Supplements

Benefits of Pre-Workout | What Is It? When To Take it?

Did you know that there are supplements to help you maximise the benefits of your time at the gym before you even walk through the door? To help you out, we’ve looked at the benefits of pre-workouts and how to choose the best one for your goals. We’ve also done some digging into the best time to take a pre-workout.

If you’re looking to increase your performance during your workouts and see greater changes to your body over time, using pre-workout supplements could help to give you the extra boost you need.

In this article, you’ll find:

man on cross trainer drinking supplement

What is Pre-Workout?

A pre-workout is a way to boost your energy and optimise performance during your workout. It typically comes as a powdered supplement that you mix with water. Pre-workout supplements generally contain combinations of ingredients, making them an easy alternative to taking several different supplements before hitting the gym.

Although each brand chooses their own ingredients, pre-workout shakes are often made up of caffeine, vitamins, creatine, and other various ingredients to enhance energy and strength.1

The benefit is an increase in performance during anaerobic exercise (like weightlifting) or endurance exercise (like cardio) by giving an energy boost and delaying fatigue.2 Even though the ingredients in pre-workouts might vary, they all aim to maximise the results of your workout.

What are the benefits?

If you’re new to working out and need an energy boost, or have been training for a while and feel like your progress has plateaued, then a this shake might be beneficial for you. The benefits of pre-workouts are related to increasing performance and strength.

Studies have shown short term increases in lean body mass and lower body strength when taking a pre-workout supplement consistently.2 Often, the combination of effects of the ingredients are greater than taking one supplement on its own.2

Caffeine

Caffeine is one of the most common ingredients found in pre-workout shakes, which has been shown to improve muscle power and endurance, without increasing how hard the activity feels (the rate of perceived exertion).3,4 In other words, you’re able to accomplish more in your workout without feeling like you’re pushing yourself harder.

It works by dilating (widening) your blood vessels, which increases blood flow to your muscles.3 Caffeine can also help to improve brain power (cognition) in the short term, making it easier to focus on the muscles that you’re working.5

woman drinking supplement

Other supplements found in pre-workouts

Vitamin B

Another category of the common ingredients found in pre-workouts are B vitamins like niacin and vitamin B12. These vitamins play key roles in metabolism and energy.6 They may also contain creatine, a common ergogenic (building) aid, which increases performance in short-duration, high intensity exercise, and also helps with lean gains when taken consistently.7

Beta Alanine and L-Citrulline

Some pre-workouts formulas may also contain beta alanine and L-citrulline, which have both been shown to improve energy in endurance-related exercise.8,9 You’ll find all of these key ingredients in THE Pre-Workout, benefiting both short-duration (strength training) and longer-duration (cardio based) activities.

BCAA

Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, are often taken before a workout and may be part of your all-in-one pre-workout supplement. They may be included as a single ingredient or as individual amino acids. As building blocks of muscle tissue, amino acids may help to prevent muscle damage and muscle breakdown, as well as improve muscle rebuilding.5 They might also help prevent fatigue which impacts performance.5

Carbs

Some pre-workout mixes contain carbohydrates (sugar) to top off your available energy stores, while others are sugar and calorie-free. You might decide whether or not you need carbs based on whether you’ve eaten a meal recently or the type of workout you’re planning.

If you’re planning an endurance cardio workout (like running or cycling), the extra carbs can be useful, but if you’re planning on just lifting (anaerobic activity), you probably don’t need the sugar.

Creatine

During explosive exercise, the body uses creatine to make energy. To perform at a high level, your muscles need a good supply of energy so that you can perform harder for longer periods of time. Being able to take your workout one step further every time can have a compounding effect, meaning reaching your aesthetic and strength goals sooner. These changes have the potential to improve your performance and keep making progress towards your fitness goals.

L-Glutamine

This is an amino acid, one of the molecules that make up protein. Naturally found in food sources, they can help to repair new muscle. When you work out, your muscles suffer from tiny tears, that when repaired make them stronger. Make sure your stores are topped up ready for a tough workout.

Vasodilators

When you’re working out, your body is working hard to pump enough oxygen to your muscles to make energy. Vasodilators cause the blood vessels to widen, which means an increased blood flow to the muscles, providing them with more of the nutrients they need to keep you moving. The longer it takes for you to tire, the harder you can push your workout and the greater changes you can make.

