What is pre-workout

What is Pre-Workout? The Definitive Guide & Everything You Need to Know

The vast majority of people want to either get in great shape or stay fit. In pursuit of those goals, many of us have tried all kinds of things, ranging from new workout routines to exercise machines that look like they were created by some kind of mad scientist.

People have also often turned to using supplements to aid with those aforementioned goals. Run a quick search online and you should be able to find all kinds of supplements formulated to help you work out more effectively.

Relatively recently, a new type of supplement has emerged – one known as the pre-workout.

This article will focus specifically on pre-workout supplements. You’ll be able to learn more about their origins, what they’re for and whether or not they can actually back up the claims they make. The potential side effects that come with taking pre-workout supplements and the precautions you are urged to follow before consuming them will also be outlined.

Pre-workout supplements are relatively new entities in the wide world of fitness, so it’s best to learn as much about them as possible.

The Origins of Pre-Workout Supplements and How They Became Popular

Before we dive deeper into the history of pre-workout supplements, let’s first take this opportunity to define what it actually is. As its name suggests, a pre-workout supplement is something you consume prior to exercising.

We’ll get into the specific reasons why people consume pre-workout supplements, but generally speaking, these items are meant to improve your physical performance. If you’ve found yourself struggling at the gym or whichever venue you prefer for exercising, the pre-workout supplement is marketed as something you can take to help change that.

You would imagine that a product such as that would have been offered several decades ago. Technically speaking, some sports drinks and beverages can provide benefits similar to what you can get from pre-workout supplements, but they still aren’t the same thing.

With no pre-workouts available back then, many people developed a routine of drinking coffee before exercising, which is interesting considering the ingredients included in most supplements of that type. We’ll get to that later though.

The First Pre-Workout Supplement

Focusing strictly on products that are considered as legitimate pre-workout supplements, the first one didn’t come out until the 1980s. According to Wikipedia, the first product to be recognized as a pre-workout supplement was invented in Venice, California – appropriately enough, it’s also the city that serves as home to Muscle Beach – back in 1982.

The product in question was named “Ultimate Orange” and it instantly became a hit among workout aficionados. Per Physical Culture Study, the product originally formulated by Dan Duchaine became wildly popular because users claimed that it provided all kinds of benefits. Users who swore by “Ultimate Orange” claimed that the supplement could help with shedding body fat, increasing muscle mass, and improving focus.

Understandably, many people took notice of a supplement that was supposed to provide such remarkable benefits. Bodybuilders in particular were enamored with “Ultimate Orange.”

Right now, you may be wondering why “Ultimate Orange” is no longer stocked on shelves if it could offer such tremendous benefits. Well, the reason for that is because it had a problematic ingredient.

“Ultimate Orange” featured an ingredient known as ephedra and the inclusion of that aforementioned substance was pointed to as the reason why users of the supplement suffered from sudden heart attacks, according to lawsuits filed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The first pre-workout supplement went from being known as this kind of wonderful exercise aid to something that caused the people who used it to suffer from real health problems.

A Pioneering Product’s Failure Does Not Deter the Industry’s Growth

One would think that the monumental failure of the first pre-workout supplement would cast a negative light over these products that they would struggle to recover from, but that wasn’t really the case. That’s due in part to the fact that “Ultimate Orange” did not remain as the only pre-workout supplement on the market for long.

Even before the controversy surrounding “Ultimate Orange” emerged, some developers were already working on other supplements. The company known as Experimental & Applied Sciences came out with their own supplement that prominently featured creatine back in 1993.

Soon enough, more supplements that offered the benefits of creatine hit the market and the aforementioned substance was also being used in other blends. By the dawn of the new millennium, you could find various supplements that made use of creatine.

Creatine-based supplements would also encounter more competition at the turn of the millennium. Newer supplements began featuring ingredients such as arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (arginine AKG), arginine malate, and citruline malate became more prevalent.

People gravitated toward supplements containing the previously mentioned ingredients because they were capable of making blood vessels bigger for a short period of time. Bodybuilders fell in love with the supplements because they allowed them to pump more as they worked out.

This time around, there was no other shoe that would drop. The supplements infused with arginine AKG, arginine malate, and citruline malate were not suddenly hit by controversy. Instead, they would play a pivotal role in the growth of the pre-workout supplement industry.

