Guide to Pre-Workout: What Is Pre-Workout and How to Use It

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What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout is a supplement that’s designed to give gym goers an extra jolt of energy during their workout. The caffeinated boost that comes from the supplement can allow people to maximize their gym time by giving them the energy to get to the gym and to power through longer workouts with more reps and more intensity. There are two categories: product with stimulants and products without stimulants. Pre-workout is most often purchased in powder form and then mixed with water to mimic the flavor of a sports beverage. However, it can also be consumed in food or pill form. As the name suggests, pre-workout should be taken before a workout, and although many people drink it on their way to the gym or during their workout, it should be taken at least 30 to 60 minutes prior to hitting the weights or cardio machines.

Read on to weigh the pros and cons of the caffeinated supplement and how to choose the best one for your fitness goals.

Benefits and Risks of Pre-Workout

Although pre-workout has made a name for itself with more and more products hitting the shelves every day, there has been widespread debate about its safety and its effectiveness.

Benefits of Pre-Workout

An improvement in exercise performance is the main benefit of pre-workout and many gym goers swear by it. Although, it should be noted that this supplement does not produce results on its own merit. Instead it’s an energy-producing supplement; when you have the energy and endurance to work out longer and harder, there will likely be an acceleration in results. Not to mention, you’ll likely feel more motivated to get to the gym.

There are several types of pre-workout supplements on the market that feature beneficial ingredients like caffeine, carbohydrates, amino acids, antioxidants and B vitamins. These ingredients are the key players that give you an energy boost to endure a challenging workout. A note of caution: each product boasts a different ingredient combination so it’s important that you read the labels carefully and look at the key ingredients before adding one to your shopping cart.

Risks of Pre-Workout and Potential Side Effects

Pre-workout has been the source of debate since it was introduced to the market with many people raising concern about its safety. Is pre-workout bad for you? The answer really depends on the product’s ingredients, how it’s used and how your body responds to it. Familiarizing yourself with the ingredients in the product and monitoring how your body reacts to pre-workout is essential to using it safely. One particular pre-workout side effect is feeling overly stimulated or jittery. If you find that you are someone who feels anxious after a cup of coffee or have experienced sensitivity to caffeine, look for products without caffeinated stimulants.

Other potential side effects can include an upset stomach, headaches and insomnia. Having a small meal or a protein bar along with your pre-workout can help alleviate these symptoms. Again, due to the caffeine found in many varieties of pre-workout—some find taking pre-workout in the evening can delay or disrupt sleep.

People who have heart conditions or high blood pressure should consult their physician before taking pre-workout, and likewise, people who are on other medications or taking other supplements should talk to their doctor before adding pre-workout to their regimen.

Pre-Workout Ingredients

The ingredients in pre-workout vary from product to product, and with so many products on the market, it can be confusing to know which of these ingredients will give you the boost you’re looking for. Here are the four essential ingredients to look for:

Caffeine

Caffeine is one of the more recognizable pre-workout ingredients and it’s largely responsible for that boost in energy and focus that you’re looking for. It’s important to read the label and know the amount of caffeine in each serving size. Some products have the same amount of caffeine as you’d find in a cup of coffee, but others have significantly more than that. For those who work out later in the afternoon or evening or for those with a caffeine sensitivity, there are pre-workouts that do not have caffeine in them. These types of supplements rely on other stimulants. You can also find non-stimulant pre-workout that will get your blood circulating to increase energy.

Creatine

Creatine monohydrate is a supplement that helps with muscle building; it’s a naturally occurring substance that is found in muscle cells. The majority of pre-workout products contain creatine to accelerate the production of muscle cells while doing strength training or high-intensity exercise. More muscle cells build muscle mass and of course, stronger muscles allow for harder workouts. If you are an avid weightlifter, creatine should be one of your top ingredient priorities.

Amino-Acids

Branched-chain amino acids, commonly called BCAAs, play an important role in the effectiveness of pre-workout because they help control how protein is used throughout your body. It increases protein production while minimizing protein breakdown thanks to the combination of amino acids like leucine, isoleucine and valine. Simply put, BCAAs help to build muscles and can minimize soreness and damage. With stronger, refreshed muscles, you can train longer and more often.

Other Ingredients

If you’ve been doing your research, you will likely have come across beta-alanine. Beta-alanine is what makes the burning sensation, caused by intense activity, bearable and helps you push past it with more reps. Another well-known staple is nitric oxide. Nitric oxide circulates blood flow and pushes it to the muscles which gives lifters a pump during lifting. Nitric oxide (NO) provides a clear pathway for oxygen and nutrients to get into the blood vessels.

Types of Pre-Workout

The fitness industry is saturated with all types of pre-workout products and you may have to try a few different types before you find the right product for you.