 

Overall, pre-workouts allow you to repeatedly increase your power, strength, and stamina over time. This can lead to more significant changes in lean body mass, loss of fat mass, and a faster metabolism.2

cyclist drinking supplement

When to Take

Because caffeine is a staple ingredient and it takes effect in about 30 minutes, the ideal time for you to take your pre-workout supplement is 30-60 minutes before your workout.5

This gives enough time for the supplement to get into your bloodstream and give you the benefits you’re looking for. THE Pre-Workout is designed to be taken dissolved in water 30 minutes before exercise, which also helps you to stay hydrated.

Although caffeine impacts you immediately, some ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine need time to build up in your body, and are most effective when taken consistently to maintain muscle stores.5 For this reason, regularly supplementing with a pre-workout product will help maximise the benefits and impact of its ingredients.5

Side Effects

Potential side effects of a pre-workout depend on the ingredients in your specific supplement. Typically, caffeine and other energy-boosting compounds could increase your heart rate and blood pressure temporarily, but there’s been no evidence of widespread negative effects.5

Too much caffeine can result in side effects like nausea, heart palpitations, and headaches in those who are sensitive to caffeine, so be mindful of the timing of your pre-workout if you’ve recently consumed coffee and tea as well.5 You can always discuss supplements with your doctor before beginning a new routine and monitor the impact they have on you.

 

Take Home Message

Pre-workout supplements are designed to help increase your performance by boosting energy, power, and stamina. They’re generally taken about half an hour before your workout, and the benefits include improved muscle strength, cognition, lean gains, and endurance. To better select the optimal shake for before your workout, consider what your goals are.

Taking a pre-workout consistently can help maximise its impact on your performance. Pre-workouts can help you feel more confident in taking the next step in your training sessions and provide the boost you need to reach your peak performance level and continue to advance your physical abilities.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


  1. Martinez, N., Campbell, B., Franek, M., Buchanan, L., & Colquhoun, R. (2016). The effect of acute pre-workout supplementation on power and strength performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 13(1), 29.
  2. Outlaw, J. J., Wilborn, C. D., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Hayward, S. E., Urbina, S. L., Taylor, L. W., & Foster, C. A. (2014). Acute effects of a commercially-available pre-workout supplement on markers of training: a double-blind study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 40.
  3. Del Coso, J., Salinero, J. J., González-Millán, C., Abián-Vicén, J., & Pérez-González, B. (2012). Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition9(1), 21.
  4. López-González, L. M., Sánchez-Oliver, A. J., Mata, F., Jodra, P., Antonio, J., & Domínguez, R. (2018). Acute caffeine supplementation in combat sports: a systematic review. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition15(1), 60.
  5. Harty, P. S., Zabriskie, H. A., Erickson, J. L., Molling, P. E., Kerksick, C. M., & Jagim, A. R. (2018). Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition15(1), 41.
  6. US National Library of Medicine. (2015, April 2). Health Topics: B Vitamins. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/bvitamins.html
  7. Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., … & Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14(1), 18.
  8. Rosas, F., Ramírez-Campillo, R., Martínez, C., Caniuqueo, A., Cañas-Jamet, R., McCrudden, E., … & Loturco, I. (2017). Effects of plyometric training and beta-alanine supplementation on maximal-intensity exercise and endurance in female soccer players. Journal of human kinetics58(1), 99-109.
  9. Botchlett, R., Lawler, J. M., & Wu, G. (2019). L-Arginine and l-citrulline in sports nutrition and health. In Nutrition And Enhanced Sports Performance(pp. 645-652). Academic Press.

 

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Claire Muszalski

Claire Muszalski

Registered Dietitian

Claire is a Registered Dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.

Talking and writing about food and fitness is at the heart of Claire’s ethos as she loves to use her experience to help others meet their health and wellness goals.

Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and loves the mental and physical boost she gets from regular runs and yoga classes. When she’s not keeping fit herself, she’s cheering on her hometown’s sports teams in Pittsburgh, or cooking for her family in the kitchen.

Find out more about Claire’s experience here.


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