Pre-workout supplements are often hyped the same way as action movies.
Explosions. Bold statements. Massive biceps.
And like action movies, sometimes they deliver, sometimes they don't.
In today's MaxxMuscle Atomic Bomb review, I'll see whether this is more Terminator 2 or Titanic 2.
This is the new pre-workout from professional bodybuilder Anth "The Freak" Bailes, and the latest addition to his MaxxMuscle "All Or Nothing!" supplement line, which promises to be among the most explosive supplements on the whole market.
Heck, they have an actual explosion on the cover.
First box ticked.
But let's take a more in depth look, as I put it through my deliberately harsh supplement rating system to see how it compares against the leading pre-workout supplements. No supplement has ever succeeded in gaining more than 4 stars. let's see how this one fares.
As always, let's start with a quick round-up of the main good points.
I'll break down the entire formula below if you'd like to go more in detail.
First up, this is a solid first pre-workout for a line which (I hope) continues to develop in future.
There's no proprietary blend, which is a great start.
When supplement manufacturers opt out of using a proprietary blend, they immediately gain my respect because despite the fact that proprietary blends should be a thing of the past ( here's why), it's alarming how many companies still do it.
The inclusion of 3 grams of beta-alanine will certainly get your skin crawling, and it even includes 150mg of the powerful stimulant DMHA (2016's "next big thing" after the banning of DMAA) which will promote a energetic, euphoria-like training effect.
Elsewhere, you'll get a 500mg dose of choline (which will increase focus during training) and a double dose energy in for shape of two 150mg servings of caffeine and TeaCrine.
That's a fairly solid start.
But it isn't all great news...
Now let's get to the aspects of Atomic Bomb which leave more to be desired.
After all, no supplement is perfect.
The very first thing you'll notice is that citrulline malate is way down at just 2.5 grams per serving.
Citrulline malate is one of the most important ingredients in any great pre-workout supplement, but the clinical dosage in order to get the full benefits it offers to training endurance and recovery is 6-8 grams. Atomic Bomb comes up way short here.
The product also includes 1.8 grams of creatine, which won't necessarily harm your upcoming workout but doesn't really present any benefits, either.
In order to obtain the strength advantages of creatine supplementation we do not need to consume in pre-workout (it offers no additional benefits to consuming it at any other time of day) but if you are going to include it, at least do it the right way, by using a fully sized dose (5 grams) of creatine monohydrate.
This is another red flag.
We also get 1 gram of taurine which, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you'll know that I'm not a big fan of due to the fact it impedes the effects of caffeine.
There's no betaine included either, which is a shame given it's ability to increase strength output.
Finally, the inclusion of niacin is a trend which the supplement industry could do without.
Niacin (vitamin B) does indeed have energy boosting qualities but (like creatine) there are no additional training benefits to consuming it before training versus any other time of day. It belongs in a multivitamin, not a pre-workout.
The reason it is commonly included in pre's, however, is because niacin also promotes a flushing, tingly effect similar to that of beta-alanine, which allows a supplement that's under-dosed in beta-alanine to get away with tricking the user into "feeling" the product kicking in.
It's a strange addition to Atomic Bomb, seeing as the product already contains 3 grams of beta-alanine (the clinical dose is 3.2g, but this is still easily enough to bring on the training benefits).
We've seen the wheels come off many supplements during this stage of my review process, where I break down the nutritional information to show you why each ingredient has been included in the formula (and whether the dose is sufficient to do the things it claims).
As you can see so far, the 'bad' outweighs the 'good'.
But let's not write this supplement off entirely. I've certainly seen worse!
I'm now going to look at MaxxMuscle's new formula in more depth, so you can see exactly what you are getting in every scoop.
We'll start with the big one...
When DMAA was banned in 2013, the supplement industry spent a couple of years scrambling to find a new "next big thing" in exotic stimulants.
In early 2016, DMHA hit the market.
Mimicking many of the effects of DMAA, it promotes a euphoric energy burst that should keep you feeling highly energetic for a fair few hours.
Anything over 100mg should be considered a decent sized dosage, and Atomic Bomb doesn't mess around with a 150mg serving.
Of course, if you're a real stim-junkie and want to push the training benefits of DMHA to the max, there are supplements out there which offer greater formulas, such as CT Fletcher's Sidewalk Kraka, which comes in at 200mg per serving.
