and is a well-established ergogenic aid. Caffeine consumption causes an increase in catecholamines (adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine), which may raise the metabolic rate and/or promote fat oxidation. However, the weight loss effects of caffeine tend to fade with prolonged use, so it does not appear as though caffeine is a long-term effective fat burner. While caffeine’s weight loss potential is negligible, it increases focus and perceived energy in most people, which generally leads to more intense workouts (thus burning more fat), and may act as a mild appetite suppressant in some. C4 contains 135mg of caffeine per serving, which is towards the lower end of what we generally see in perworkouts these days.
Arginine is a non-essential amino acid which is a precursor to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide causes vasodilation (widening of blood vessels), and therefore allows more oxygen and other nutrients to reach the muscle. Common dosages of arginine are anywhere from 1-5 grams. The amount of Arginine AKG present in the C4 formula is 1000mg. While the AKG form is touted as a more bioavailable form of Arginine, there is little evidence to support this claim. Furthermore, arginine in general is scrutinized based on inconsistencies among studies. More and more companies are switching over to Citrulline becuase of its ability to increase arginine levels more efficiently than supplemental arginine itself.
Creatine has the ability to rapidly produce ATP (cellular energy) to support cellular function (in this case exercise). During high intensity exercise, creatine is used for energy which tends to spare the glycogen that would normally be used. For this reason, creatine indirectly decreases lactic acid build up because lactic acid is a byproduct formed when glucose is burned for energy. Creatine has consistently been demonstrated to increase power output, as well as muscle size, with maximum benefit being reached at around 8 weeks of consistent supplementation. However, for creatine to be effective, atleast 3 grams must be ingested daily. Creatine Nitrate is more water soluble than the monohydrate form, but other than avoiding clumpiness when mixing, there is no scientific evidence to suggest it is superior. C4 contains just 1 gram of Creatine Nitrate, which unfortunately falls short of the minimum effective dose (around 3 grams).
Beta Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to the amino acid carnosine. Carnosine balances out muscle pH and can therefore prevent fatigue while exercising due to its acidosis inhibiting effects. One study in particular that measured the carnosine levels of sprinters found that “people who’s muscle carnosine was high could exhibit high power during the latter half of the 30-s maximal cycle ergometer sprinting”. Various studies have shown that daily supplementation with beta-alanine does increase muscle carnosine levels significantly. Most of these studies have used doses between 3-6 grams. C4 contains 1500mg of Beta Alanine per serving, which means 2 servings yields a scientifically validated dose.
THE BOTTOM LINE
C4 contains the standard pre-workout ingredients (Creatine, Beta-Alanine, Arginine), as well as two stimulants (caffeine and synephrine), and an unknown quantity of Tyrosine and L-Dopa (Mucuna Pruriens). While none of these ingredients are particularly proprietary, the formula as a whole is well balanced, relative to other preworkouts with similar profiles. More benefit could certainly be derived from taking two servings, but that may become an issue of price.
Still not sure which pre-workout is right for you? Check out our Top 10 Pre-Workout Supplements List!