Pre-Workout container with scoop

Pre-Workout Supplements: Facts, Benefits and Side Effects

Have you ever wondered: “What is Pre-Workout and what are the benefits?”

There are hundreds of various articles available on the internet about this subject, but it would take a lot of time time and effort to read them all and get a full understanding of what Pre-Workout Supplements are and how they work.

However, this is something you need to learn if you want to increase your performance and training results efficiently.

That’s why we have compiled all the useful information in one place and present you with everything that you need to know to be able to make an informed decision when it comes to picking out a Pre-Training Enhancer that will suit you best.

You are going to find out every important thing that these types of additives can do to your training regimen:

How long they last, when to take them, their benefits and much more, including their mild and infrequent side effects.

Also, we have two separate articles where we’ve researched and reviewed the 10 Best Pre-Workout Supplements for Men and Best Pre-Workout Supplements for Women: Top 10.

And to finish it off, we also provide an alternative – a few fantastic and easy to make, homemade and healthy pre-exercise drinks and similar recipes.

So read on!

Pre-Workout: What It Is and What It Does

Container-with-pre-workout-powder

Many people want to increase their performance while training, boost their strength and endurance, and possibly even burn that extra ounce of fat that’s been bothering them.

That is why a lot of people turn to these pre-workout additives to help them speed up the process.

What Pre-Workout Is:

The raw definition of the term means that this is something you take before you start to exercise, to help you with your results.

What It Does:

These supplements increase your performance in the gym and provide various other benefits, depending on which ingredients they contain.

So to understand the true meaning of what they can assist you with, you first have to know what each of the main ingredient that these products contain does.

For other information related to these supplements, check out the What is a Pre-Workout Supplement and 4 Reasons to Take It article.

The 6 Key Ingredients

Containers of various pre-workout supplements

First of all, you need to know that there are many different types of these training enhancers.

They start from simple pills and ready to drink protein shakes, to something like pre-exercise powders that you can mix with other ingredients you might have on hand.

There are many things you can add to enhance the supplement’s effectiveness and taste, depending on your personal preference. These include juice and carbs such as honey or dextrose.

You can also use milk or water if you want a mild or neutral taste.

Even additional amino acids, creatine, and other enhancers can be added – making a custom and superior drink that will satisfy your unique needs.

We will get to these unique recipes later in the article.

But more importantly, have you ever wondered: What is in those pre-workout supplements, and what are their actual ingredients?

Here is a list of the most common ones, with emphasis put on a few main ingredients:

Caffeine

It’s the most common ingredient in these types of enhancers because Caffeine is one of the most widely used and well-researched thermogenic substances in the world that has many documented benefits.

It produces heat in your body and increases your metabolism.

They range from the most known like increasing the amount of energy that’s burned by your body during the day and promoting better muscle endurance and strength improvement, to something as complicated and obscure as increased anaerobic performance.

In addition to all of that, this study shows that when ingested, caffeine also produces increased wakefulness, better focus, and better general body coordination.

It’s no wonder why millions of people use this substance daily.

As you may know, it’s the most consumed drug on the planet, but you must be careful not to over-use it.

If you abuse this substance, you will experience mild anxiety, jitteriness, insomnia, increased sleep latency, and reduced coordination.

Creatine

This is another well-known and well-researched substance that many bodybuilders swear by.

There have been over 200 different studies across the globe done by various universities, and they all point to one thing: Creatine is proven to increase your muscle mass and strength.

The most important fact about it that you need to know is that our bodies already naturally produce the substance.

Creatine is required to promptly provide energy to your muscles for explosive and high force movements during your training; such as the deadlift, bench press, squats or even sprinting.

However, some people might prefer creatine free pre-workout supplements, and it has nothing to do with it being bad or unsafe for you.

It’s simply because a small percentage of people have a difficult time properly absorbing it into the muscle cells, due to their genetics.

