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

What Is Pre-Workout & Should You Be Using It?

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 23, 2022

There comes a stage where every gym addict will start to wonder whether they are getting the absolute maximum out of their time on machines or weight racks. And as a personal trainer, I have many clients at various stages in their fitness journeys wondering whether they should be doing more.

It's difficult to tell many of these people to book more gym time when they are already going as much as their life allows. And that's usually when I advise them to take a pre-workout product.

Unfortunately, based on our research and experience, most pre-workout supplements are a waste of time and money as they invest more in marketing than a great formula.

But there are a few ways to tell the good from the bad once you understand what they are meant to do.

Summary Of Key Findings

  • Pre-workout supplements combine minerals, herbs, and amino acids to trigger certain responses in the body.
  • The pre-workout formulas that we've seen the most success with tackle both exercise performance and mental focus.
  • You still need to set the right expectations and understand what the best timing is for these dietary supplements.

What Are Pre-Workout Supplements?

capsule and powder supplement

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 is to improve athletic performance to get more out of the time you 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.

Typical pre-workout ingredients include beta-alanine, creatine, caffeine, and also BCAAs [1].

“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 up over many training sessions, the results can be impressive.

Post you may likePre-workout and Post-workout

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. For example, a common ingredient is beta-alanine, and research has shown that it may postpone exhaustion during exercise [2].

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 [3]. 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 pre-workout products is that the increased energy production and sometimes added caffeine might also stimulate the brain [4].

And when you can keep the 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

My personal experience has been that side effects from pre-workouts are limited.

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 [3].

What can be more common is a tingling sensation in your hands and feet, and creatine monohydrate might make some people feel bloated [5].

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

When Should You Take A Pre-Workout Supplement?

My advice is to take a pre-workout about 20 minutes before starting your warm-up.

Then, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Look out for tingling 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 ingredients, you can fine-tune the timing so that you get the best physical performance after your warm-up routine.

You really want to make it count when those heavy sets and reps come up.

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.

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 supplement, 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.

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, 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.

Are You Going To Find Out What Pre-Workout Does?

I've had countless clients who made significant improvements in their fitness journey thanks to gaining this kind of boost. It can bring you to your goals so much faster.

But many pre-workout supplements either have the wrong ingredients or don't provide the right dose. So you have to be very careful which ones you choose.


References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/branched-chain-amino-acids-uses-risks
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17136505/
  3. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/ss/slideshow-muscle-cramps-foods
  4. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-S1-P45
  5. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/creatine-bloating

Was this article helpful?

About The Author