What Is Pre-workout and Should You Be Using It?

It would be unfair on yourself if you expected to turn up to every workout feeling 100%. Often, you turn up to the gym (or wherever you exercise) feeling tired, lethargic and unmotivated. If this sounds like you, pre-workout may hold the power to alleviate your training lull.

There’s science behind it: a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that combining pre-workout with HIIT workouts resulted insignificant increases in VO2 max, training volume and lean body mass while also speeding up the rate at which moderately-trained recreational athletes lost body fat.

That study validates the efficacy of pre-workout supplementation, but if you decide to get in on the action yourself, you need to know how to do it safely and smartly. Below, you’ll find a one-stop guide to pre-workout, you’ll also find a guide to the products that can give you a natural pre-workout boost as well as the OEV-approved products. Consider this article your pre pre-workout.

So, What Is Pre-workout?

If you don’t fuel yourself properly before exercises or hard workouts, you’ll be less energized, weaker, and will fatigue faster than normal. That’s a fact. Pre-workout is designed to help fight this, to help you keep going harder and for longer. So while the supplement can be taken in a variety of formats — from meals to shakes to pills and more — they’re all designed to boost energy levels and increase focus. For many, pre-workout supplements are usually mixed with a drink and taken around 30 minutes before the beginning of a workout. That’s because, by supplying your body with extra carbohydrates, the glucose in the pre-workout helps raise blood sugar levels and supply additional energy during a workout. In short, they’re much more energizing than a banana, shot of espresso, or a black coffee.

What’s in My Pre-workout and Is It Safe?

As pre-workout is designed to help you cruise through a particularly tough workout, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that they supply your system with sugar, caffeine and other energy-boosting stimulants.

Still, it pays to read the ingredients label before you invest in a fresh pot of pre-workout. Caffeine is the key ingredient to look out for as the content can vary from mild to way too much, and in extreme cases, high levels of caffeine can cause some pretty serious health issues like anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure. For most, however, pre-workout is a safe supplement to take, but, even at the safe end of the spectrum, its side effects can still cause jitters, itching, and interrupted sleep, which are harmless but still uncomfortable. Our advice: if you’re new to pre-workout, go for half doses, to begin with and see how your body reacts.

What Pre-workout Ingredients Should I Look For?

Creatine Monohydrate: Another popular supplement among gym-goers, creatine is included in many pre-workouts due to its potential to increase muscle power and performance during training.

BCAAs: Branch chain amino acids have been found to improve endurance during a workout and increase strength by maintaining cellular energy and supporting protein synthesis.

Taurine: Found in various animal meats, taurine is a sulfonic acid that contributes to the metabolism of fats and fights oxidative stress during workouts.

B-vitamins: Vitamins B1, B2 B5, and B6 all play important roles in energy production and efficiency, while Vitamin B12 supports blood production and Vitamin B3 boosts DNA repair and promote healthier skin.

NO2-boosters (ex. Arginine, Citrulline): Arginine, for example, is a nitrogen dioxide booster and an amino acid that acts as a ‘vasodilator’. Essentially, arginine (and other similar nitrogen dioxide supplements) expand your veins and arteries, making it easier for blood to flow around your body, delivering nutrients quicker and more efficiently.

What Pre-workout Ingredients Should I Avoid?

Research published in Food and Chemical Toxicology cited that 400mg of caffeine a day is the upper limit for adults. What does this mean to you? One cup of instant coffee contains 60-80mg of caffeine, but higher quality cups of java contain anything between 65mg and 160mg. Some pre-workout brands spill over the recommended daily dose. ProSupps Mr Hyde NitroX pre-workout, for example, houses an uncomfortable 410mg of caffeine in a 7.5g scoop.

When Should I Take Pre-workout?

The all-important question: if you’re going to boost your performance with pre-workout, when is the optimum time to take it? Just because it’s called pre-workout that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take it pre your workout. You can take them 15-20 minutes before training, but for longer sessions, you could delay until an hour into the session. Always refer to the label of your pre-workout for specifics. In fact, it may be worth cycling your pre-workout intake.

If you continue to take pre-workout on a regular basis, your body can build up a tolerance to its effects, which is why cycling the supplement or coming off it for six to eight weeks at a time to give your body a chance to reset can be a good idea.

The Pros and Cons of Taking Pre-workout

Pros

  1. Improved performance: Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that pre-workout supplements “have promise as an ergogenic aid for active individuals,” or, in other words, they enhance the performance of people who already exhaust the gym.

  2. Increased concentration and focus: Pre-workout is packed with caffeine, which is known to enhance cognition. As research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found, caffeine works on people’s arousal, mood, and concentration, so if you want to be focused on a workout, pre-workout is the supp for you.

  3. The University of Córdoba found the citrulline added to pre-workout could add up to 53 percent more bench press reps in a workout

  4. In another study, pre-workout containing citrulline was found to give cyclists a 12 percent longer ride before hitting exhaustion

Cons

  1. Negative side effec