Pre-Workout Drinks

Pre-workout powder is the most popular product you’ll find on the shelf. A scoop of powder is added to water and then mixed to make a flavored sports drink. The powder can also be mixed with smoothie ingredients to make a pre-workout smoothie. Taking pre-workout with food can help reduce some of the unwelcome side effects. Plus, the extra nutrients from smoothie ingredients like strawberries and bananas can help give your workout a boost, too.

Pre-Workout Food

Experts suggest eating a full meal two to three hours before exercising. If that window of opportunity isn’t possible, then eating a small meal 30 minutes before hitting the gym can provide a host of benefits as well. A pre-workout meal will boost energy, but it will not contain the stimulants or caffeine kick you might be looking for. Your best bet is to eat a snack or meal that includes carbohydrates and protein to fuel your gym time. The best pre-workout snacks include protein bars, bananas, fruit with Greek yogurt, smoothies or almonds. For more ideas on how to fuel your workout with food, read our guide on What to Eat Before a Workout. 

What Is the Best Pre-Workout?

Experts suggest eating a full meal two to three hours before exercising. If that window of opportunity isn’t possible, then eating a small meal 30 minutes before hitting the gym can provide a host of benefits as well. A pre-workout meal will boost energy, but it will not contain the stimulants or caffeine kick you might be looking for. Your best bet is to eat a snack or meal that includes carbohydrates and protein to fuel your gym time. The best pre-workout snacks include protein bars, bananas, fruit with Greek yogurt, smoothies or almonds. For more ideas on how to fuel your workout with food, read our guide on What to Eat Before a Workout. (LINK)

Best Pre-Workout Supplements

The verdict is still out on which pre-workout is the best. Much of that comes down to personal preference and personal healthy journey. Look specifically for the ingredients that will help you reach your goals. For example, if you’re training for a race, you might look for supplements to help with endurance, specifically products with caffeine and stimulants. Alternatively, you may be looking to build muscle and want quicker muscle recovery. In that case, you want to choose a pre-workout with ingredients like creatine and BCAA’s that are specified for that purpose. Once you’ve determined your must-have ingredients, pay careful attention to the amount of each ingredient. Before making a decision, read the reviews, ask questions and talk to your doctor.

According to reviews on bodybuilding.com, the best pre-workout supplements in 2019 include:

Best Pre-Workout for Men

Both men and women can benefit from the common pre-workout ingredients like caffeine and BCAA’s, but men have more energy with natural-producing testosterone. The best pre-workout for men will contain a few additional ingredients that boost testosterone levels. In most products, caffeine gets the blood pumping and circulating, but in products that are specifically created for men, nitric oxide is included to get the “pump” that men are after. Other products may be geared toward men who are looking to bulk up. These products include the traditional pre-workout ingredients with ingredients that increase muscle mass.

Popular pre-workout supplements for men include:

Best Pre-Workout for Women

Alternatively, women likely aren’t looking for a boost of testosterone and often want to avoid ingredients that add bulk and calories. Rather, many of the products geared toward women have fat-burning effects. Pre-workout suggested serving sizes are usually based on weight, so by buying a product specifically for women, it’s easier to figure out a proper dose based on body type.

Popular pre-workout supplements for women include:

The Best Healthy Pre-workout

According to experts, the healthiest pre-workout you can take comes from food. Getting nutrients and energy from food sources is the best thing you can do. Similarly, the healthiest pre-workout product you can buy has simple, minimal ingredients that you can understand and pronounce. At the forefront, the ingredients listed should be caffeine (if you are looking for a caffeinated product), beta-alanine and nitric oxide booster. You may want to avoid products with artificial sweeteners and artificial colors and flavors. Fortunately, there are now products that fit a variety of lifestyles and dietary restrictions. You can choose from supplements that have non-GMO ingredients, are Paleo, vegan, soy-free and organic. Top picks include FitFarm USA’s Clean + Lean Natural Performance Plus, Red Leaf Pre-Workout Energizer and Rad All-Natural Pre-Workout Powder.

How Long Does Pre-Workout Last?

If the average gym goer takes the recommended amount according to his or her bodyweight, they will feel the effects of pre-workout in 30 to 45 minutes. That is why it should be consumed before going to the gym in order to hit the ground running as soon as you arrive. Depending on the product, the pre-workout will last three to six hourslong enough to get you through a serious workout.  

With new products making their debut to the fitness world every day, there is no shortage of options to choose from. This is a high-level overview about what pre-workout is, but talk to your doctor, define your fitness goals, examine each product’s ingredients, browse through reviews and try a few samples of product before determining which type is right for you. Pay careful attention to how your body responds to pre-workout and how you feel during your workout. If used correctly, you will find that pre-workout can be a life-changing asset to your fitness routine. 

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