Once you start going to the gym, it doesn’t take long before you learn about the cult-like obsession known as pre-workout supplements.
Afterall, who doesn’t want an edge?
God forbid you take the wrong one and end up as the next disastrous gym meme.
Well, you can relax.
What is a pre-workout?
Pre-workouts supplements are specially designed performance formulas made to be taken before exercise (hence, [pre] workout supplement).
The philosophy behind them is simple:
Why go to the gym tired when you can drink something similar to an energy drink or coffee before hand to pump you up (3)?
Alas, pre-workout supplements are a hit.
What are pre-workouts supposed to do?
Optimal pre-workout supplements improve your workouts via increased:
To be more specific, it goes like this…
The 3 benefits of pre-workout supplements
#1 Increased energy levels
Afterall, this is the most human pain-point holding both men and women back from hitting the gym consistently.
How do pre-workouts increase energy?
The most common primary energy ingredient in pre-workout supplements is caffeine (4).
The type used can vary, including:
- natural caffeine
- purified caffeine anhydrous
- slow release Infinergy
- fast release caffeine citrate
However, the end goal is always to increase and maintain your energy levels for the duration of your workout.
The ethical caffeine range for performance enhancement looks like this:
Caffeine quantities in pre-workouts
- Low: 0 to 150 mg
- Optimal: 150 to 200 mg
- Tolerance compensation: 200 to 365 mg
- Unethical and dangerous 365 mg and up
We prefer the 150 to 200 mg range for our pre-workouts, alongside powerful endurance, strength, and recovery ingredients.
Obviously if your pre-workout supplement isn’t well-rounded, your going to crave more caffeine; but with the right full-spectrum supplement, this health-conscious dose of caffeine will out-perform any uber-stimulate of the week.
#2 Greater strength and power
The most common strength enhancing ingredient is creatine, and there are two ways you can take it.
Option 1: with your pre-workout. If this is what you prefer, then opt for 2.5 grams creatine hydrochloride which dissolves easily.
Option 2: after workout. If you’d rather take creatine afterwards, opt for 5 grams creatine monohydrate which is the most respected form of creatine, though it doesn’t dissolve effectively with a large pre-workout blend.
However ingredients like caffeine, and the endurance boosters below can effectively increase your ability to maintain strength and explosive power overtime to perform maximally till the end of your workout.
#3 Longer lasting endurance
People that take quality pre-workout supplements tend to workout harder, and for longer (6).
Part of this is due to caffeine and creatine (if your supplement contains it), however there are other key endurance promoting ingredients that can be reliably used like:
Without a doubt, this is our favorite ingredient for boosting endurance.
The l-citrulline in l-citrulline malate increases circulation to deliver more nutrients and oxygen to muscles, while the malic acid (malate) directly feeds energy into muscle cells.
The combined result makes l-citrulline malate one of the best ingredients to take before a workout.
L-citrulline malate quantities in pre-workouts:
- Ineffective: 0 to 5,000 mg
- Optimal: 6,000 to 8,000 mg
- Anything above this is unnecessary
Your initial response to beta-alanine is likely to be the most memorable! That’s because beta-alanine in proper dosages can cause a flushing/tingling of the skin. This is most predominant in the face!
But don’t freak out, this is totally normal. And this small tingly price comes with the benefits of increased endurance and recovery when taken consistently over time.
Beta-alanine quantities in pre-workouts
- Ineffective: 0 to 3,200 mg
- Optimal: 3,200 to 5,000 mg
- Anything above is unlikely, as its pricey
Beta-alanine is one of the most advantageous supplements an athlete can take. We recommend you learn more about the benefits of beta-alanine here and why most pro-level players take it.
Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs):
BCAAs are 3 of the essential amino acids: l-leucine, l-valine, and isoleucine. Compared to other amino acids, these 3 demonstrate the most anabolic and performance-related properties.
Unfortunately, BCAAs are subject to a lot of over-hype and over-promotion. Many supplement companies tell you to basically take them all the time.
However, when and how much BCAA you take matters a lot.
‘The best time to take your BCAA is before workout.’
Dosage standards for BCAAs are:
- Ineffective: 0 to 3,000 mg
- Boosts performance: 3,000 to 6,000 mg
- Boosts performance and recovery: 6,000 to 8,000 mg
It also appears that consistency over time matters for getting the most out of this ingredient. To fully understand branch chain amino acids and why you should take BCAA powders read this.
Pre-workouts can also promote faster recovery between sets and after workout
Every single ingredient listed above also happens to improve your bounce-back between sets. The bottom 4 also increase your post workout recovery when dosed properly.
Though, you’re still going to want to eat-to-recover with whole foods and high-quality protein.
Should you take pre-workout?
If you have the desire to increase your energy and performance before workout, then yes.
But you are going to need to be a smart consumer.
If you only want an energy boost, then pre-workout selection is easy; just make sure it contains a caffeine dosage that works for you.
However, if you would like to increase performance as a whole, then your options are far more limited.
For instance, most pre-workout formulas are under 10 grams in weight, however proper dosages of all the ingredients we mentioned above adds up to roughly 16 grams.
This is exactly why we made our own top 10 ranking to help you choose a high-quality pre-workout that you can count on.
Who shouldn’t take a pre-workout?
If you have a heart condition, irregular blood pressure, a thyroid condition, or any other health condition, you should avoid pre-workouts.
Likewise if you are not advised or able to perform intense exercise, pre-workouts aren’t a good idea.
Beginner FAQ about pre-workout supplements
Pre-workout meaning: This is simply the time before exercise: pre (before) + workout (exercise). So, pre-workout supplement simply means a supplement you take before working out.
What does pre-workout feel like? The closest comparison to how a pre workout feels, would be an energy drink. Pre workouts typically make you feel energized and hyper.
Why does pre-workout make me itchy? This is caused by either beta-alanine or niacin. Both of these cause stimulation of nerve endings which isn’t dangerous.
Why does pre-workout give me a headache? Pre-workouts may cause headaches in some people for two reasons: either you are dehydrated or you are taking too much caffeine.
Why does pre-workout make me need to poop? This is an effect from caffeine. The same ‘stimulation’ happens from drinking a cup of coffee. Basically, caffeine causes your intestines to get a little more active.
Why does pre-workout make my heart race? This is another effect that can be caused by caffeine content. Too much for your particular tolerance can cause your heart to race / pound/ flutter. Also, ingredients like Yohimbe can affect heart rate.
Can I take pre-workout with protein? Technically you could, but it will most likely make you throw up once you start exercising. So, don’t do it. Save your protein for post workout.