Author: James O’Sullivan • Fact checked by: Gainful Registered Dietitians • May 19, 2022
If you’ve ever needed a little something “extra” to get pumped and energized for an upcoming workout, you’ve probably looked into pre-workout.
Pre-workout supplements — or simply “pre-workout” — are multi-ingredient dietary formulas made from nutrients that help energize the body and improve athletic performance.
Whether you’re new to pre-workout or an accustomed pre-workout user, you might have a few questions about what your pre-workout even is and how it’s able to funnel energy throughout your body. Keep reading: We’re here to answer all of your pre-workout questions.
Let’s take care of the most basic question first — what is pre-workout?
Pre-workout is typically a powdered substance that you can mix in water and drink before hitting the gym. A variety of key nutrients are blended together to maximize endurance, boost energy levels and minimize recovery time, allowing a person to make each workout more impactful and efficiently work toward their fitness goals. A good pre-workout will include ingredients that work to help build muscle strength, reduce time to fatigue, and delay and reduce muscle soreness.
As you’ve probably guessed, the main appeal of taking pre-workout is the possible boosts it can give to your athletic performance. Pre-workout has earned a reputation for helping athletes build muscle strength and delay muscle soreness. According to a 2018 review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition titled “Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review,” a substantial amount of research suggests that pre-exercise consumption of pre-workout may positively influence muscular endurance and subjective mood. The review notes frequent consumption of pre-workout in conjunction with a resistance training program can lead to beneficial changes in body composition through increased lean mass accretion.
Another study titled “The effect of acute pre-workout supplementation on power and strength performance” published in 2016 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that the ingestion of pre-workout dietary supplement leads to significant improvements in anaerobic peak. An anaerobic exercise is a short, high-intensity activity that breaks down glucose for energy without using oxygen. When a person reaches the anaerobic threshold, or lactate threshold, the body is able to effectively get its energy from carbohydrates instead of exclusively oxygen. The study noted that when taken prior to exercise, a caffeine-containing pre-workout dietary supplement can help improve this desired anaerobic power performance.
Pre-workout is made from a blend of multiple ingredients. There is not a “standard” pre-workout formula, but some of the most common pre-workout ingredients include creatine, beta alanine, citrulline, L-Tarurine, L-Leucine, isoleucine, valine and caffeine.
So what exactly do these ingredients do to help boost athletic performance?
Creatine is an organic compound found naturally in muscle cells. It’s an important ingredient in many pre-workout formulas, as creatine is what helps improve muscle power and energy (especially during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise). It can improve muscle mass, pumps and strength, and enhance exercise performance.
Beta alanine is an amino acid that your body also produces naturally. This ingredient is effective in preventing post-workout fatigue after strenuous exercise. A supplementary dose of beta alanine helps your body produce more carnosine, which can support training at a higher intensity for a longer amount of time and helps to delay muscle fatigue by “soaking” up acid generated during exercise. Beta alanine can help you get those extra reps in.
Like beta alanine, L-citrulline is an amino acid that the body produces naturally. Your kidneys change L-citrulline into another amino acid called L-arginine and a chemical called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps your arteries relax and work better, which strengthens the health of your blood vessels and improves blood flow throughout your body. More oxygen in your muscles means they can potentially work harder and more efficiently, and more oxygen transport means the lungs can work more efficiently during exercise. One study published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that taking citrulline malate enhances both athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness.
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs. These are essential amino acids, which means your body doesn’t produce them naturally. To get BCAAs, you must consume them via foods and/or supplements in your diet. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine comprise about 20-35% of your muscle tissue and are needed for the physiological response to stress and energy production — particularly for muscle health and the metabolism.. The intake of BCAAs can reduce muscle loss and provide faster muscle recovery. They have been shown to improve endurance during workouts, improve strength during workouts, improve recovery and reduce soreness after workouts and stimulate muscle growth.
