When it comes to exercising like a boss at the gym, every gymgoer and athlete is looking for an edge to get more from their workouts. That’s where pre-workout supplements step in.
Pre-workouts are dietary supplements designed to boost energy, improve mental clarity, and enhance physical performance. Pre-workouts have also been shown to help boost muscle recovery and reduce perceived fatigue when exercising.
This article will explore the main benefits of pre-workout supplements, their components, and the scientific studies that support their efficacy.
Let’s jump right in.
Table of Contents
What are Pre-Workouts?
Pre-workouts are supplements designed to improve workout performance. Pre-workouts are ingested 30-60 minutes before exercise and include ingredients that increase energy levels, sharpen focus, improve endurance, and reduce perceived muscle fatigue.
The result is that users can workout longer and see results faster in the gym, whether their goals are to lift more weight or to burn fat and lose weight.
The key ingredients in pre-workout supplements typically include stimulants, primarily caffeine, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that work synergistically to prepare your body for a successful workout.
The right kind of pre-workout for you will line up with the goals you have in the gym, sensitivities you may have to different ingredients, and the type of exercise you are doing.
Benefits of Pre-Workouts
The main benefits of pre-workout supplements include the following:
- Increased energy levels
- Improved focus and clarity
- Enhanced endurance
- Less fatigue
- Increased muscle pump and blood flow
Next, we will look at each benefit in more detail so that you can see for yourself whether pre-workouts are a good addition to your training and nutrition regimen.
Increased Energy Levels
Pre-workout supplements offer a rapid and noticeable energy boost, primarily attributed to the inclusion of caffeine, a potent central nervous system stimulant.
This common ingredient enhances alertness and delivers a surge of energy, fostering increased motivation and readiness for your workout.
Pre-workouts typically have 100-200mg of caffeine per serving. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), in a 2021 position statement, explained that the benefits of caffeine included increased muscular endurance and worked well with both trained and untrained individuals.
People who can tolerate caffeine can opt for a high-stim pre-workout, which includes 275-425mg of caffeine. High-stim pre-workouts are a great option for experienced athletes who want long-lasting strength and power output while working out.
Those sensitive to caffeine can opt for pre-workouts with lower dosages, with low-stim pre-workouts featuring caffeine dosages of 50-75mg per serving.
While caffeine isn’t the only energy-boosting ingredient in pre-workouts–which is great news for people with caffeine sensitivities–it does a lot of the heavy lifting in boosting overall energy.
Improved Focus and Mental Clarity
Pre-workout supplements go beyond physical energy by significantly improving mental focus and clarity. Many formulations, incorporating ingredients like L-tyrosine with cognitive-enhancing properties, contribute to heightened mental states.
This improved focus aids in staying in the workout zone, maintaining proper form, and pushing through challenging sets.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition revealed that a supplement containing caffeine, theanine and tyrosine significantly increased focus and athletic accuracy during bouts of vigorous physical activity.
Exercising takes a lot out of you; whether you are pushing the pace on a treadmill or trying to complete 1RM on the deadlift platform, strenuous exercise is both physically and cognitively taxing. Pre-workouts increase alertness and focus so that you can stay dialed in when exercising vigorously.
Most pre-workout supplements include either theanine or L-tyrosine, so look out for them if long-lasting focus is a priority in the gym. Additionally, one of the effects of caffeine is heightened alertness, so if increased focus is something you want from a pre-workout, look for higher levels of caffeine per dosage.
Endurance is vital for fitness goals, be it running a marathon or lifting weights. Pre-workout supplements often feature ingredients like beta-alanine, arginine, and citrulline malate, proven to enhance endurance by minimizing fatigue-inducing metabolites and boosting nitric oxide production.
In a 2021 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the impact of citrulline malate on exercise performance was explored. Results revealed that those taking citrulline malate showed improved exercise performance and reduced fatigue compared to the placebo group.
Nitric oxide agents also improve blood flow to working muscles by dilating blood vessels. This increased circulation can help to delay muscle fatigue and improve overall endurance.
Muscle fatigue can hinder our efforts when working out, acting as an arbitrary wall with our effort. Pre-workout supplements can help by delaying fatigue onset, helping us get an extra rep or two from each set or a few extra minutes on the treadmill.
Ingredients like beta-alanine increase muscle carnosine levels, buffering lactic acid build-up and allowing us to push through points of fatigue.
A 2014 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found beta-alanine supplementation improved muscle endurance, delaying fatigue compared to a placebo.
Some may find beta-alanine unpalatable, leading to skin tingling. Beta-alanine and niacin (vitamin B3) increase blood flow which can lead to itchy skin and flushed faces.
For people who find this uncomfortable, there are pre-workout formulas without beta-alanine offer increased energy and focus without the tingling sensation.
Increased Muscle Pump and Blood Flow
Many pre-workout supplements contain nitric oxide boosters like arginine and citrulline malate. These ingredients can help increase blood flow to your muscles, leading to a greater muscle pump, improved nutrient delivery, and enhanced muscle growth over time.
They can also give lifters that much-sought-after shirt-ripping “pump” when lifting in the gym.
A study published in the journal Nutrients in 2023 reviewed the effects of nitric oxide supplementation on exercise performance.
The research suggests that nitric oxide agents promote vascularity and cell dilation, improving blood flow and leading to increased muscular performance and hypertrophy.
If getting a good pump in the gym is something you enjoy and focus on (and who doesn’t?), look for a pre-workout that features NO boosters among its ingredients.
While pre-workout supplements primarily focus on enhancing performance before and during a workout, some formulations also include ingredients like branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that support post-exercise recovery.
This can help reduce muscle soreness, enhance muscle repair, and promote faster recovery between workouts.
A study published in the journal Nutrients in 2022 showed that BCAAs stimulate anabolic signals in the body, which can help promote recovery and improve exercise recovery.
The findings indicated that participants who consumed the supplement experienced reduced muscle soreness and improved muscle recovery following intense exercise.
Additionally, pre-workouts that include electrolytes like potassium and magnesium can help ward off the performance-crashing effects of dehydration, allowing you to recover faster after high-intensity efforts in the gym.
Wrapping Things Up
Pre-workouts, like most supplements, offer a range of benefits that can significantly enhance your exercise performance and help you reach your fitness goals.
By increasing energy levels, improving focus, enhancing endurance, reducing muscle fatigue, promoting better blood flow, and supporting post-workout recovery, pre-workouts have become a valuable tool for many fitness enthusiasts.
Choose the right pre-workout that matches your goals and take your workouts to a whole new level.
Note: As with any dietary supplement, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before adding pre-workouts to your fitness routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.