Pre-workout supplements can be a dicey subject. Depending on who you ask, you could get a variety of answers in regards to what pre-workouts do and if they’re safe.
Some will tell you they simply can’t go out and get it without taking their pre-workout first. Others will say pre-workouts are bro-science at best, dangerous at worst.
Which side is closest to the truth? Can a pre-workout supplement deliver improvements to your training regimen, or are they something to steer clear of?
The real answer is a little more complicated than that. Read on and we’ll explain just what you need to know about pre-workout supplements, how they work, and whether they’re worth it.
What is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
A pre-workout supplement is something you take before training, intended to boost energy and performance.
Pre-workouts can come in many forms. Many are powder formulas with multiple ingredients, to be mixed with water or some other liquid. The exact formula for each pre-workout is far from standard, so many things, from effectiveness to safety, can vary greatly from product to product.
It’s common for pre-workouts to contain things like caffeine, amino acids, creatine, as well as a range of energy-boosting vitamins and minerals.
Some also contain stimulants, in some cases even amphetamines, which is one reason why pre-workouts are often seen as unsafe.
How Do Pre-Workout Supplements Work?
Pre-workouts allow you to access higher energy levels when you start your workout, which can help you go the extra mile and train longer and harder.
With this extra energy, you can (in theory) build up to peak performance faster, and get better results during your workout.
Imagine you’re trying to hammer out a few extra reps on the bench, or keep going on the treadmill for one more mile. A pre-workout is designed to give you the energy you need to do this, thus getting a little bit more out of your training session.
Benefits of Taking a Pre-Workout Supplement
There are numerous ways that a pre-workout can deliver the energy and performance boost you desire. That’s why there are so many different formulas out there.
Certain substances, such as certain vitamins, nutrients or other ingredients, can give you more power, more sustained energy, or other benefits aimed at helping you reach new heights at the gym.
A pre-workout is made to mix a number of these into one, easy to take supplement in pill or, more commonly, powder form, as opposed to taking each ingredient individually.
Here are some of the benefits that a pre-workout supplement might provide:
Instead of taking a while to get your blood pumping and really get into your workout, pre-workout supplements give you energy straight away, allowing you to save time and fit more high-intensity exercise in.
Pre-workouts can give you higher stores of energy, helping you keep going for longer before you start to fatigue.
A lot of pre-workout supplements help boost power, which in turn help you to increase output, such as lifting heavier weights or running faster.
Increased Alertness and Focus
Pre-workouts can also give you a mental boost. Certain ingredients, common in pre-workout supplements, make you more alert, help you focus and increase cognitive ability.
This can be put to use in many areas of your workout, from executing perfect reps to pushing through the mental wall towards the end of a set or routine.
A lot of pre-workouts contain a mix of amino acids and/or creatine, which help aid recovery - even if you take them before or during your workout.
Support Lean Muscle Mass and Optimal Weight
Amino acids and creatine are also known to help build lean muscle mass. Taking these in a pre-workout may give your muscles the fuel they need to grow at a faster rate.
Additionally, some pre-workout ingredients help kick start your metabolism and accelerate the fat burning process.
When Should I Take a Pre-Workout?
The name contains a not-so-secret key to when you should take a pre-workout.
Okay, so obviously you’ll take it before your workout. But when exactly?
Generally, you want to take it around 30 minutes beforehand. Most of the ingredients in a pre-workout supplement need time to be properly absorbed by your body, so you need to wait a short time before you actually feel the effects.
Waiting too long, however, means the effects of the pre-workout might run out too fast. So stick to a 30-60 minute window before your workout begins.
Are There Any Side Effects from Pre-workouts?
Whether there are side effects from your pre-workout depends entirely on the ingredients contained within.
Specific ingredients may also result in side effects for one person, but not another.
A lot of pre-workouts contain caffeine, which can result in moderate side effects for some people. Caffeine can make you feel jittery, and too much caffeine (or taking it too late) can lead to insomnia, restlessness, headaches, increased heart rate or anxiety.
Digestive upset and headaches are two side effects that can arise from time to time from some other ingredients common in pre-workout supplements.
You may also experience an increase in water retention if your pre-workout contains creatine.
Are Pre-Workouts Safe?
Most pre-workout supplements are safe. Again, it depends entirely on the specific mix of ingredients in each supplement, however the majority do not contain any dangerous ingredients.
Some supplements do contain dangerous ingredients like amphetamines, a dangerously high amount of caffeine, or other unsafe stimulants. Be sure to check the ingredient list before trying any pre-workout to ensure it looks safe, and stick to trusted brands.
Can I Take a Pre-Workout Every Day?
As long as the ingredients are safe, pre-workout is generally fine to take every day. Pre-workouts with natural ingredients can actually be beneficial to take before every workout.
Be aware though that your body can develop a tolerance to some of the energy-boosting ingredients in pre-workout (such as caffeine), so it may be a good idea to give your body a rest from it every now and then.
What Ingredients to Look For in a Pre-Workout
You should look for a pre-workout with all natural ingredients, to make sure the energy boost and other benefits you get are clean, pure, and that you’re not going to deal with a crash or troublesome side effects later.
A supplement like Naked Energy, our natural pre-workout, is a great example of this, with no additives or artificial sweeteners, which can often provide detrimental effects.
Specific ingredients to look for in a pre-workout include BCAAs (branched chain amino acids, namely Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine), creatine, B vitamins, and other amino acids like Beta-Alanine, Citrulline and L-Arginine.
Can I Use Coffee as a Pre-Workout?
A large number of pre-workout supplements contain caffeine, for the range of benefits it provides, such as alertness, mental focus, endurance and resistance against fatigue.
It stands to reason that you can get the same benefits from drinking coffee before your workout. You may not get the full range of benefits as a proper pre-workout supplement, though.
Bottom Line: Should I Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?
A pre-workout supplement is not essential. It’s entirely possible to achieve great results without one. However, a clean, natural pre-workout supplement may help you go an extra mile in your training, and give you an extra edge to help you reach your goals that much faster.
Don’t believe people who say that all pre-workout supplements are useless, or worse, dangerous.
The right mix of ingredients can deliver a range of benefits for both the mind and the body, and by checking the ingredient list for any unwanted additives, you can ensure that the pre-workout you’re taking is clean, natural, and does nothing but good things for you.