It’s unrealistic to turn up to every workout feeling your very best. Maybe you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, or perhaps you’re just not feeling motivated that day. That’s where taking a pre-workout supplement can help–it provides a little pick-me-up to power you through a workout when you’re feeling a little low on energy.
However, between the wide range of powders, pills, and drinks, choosing the right pre-workout supplement can feel daunting. And since pre-workout supplements are often praised by athletes and gym-goes alike, you may be wondering if it actually works.
In this guide, we are doing a deep dive to see if pre-workout stands up to the research. From health benefits to side effects, here is what you need to know about this popular exercise supplement.
Disclaimer: While pre-workout supplements may provide a boost in energy and performance, they should be used in conjunction with a balanced diet and consistent exercise routine in order to see optimal results.
What does pre workout do?
Pre-workouts are a blend of various supplements that are designed to boost energy levels and increase focus. Some common ingredients found in pre-workout supplements include beta-alanine, caffeine, citrulline, tyrosine, taurine, creatine, niacin, and arginine [1
Note: If you frequently lack energy or have difficulty making it through your workout, supplements may not be the right answer for you. Instead, consider other lifestyle factors (like hydration, sleep, and diet) and adjust as needed before trying a pre-workout supplement.
When to take pre workout
Generally speaking, it’s recommended to take your pre-workout supplement 15-30 minutes before starting your workout, as this will allow enough time for the ingredients to take effect [2
However, this timeframe will vary depending on the specific product and its ingredients.
How long does pre workout last?
The effects of most pre-workout supplements can last around 2 hours, but this can vary based on the ingredients, as well as individual factors (such as age, weight, and overall health). For example, it can take between 1.5 - 9 hours for caffeine to wear off, whereas arginine can dissipate in 1 - 2 hours [3
How to take pre workout
Many pre-workout supplements include instructions on how to take them. However, here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Start small: If you are new to pre-workout supplements or are sensitive to certain stimulants, try starting with a small dose to assess your tolerance level.
Stay hydrated: Pre-workouts are stimulants, which means they can have a diuretic effect that may contribute to dehydration. As such, it's important to stay hydrated before, during, and after your workout.
Follow the recommended dosage: Pay attention to dosing recommendations and take care not to exceed them. Taking too much of a pre-workout supplement can increase the risk of side effects.
The best pre workout for men
The best pre workout for men will vary depending on your specific goals and preferences. Here are some beneficial ingredients that you may want to consider having in your pre-workout.
Creatine is a common ingredient in pre workout supplements that has been found to increase the production of ATP, a molecule that provides energy to cells. This can lead to increased strength, power, and overall athletic performance [5
Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) have been found to improve endurance during a workout and increase strength by supporting protein synthesis [6
Taurine is a sulfonic acid that may minimize oxidative stress and be beneficial against eccentric exercise damage [8
Studies indicate that the B vitamins (such as vitamins B1, B2, and B3) may play a fundamental role in energy metabolism [9
Benefits of pre workout for men
Athletes and gym-goers alike have long touted the benefits of pre workout supplements, but are these claims substantiated? From endurance to performance, here’s what the science has to say about pre-workout benefits for men.
Beta-alanine is a common pre workout supplement ingredient that can reduce the lactic acid build-up in your muscles and help improve endurance.
Notable research has found that physically active adults who supplemented with beta-alanine experienced reduced lactate concentration and an improved 10 km running time compared to those who didn’t supplement [10
]. Other studies suggest that taking a pre workout supplement containing caffeine, B vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine can delay fatigue, improve reaction time, increase perceived energy, and boost endurance [11
Helps build lean muscle
Research indicates that you can increase lean muscle mass by taking a pre-workout in conjunction with resistance training [12
]. Not only will this help boost metabolism over time, but more lean muscle tends to equal better blood glucose control, decreased body fat, and improved bone density [13
Enhanced physical performance
Studies show that people who take caffeine before working out may experience delayed perceptions of fatigue, pain, and effort, preserved muscle glycogen content, and increased time to exhaustion [16
]. This could be because caffeine inhibits action at the adenosine receptor site (which may be responsible for decreasing the perception of pain and effort), thus resulting in improved endurance performance [16
Other research has found that those who took pre-workout supplements in conjunction with HIIT exercises had a significant increase in VO2 max, training volume and lean body mass compared to those who didn’t take pre-workout [17
Recover better with Elo Smart Protein
While pre-workout supplements can help improve your fitness, what you take after a workout is arguably just as (if not more) important.
