Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

Can You Use Pre-workout for Studying? See What Experts Say 

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 24, 2022

Most of us have been there at some point, cramming for exams and knowing we are facing an all-nighter.

The old school way was to drink coffee, an endless cup, which evolved into the ever-popular energy drink. Now, the trend is pointing to drinking pre-workout for studying.

I solicited the help of some local college-age gym-goers and set out to verify the hype that pre-workout supplements are better than coffee for the all-night cram session.

I also consulted our dietitian to cover the safety aspect, so here is what you should know about pre-workout for studying.

Quick Summary

  • Pre-workout supplements can improve energy and brain function.
  • Many pre-workouts contain hefty doses of caffeine anhydrous per serving.
  • Nootropics, known as “smart drugs” which are commonly found in many pre-workouts, may increase focus and improve reaction time.

Can Pre-workouts Help With Studying?

Yes, pre-workouts can help with studying, and the best pre-workout supplements for that contain natural ingredients like caffeine to boost energy levels and focus.

Let’s look at what ingredients to look for in a pre-workout for studying.

What Ingredients Help Study?

Nootropics, also known as “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers, are popular ingredients in pre-workout supplements.

They might effectively improve memory, thinking, and other mental functions, promoting mental focus during exercise [1].

Caffeine

Coffee beans close up image

There is one reason people down cup after cup of coffee to stay up all night: caffeine.

Caffeine stimulates the body’s central nervous system making you feel more alert, energized, and focused [2].

A study at Johns Hopkins University shows caffeine enhances memory.

After studying a series of images, participants who took 200 mg caffeine tablets could better identify the same images against similar ones during testing the next day [3].

So why is caffeine so effective?

As the day goes on, adenosine (a chemical found in the body that facilitates sleep) levels rise.

The increase in adenosine tells the brain it is time for rest.

Caffeine is chemically similar to adenosine but is an adenosine receptor antagonist.

That means that it prevents this natural neurotransmitter from binding to the adenosine receptors and signaling rest, and instead, it stimulates the brain [4].

These mixed messages of rest and activity in the brain prompt the pituitary gland to release adrenaline, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response, increasing blood flow, heightening alertness, and boosting energy.

Related Article: Caffeine-free Pre-workouts 

Creatine

This non-essential amino acid is often found in pre-workout supplements because it promotes improved performance, especially in muscles.

We now know that creatine may reduce mental fatigue and is an effective cognitive enhancer [5].

L-Theanine

Relaxed sitting woman

L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes relaxation and increased focus and eases anxiety and stress.

Combined with caffeine and creatine, it will significantly benefit studying [6].

L-Tyrosine

This is another amino acid that potentially improves memory and thinking skills.

The body produces L-tyrosine, obtained through a diet by consuming dairy, meat, eggs, fish, and beans [7]. Boosting memory means you retain the information you need going into an exam.

“L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea that can increase feelings of calmness and may be linked to increased creativity. Its effectiveness is even greater when combined with caffeine.” -Erica Julson, MS, RDN, CLT

Pre-workouts and Sleep

Person resting top view

With the amount of caffeine in pre-workout, you may think it would do the opposite of providing a sound, restful night’s sleep.

It goes against logic, but pre-workout might actually facilitate good sleep. Let me explain.

Pre-workouts containing ingredients that likely provide increased energy, stamina, muscle protein synthesis, and recovery will allow for a more intense workout. Exercise promotes sleep, so more intense and longer workout sessions lead to more restful sleep.

The result of good restful sleep? Better ability to focus and concentrate on studies.

Some ingredients to look for that may increase performance during workouts are [8]:

  • Beta-alanine
  • Acetyl-L-carnitine
  • Creatine
  • L-citrulline-malate
  • Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
  • Nitrate

So, in a nutshell, you can practice taking pre-workout on workout days to boost physical performance for a better night’s sleep. And you can use pre-workout on non-workout days for the mental benefits of increased energy, improved focus, and better overall cognitive function.

But you need to make sure that you don’t take them too late in the day, especially if they contain stimulants like caffeine, because that might be counterproductive for sleep as caffeine needs at least 6 hours to properly metabolize.

Downsides of Taking It For Cognitive Tasks

A bloated stomach of a student

Pre-workout can affect each person differently, which the college students in our trial definitely confirmed.

The group found the boost to energy levels quite appealing, but some reported feelings of jitteriness, likely caused by caffeine [9].

Others reported minor digestive issues and some bloating. Creatine can undoubtedly be the culprit here, along with caffeine and sodium bicarbonate.

Though a bit bothersome, no one in the group felt the effects were enough to stop usage as the benefits for physical performance and studying far outweighed a few minor physical annoyances.

FAQs

Will Pre-workout Keep You Awake?

Yes, pre-workout will keep you awake as the caffeine content in most of these supplements equals at least two or three cups of coffee.

Can You Take a Pre-workout before an Exam?

Yes, you can take a pre-workout before an exam, as taking a supplement with high caffeine content may increase alertness and improve focus due to caffeine’s ability to enhance brain function.

So, Should You Study With Pre-workout?

Taking a pre-workout to study seems to be a good idea. Pre-workout helps you stay alert and focused for all-night cram sessions.

However, if you are looking to use pre-workout to study, my advice is to read the label and stay away from a proprietary blend to ensure you are getting known and tested “smart drugs” that will help you to make the most of your all-nighter.

Use this article to find a pre-workout that promotes focus for your next study session, but don’t forget the importance of what a healthy diet and consistent exercise routine will do for your sleep and cognitive functions, especially in the long term.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5021479/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209050/
  3. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/stories/caffeine_memory.html
  4. https://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_03/i_03_m/i_03_m_par/i_03_m_par_cafeine.html
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-creatine/art-20347591
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/l-theanine
  7. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1037/tyrosine
  8. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-pre-workout-supplements
  9. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pre-workout-side-effects#

Was this article helpful?

About The Author