So you’ve been hitting the gym hard and want to take your workout to the next level. You’ve heard about pre-workout supplements and how they can boost your energy, improve your focus, and increase your endurance so you can push out those extra reps.
But with so many pre-workout products on the market, how do you know what’s legit and what’s a waste of money? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we break down the basics of pre-workout supplements, the ingredients that actually work, how they can benefit your workout, and how to choose a quality product that fits your needs. By the end of this, you’ll have all the knowledge you need to take your workout performance to new heights.
Let’s dive in!
What Are Preworkout Supplements?
Pre-workout supplements are specially formulated dietary supplements designed to be consumed before a workout or physical activity. They are intended to enhance performance, increase energy levels, improve focus, and optimize the overall workout experience.
Pre-workout supplements often come in the form of powders or capsules that are mixed with water or other liquids and consumed prior to exercise.
These supplements typically contain a combination of ingredients that work synergistically to provide various benefits.
What’s in Preworkout Supplements?
Pre-workout supplements typically contain ingredients such as caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, and nitric oxide boosters. These ingredients are intended to enhance energy, focus, endurance, and muscle performance during workouts.
Here are some of the most common ingredients:
Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that can help increase alertness and focus. Pre-workouts usually contain between 150 to 300 mg of caffeine per scoop.
Creatine: Creatine is one of the most studied sports supplements. It helps increase strength and power. Many pre-workouts contain 1 to 5 grams of creatine per scoop.
Beta-Alanine: Beta-alanine is an amino acid that helps reduce fatigue. It can help you push through longer, high-intensity workouts. Most pre-workouts contain 1 to 3 grams of beta-alanine.
Nitric Oxide Boosters: Ingredients like citrulline malate and arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (AAKG) help boost nitric oxide levels which can improve blood flow. This may lead to better muscle pumps during your workout.
Other Ingredients: Some pre-workouts also contain ingredients like taurine, tyrosine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are intended to further enhance focus, endurance, and muscle building.
Unlike post-workout supplements which are focused on muscle recovery, preworkout supplements are specifically formulated to provide the right blend of ingredients to boost your energy, strength, endurance, and focus so you can power through your workout.
With the right pre-workout, you’ll be crushing new PRs in no time!
Benefits of Preworkout Supplements
When it comes to crushing your workout, pre-workout supplements can give you that extra edge you need to push through. Here are some of the main benefits these products provide:
Increased energy and focus for better workout intensity. Pre workouts contain ingredients like caffeine to boost your energy levels and help you zone in on your training. This can help you lift heavier, run faster, and get more out of each rep.
Enhanced endurance and stamina. Ingredients such as beta-alanine can reduce fatigue and improve your ability to withstand high-intensity exercise for longer. This means less burnout and more gains.
Improved blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles. Pre workouts often contain arginine and citrulline, amino acids that can boost nitric oxide in your body. This helps open up your blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach your muscles.
Reduced muscle fatigue and faster recovery. Ingredients such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) provide your muscles with fuel to power through tough workouts. They can also speed up muscle repair after training so you can hit the gym again sooner.
Potential cognitive benefits for mental performance during workouts. Pre-workouts may improve aspects like focus, motivation, and decision-making. This can translate into more productive, strategic workouts where you push yourself in all the right ways.
The bottom line is that pre-workout supplements contain a variety of ingredients that work together to maximize your efforts in the gym. When used properly, these products can take your training to the next level and help you achieve your fitness goals faster.
The rewards of enhanced performance, endurance, muscle gain, and fat loss make that scoop of pre-workout well worth it.
Key Ingredients in Preworkout Supplements
Caffeine is a staple ingredient in most pre-workout supplements. It works by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain that make you feel drowsy, leading to increased alertness and focus. Caffeine can also slightly boost metabolism and fat burning during exercise.
For the average person, a dose of 150-300 mg of caffeine, equal to 1-2 cups of coffee, is ideal for a pre-workout. Start with a lower amount to assess your tolerance.