Products that made use of those ingredients, such as “NO-XPLODE” from BSN soared in popularity. It didn’t hurt that the aforementioned product secured an endorsement from none other than former Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman.

In the years since, pre-workout supplements have been placed under intense scrutiny with many still doubting their efficacy. Even so, it became very clear that there was a thriving market for pre-workout supplements.

These days, you can now find all kinds of pre-workout supplements, with some even claiming to offer specialized benefits that separate them from their competitors. The pre-workout supplement industry may have gotten off on the wrong foot due to the eventual failure of “Ultimate Orange,” but one product was not enough to bring the whole thing down.

How Do People Use Pre-Workout Supplements?

Now that we’re done diving into the history of pre-workout supplements, let’s answer one of the most pertinent questions regarding these products.

The question: How should you take a pre-workout supplement?

It seems like such a silly question at first, but there is genuine confusion surrounding how pre-workout supplements should be consumed in order to maximize their benefits. In this part of this article, we’ll talk about some tips that will help you get the most out of the supplements you’re using.

Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions

This seems like a given, but many users of pre-workout supplements can become so firmly entrenched in their routines that they fail to consider making adjustments once they start consuming something new. That’s a big mistake obviously and you should always be ready to adjust if doing so is required.

As a general rule, look at the label of the pre-workout supplement you’re using before consuming it. The manufacturers may have already included instructions for how to consume it properly, including specific guidelines for how much you need to use. Sometimes, the manufacturers may also indicate how often you should consume the supplement throughout the day.

This is a simple step, but it can be incredibly beneficial to you in the long run.

Make Some Quick Calculations before Coming Up with Your Dosage

Let’s assume that the manufacturers didn’t include everything you need to know regarding consumption on the label of the supplement. How should you approach your pre-workout supplement consumption then?

There are some general guidelines you can follow, starting with the amount of the supplement you should consume with each dosage.

According to Built with Science, there are two specific factors you must consider when deciding how big or how small your dosage of a particular pre-workout supplement should be. The two factors are your weight and the amount of caffeine you ingest on a regular basis.

Caffeine is among the most popular ingredients featured in modern pre-workout supplements, so there’s a great chance that the one you’re considering using contains a fair amount of it. If you already consume your share of caffeinated beverages throughout the day, you don’t want your caffeine levels to suddenly spike because of the pre-workout supplement you’re using.

The site notes that it’s a good idea to consume somewhere around 3 to 6 mg of caffeine for every kilogram (equivalent to approximately 2.2 pounds) you weigh. Following that will help you get more from the caffeine you’re ingesting.

Now, if you would rather not complete math equations, which is completely understandable, the easier thing to do is to start with a lower dosage of your pre-workout supplement. You can start with half a scoop of the supplement per dose and then see how your body reacts to it.

If your body is responding well to that dosage, but you feel like you can still handle more caffeine, then move up to a larger serving. Continue to up the serving until you hit that point where you are satisfied with the boost you’re receiving from the caffeine.

By the way, even if you don’t consume coffee or other caffeinated beverages regularly, you should avoid using too much of the pre-workout supplement right away. Placing too much of the pre-workout supplement into your drink can be a shock to your system.

Avoid Consuming a Pre-Workout Supplement on an Empty Stomach

Working out when you’re still feeling full is not a good idea, but then again, it’s not like exercising on an empty stomach is a wise move either. Avid coffee drinkers likely know a lot about how unpleasant it can be to suddenly introduce a large amount of caffeine into your system when you haven’t eating anything for a while.

Simply put, you should not take your pre-workout supplement if you’re feeling hungry.

To protect yourself from any issues that may emerge as a result of consuming caffeine on an empty stomach, Bodybuilding.com recommends eating a meal before downing your drink. It doesn’t have to be a full blown lunch or anything like that. In this scenario, a small meal should be enough to prevent the unpleasant effects of consuming caffeine while you’re hungry from rearing their ugly heads.

You should also eat that small meal at least 30 minutes before you take your pre-workout supplement. There are no real restrictions for what you should or shouldn’t eat. Eating healthy would obviously be best.

