What is Pre-workout?

02 Oct 2023
Pre-workout supplements contain ingredients that may help boost energy and enhance sports performance.

If you're an athlete or a fitness pro, you've probably tried many strategies to get ahead of the game. And you've likely heard about pre-workout. The popular supplement is believed to boost energy and enhance performance.

Some pre-workout supplements may be effective, but the evidence isn't conclusive. There are also safety concerns because the FDA doesn't closely regulate sports supplements. So, there are important considerations before you try pre-workout supplements.

What is pre-workout?
Pre-workout is one of many supplements designed to enhance athletic performance. As the name suggests, people take pre-workout before exercise or sport. They do this to boost energy levels and improve strength and endurance. The popular supplements come in various forms, including pills, powder, and liquids.

What is in pre-workout supplements?
Pre-workout supplements have ingredients that may vary by brand. But you'll find some similar key ingredients in many pre-workout supplements, such as:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world. And it's a key ingredient in pre-workout supplements. It activates the central nervous system. It may boost energy, increase focus, and enhance athletic performance. Caffeine can also help raise exercise metabolism and support muscle function.
  • Beta-alanine: Your liver makes this amino acid. You can also find it in foods such as chicken and beef. Beta-alanine has been linked to less muscle fatigue and better exercise performance.
  • Creatine: Creatine is an amino acid created in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Like beta-alanine, it is also found in animal foods. Your muscles store creatine and use it for energy. It's been shown to enhance performance, especially during high-intensity, short-duration activities like powerlifting.
  • Citrulline: This amino acid helps the body make nitric oxide, a gas that promotes blood flow by relaxing blood vessels. This may help deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, which could boost performance. But, research is still mixed.
  • Electrolytes: These minerals help regulate many processes in your body. They also support healthy muscle function. Examples include sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, chloride, and magnesium. You lose electrolyte minerals through sweat. So, it's important to replace them during long bouts of intense exercise.
  • Glucose: Glucose, or sugar, is a carbohydrate and the body's preferred energy source. You need adequate amounts of easily digested carbohydrates for energy before a workout. You'll also need them during your workout if you exercise for longer than 60 minutes.

    Pre-workout supplements may contain many other ingredients. This includes betaine, B vitamins, taurine, tyrosine, and yohimbe.


Are pre-workout supplements effective?
A supplement is only as effective as its ingredients. And pre-workout supplement ingredients can vary widely. So, it's impossible to say that all pre-workout supplements are effective or ineffective. However, some of the common ingredients in many pre-workout supplements may be beneficial.

One study looked at how a pre-workout supplement affected performance during high-intensity interval training. It led to better aerobic capacity (VO2max), endurance (critical velocity), and training volume.

The supplement also helped maintain or improve body composition during intense training. A 2018 review found pre-workout supplements enhanced muscular endurance and mood during a workout.

Ultimately, certain pre-workout supplements may be effective. But it depends on several factors, including the key ingredients, proper usage, and your fitness goals.

What are the risks of taking pre-workout supplements?

The 2018 review that assessed multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements found that they are generally safe. However, there are some risks involved in taking pre-workout supplements.

The FDA doesn't approve the safety and efficacy of supplement ingredients or the ingredient amounts listed on the labels. So, you can't be sure about what's in your supplement as labels may be inaccurate.

Plus, the caffeine content in pre-workout varies. Some products may contain as much as 387 mg per serving. That's equivalent to 2 to 4 cups of regular brewed coffee, depending on the strength.

Too much caffeine may cause side effects such as:

Overstimulation, including restlessness or shakiness

  • Anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure or fast heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Dependency

Some pre-workout supplements have high amounts of caffeine and sugar, which can lead to an energy crash and related symptoms. Your body metabolizes caffeine and sugar quickly. Both ingredients can give you an initial energy boost followed by a sharp drop when they leave your system.

Although the research is mixed, some studies suggest that pre-workout supplements can impair kidney and liver function.

Athletes should also be cautious. Pre-workout supplements could contain steroids and other ingredients banned by sports organizations. This could result in a failed drug test and disqualification or loss of employment.

Do you need a pre-workout?
No, pre-workout isn't necessary for most people. A balanced diet can give you all the nutrients you need to crush your workouts. If you are a competitive athlete or bodybuilder, you may find that a carefully chosen pre-workout supplement can help give you an edge.

Talk to our gym manager before taking a pre-workout supplement. This is particularly important if you have underlying health conditions or take medications.

And never try a new supplement on game or race day since you don't know how your body will react. It's best to start with small amounts of a pre-workout supplement during training. Then, gradually raise the amount when you know how it affects you.