Is C4 All It's Cracked Up to Be?


In the shiny world of pre-work out supplement bottles, manufacturers resort to hyperbole to get any advantage. That's why shelves are lined with bottles adorned with  words like "pump", "explosive energy", and "extreme". Pre-workouts are a common sight at most gyms, but will these products really make you better? As a Naturopathic Doctor, it's my job to guide clients through this hype.

Cellucor's C4 is one of the most popular pre-workout supplements on the market. It's one of many combination products touted to provide you with "explosive energy, heightened focus and an overwhelming urge to tackle any challenge". Whew! But does it help?

The first 5 ingredients: Vitamin C, Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Vitamin B6, Folic acid, and Vitamin B12 are all supplied in such small amounts they have virtually no effect.  It could be argued those first few ingredients are really just filler to make the ingredients label look more impressive

The remaining ingredients are supposed to deliver the goods. 

Beta-alanine is a commonly-used sports performance enhancer. It acts as an intramuscular buffering agent, or in other words, it lessens that burning sensation you get in your arms and legs during intense circuit training sessions. C4 contains 1.6g of beta-alanine, but is that enough? The research says yes. It's on the low end of the effective dose of 1.6 to 6.4g per day, but nonetheless it will have some benefits [1,2], if you use it correctly: for 8 weeks, daily, and for exercise lasting longer than 30 seconds and not longer than 10 minutes [2]. Sorry, marathoners and split muscle group trainees. 

Creatine is likely the best known sports supplement, and for good reason. It has been shown to increase strength and muscle growth [3, 4], a common reason people take pre-workout supplements. The difference in C4? Most studies use creatine monohydrate, an inexpensive, widely available supplement with a load of research to support its use. Cellucor uses creatine nitrate in C4, a form of creatine with the added benefit of nitrate content [nitrates are in beets!]. The problem is it has not been shown to be superior than the simple monohydrate form [5]. The low dose problem also resurfaces - 1g isn't enough to get the results you probably want. 

Arginine is another very popular sports supplement thought to increase blood flow leading to greater oxygen supply to muscles. According to the evidence, we can be fairly certain it doesn't impact performance [6, 7, 8 ]. But C4 uses Arginine Alph-ketoglutarate, a form that is suppose to be better absorbed. Unfortunately, we know it isn't much better than regular arginine and it doesn't have any significant effect on performance [9]. You’d need a dose of arginine 6x higher than that supplied in C4 to see any impact [10].

Finally, how about that "Explosive Energy Blend”?  The only really effective ingredient delivering on that is caffeine [11, 12]. However, the dose is again lower than what we know works [13, 14]. To make matters worse, caffeine is most effective if you don't take it for a few days before an event [15], and as I mentioned above, Beta-alanine must be used everyday for 8 weeks. Having these two ingredients in the same product doesn't make much sense. 


C4 may help you perform better, but don't let the other ingredients fool you, it's the caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine doing most or all of the work. A word for the economically minded, you can get over double the servings of each, in the correct dose, for the identical price in other products. Don't be fooled by flashy marketing. Be smart in your training, nutrition, and competition and you will see the results. 

If you have any questions about how to reach your full potential, don't hesitate to contact me, book an appointment, or stop by the clinic.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Oake