Elo Health Smart Protein
is a post-workout recovery product that harnesses the power of wearable technology, individual biomarker data, and AI to create exactly the right protein blend for you. This product is for exercise enthusiasts of any age–amateur and professional alike–who want to maximize post-workout recovery.
Unlike other custom protein products, Elo Smart Protein uses your goals, health history, workout data, and dietary preferences to craft the right protein blend for you and provide specific protein dosing recommendations after every workout.
Cons of pre-workout supplements
Despite some notable benefits, pre-workout supplements aren’t right for everyone. Here are some things to consider before taking a pre-workout.
You may build up a tolerance.
If you take pre-workout excessively, you can become immune to some of these effects and build up a tolerance. As such, you will need to take more to continue to feel the same effects.
Might contain artificial sweeteners/added sugar.
Some pre-workout supplements may have added sugar
or artificial sweeteners, both of which can have negative health consequences. Emerging research has found that artificial sweeteners (like aspartame, acesulfame-K, and sucralose) are correlated with an increased risk of cancer, whereas consuming excessive amounts of refined sugar can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes [18
They are not regulated.
Because pre-workout supplements aren’t regulated, they may not be entirely safe and can be dangerous to the general public. This is especially important for athletes, since supplements that are not third-party tested
may contain WADA-prohibited performance-enhancing substances that can show up in drug tests. For example, DMAA is a stimulant that has been banned by the FDA but is still found in common pre workout supplements [20
]. To ensure that your supplements are safe and of the highest quality, it’s important to choose ones that undergo third-party testing. Learn more about the process in this article
Pre workout side effects
Pre workout side effects can vary based on the ingredients present. For instance, excess caffeine can cause jitters, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, increased heart rate, and dehydration [22
]. Other common side effects from different ingredients may include digestive issues, headaches, bloating, and water retention.
You should also avoid pre-workout supplements if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, and/or take certain medications.
Lastly, pre-workout supplements that contain caffeine, taurine, and glucuronolactone have been shown to increase arterial blood pressure and compromise endothelial function in healthy individuals [23
]. Research also suggests that L-arginine and yohimbe might negatively affect heart health, as the former may lead to the development of hypertension and CHD events, and yohimbe has been found to adversely affect people with a history of heart disease [24
Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding a pre-workout supplement to your routine.
Does pre workout go bad?
Pre-workout can go bad if it’s stored incorrectly and the expiration date is left unchecked, so it’s important to check the packaging and make sure it’s stored in a sealed container.
However, even if a pre-workout supplement has not reached its expiration date, it may still lose effectiveness over time due to the breakdown of the active ingredients. If you are unsure about your product, you may want to err on the side of caution and discard it.
Best pre workout meal
The best pre workout meal is the one that is most compatible with your body, gym routine, and weekly schedule. This will look different for everyone, so listen to your body to find what works best for you.
Natural pre workout ideas
While you can take a specific pre-workout supplement, chances are that you already have a natural pre workout meal in your pantry or fridge. Here are some natural pre workout ideas that you can enjoy one hour before a workout.
Apples and peanut butter
Greek yogurt and fruit
All natural nutrition bar with protein
A small cup of regular coffee or tea
Chocolate-covered coffee beans
You can also try to incorporate a pre-workout supplement into your daily meals, such as blending them into your morning smoothie.
Pre-workout supplements are meant to be taken ~30 minutes before exercise and can be especially helpful when you’re feeling a bit low on energy. This little pick-me-up can do wonders for your workout session, as studies show that it can help enhance athletic performance, boost strength, and increase endurance. However, pre-workout supplements are not for everyone, as they can lead to negative side effects, and may not be suitable for people on certain medications.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.