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 pre-workout supplements 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 are Pre-Workout Supplements?
A pre-workout supplement is something you take before training, intended to boost energy and improve athletic performance so that many can achieve their desired fitness goals like muscle growth or endurance.
A pre-workout can come in many forms. Many pre-workout supplements 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, an amino acid blend, 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, especially for those with high blood pressure.
What does a Pre-Workout do?
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 athletic 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. We're talking less muscle fatigue and you'll increase blood flow when it matters most.
Benefits of Taking Pre-Workout Supplements
There are numerous ways that a pre-workout can deliver the cellular energy and athletic performance boost you desire. That’s why there are so many different formulas for pre-workout products out there.
Certain substances in sports nutrition supplements, such as certain vitamins, nutrients, or other ingredients, can give you more power, boost energy levels, or deliver other exercise performance benefits aimed at helping you reach new heights at the gym.
The best pre-workout supplement is made to mix a number of these dietary supplements into one, easy-to-take pill or, more commonly, a powder form, as opposed to taking each ingredient individually.
Here are some of the benefits that pre-workout supplements might provide:
Instead of taking a while to get your blood pumping and really get into your workout, pre-workout supplements increase your blood flow, giving you energy straight away, allowing you to save time and fit in more high-intensity workouts.
Research suggests that the effects of pre-workout formulas may give you higher stores of energy, helping you sustain intense workout training for longer before you start to experience muscle cramps and fatigue.
Delayed fatigue means you can improve endurance and the physical performance of each of your workouts.
A lot of pre-workout formulas help boost muscle power by expanding an athlete's blood vessels, which in turn helps you increase your exercise performance output, such as lifting heavier weights or running faster.
Serious athletes enjoy improved muscle protein synthesis and increased blood flow from their go-to pre-workout formula.
Increased Mental Alertness and Focus
Aside from improving athletic performance, 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 regimen, from executing perfect reps to pushing through the mental wall toward the end of a set or routine.
Take pre-workouts before exercise and experience better post-workout recovery.
Many pre-workouts contain a mix of amino acids and/or creatine, which helps aid recovery - even if you take them before or during your workout.
Optimized protein synthesis from pre-workouts helps the body build muscle during recovery periods.
Support Lean Muscle Mass and Optimal Weight
Amino acids and creatine are also known to help build lean muscle mass and help you lose weight. Taking these in a pre-workout may give your muscles the fuel they need to grow at a faster rate, which has been shown to aid in weight loss and assist athletes in achieving their body composition goals.
Additionally, the energy production that some pre-workout ingredients help kick start your metabolism and accelerate the fat-burning process.
When Should I Take Pre-Workout Supplements?
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 with health conditions.
Caffeine targets the central nervous system which can make you feel jittery, and too much caffeine (or taking it too late) can lead to impaired sleep, 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, like sodium bicarbonate.
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 pure 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 pure 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 clean 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 monohydrate, B vitamins, and other amino acids like Beta-Alanine, Citrulline and L-Arginine.
Can I Use Coffee as a Pre-Workout Supplement?
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 supplements, though.
Bottom Line: Should I Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Pre-workout supplements are not essential. It’s entirely possible to achieve great results without one. However, clean, natural pre-workout supplements 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 key is to pay attention to the ingredients within your pre-workout supplements, and most importantly, how your body reacts to them.
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.