Then there’s L-Theanine, which is typically paired with caffeine in pre-workout to help increase focus and attention. The caffeine stimulates the body’s central nervous system, improves reaction time and alertness and reduces fatigue, allowing you to extend the amount of time you can exert yourself in exercise and take your workout to the next level.
How long the effects of pre-workout last depends on the ingredients’ half-life. Most ingredients in pre-workout have a half-life of 4-6 hours. That means the pre workout will last and remain in your system for about 4 hours; however, you may only feel the effects for an hour or two. Caffeine, for example, takes about 30 minutes to kick-in with around 1 to 1.5 hours until peak time. Creatine and beta-alanine both take about 30-45 minutes to kick-in and around 1 hour until peak time. Keeping the kick-in times, peak times and half-life in mind, most people believe taking pre-workout 30 minutes before exercise is the best time because it ensures the effects will last throughout their workout. To allow the ingredients to enter the bloodstream more quickly, many people also prefer to take pre-workout on an empty stomach.
Unless you’re especially sensitive to caffeine or have high-blood pressure, it is technically safe for most people to take pre-workout every day. For the best results, however, it is suggested to use pre-workout about 3-4 times a week. Your body will become tolerant to caffeine over time, and you may mentally become too dependent on pre-workout if you use it every day, so it’s recommended for workouts where you need more of a push. Limit your usage to a few select days per week, taking it 30 minutes before your workout.
Also be cautious of taking pre-workout too close to bedtime, as it may disrupt your sleep. If your pre-workout supplement contains caffeine or other stimulants, it may inhibit your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. (This is why Gainful has a low-stim version of pre-workout that allows users to take it any time in the afternoon or evening without affecting their ability to fall asleep.) If you’ve experienced issues with your sleep, frequent headaches at night or insomnia in the past, talk with your health care professional before supplementing with pre-workout.
Additionally, if you are pregnant or looking to become pregnant, it is recommended that you review the ingredients in your pre-workout with your health care provider prior to starting or continuing to use it.
Remember: Pre-workout contains caffeine, and while caffeine consumption is relatively safe in healthy adults, excess caffeine intake can lead to impairments in cardiovascular function and sleep.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that consuming 400 mg of caffeine per day is not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects. Limit pre-workout consumption to a few times a week in an effort to take pre-workout safely.
You mix your pre-workout powder with a liquid and drink it like you would any other drink. There’s no need to chug pre-workout, but you should consume the drink in one sitting and do not dry-scoop your pre-workout. Try starting out with just half a scoop of pre-workout to assess tolerance if you’re nervous about possible side effects.
The best pre-workout is one that’s formulated specifically for you and your goals.
You just take a quiz to find your pre-workout, as well as your own Personalized Protein, Personalized Hydration Formula, and Performance Boosts. Then, Gainful creates your complete system and sends it right to your doorstep. Our products are here for you at every step of your workout routine, from prep (with our pre-workout) to performance (with our protein and performance boosts) to recovery (with our hydration formulas).
Gainful’s pre-workout is made with L-Citrulline DL-Malate, beta alanine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, L-Theanine, optional creatine and optional caffeine anhydrous that together create a natural energy boost. (Most blends are equivalent to 1.5 cups of coffee!) The BCAAs in the Gainful Pre-Workout may reduce feelings of fatigue and muscle soreness following your workout, and the beta alanine helps delay muscle fatigue so you can extend your high level training and build more endurance. The L-Citrulline in Gainful’s pre-workout increases oxygen to muscles and supports transportation of nutrients, which means muscles can work more efficiently. Gainful emphasizes the importance of natural, clean ingredients, so even our pre-workout is naturally flavored — you won’t have to worry about pumping your body full of sugar and artificial flavors.
As part of your Gainful subscription, you’ll also have access to a Registered Dietitian, who can answer any remaining questions you may have about your pre-workout.
Take the quiz at Gainful.com to get started on your pre-workout journey today.
© 2023 Gainful Health Inc.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
6 West 18th St, #10F
New York, NY 10011
© 2023 Gainful Health Inc.