Isolated Amino Acids

They are the most integral part of the muscle tissue – the building blocks of protein!

Amino acids make many of the cells in our body and play a fundamental role in transporting nutrients to those cells and storing them.

As a sports additive, they are very commonly taken and known as BCAA – Branched-Chain Amino Acids.

Several studies, including this one, show that amino acids significantly increase strength performance while reducing the catabolic effect that training and dieting have on your muscles.

That is why they are vital if you want to build muscle mass and lose weight at the same time.

If you don’t replenish your muscles with much-needed amino acids when you’re dieting – you will lose some of them along with the fat you’re setting out to shed.

BCAA stimulate the activity of the anabolic hormones in your body and prevent the negative catabolic effects after exercise.

Nitric Oxide

Nitric Oxide is a vascular dilator.

It increases your strength, endurance and even your recovery after a grueling workout by dilating your blood vessels during exercise. This consequently increases the flow and circulation of nutrients and oxygen in your blood.

It is commonly consumed and called as L-Arginine, which is incidentally also an amino acid.

However, there’s a side effect to it, even though this is one of the most commonly used enhancers by athletes.

Long-term utilization and abuse of this substance increase oxidative stress and the markers of aging in the tissues of your blood vessels.

That is why no informed professional will ever recommend prolonged use of it.

Beta-Alanine

Beta-Alanine is another very common enhancer that’s present in many Pre-Workout Supplements.

It is a non-essential amino acid that’s also naturally found in the body, and it promotes muscle strength by acting as a sort of buffer for your muscle tissue.

During exercise (especially at high intensity), lactic acid is secreted in your muscles, and it decreases their pH, which makes them work sub-optimally.

That’s where Beta-Alanine comes in!

It combats this acidity and maintains the optimal pH level for your muscles, giving them more optimal working conditions and granting you better strength for a longer time. It simply helps you to delay fatigue, increases the anaerobic threshold, power, strength and subsequently your muscle mass.

That’s what makes Beta-Alanine so attractive.

Citrulline Malate

Citrulline Malate is an amino acid that naturally occurs in your body.

It plays several important roles in increasing your performance in the gym. Most importantly, it increases the release of Human Growth Hormone and improves utilization of BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) by your body. It also reduces blood ammonia levels and lactic acid formation as well as lowers blood pressure.

This effectively increases your muscle pump and gives your muscle better working conditions.

Lastly, it improves your energy levels in general.

No wonder this substance is exceedingly popular in pre-workouts.

The other ingredients are:

Yohimbine, Tyrosine, Betaine, Synephrine, L-Tyrosine, 1,3-dimethylamylamine, Rhodiola Rosea, Yerba Mate, Glutamine, Glycerol, Nitrates, Choline, DMAE, Huperzine A, Green Tea Extract, Carnitine, Theanine, Taurine, Agmatine, Schisandra Chinensis, GPLC, Pycnogenol, Citrulline and a few other obscure ones.

On top of all of that, don’t forget the many available carbs, proteins as well as different vitamins and antioxidants.

All of this might seem overwhelming, but we will go into extensive detail in later articles about most of them, providing you information about all of their effects, benefits, and possible side-effects.

Now that we’ve listed the possible ingredients, you must also understand that there are different types of Pre-Workout Supplements for various types of goals:

Suggestions

For Building Muscle,  you need to consider using BCAA, Glutamine, Carnitine, Creatine, Beta-Alanine, Nitric Oxide and Betaine.

All of these have strength and muscle gaining effects.

For Boosting Energy, you need to consider using Caffeine (or Synephrine, if you want a caffeine-free pre-workout alternative), Vitamins B, as well as Tyrosine, Taurine, Rhodiola, Rosea, Schisandra Chinensis and Yerba Mate.

These are stimulants and metabolic boosters.

For Brain Boosting, you need to consider DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol), Huperzine A and Choline.

For Burning Fat, you need to look into Green Tea Extract, Caffeine or Synephrine and Yohimbe.