Will DMHA eventually suffer the same fate as DMAA and get banned?
It's already banned in Australia (who have a reputation for being incredibly strict on supplements) but time will tell if the ban eventually goes global, as the available body of research isn't conclusive enough to provide enough information regarding it's safety or effectiveness in humans.
But if it does, it'll be for the right reasons.
Nowadays, people talk about pre-workouts getting banned as if it's a badge of honour.
"Check this out.. It'll be banned soon!"
This is nonsense.
After all, DMAA has since been linked to seizures and strokes.
Until more is known, the inclusion of DMHA in any supplement makes it a grey area for serious athletes, and it's best to stay clear if you aren't 100% sure if it's currently within your competitive guidelines. Case in point; Olympic sprint legend Usain Bolt famously had his 4 x 100m relay gold medal stripped after his team-mate, Nestor Carter, was found to have used DMAA to enhance his track performance, costing himself and his entire team their place in the record books.
We move from a substance lacking in scientific research to one with more than most.
Caffeine has been shown to boost a variety of training aspects including focus, energy levels, alertness and calorie burn. (1, 2, 3, 4)
150mg per serving is on the low side in comparison with most pre-workouts, but there is a reason for that (TeaCrine).
The main drawback here is that the performance of caffeine depends largely on the individual's tolerance levels, meaning somebody who gulps down 10 cups of coffee per day would never experience the same benefits as a person who is generally lower in caffeine. (5)
Enter the next ingredient...
TeaCrine (a.k.a. theacrine) is caffeine's bigger, stronger cousin.
It's popularity is still in it's infancy, but I do expect this substance to become a real big player in the supplement industry over the next 5 years or so.
So what's the difference between caffeine and TeaCrine?
Well, while caffeine works by inhibiting adenosine receptors, TeaCrine works by inhibiting adenosine receptors and activating dopamine receptors. That's a fantastic added benefit for your training, as higher dopamine levels mean more energy and more focus. (6)
But that's not even the best news...
Early studies show that TeaCrine offers all of the benefits of caffeine (and then some) without the tolerance level build-up that usually occurs with prolonged caffeine usage!
In a 2012 study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, researchers found that tolerance to TeaCrine actually INCREASED. Then, in 2015, researchers from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, found that consuming a daily dose of TeaCrine showed no habituation over a full 8 week study. (7, 8)
What's more, a 2012 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition also showed that a whopping 80% of TeaCrine's benefits had been exhibited within 1 hour of usage, meaning you won't spend the rest of the day bouncing off the walls like a piece of Flubber. (9)
More research is needed (and it is being done), but this is all great news as it means we can potentially use the same dose of TeaCrine without experiencing any negative adaptations or drops in performance benefits.
In terms of dosage, researchers from Rutgers University, New Jersey, found that combining 120mg TeaCrine with 150mg caffeine was superior than dosing 275mg caffeine on it's own. (10)
MaxxMuscle Atomic Bomb comes in at 150mg TeaCrine (alongside 150mg caffeine), so this combination is ideal.
Beta-alanine is responsible for the tingling, sking-crawling effect commonly experienced after taking a pre-workout supplement.
There's more going on under the surface, as beta-alanine has been shown to act as a buffer against lactic acid build-up during exercise, meaning you'll be able to fight against "the burn" for longer. (11)
This is very useful in a gym setting, as was demonstrated in a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that supplementing with beta-alanine resulted in an average of 25% more reps per set. (12)
Optimal dosage is 3.2 grams per day, although newer research suggests that consuming it across two servings leads to slightly better uptake. (13)
Regardless, MaxxMuscle Atomic Bomb comes in at 3 grams per serving, which is slightly under the clinical dose but still easily high enough to yield the training benefits over time.
Citrulline malate is one of the key ingredients in any top pre-workout supplement.
Heck, when I wrote out my Great Pre-Workout Checklist article I even included it as the #1 ingredient.
It's capable of improving a variety of different training aspects, covering everything from an increased recovery between sets, to an improvement in the number of repetitions per set, and even a greater pump while training. (24, 25)
It does this by accessing the body's nitric oxide pathways, allowing for greater blood flow and nutrient delivery to working muscles. Nitric oxide boosting supplements rose to fame in the early 2000's, but in those days arginine was used as the main N.O. boosting ingredient.