Creatine is one of the most studied sports supplements. It works by helping your muscles produce energy rapidly. Supplementing with creatine can boost strength and power, increase lean muscle mass, and enhance workout performance.
Look for a pre-workout with 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate, the most effective form. Creatine also causes water retention, so expect a slight weight gain when you start taking it.
L-arginine is an amino acid that boosts nitric oxide levels in your body. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to working muscles. This can lead to better muscle pumps during your workout.
Most pre-workouts contain 1-3 grams of L-arginine to promote muscle pumps and vascularity. L-arginine may also modestly enhance fat burning and strength.
Branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, make up about one-third of muscle protein. BCAAs taken before exercise may help reduce muscle breakdown and soreness.
Look for a pre workout with 3-6 grams of BCAAs. BCAAs also stimulate protein synthesis, though whey protein is a more complete source of amino acids for muscle building.
Using a pre workout with the right ingredients and doses can significantly enhance your training sessions. Start with a lower amount to assess your tolerance for the various ingredients, then you can build up as needed to find the sweet spot.
An effective pre-workout, combined with a solid workout plan and diet, will take your results to the next level.
How Do Preworkout Supplements Work?
Pre-workout supplements are designed to give you an energy boost and enhanced performance during your workout. But how exactly do these products work? The main mechanisms behind most pre-workouts are:
Caffeine is a mild stimulant that can increase alertness and focus. It works by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel drowsy.
Most pre-workouts contain between 150 to 300 mg of caffeine per serving, similar to 2 to 3 cups of coffee. For many people, this amount of caffeine can increase energy levels, strength, and endurance during exercise.
Pre-workouts often contain ingredients like citrulline malate or beta-alanine that can dilate or widen your blood vessels.
This vasodilation effect helps more oxygen-rich blood to flow through your body, delivering nutrients to your working muscles. Some research shows vasodilators may enhance performance and reduce fatigue during intense exercise.
Mental focus factors
Ingredients like theanine, tyrosine, and bacopa monnieri are added to some pre-workouts to sharpen mental focus and motivation.
Although limited, some studies suggest these compounds may help reduce distraction and improve cognitive performance during exercise. The effects seem most significant during longer cardio or high-intensity interval training.
Compounds like arginine, ornithine, and citrulline are amino acids said to increase nitric oxide production in the body which can cause temporary muscle swelling or “pumps.” While muscle pumps may feel like your workout is more effective, the jury is still out on the long-term effectiveness of these ingredients.
The bottom line is most pre-workout supplements are formulated to provide an energy boost, increase blood flow, and enhance mental focus during your workout. However, their long-term effects on muscle gain and performance are still unclear.
For the best results, look for a pre-workout with ingredients backed by science, start with a low dose to assess your tolerance, and be sure to combine it with a proper training regimen and nutrition plan.
Types of Pre-workout Supplements: Powders vs Pills
Powders: More Effective but Require Mixing
Powdered pre-workout supplements provide the biggest bang for your buck. Pre-workout powder contains the same ingredients as pills, just in a concentrated form that is mixed with water.
When you drink the solution, the ingredients are immediately absorbed into your bloodstream, hitting your system quickly for maximum effect.
The downside is that powder requires some prep work. You have to measure out a scoop, mix it thoroughly with water, and chug it 20-30 minutes before your workout. For some, this extra step is annoying and inconvenient, especially if you’re in a rush to get to the gym.
However, if fast, targeted results are your goal, pre-workout powder is the way to go. Popular brands of pre-workout powder include C4, Pre Jym, and N.O. Xplode.
Pills: More Convenient but Slower to Absorb
Preworkout pills contain the same ingredients as powder but are more convenient since you just pop a few pills with some water and you’re good to go. The downside is that pills take longer for your body to break down and absorb.
By the time the ingredients enter your bloodstream and start taking effect, your workout may already be over. Pills are a good option if you prefer convenience but don’t require the instant energy boost that powder provides.