Still, you may want to avoid fiber-rich foods ahead of drinking your pre-workout because they could have an impact on how effective the supplement is.

Consume Your Pre-Workout Supplement at the Right Time

Now that we’ve established that you need to eat before you take your pre-workout, let’s talk about exactly when you should consume your preferred supplement. Since it is a “pre-workout” supplement, many may logically conclude that consuming it any time before they start exercising should be good enough.

That is not the case however.

The thing about most pre-workout supplements is that their ingredient blends don’t really start working until after they’ve been in your body for a while. By drinking your pre-workout supplement just before you start exercising, you’re not really benefiting from it right from the start. You may even be done with your exercise routine before the benefits of the pre-workout supplement can kick in.

Give the ingredients in the supplement the chance to work by downing your drink about a half hour before you start working out. An hour may be better in some cases.

If you have to take a long drive to the gym from your home or office, you can consume your pre-workout supplement before you get in your car. It is worth noting that you won’t suffer from any negative effects if you take the pre-workout supplement too close to the time you exercise, but you won’t be benefiting from it either.

Don’t Drink the Pre-Workout Supplement Too Close to the Time You Usually Sleep

For the same reason that you should refrain from drinking coffee before heading to bed, you should also avoid pre-workout supplements if you’re planning to exercise close to the time you usually sleep. Fatigue won’t be enough to help you feel asleep in this case.

We’re not talking about just a few minutes here. Caffeine tends to stay in your system for quite a while. Even if it’s already been 6 hours since the last time you drank something with caffeine in it, the substance can still impact the length of your sleep.

What all this means is that you should stick to drinking pre-workout supplements during the daytime, or whenever you are awake for the longest stretch of time. You can still exercise at night if you want to, but just avoid drinking your pre-workout supplement so that you don’t run into problems when you’re trying to fall asleep.

Take Breaks from Your Pre-Workout Supplement Consumption

One last tip that will help you in your quest to maximize the effects of your chosen pre-workout supplement is to simply stop using it every now and then.

By continually using the pre-workout supplement, you can build up your tolerance to the substances it contains. As your tolerance grows, the effectiveness of those ingredients will lessen. The supplement that may have granted you a noticeable boost before may no longer have the same effect if you use it non-stop over the course of many months.

When you start to notice the supplement’s effects weakening, discontinue using it for at least one week. If you don’t want to completely eliminate the pre-workout supplement from your routine, you can opt to just lower your intake of it for a certain period of time and then ramp it up again when your tolerance has dropped.

What Benefits Can You Receive from Pre-Workout Supplements?

Specific examples of pre-workout supplements may claim to provide a variety of additional benefits, but generally speaking, all of them are intended to accomplish certain things above everything else.

Pre-workout supplements are supposed to:

  • Give you an energy boost
  • Make you stronger for a short amount of time
  • Increase your level of endurance briefly
  • Shorten the time you need to recover

Some pre-workout supplements may claim that they can also help you burn fat and provide cognitive benefits. Those are just additional benefits though. The benefits mentioned above are still the ones that are promoted by the vast majority of pre-workout supplements.

To understand how pre-workout supplements manage to offer those benefits, it helps to look at the ingredients they contain. It is important to note here that the ingredients utilized by pre-workout supplements are not completely identical, but there are certain substances that will appear often on their labels.

Those ingredients are:

  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)
  • Caffeine
  • Creatine
  • Nitric oxide boosters

Let’s take a closer look now at how those ingredients can help during your workouts.

The Benefits of BCAAs

There are three different types of branched-chain amino acids, with those being isoleucine, leucine, and valine, according to Healthline. The three of them can do all kinds of good things once they enter your body.

Leucine in particular is capable of creating a pathway that can improve muscle synthesis and growth. People looking to bulk up will obviously love that benefit, but that’s not the only thing you’re getting from BCAAs.

Just as important is the effect that BCAAs can have on your muscles after you exercise. The soreness you experience following a lengthy workout is believed to be caused in part by damage being done to your muscles. Your muscles aren’t being ripped apart or anything like that, but small tears may show up on them.

BCAAs can help reduce the amount of soreness you feel in your muscles by decreasing the amount of protein breakdown that takes place. Thanks to that, the damage done to your muscles can be reduced significantly and you may not be as sore the day after you exercise compared to how you felt before.