The problem there is that arginine has a very low absorption rate, with only a tiny proportion of the dose actually making it beyond the intestines and liver. (26)
Citrulline, on the other hand, was shown in a 2008 study to have an absorption rate more than 50% greater than arginine. (27)
Once inside the body, citrulline is converted into arginine and begins the job of opening up those nitric oxide pathways, allowing for greater nutrient delivery to the working muscles - meaning citrulline malate is actually a superior way of supplementing arginine, than using arginine directly!
But in order to reap the rewards offered by citrulline malate (and they're worth reaping!) we need a clinical dosage of 6-8 grams.
Citrulline malate is one of the more expensive ingredients in a pre, so it's common to see companies tout the benefits all over the tub (i.e. increased endurance, greater pump) and then under-dose it to cut costs (a practice known as "fairy dusting").
Atomic Bomb only provides 2.5 grams, which is not enough to give any of the training benefits.
This is a big turn-off for me because outside of exotic stimulants (i.e. for athletes looking to use 100% safe ingredients that go nowhere near the grey area in the rules of their sport) citrulline is the most important ingredient in a muscle building pre-workout supplement.
Creatine is the most thoroughly researched (and best-selling) bodybuilding supplement of all time.
It is one of the most widely used substances in all of sports because of it's ability to boost explosive strength.
In fact, a great meta-analysis published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2003 noted that creatine supplementation across 22 other clinical studies resulted in an average 8% strength increase, as well as an average increase in the number of reps per set until muscle failure of 14%. (14)
It's the one strength building ingredient that every athlete should be using.
And it's perfectly safe. (15)
The problem is it doesn't need to be in your pre-workout in order to be effective. It certainly won't harm your training in any way, but there are no additional training benefits to consuming it before training, versus after training, or even first thing in the morning.
As long as you get your 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day, you are good to go.
Which brings us to another issue...
If you insist on using creatine in your supplement, you need to do it the right way and include creatine monohydrate.
Many new blends of creatine have hit the market in the last 30 years (HCL, kre-alkalyn, ethyl-ester), all claiming to be superior to the original form, but none have ever been shown to yield greater effects.
From a scientific standpoint, it makes sense to stay loyal to creatine monohydrate until something genuinely better appears on the horizon, yet most supplement manufacturers can't resist tinkering with their creatine formula, and then claiming that the blend is somehow superior.
It is not.
Inside Atomic Bomb, we get a 1.8 gram dose of creatine hydrochloride and creatine monohydrate.
The key difference between creatine hydrochloride and classic monohydrate is that Creatine HCL doesn't require carbohydrates for absorption, making it a good way to supplement with creatine if you are doing a low carb diet or a ketogenic diet. (16)
Results-wise, however, it's no superior.
We don't know the exact split between the two forms (it's undisclosed) but mixing the two offers no extra advantages and the overall dose is too small either way, so you'd need an additional creatine supplement alongside this.
Hydromax (glycerol) is growing in popularity among bodybuilding supplement manufacturers for it's ability to act as a pump-enhancer.
It's main use from a performance perspective is to limit dehydration by providing greater hydration to muscle cells.
It's incredibly difficult to get these benefits, but a knock-on effect of glycerol supplementation is a better pump.
That's what it's best known for, and why it's being used in pre-workouts.
You see, to get the benefits of improved hydration we'd need to increase the dosage to a whopping 80 grams per day, as shown in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics. That's way above the kind of dosage you'll ever see in a pre-workout supplement. (17)
A dose of 0.7g - 2g has already been shown to increased muscular volume, though, so using glycerol to enhance "the pump" is far easier. (18)
MaxxMuscle have included 3 grams of Hydromax glycerol in each serving of Atomic Bomb, so if you drink plenty of water while you train you'll see a decent return in the mirror.
Due to it's effects on hydration, however, it's not unusual for subjects to notice a slight gain in body weight while supplementing with glycerol.
Don't panic, as this is merely water weight, not an increase in fat mass.
Including 3 grams of Hydromax at the expense of a full dose of citrulline doesn't make sense, as a full serving of citrulline would also bring the pump alongside the other training benefits it carries too, whereas Hydromax (at least in the dose we get here) only offers us a temporary pump benefit.
Bioperine (black pepper extract) is included in many supplements.