For Cardio, you should consider taking BCAA, Vitamins B, Taurine, Beta-Alanine. AVOID Creatine, and all diuretics like Caffeine.

For a Good Pump for your muscles, you should consider Citrulline, GPLC, Arginine and Pycnogenol.

For Beginners: How and When to Take a Serving

Measuring Spoon full of white pre workout powder

If you’ve been working out for a couple of months and wanted to dive deep into the fitness additives world, you need to consider your goals and the end results first.

For beginners, it mostly depends on what your goals are and what you’re looking for out of these enhancers.

It might be to raise your strength and power, to shed some fat and lose weight, get some energy or a mental boost, or even all of the above.

With What:

Depending on your taste, you may want to experiment taking it with juice, milk or water.

When to Take the Serving:

Most authorities in the field recommend that you take this type of supplement 45 to 30 minutes before a workout, to see best results!

We recommend that you take it 30 minutes prior to a workout the first time, and see when you start feeling the energy kick! After that, you know how fast your body digests the particular product that you have, and you can then take it so that you feel the energy jolt just as you start your training session!

How Much:

As a true beginner, for the first few weeks to a month, it is highly encouraged that you start out with a half-dose of what is normally recommended by the manufacturer because these substances can be quite overwhelming at first.

After you get used to it – follow the recommended dosage on the manufacturer’s label!

You can also find out more information about these things by reading our How Long Does Pre-Workout Supplements Last? Answered article.

And lastly, no matter what product you utilize, a break every two months for at least a month is highly recommended. Otherwise, your body will get used to them, and their effects will diminish.

5 Relevant Benefits

Trainer-with-fit-woman-preworkout-min

There are many various benefits to this, with the primary and all-encompassing ones being Better Performance and Faster Training Results.

Apart from that, it all depends on the goals that you’ve set for your training.

The specific benefits of Pre-Workout are:

  • More muscle power and strength
  • Faster weight-loss
  • Better pump for your muscles
  • Better endurance, more energy, and focus.
  • Improved recovery

For a better understanding of these benefits, check out What Does a Pre-Workout Do and The 5 Main Benefits of Taking It.

Is Too Much Pre-Workout Bad for You? The Side Effects:

It is a well-known fact that too much of anything is bad for you. The same thing applies to these exercise enhancers.

The main side effects of Pre-Workout due to over-consumption are as follows:

  • Dehydration
  • Headaches, Nausea, and Vomiting
  • Sleeplessness and Itching
  • Mild Cardiac Issues

Creatine is known to cause dehydration if you don’t properly hydrate yourself.

Caffeine is known to cause sleeplessness, headaches and other discomforts in people who are sensitive to it.

Nitric Oxide is a vascular dilator, which means that people sensitive to it can experience mild cardiac issues.

These side effects are only present if you are sensitive to the ingredient or exceed the daily recommended dosage by high amounts and don’t properly hydrate.

If you want a comprehensive guide on every side-effect and how to avoid them, check our 7 Potential Side Effects of Pre-Workout Supplements article.

What Makes a Supplement Good? The Key Factors

Usual person drinking pre-workout shake

When looking for a good product, you have to consider its price, the quality and quantity of the ingredients contained in it, and the reputation of the manufacturer.

You might also want to read some of the reviews written by people who have actually used the product.

The main thing to remember is that you should steer clear of proprietary blends. A proprietary blend contains various ingredients, but their quantities are not listed and are kept secret.

Consequently, you will never know how much of each ingredient you are going to get, so it’s very hard to choose a good product without that information.

Also, take note of the taste. It’s not a huge factor if the supplement is amazing, but if you find the taste to be absolutely terrible – it might be a good idea to choose something else.

A Healthier Way: Make Your Own All Natural Homemade Pre-Workout

As promised, there are some alternatives to buying a pre-workout supplement.

You can make a homemade, all natural and healthy pre-workout for yourself if you have the time and the necessary ingredients.