Some other differences to consider:
• Powder tends to be more affordable per serving compared to pills.
• Powder usually contains higher doses of key ingredients like creatine, citrulline malate, and beta-alanine.
• Pills may be easier to take for those who don’t like the taste of pre-workout powder.
• Powder requires access to a shaker bottle and water, while pills only need water.
In the end, you have to weigh the pros and cons of powders versus pills and determine what will work best with your needs and fitness goals. The most important thing is that you choose a pre-workout supplement that gives you the energy and focus you need to push through your toughest workouts.
How to Choose a Preworkout Supplement
Identify Your Goals and Needs
The first step to choosing a pre-workout supplement is determining what you want to achieve and your personal needs. Are you looking to increase your energy and endurance for high-intensity interval training? Gain strength for heavy lifting days? Or just boost your focus for an early morning workout?
Consider your fitness goals and training style. More stimulant-heavy pre-workouts with ingredients like caffeine, theobromine or yohimbine HCL are good for energy and endurance. Pre-workouts focused on branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) or creatine are better for strength and muscle gain.
Factor in your tolerance to stimulants like caffeine. If you’re sensitive to stimulants, look for a low-stim or stim-free option. The typical pre-workout contains 150-300 mg of caffeine per scoop. Start with a lower dosage and build up as needed.
Also, take in mind the time you go to the gym. You may want to stay away from stimulants if you tend to train in the evening.
Review the Ingredients and Dosage
When comparing different pre-workout supplements, check what’s actually in them and how much.
Look for products with transparent ingredient labels and high-quality, research-backed ingredients. Avoid unknown brands with proprietary blends that don’t disclose the amounts of each ingredient.
Pay attention to the dosage or serving size recommended. More isn’t always better and too high of a dose can lead to side effects like nausea, insomnia, or jitteriness in some people.
Common pre-workout ingredients include caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, BCAAs, citrulline malate, and beetroot extract. These are proven to enhance performance, endurance, focus, blood flow, and muscle recovery. But other additives like artificial dyes are unnecessary.
Be Aware of Possible Side Effects
While pre-workout supplements are considered safe for most people when used as directed, be aware of potential side effects, especially if you’re new to using them. The most common side effects are tingling skin, jitteriness, nausea, and insomnia, due to the stimulants.
Stay hydrated, follow the dosage instructions, and don’t take pre-workout too late in the day. Also, check for any ingredient allergies you may have.
As with any supplement, talk to your doctor before trying a pre-workout, especially if you have a medical condition or take any medications.
When chosen based on your needs and used properly, pre-workout supplements can take your workout to the next level. But start low and slow until you find what works best for you.
How to Take Preworkout Supplements
Timing is everything
Take your pre-workout supplement roughly 30 minutes before your workout for maximum effectiveness. This gives the ingredients enough time to start working before you start exercising. Start with a lower dosage to assess your tolerance, then adjust up or down from there based on how you feel.
Follow the directions
Carefully follow the directions on the product packaging for proper dosage and usage. Typically, the recommended serving size will be 1-2 scoops of powder mixed with 6-12 ounces of water. Never exceed the maximum dosage listed. More is not always better and can be dangerous.
Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout your workout in addition to the pre-workout drink. Pre-workout supplements contain ingredients like caffeine that can dehydrate you, so extra hydration is key. For every 2 pounds of body weight, aim to drink 1 ounce of water.
Cycle on and off
To avoid building up a tolerance to the ingredients in your pre-workout, cycle on and off the product. For example, use a pre-workout 2-3 times a week with rest days in between, or switch between different pre-workout brands and formulas. Cycling will help maximize the effects and benefits when you do use a pre-workout supplement.
Consider your needs
The ideal pre-workout supplement and dosage will depend on factors like your age, size, fitness level, and workout intensity. An elite athlete may require a higher dosage than a recreational gym-goer.
Always follow the usage guidelines based on your individual needs and adjust as needed to avoid side effects. If any unwanted symptoms occur, discontinue use and consult a doctor.
