If you’re looking for an extra edge, to help you take your fitness game to the next level, pre-workout supplements may be the answer.
Yet, while there are some clear and noticeable benefits, there’s also a lot of shade and secrecy about pre-workouts. For a newcomer to the supplement world, it can be tough to figure out just what exactly pre-workouts do, and how they work.
There are also questions around best practices with pre-workouts, such as when to take them, how often, and which supplements are safe to use.
If you’re stuck on any of these questions, fear not, because we have the answers. Read on and we’ll share all you need to know about pre-workout supplements.
What is Pre-Workout?
Pre-workout is not a specific nutrient or mineral, like protein or creatine for example.
The definition of a pre-workout is thus somewhat vague, and can be stretched to include a number of things.
In its simplest form, however, a pre-workout supplement is just a supplement you take before working out, to aid and enhance your training.
Pre-workouts generally contain a mix of ingredients, designed to deliver a range of benefits, from increased energy to mental clarity and focus.
Common ingredients in pre-workouts include various amino acids, creatine, caffeine, B vitamins, and other vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
What Does Pre-Workout Do?
Pre-workout is meant to give you a boost before your training session, helping you increase output and get more out of your workout.
A pre-workout supplement might help you put out more reps, lift heavier weights, or run faster or for longer.
The idea is you’ll get a short-lived energy boost, helping increase the amount of work you’re able to put your body through during the workout, thus delivering quicker results - such as weight loss or muscle gain.
What Are the Main Benefits in the Gym?
Here’s a deeper look at some of the specific benefits a pre-workout supplement offers in the gym.
One of the main reasons people use pre-workout is to access greater energy stores.
If you can tap into an energy boost at the start of your workout, you can get up to full intensity quicker, and generally maintain a higher level of intensity for longer.
There are various ways pre-workouts can achieve this. Commonly supplements will use caffeine for a relatively clean energy boost. However, some less pure pre-workout supplements may also include unsafe stimulants, which should be avoided.
Energy is important at the beginning of your workout, or each individual set, but where it usually fails is at the end.
Pre-workout supplements deliver increased energy levels, intended to be sustained throughout the workout, to keep you going for longer.
Pre-workouts can enhance strength, enabling you to lift heavier and get more payoff from your workout.
Creatine is a common pre-workout ingredient, which works to deliver more energy to the muscles, allowing them to put out more force and power.
In addition, various amino acids and nutrients often found in pre-workout supplements aid the muscles with the necessary molecular compounds that they need to maintain a high level of output.
Enhanced Muscle Gain
Pre-workouts contain some ingredients that are vital for the effective repair and rebuilding of muscle fibers, which take place after a tough workout.
Amino acids, particularly BCAAs, which are essential nutrients that the body doesn’t produce naturally, provide a lot of the necessary fuel for muscle growth.
Creatine also helps improve muscle growth, as well as reduce the level of muscle breakdown during a workout.
Mental Focus & Clarity
Part of a successful workout is getting in the right state of mind. You need the mentality to push through set after set, even when it gets difficult, and you need the focus to maintain form even when you’re starting to fatigue.
Many pre-workouts deliver a mental boost, along with physical, to help you ace your workout and stop you from tapping out early.
Caffeine, common in pre-workout supplements, is one compound that helps with focus, and pre-workouts often contain some mix of B vitamins and other nutrients that give you a feeling of calm, clarity, and focus.
Recovery is not just something you need to think about after working out. It works best when you prepare your body for the recovery process ahead of time, making sure it has the right minerals it needs to repair and fix itself as soon as the hard work begins.
Caffeine, creatine, and amino acids like beta-alanine all aid the body’s natural processes of rebuilding and healing muscle fibers, so taking them in a pre-workout can result in lesser recovery time in between workouts.
How Long Does it Take for a Pre-Workout to Kick In?
Unfortunately, supplements don’t often work like Popeye and his can of spinach. It’s not an instant kick that gives you the ability to bench press a car and squat a house right away.
Your body needs time to metabolize the ingredients in your pre-workout, so you can actually access the benefits they provide.
It generally takes around 30 minutes before a pre-workout starts working. However, the exact time it takes before you start to feel the effects can vary, depending on your body’s own metabolism, as well as the ingredients themselves.
Caffeine, for example, usually kicks in pretty quickly, but it might take a little longer before your body is able to fully metabolize amino acids or certain vitamins.
When Should I Take a Pre-Workout?
The short answer to this is: before you work out. As the name suggests.
To be more exact, you should generally take pre-workouts around 30-60 minutes before your workout. This is to give your body the time it needs to absorb all the nutrients and properly metabolize everything.
If you take it too close to your workout, you may not give it enough time to kick in, and your workout may also interfere with your body trying to digest and metabolize the supplement. While if you take it too early, you risk wasting some of the energy boost from your pre-workout.
With that in mind, though, there’s no need to overthink too much about the perfect timing for your pre-workout.
It’s not going to make a huge difference if you don’t take it at exactly the right time.
Just take it before you start, and if you don’t have time to sit around and wait 30 minutes, perhaps start your workout with some light routines or stretching until you’ve given it enough time.
Is It Safe to Take a Pre-Workout Every Day?
The majority of pre-workouts are absolutely safe to take every day.
It obviously depends on the ingredients of your pre-workout, as the exact mix is not the same for every supplement. If your supplement contains unsafe or unhealthy ingredients (as we’ll discuss below), it’s not smart to take it every day, or indeed at all.
But most pre-workouts are quite clean, and contain ingredients that are only beneficial to the body. You’re unlikely to get any negative effects from taking BCAAs or creatine every day, and most vitamins that come in pre-workouts are also meant for daily consumption.
The only thing some people will want to be careful about is caffeine.
You can take caffeine every day, as many coffee drinkers do, but you’ll want to pay attention to the levels present in your supplement. Some pre-workouts are packed with the equivalent of several cups of coffee, in which case it may not be smart to take them every single day.
What Pre-Workout Ingredients Should I Avoid?
Pre-workouts have a bit of a shady reputation, and that’s because a lot of supplements try to deliver an energy boost through dangerous or unhealthy means.
As the ingredient list in pre-workouts can vary greatly from supplement to supplement, it’s important to do your research and avoid certain things.
Make sure to avoid anything with added sugar or junk fillers. Avoid complicated ingredients you don’t recognize. And be doubly sure to stay well away from any pre-workouts with dangerous stimulants like amphetamines.
Also be careful with caffeine levels. You don’t need to avoid caffeine, but make sure your supplement isn’t loaded with a huge amount, as in high levels it can have negative effects on cardiovascular health, as well as side-effects like anxiety.
When you’re looking for a pre-workout supplement, stick with a clean pre workout powder like Naked Energy.
You want something that is transparent about the ingredients used and how much, and which focuses on energy from natural sources rather than dangerous or artificial ingredients.
There are many misconceptions about pre-workouts, on both sides.
Some people claim they are snake-oil - completely useless and a waste of money. While others claim that a pre-workout will turn you into superman and make you capable of incredible feats of strength and endurance.
Both sides are exaggerations of the truth. Pre-workouts have well-studied and numerous benefits, which may help you get the extra edge you need to progress at the gym. With that being said, it’s not a magic pill or powder that will get you ripped without trying.
Taking a pre-workout each time you hit the gym is a good thing, as long as you find the right one. Look for a clean, safe pre-workout without any shady ingredients or unnatural additives, and you might just get that extra 1% that makes all the difference.