Pre-workout supplements promise enhanced energy, focus, and more “pump” - three things most gym-goers seek.
Most of my fitness clients want to know the ins and outs of a product, and pre-workout supplements top the list, prompting many conversations about the invention of pre-workout and how it has changed over time.
I sat down with a healthcare professional to look closely at the 40-year history of pre-workout supplements that all started with “Ultimate Orange” back in 1982.
Read on to learn more about one of the most popular nutritional supplements.
- Venice, California, is the birthplace of the first pre-workout, invented by Dan Duchaine in 1982.
- Ultimate Orange, the first pre-workout supplement, contained Ephedrine (ephedra extract), an ingredient ultimately banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the early 2000s.
- Unlike protein powders and some other supplements, a pre-workout blend is formulated to give ergogenic benefits, with ingredients like creatine, BCAAs, caffeine, and electrolytes targeting mental concentration and physical performance.
The Invention of Pre-Workout
The first pre-workout hit the fitness scene in 1982 in Venice, California, and was named “Ultimate Orange.” Invented by Dan Duchaine, this pre-workout drink quickly became popular in the lifting community.
The original “Ultimate Orange” contained Ephedrine (ephedra extract), a naturally occurring central nervous system stimulant banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the early 2000s for use in dietary supplements.
A study by the New England Journal of Medicine partially prompted the 2004 ban showing a link between ephedrine and adverse cardiovascular and central nervous system events, including hypertension and cardiac arrhythmia .
In the early beginnings, creatine, primarily available in the form of creatine monohydrate, was next up on the ever-evolving sports supplement scene and was a prominent pre-workout ingredient in the 1990s to early 2000s.
Around the turn of the century, monohydrate wasn’t the only creatine available as it had been evolving over the previous decade, and mixing creatine with various forms of sugars and other carbohydrates was becoming standard practice .
Then in the early 2000s, similar stimulants like citrulline malate, arginine AKG, and arginine malate began to appear on ingredient labels for their supposed benefits in terms of vasodilation and encouraging better pumps.
The physical culture of the early twentieth century produced such icons as Eugen Sandow and George Hackenschmidt.
Still, it lacked any sort of “pre-workout,” with bodybuilders seeming to rely solely on their diet.
The golden era shined the spotlight on coffee as a pre-workout frequently used by prominent members of the bodybuilding community like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, and Sergio Oliva.
Before this time, caffeine was considered unhealthy and off-limits.
Coffee’s role as a pre-workout during the golden era became less prevalent with the invention of the original pre-workout, “Ultimate Orange,” which brought about a new age in sports medicine that quickly rose in popularity and began to evolve.
This evolution brought about the invention of other pre-workout supplements competing with the famous “Ultimate Orange.”
It catapulted us into a new era of supplements with ingredients like creatine, beta-alanine, arginine, BCAAs, and other standard compounds still in many of today’s pre-workouts.
“Coffee is a well-known sports performance aid that may increase your strength, endurance, power, alertness, and energy levels during a workout.”
- Katey Davidson, MScFN, RD, CPT
6 Common Ingredients
There are certain ingredients for improved energy and focus and more “pump” that fitness enthusiasts should look for on the ingredient label of a pre-workout supplement.
Here’s the list.
Caffeine, in the form of coffee, is still widely used by athletes and non-athletes for increased energy and to enhance their cognitive and physical performance.
As such, caffeine quickly found its way into most pre-workout blends to promote alertness, focus, and possibly weight, BMI, and fat loss .
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are essential nutrients found in meat, legumes, and dairy that promote muscle protein synthesis. The three BCAAs are valine, leucine, and isoleucine. .
Consuming BCAAs before a workout, as in a pre-workout blend, promotes muscle mass gains and may alleviate post-workout soreness .
If you're not sure which BCAA supplements to take, here are our top recommendations:
3. Nitric Oxide Precursors
Nitric Oxide is a naturally occurring substance the body produces with the primary function of vasodilation, which relaxes the blood vessels and improves circulation. You can naturally increase nitric oxide by eating foods high in vitamin C and nitrates .
L-arginine and L-citrulline are commonly listed on the ingredient label of pre-workouts because they are precursors to nitric oxide .
Increasing nitric oxide may help enhance exercise performance by improving blood flow, bringing essential nutrients and oxygen to hard-working muscles during exercise .
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance that the body produces and primarily stores in the muscle cells .
The most widely used form of creatine supplements is monohydrate. Studies show that creatine supplementation improves training intensity, enhances post-exercise recovery, reduces injury risk, and aids thermoregulation .
Creatine’s safety has a long history of being questioned, but research shows that creatine supplementation is generally safe and well-tolerated by most healthy individuals .
- How Fast Does Creatine Work?
- How Much Creatine Should I Take?
- What Happens When I Stop Taking Creatine?
Beta-alanine is found in the best amino acid supplements that may aid the prevention of acid buildup in your muscles. In turn, it can allow you to work out with higher intensity and longer duration .
The International Society of Sports Nutrition confirms beta-alanine’s positive effect on exercise performance. The most common side effect is paraesthesia (tingling), which is not generally harmful but can be bothersome .
Another essential addition to any pre-workout blend is electrolytes. Though they do not enhance performance in the same way as the previously mentioned ingredients, they still play an important role in exercise.
When working out, the body loses water and electrolytes through sweat, with the amount lost depending on several factors, including exercise intensity.
Dehydration can significantly hinder the ability to exercise, making electrolytes crucial to athletic performance .
When Did Pre-Workouts Become Popular?
Pre-workouts became popular shortly after their invention in 1982 because people sought energy, enhanced focus, and more pumps.
Since then, its popularity has continued to grow with formula changes, safer, all-natural ingredients, and endless flavor varieties.
Did Old-School Bodybuilders Take Pre-Workout?
Old school bodybuilders did not take pre-workout as we know it today. These golden-era bodybuilders often found coffee to be the best pre-workout.
Pre-Workout: Four Decades of Fueling Exercise
Over the last four decades, countless people, myself included, have used pre-workout supplements to power through a tough workout or extended gym session.
However, knowing which products are effective and safe can be tricky as the supplement industry has exploded with some ridiculous promises and claims.
We have tested many pre-workout products to help you choose the best to increase your next training session's energy, focus, gains, and recovery:
Check out the reviews to find out our top pick.
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