Pre-workout supplements can enhance your workout performance and results, but only if used properly and responsibly. By following these steps and recommendations, you’ll be primed to crush your next workout.
But remember, a pre-workout is meant to supplement a balanced diet and exercise – not replace them!
Potential Side Effects of Pre-workout Supplements to Be Aware Of
Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
Pre-workout supplements often contain large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants to give you an energy boost during your workout. However, these can temporarily increase your heart rate and blood pressure.
If you already have high blood pressure, check with your doctor before using pre-workout supplements. It’s also a good idea to check your blood pressure within an hour of taking a pre-workout to make sure it’s not too high.
Insomnia and Sleep Problems
The caffeine and stimulants in pre-workout supplements can stay in your system for up to 6 hours and may cause difficulty falling asleep at night. If you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine or workout late in the day, choose a pre-workout with little or no caffeine, or avoid taking it after mid-afternoon.
You may experience restlessness, anxiety, and an increased heart rate when trying to sleep.
Some of the ingredients in pre-workout supplements, especially creatine, beta-alanine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), can cause digestive problems like nausea, cramps, bloating, and diarrhea in some people.
Start with a small scoop of pre-workout and see how your body responds before taking a full serving.
Be sure to take pre-workout supplements with food and plenty of water to help limit side effects. If problems persist, switch to a different brand or avoid pre-workout altogether.
Muscle Cramps and Fatigue
While pre-workout supplements are designed to boost your energy and performance, some people experience the opposite effect. Ingredients like creatine can cause muscle cramps, spasms and fatigue in some individuals.
Staying properly hydrated, stretching and warming up can help prevent cramps. If you frequently experience muscle cramps or fatigue from pre-workout, you may need to try a different formula or avoid these supplements.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about pre-workout supplements. Now that you understand how these supplements work and have some recommendations to choose from, you can make an informed decision about whether pre-workout powders are right for your needs and goals.
The most important thing is that you go into your workout feeling motivated and energized. A pre-workout can help with that, but so can a healthy meal, your favorite music, and the right mindset.
At the end of the day, the best pre-workout is the one that works for you and helps you push through those final reps. Time to crush your next workout!
FAQs About Preworkout Supplements
How long does a pre-workout supplement last?
The effects of a pre-workout supplement typically last between 60 to 90 minutes after taking it. The exact duration depends on the specific ingredients and dosages in the product, as well as your individual tolerance. Stimulants like caffeine can stay in your system for up to 6 hours, even though the energy-boosting effects tend to fade after 90 minutes.
What are the potential side effects of pre-workout supplements?
Some potential side effects of pre-workout supplements include:
Insomnia or restlessness from stimulants like caffeine. Avoid taking pre-workout too late in the day.
Digestive issues like nausea, cramps, or diarrhea. Start with a half scoop to assess your tolerance and slowly increase the dosage.
Tingling or flushed skin from beta-alanine. This harmless but uncomfortable prickly sensation should subside after a few weeks of use as your body adapts.
Increased heart rate and blood pressure. If you have a heart condition or high blood pressure, check with your doctor before using a pre-workout, especially those high in caffeine.
Muscle cramping or fatigue. Stay well hydrated and stretch before and after your workout. Consider an electrolyte supplement if cramping persists.
Psychological effects like feeling jittery, irritable or crashing from the stimulants. Use pre-workout occasionally and cycle on and off to avoid building up a tolerance.
Should I take a pre-workout on rest days?
It is not recommended to take a pre-workout supplement on rest days when you are not working out. Pre-workouts are designed to give you an energy boost and performance benefits for exercise. On rest days, the stimulants could disrupt your sleep, cause restlessness and ultimately hinder your recovery.
Save your pre-workout for the days you are doing an actual workout. On rest days, focus on staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and eating nutritious foods to properly recover so you can push yourself again at your next workout. Your body and mind will thank you for the break from supplements and the opportunity to recharge.