It can increase production of dopamine, which is great for training output (although the results are slight), but the main benefit is that bioperine increases the absorption rate of all of the other ingredients inside Atomic Bomb. (19, 20)
Choline is a cognitive booster which has been shown to slightly increase levels of focus. (21)
It's a useful ingredient, but it'll never take center stage in your pre-workout.
Choline bitarte is one of the less expensive forms of choline (Alpha GPC being the premium option here), but a dose of 500mg is sufficient to yield most of the training benefits it offers.
Chromium is a mineral commonly used in regulating glucose metabolism and insulin.
It's also quite useful for reducing carbohydrate cravings, although more research is needed to confirm why this occurs.
Inside Atomic Bomb, though, it's nothing more than a filler ingredient.
That's because in individuals who have normal or excessive levels of chromium, no benefits will be experienced (meaning you're only going to see positive effects if you have a deficiency). And also if you needed to supplement with additional chromium, you'd be looking to intake around 1000mcg per day, not 100mcg.
Taurine is commonly found in pre-workout supplements and energy drinks.
It is mainly touted as a focus-enhancing ingredient, but it is one of the ingredients I recommend steering clear of before training. (22)
That's because taurine has been shown to oppose the effects of caffeine when taken simultaneously, so it makes little sense to include both substances in one product. (23)
(Despite this fact, many supplement manufacturers continue to do so, and the only one which stays ahead of the game on this is AML Pre Workout).
Given caffeine's obvious training advantages being far greater than the benefits offered by taurine, it makes sense to choose caffeine in a battle between the two.
Niacin (vitamin B) is another common pre-workout ingredient I recommend avoiding.
Despite the fact that it's used in many supplements and energy drinks under the guise of "increased energy" there is no evidence to support claims that taking vitamin B prior to exercise can improve performance.
As long as you consume your daily dose of vitamin B at any time of the day you'll get the full benefits so, much like creatine, it doesn't need to be part of your pre-workout supplement.
The real reason it's included is because a side-effect of niacin is a flushing, tingly effect similar to the one provided by beta-alanine.
For many years, this has been a cheap substitute ingredient that allowed supplement manufacturers to under-dose their product in beta-alanine, then hide their formula behind a proprietary blend, and create a similar feeling by inserting niacin into the blend and hoping the consumer never realized the difference.
It's a strange inclusion in Atomic Bomb (and I can only presume it's here simply because most other companies include it) as their product contains a pretty high dose of beta-alanine anyway.
Regardless, niacin is unnecessary in a pre-workout.
It's time to put this pre-workout through my supplement rating system and see how it compares to other industry-leading products.
Does it deliver on it's promise to make you "equipped for battle"..? Or is it yet another pre-workout that fails to hit the mark?
In truth, it's a decent product which isn't going to trouble those which currently sit at the top of the industry's food chain.
Sure, Atomic Bomb is streets ahead of regular pre-workouts which are designed for the "gym newbie" looking for a quick energy boost prior to training.
But the 150mg serving of DMHA make it a tricky one.
If you are an athlete looking to boost your training output, the jury is still very much out on whether DMHA will remain legal, and I recommend checking with your sport's governing body to see where they stand on DMHA supplementation prior to use.
Otherwise, you'd be better off opting for a pre-workout which keeps things simple and stays away from exotic stimulants, such as the excellent AML Pre Workout (recently reviewed on the website here).
On the other hand, if you want to use DMHA-based pre-workouts you can find stronger ones out there.
For example, CT Fletcher's Sidewalk Kraka (read my review here) is possibly the most well-dosed stimulant-based pre on the market at this moment in time.
Atomic Bomb also comes with the interesting innovation of including sachets (not powder) in the tub, meaning you don't have to bother scooping it out, which is a nice twist although this does appear to push the unit price up a little bit.
Outside of DMHA, we have a very nice combination of caffeine and TeaCrine (which I consider to be the best thing about Atomic Bomb), and a nicely sized dose of beta-alanine. So this is something you're definitely going to "feel" when you begin training.
The under-dosed citrulline malate sticks out like a sore thumb and those benefits will be missed, the absence of betaine, the inclusion of taurine alongside caffeine is annoying (but very common), and the somewhat unnecessary inclusion of creatine in a pre-workout (and then to confuse things by using an under-dosed blend) mean that Atomic Bomb comes out with a respectable 3 stars.
Want to try it? Order MaxxMuscle Atomic Bomb here.