The Benefits of Caffeine

We all know that caffeine can help you stay alert and put some pep in your step, but that’s not the only thing it can do. As an ingredient in pre-workout supplements, caffeine can also work to effectively reduce fatigue.

ScienceAlert notes that caffeine is capable of offering that kind of benefit because of the way it’s structured. It closely resembles the chemical known as adenosine. Adenosine usually affects brain activity and typically causes fatigue.

The reason why having caffeine helps in this scenario is because it can take the place of adenosine. The caffeine can link up with the adenosine and dull the latter’s fatigue-causing effects. With caffeine flowing through your body, you won’t feel fatigued as quickly as you did previously.

The Benefits of Creatine

Creatine can provide all kinds of useful benefits once it enters your body.

Via this study published on BioMedCentral, creatine has been found to be a consistent source of ergogenic benefits. In case you’re not familiar with the term, ergogenic refers to things that are designed to improve endurance, performance, and stamina.

It’s the kind of substance that you want inside your body if you are about to take part in high-intensity training. Furthermore, studies have also shown that creatine can help you avoid injuries.

The Benefits of Nitric Oxide Boosters

Nitric oxide boosters may not be as commonly found in pre-workout supplements as BCAAs, caffeine, and creatine, but they remain highly beneficial to people. As their name gives away, these boosters increase the nitric oxide levels inside your body. That’s important because having high levels of nitric oxide in your body can be helpful in some important ways.

Per this study posted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website, there have been findings which suggest that higher amounts of nitric oxide in the body can improve the rate at which oxygen and other nutrients are transported to the muscles.

With the muscles receiving more oxygen and nutrients faster, they can hold up better to strenuous exercise and the rate at which they recover can similarly improve.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of Using Pre-Workout Supplements?

Pre-workout supplements are not miracle drugs. While they are indeed capable of offering numerous benefits, they may also present some side effects.

Jittery Sensations

The number one side effect you have to worry about if you’re planning to use pre-workout supplements is feeling jittery. Drinking coffee can cause some people to experience jittery sensations. Since caffeine is a prominent ingredient in both coffee and pre-workout supplements, it should come as no surprise that you can also experience jitteriness from consuming too much of the latter.

To avoid those jittery sensations, you should first see how your body will react to the consumption of the caffeine present in the pre-workout supplement you have purchased. As discussed earlier, you can start by taking smaller doses of the pre-workout supplement until you have found that point at which you are consuming just the right amount of caffeine.

Unwelcome Reactions to Certain Ingredients

Some of the ingredients used in pre-workout supplements may not pair well with your body. According to Healthline, beta alanine and niacin are two specific ingredients that can cause you to have adverse reactions to the pre-workout supplement.

It’s important to clarify here that the adverse reactions you may have amount to tingling sensations and red patches appearing on your screen. They aren’t life-threatening side effects, but they can still be bothersome to deal with.

Ingesting smaller portions of the pre-workout supplement at different points throughout the day as opposed to consuming a larger dose in one sitting can help you steer clear of tingly sensations. Meanwhile, using pre-workout supplements that don’t feature niacin should stop the appearance of red patches on your skin.

The Future of Pre-Workout Supplements

One of the more interesting developments pertaining to the pre-workout supplement industry is that while it has already grown quite significantly, projections indicate that it may experience an even more remarkable period of sustained growth in the coming years.

This article from Future Market Insights suggests that the increased awareness and the growing emphasis on leading a healthy lifestyle are factors contributing to the continued expansion of the pre-workout supplement industry.

Interestingly enough, it seems that more and more people are starting to use the ready-to-drink variants of pre-workout supplements. People are also showing greater interest in multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements.

Don’t be surprised if the industry is eventually dominated by those two specific types of pre-workout supplement sooner rather than later.


Pre-workout supplements have the potential to be terrific additions to your workout regimen, but it is important to be careful with them. Take note of the tips mentioned above regarding how to consume pre-workout supplements if you want to benefit from them in the best way possible while also avoiding some of the side effects they can cause.

It is important to reiterate here that taking pre-workout supplements alone will not help you achieve your fitness goals. Still, they can make realizing those goals a more manageable task and that is reason enough to give them a try.

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