The infamous preworkout pump is something desired by all bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts during their workout. The pump can be attributed to different factors including what you ate before you trained, the supplements you take, and what your training looks like. We are going to discuss all these factors in detail so you can understand what causes the pump when you’re training and how you can effectively maximize your pump to get the most out of your gym sessions.
What is the Pump?
The pump in short is cell swelling. When you workout, there is swelling inside of your muscle cells. If you have competed in bodybuilding before, you know the days leading up to the show and before you go on stage you consume higher amounts of carbohydrates.
Have you ever wondered why you do this?
Actually, for every one gram of carbohydrate stored in your muscle, there is an additional three grams of water stored along with it.3 When you deplete glycogen, you will lose a significant amount of water along with it.
You may also notice that when you deplete carbohydrates from your diet it is much harder to get a pump. This is because water is one of the primary contributors to the pump.
When you begin to train, water circulating in your body moves from outside of the muscle cell to inside of the muscle cell. This is enhanced when the working muscle becomes more fatigued and reaches a heavyweight.4
Also, your body also sees exercise as threat to the integrity of the muscle cell and it will hold onto water.5 Ultimately the swelling effect will take place after you have lifted enough weight to pump water into the muscle cells. Cell swelling is one of the things known to cause muscle growth.6
How To Enhance the Pump Through Diet
The pump can be enhanced different ways. The first is to consume enough carbs before your training session. Carbohydrates pull water into the muscle cell, but they are also a source of muscle energy when lifting weights. Therefore, eating enough carbohydrates is important to maximize your pump.
The second thing, and most obvious, is the drink enough water. Water is necessary for basically all metabolic functions. As we discussed, water is pulled into the muscle when exercising. Drinking enough water will make sure your muscles are properly hydrated to swell when you are training.
The last is to consume enough electrolytes. During exercise sodium is pumped out of the muscle cell and potassium is pumped into the muscle cell. Calcium is also used to charge muscle contraction. Ensuring you’ve eaten enough sodium, potassium, and calcium before training will make your muscles work effectively and pull water into the muscle cells to swell.
Drink enough water before training and stay hydrated throughout the day- urine should be light like lemonade
Salt your foods and have a variety of foods in your diet- electrolytes
How To Enhance the Pump Through Supplementation?
Although nutrition is the most important factor in the preworkout pump, supplementation can help greatly. There are many “pump” supplements on the market, but there are only a few ingredients that will actually make the muscle cell swell. Before we discuss this, let us point out that arginine is useless. Do not use it because it is not effective at all. But, ingredients such as citrulline-malate, Nitrosigine®, VASO6®, and creatine. Each are different and all of them seek to bring you skin splitting pumps.
Citrulline-malate is a citrulline molecule bound to malic acid. Research finds citrulline-malate increases strength-endurance and decreased fatigue.
One study showed ~53% more repetitions on bench press after consuming 8 grams of citrulline-malate.7
Another study using 8 grams of citrulline-malate showed participants increased exercise volume on five sets of leg press, hack squat, and leg extension (8).
What makes this even more interesting is that citrulline-malate does not only increase blood flow, but it also clears lactic acid. Both of which are important when the goal is to increase training volume. Take 8 grams, 20 minutes before training.
Nitrosigine® is one of the only patented ingredients on the list. Remember when I said arginine is useless? This is the only exception.
Nitrosigine® is arginine bonded to silicate, which allows it to survive digestion and make it to the blood leading to an increase in blood arginine levels. The research supporting this interesting ingredient shows that it not only increases muscle pump, cell swelling, and nitric oxide, but also decreases muscle damage after training. The silicate in the ingredient enhances the durability and elasticity of blood vessels, which works synergistically with the rise in nitric oxide.9
Take 1,500 milligrams 20-30 minutes before training.
Another great pump product is VASO6®. VASO6® is isolated epicatechin, which is a phytonutrient in the catechin family. Epicatechin has been shown to improve health outcomes in people with diabetes and heart disease.11 Specifically, VASO6® has been shown to increase nitric oxide and promote the relaxtion of blood vessels. Therefore, the nitric oxide produced is more effective because there is less resistance in blood vessels.
More blood can be delivered to working muscles during training resulting in greater training performance.
Everyone knows creatine for its effects on strength, power, and size, but did you also know it can enhance your pump. Creatine increases cellular hydration meaning that it will pull water into the the cell. This effect is two-fold. The increased creatine content in the muscle will make you stronger and bigger, but the increased water content in the cell will maximize your pump. Therefore, creatine is an effective supplement for most strength and power athletes as well as people in the gym wanting to get stronger and bigger.10 The conclusion is that everyone should take creatine and it is an effective supplement. Take five grams once a day.
The infamous pump is driven by several different things including the way you training, what you eat, and how you supplement. A lapse on one of these variables could lead to flat workouts and decreased training performance. Ensuring that you optimize your training style by using higher volume will ensure you are pumping enough blood and fluid into your muscles. In addition, perfecting your diet through optimal carbohydrate, fluid, and electrolyte intake will maximize the effects of training. Lastly, pump specific supplements can be the icing on the cake if your goal is to look swollen and jacked in the gym.
- Walker, J. L., Heigenhauser, G. J., Hultman, E., & Spriet, L. L. (2000). Dietary carbohydrate, muscle glycogen content, and endurance performance in well-trained women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(6), 2151-2158.
- Steensberg, A., van Hall, G., Keller, C., Osada, T., Schjerling, P., Klarlund Pedersen, B., … & Febbraio, M. A. (2002). Muscle glycogen content and glucose uptake during exercise in humans: influence of prior exercise and dietary manipulation. The Journal of physiology, 541(1), 273-281.
- Fernández-Elías, V. E., Ortega, J. F., Nelson, R. K., & Mora-Rodriguez, R. (2015). Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans. European journal of applied physiology, 115(9), 1919-1926.
- Sjogaard, G. I. S. E. L. A., Adams, R. P., & Saltin, B. (1985). Water and ion shifts in skeletal muscle of humans with intense dynamic knee extension. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 248(2), R190-R196.
- Schoenfeld, Brad J., and Bret Contreras. (2014). The muscle pump: potential mechanisms and applications for enhancing hypertrophic adaptations. Strength & Conditioning Journal; 36.3, 21-25.
- Loenneke, J. P., Wilson, J. M., Marín, P. J., Zourdos, M. C., & Bemben, M. G. (2012). Low intensity blood flow restriction training: a meta-analysis. European journal of applied physiology, 112(5), 1849-1859.
- Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1215-1222.
- Wax, B., Kavazis, A. N., Weldon, K., & Sperlak, J. (2015). Effects of supplemental citrulline malate ingestion during repeated bouts of lower-body exercise in advanced weightlifters. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(3), 786-792.
- Nutrition 21. (2018). Nitrosigine. Retrieved from https://nutrition21.com/item/nitrosigine/
- Greenwood, M., Kreider, R. B., Greenwood, L., & Byars, A. (2003). Cramping and injury incidence in collegiate football players are reduced by creatine supplementation. Journal of athletic training, 38(3), 216.
- Engler, M. B., Engler, M. M., Chen, C. Y., Malloy, M. J., Browne, A., Chiu, E. Y., … & Mietus-Snyder, M. L. (2004). Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate improves endothelial function and increases plasma epicatechin concentrations in healthy adults. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(3), 197-204.