I have recently had a special request from an undergraduate student to blog about a specific nutritional supplement. Like many other college-aged males, this student is physically active with an overall goal of increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing body fat. It is rare that I look into one specific brand or supplement, but he asked me to investigate the type of pre-workout supplement he uses, which is called Assault (sounds kind of scary, right?)
Traditionally, pre-workout supplements are consumed prior to training in the hope of enhancing focus, energy, and endurance during exercise as well as decreasing muscle fatigue post-workout. Pre-workout supplements typically have an array of different ergogenic ingredients. When ingested together, these components are meant to work synergistically to enhance athletic performance. There are literally thousands of nutritional supplements being marketed to the public. Therefore, athletes need to be wary of exactly what they are putting into their body, the ingredients, the side effects, and the dosage. What many individuals do not realize is that the Food and Drug Administration does not federally regulate nutritional supplements. Therefore, there is no 100% guarantee in regards to the manufacturer’s ingredients, nutritional claims, and safety regulations.
Assault Nutrition Facts
Assault is manufactured by MusclePharm in Denver, CO. It contains a vast variety of ingredients, thus making it difficult to pinpoint which ones specifically are the active ingredients that provide the greatest benefit.
One serving of Assault is half a scoop. However, it is more realistic to assume that many athletes use one whole scoop at a time, making it twice the serving size.
- 80 calories
- 18 g carbohydrates
- 28 mg Vit. B6 (1400% DV)
- 170 mcg Vit. B12 (2833% DV)
- 5 g creatine monohydrate
- 6 g branched chain amino acids (BCAA)
- 4 g beta alanine
- Nitric oxide – Citrulline malate, L-arginine
- 300 mg caffeine – That’s as much as about 3 cups of coffee…but imagine drinking them all at one time!
The main active ingredient in Assault is more than likely the caffeine content. The other ergogenic ingredients are the B-vitamins and nitric oxide. B-vitamins assist with energy metabolism, DNA synthesis, the formation and repair of red blood cells. Nitric oxide (such as L-citrulline and L-arginine) increases blood flow and oxygen supply to skeletal muscles, which also helps the body to pump out the lactic acid that creates muscle soreness (4).
Proposed Claims and Possible Risks
A 32-serving tub of Assault will run consumers around $30-$40, which will last about a month if used 3-4 times per week. Many users rave about its drinkability because of it’s variety of flavors, such as green apple, blue arctic raspberry, raspberry lemonade, fruit punch, and watermelon. In fact, bodybuilding.com dubbed Assault the “Best New Supplement of Year, 2011”.
Proposed Claims (1)
- Fights muscle fatigue and decreases recovery time
- Boosts performance
- Builds lean muscle and decreases body fat
- Amps up intensity
- Increases focus and intensity
- Hydrates muscles – From what I can tell, it really doesn’t “hydrate” your muscles. Instead, it will dehydrate your body because caffeine is a diuretic. In fact, the manufacturer’s recommend drinking a gallon of water a day while taking Assault. In terms of electrolytes, it certainly doesn’t contain enough to have a hydrating effect…with one serving containing only ~1% DV for potassium and ~2% DV for sodium.
Possible Risks and Side Effects (the company suggests staying hydrated by consuming 1 gallon of water per day to avoid some of these side effects)
- Fidgety – Probably due to the large dose of caffeine
- Prickly or tingly feeling of the skin – Probably due to beta-alanine. There are two theories as to why beta-alanine causes itchiness of the skin. 1) Beta-alanine stimulates nerve receptors to trigger the firing of neurotransmitters at random, and 2) Beta-alanine perpetuates the response of nitric oxide, causing a person to literally “feel” the blood running through the capillaries that are close to the skin. (2)
- Increased heart rate – Caffeine
- Dizziness – Caffeine or dehydration
- Headaches – Caffeine or dehydration
- Trouble sleeping – Caffeine
Down to the Science
A study published earlier this year investigated the effects of Assault on athletic performance. The randomized, double-blind study was conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of South Alabama. Twelve recreationally-trained males (average age of 28) participated in the three-week study. Participants were required to attend three separate training sessions. The first session consisted of baseline testing. During the next two sessions, subjects were randomly assigned to ingest either 1 scoop of the Assault supplement or a placebo drink 20 minutes prior to exercise. The placebo was a flavored carbohydrate drink with similar color and flavor to the supplement.
Subjects were asked to perform exercises to determine 1 repetition max (1 RM) on the bench and leg press, 75% 1 RM on the bench and leg press repetitions to exhaustion, VO2 max, and various choice reaction time testing (which basically tested agility). Participants were also asked to complete a subjective survey to describe feelings of energy, fatigue, alertness, and focus on a 5-point likert scale.
Results found that ingesting the Assault supplement 20 minutes prior to training provided significant increases only in leg press repetitions to exhaustion, perceived energy, alertness, focus, and some agility exercises. Most of the benefits of the supplement were seen in anaerobic exercises with no significant increases seen in aerobic endurance performance. (3)
PROs of this study:
- It was a randomized, double-blind study, meaning neither the researchers nor the participants knew the contents of the drink at that particular time.
- The researchers were not funded by the manufacturer.
- The supplement and placebo were similar in color, taste, and size.
- Subjects completed a 2-day food diary prior to the second training day in order to calculate caffeine intake from other sources.
CONS of this study:
- Small sample size of only 12 participants.
- Participants were all male, with no females.
- Short time period of only 3 weeks
- Participants were all recreationally trained (with strength values in the 75th and 90th percentile in the bench and leg press 1 RM and VO2 max in the 60th percentile). It would have been interesting to observe the inclusion of individuals with varying levels of physical activity to see if there are differences in benefits based on a person’s baseline fitness level.
- According to the 2-day food diaries, subjects consumed an average of 31.5 + 109.4 mg of caffeine per day through other food sources in their diet. To give some perspective, a 12 oz can of Coke contains 35 mg of caffeine and a cup of coffee can contain up to 100 mg of caffeine. Thus, men who consumed larger quantities of caffeine on a daily basis may not have experienced the same effects of the supplement due to increased tolerance.
What’s the bottom line?
As a nutrition professional, my opinion is always to avoid taking any unnecessary supplements and to get proper nutrients from whole food sources. That being said, Assault DOES seem to work. In the study described above, participants felt more energized and alert during training sessions and the men were able to perform more leg press repetitions compared to the placebo. The main effect of Assault is most likely due to the high caffeine content. For this reason, habitual caffeine users may not experience the same effects as non-caffeine users due to a higher tolerance. My concern with caffeine is the dangers it has to the body as well as the heart…ESPECIALLY when someone is exercising and their heart rate is increased to begin with. I also do not like the fact that several users claim to feel “tingly” or “itchy” while using this supplement. I’m no doctor, but I’d say that definitely isn’t normal and definitely isn’t a good thing.
3. Spradley, et al. Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanie before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance. 2012. Nutrition & Metabolism, 9:28.