What Is Pre-Workout & Should You Use It? (Benefits & Risks)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: April 30, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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Every dedicated gym-goer eventually questions if they're truly maximizing their workouts. As a personal trainer, I often see clients ready to level up their routine.

When more gym time isn't an option, I sometimes suggest a pre-workout supplement. Yet, be cautious: many products prioritize marketing over quality.

However, knowing what to look for can help you distinguish effective pre-workouts from the rest.

Quick Summary

  • Pre-workout supplements are designed to enhance athletic performance and are most effective when they contain key ingredients like beta-alanine, creatine, caffeine, and BCAAs.
  • Scientifically proven pre-workout formulas can improve muscle endurance, promote muscle growth, and boost mental focus and motivation.
  • A study in the Global Pediatric Health journal found that 33.3% of high school athletes believe pre-workout supplements moderately increase their strength.
  • Based on my professional experience, the right pre-workout can significantly enhance your training results, but it's crucial to choose high-quality products and set realistic expectations

What Are Pre-Workout Supplements?

capsule and powder supplement that are pre-workouts

Pre-workout supplements are usually powder- or capsule-based products that you take before you head to the gym or other workout regimen.

Their main goal with a pre-workout is to improve athletic performance and get more out of the time they spend exercising.

Think of it as a way to do more reps and sets, or add just that extra little weight plate.

While every pre-workout formula is different, the most effective ones rely on a few proteins, minerals, and herbs.

Standard pre-workout formulas often feature beta-alanine, creatine, caffeine, and BCAAs, but recent innovations have introduced substances like huperzine A or senactiv.

“BCAAs are three specific essential amino acids that inhibit muscle protein breakdown and aid in glycogen storage: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.”

- Ashley Mateo, Writer at RunnersWorld.com

These combine to improve your athletic performance by a few percentage points. But when you add that small increase over many training sessions, the results can be impressive.

Pre-workouts can be a game-changer in battling fatigue and enhancing gains, but they're an addition to, not a substitute for, disciplined training and nutrition—something I emphasize as a coach and athlete.

And for a tailored pre-workout choice that fits your goals, seek advice from a health professional or trainer.

3 Benefits Of Pre-Workout

man and women working out in different ways

Here are the main benefits that you can get from scientifically proven pre-workout formulas:

1. Improved Muscle Endurance

The main thing that holds people back is premature fatigue. It's that burning sensation that then leads to those jelly muscles where each extra set becomes a struggle.

But with the right type of pre-workout, you may be able to boost energy levels and reduce muscle fatigue.

According to a study published by the Amino Acids Journal,  ingredients like beta-alanine in pre-workout supplements can increase muscle carnosine concentrations, improving performance during high-intensity exercise [1].

2. Effective Muscle Growth

The extra effort you can put in at the gym will mean more strain on muscles, and that will ultimately lead to more muscle mass.

But some pre-workouts also preempt post-workout recovery by including some BCAAs. This amino acid combination has been shown to improve muscle protein synthesis, which may speed up your recovery times.

3. Focused Motivation

The other thing you might find with quality pre-workout products is that the added caffeine and increased energy production might also stimulate the brain, per a 2014 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [2].

And when you can keep your mental focus and attention, it can become a lot easier to stay motivated. All those little benefits add up to big differences in the long run.

Related: Best Pre-Workouts For Focus

Do Pre-Workout Supplements Have Side Effects?

man holding his shoulder in pain

From my personal regimen and coaching experience, I've found pre-workout side effects to be minimal, focusing instead on how they complement a well-structured training program.

Some people believe that they might lead to muscle cramps because you work harder, but it's more likely to be a problem with magnesium deficiency before working out.

What can be more common is a tingling sensation in your hands and feet, and creatine monohydrate might make some people feel bloated.

One word of caution would be for people with heart health conditions as the improved blood flow may lead to high blood pressure.

Luckily, for those sensitive to caffeine or other common pre-workout ingredients, alternatives like L-theanine can provide a smoother energy boost without the jitters, and beetroot extract is gaining popularity for its ability to enhance blood flow and exercise performance [3].

When Should You Take A Pre-Workout Supplement?

From my competitive days to intense training sessions, I've found hitting that 20-minute mark before the warm-up primes my performance just right.

Then, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Look out for tingling or itching in your hands and feet and for a boost in energy at the same time.

Once you know exactly how long it takes your body to absorb and activate the pre-workout ingredients, you can fine-tune the timing so that you get the best physical performance after your warm-up routine.

Setting The Right Pre-Workout Expectations

man taking a drink after workout

Now, while all the above sounds great, you need to set your expectations right.

A study in the Global Pediatric Health journal reveals that 33.3% of high school athletes using pre-workout supplements are convinced that these aids have a moderate likelihood of bolstering their strength [4].

And that's a rational approach.

You're not going to suddenly turn in The Hulk and double the weight plates on your bench press.

But if you can achieve a 5% workout performance boost, that can add up quickly over the weeks and months.

Here's what that means.

Let's say you squat 200 lbs for 8 reps. With the right pre-workout for pumping, you might be able to get an extra rep with the same weight. Or you might be able to add another 5 to 10 lbs to the bar.

Related Articles:

FAQs

Can You Take a Pre-workout Every Day?

Yes, most people can take a pre-workout every day. But it's generally a supplement that you should only take on your most intense workout days. That's when you need muscle power and enhanced performance.

Can Pre-workout Make You Gain Weight?

No, a pre-workout generally wouldn't cause you to gain weight. What may happen is that you gain muscle mass by regularly taking pre-workout, but that wouldn't be a bad thing.

When Was Pre-workout Invented?

Pre-workout, as we know it today, was invented in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The exact invention date is hard to pinpoint, but one of the earliest and most well-known pre-workout supplements, Ultimate Orange, was created by Dan Duchaine in the late 1980s.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17136505/
  2. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-S1-P45
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18681988/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34291127/
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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