Great recipes include homemade protein and energy bars, vegetable & fruit juices and smoothies, protein shakes with added natural ingredients, and most importantly, a balanced and filling meal that contains the essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

These recipes range from very simple and easy to make ones like juice, to very complicated ones that require skill and patience, such as energy bars.

If you have the time and inclination to make these great treats – you will have a wonderful homemade alternative that you can make at your convenience.

A Cheap Dose Can Be a Solution

If you are on a very tight budget, there are certain cheap pre-workout alternatives.

The most common one, naturally, is Caffeine.

You can either buy a bag of coffee and brew it yourself during the day or buy coffee pills, which will cost you at around 5$ to 8$ for a pack of 100, depending on the manufacturer and quantity of ingredient.

Also, consider fruits such as apples, bananas, and oranges. They are inexpensive and provide the much-needed energy and vitamins plus minerals to get you through your training effectively.

Another great thing is honey and peanut butter. You can buy a whole jar of each for a couple of dollars, and they contain many of the nutrients that your body needs for an effective workout and recovery.

However, a well-designed and crafted pre-workout supplement will have a significantly better effect on your performance and will save you a lot of time.

Eating and Exercise: Should you do it?

Athlete resting with a shake

You may ask: “Should I eat before a session or not?”

This will entirely depend on your goal:

1. Weight loss:

If you want to lose as much fat as possible in the shortest amount of time, eating a lot of calories before a workout, especially those high in carbs, will substantially reduce your overall fat loss.

This is because during a session, your body burns its most accessible fuel first – the carbohydrates. When your body has depleted that fuel source, it eventually starts burning fat.

If you load yourself with a lot of carbs and too many calories before your exercise, you will have a reduced weight-loss effect.

That’s why you should not eat too much before a session if your goal is to lose weight.

You should seriously consider taking a pre-workout supplement made specifically with weight-loss in mind, to help you have all the needed nutrients for a great session, without overloading yourself on calories and carbs.

As well, you may also want to add a fat burner supplement to increase your results even further. For this, check out our top Top 10 Best Fat Burner Supplements and 10 Best Fat Burners for Women.

2. Gaining mass:

If your goal is to gain muscle and mass, you need to eat a lot before a workout. A combination of both proteins and carbs is ideal for this.

For maximum effect, the meal should be eaten at least an hour before your training, to allow you the time to digest. Any food that’s left undigested can divert blood from your muscles to your stomach, harming the effectiveness of your session.

Also, a good rule of thumb when it comes to eating before exercise is to avoid foods that are high in fat and fiber.

You need both of those things, but too much of them will cause your digestive system to work extra hard and consequently reduce the effectiveness of your training.

Also, you need carbs that provide energy over an extended period, not those that give you a fast rush and spike your insulin, so consider carbs like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and similar ones.

As far as protein goes, fish, chicken breast, egg whites or a protein shake is optimal.

Finally, if you are using a pre-workout supplement, you need to take it around 30-40 minutes before a workout, so that it doesn’t kick in too late or too early. The average supplement takes around 30 minutes to digest and start working.

Conclusion: Should You Take These Supplements?

The answer is a resounding “Yes”.

Not only do these Pre-Workout supplements spare you a lot of energy and effort, but they also take your training to the next level.

You won’t have to spend countless hours of trying to figure out what ingredients to mix and which ones work best for your desired goals.

A well-crafted blend made by a trusted and reputable company will take out all of the guesswork from your training diet, leaving you free to focus on your exercise and goals.

In today’s high-paced and results-driven society, these training enhancers might just be the thing you need to efficiently and swiftly reach the results that you wanted and the goal that you set out for yourself.

A large number of the world’s athletes swear by them, and there is a good reason for that because they provide safe, documented, reliable and consistent results.

What do you think about these types of supplements? If you have any thoughts on the subject, we welcome you to post in our comments below to discuss them!