You can’t always expect to rock up to the gym 4 or 5 days per week full of energy, motivation, and drive each time. At times, you’ll get to the gym feeling a little run down, tired, and unmotivated. If this sounds familiar, a pre-workout supplement may be just what you need!
Pre-workout is one of the most popular types of sports supplements in the fitness industry. Many studies have reported the numerous benefits of combining pre-workout supplements with resistance training, high-intensity training, and many other training modalities, particularly when it comes to boosting performance and increasing fat burn.
There are many notable benefits of taking a pre-workout supplement, though it’s still a supplement you should be open to learning more about, particularly when it comes to how to take it smartly and safely, as well as ingredients, dosage, and side effects.
While the noted benefits of pre-workout supplements apply to both males and females, it is still worth exploring some of the frequently asked questions surrounding pre-workout supplements for women.
Are pre-workout supplements safe for women? Do women have to follow the same guidelines when it comes to dosage? Are the side effects any different? What are the best pre-workout supplements for women?
While there are physiological differences between men and women, does that mean the effects of a pre-workout for women would be different from that of a man?
This article answers everything you need to know about pre-workout for women and the best pre-workout supplements to consider!
What is Pre-Workout?
A pre-workout supplement is designed to help push you through a training session. It usually supplies your system with a selection of ingredients, commonly labeled as “ergogenic aids”.
In the context of sport and training, an ergogenic aid is a substance or a technique that is used to enhance performance. This includes substances such as caffeine and creatine, techniques such as carbohydrate loading, or more unsafe strategies, such as the use of anabolic steroids.1
Caffeine is usually the key ingredient in pre-workout supplements, known for its multiple benefits in increasing energy, alertness, and overall athletic performance.
Though, you’d normally find a mix of ingredients in pre-workout supplements, including creatine, beta-alanine, B-vitamins, and nitric oxide, all of which contribute to enhanced performance and recovery of an individual.
Pre-workout supplements are commonly found in powdered form which is mixed with water and consumed around 30-60 minutes before a workout, depending on the guidelines of the supplement.
So, while pre-workouts sound pretty beneficial for helping you through a tough workout, are they really a necessary part of your supplement stack?
Do You Need a Pre-Workout Supplement?
While a pre-workout supplement sounds like something you may want to add to your supplement stack, is it really needed for your development and progression as an athlete or gym-goer?
As with all supplements, they are called supplements for a reason. Defined as a thing you add to something to enhance it, supplements are not required to achieve any health or fitness goal. They simply give you a boost, provided the fundamentals are dialed in (such as nutrition, sleep, and training).
Pre-workouts are not necessary for you to achieve your goals, nor are they required for you to have a successful training session, they simply make it a little better by giving you a bit of a boost!
With that being said, there are still a number of benefits to consider when it comes to taking pre-workouts, and there are some scenarios where they would prove very useful.
Pre-workouts can help you achieve that extra edge over your competition, help give you the boost you need to achieve a new PR, or simply help you push out a couple of extra reps.
Let’s look at what the science says about the benefits of a pre-workout supplement!
Pre-Workout Benefits: What the Science Says
There are multiple benefits of a pre-workout supplement. Depending on the type of training you do, a pre-workout supplement can be taken to enhance endurance and stamina, or they can be more focused on muscle growth and increasing strength.
Pre-Workout for Muscle Growth
The main ingredient in a pre-workout supplement would be the amino acids, which would help promote muscle gains and lean body mass. You will either see a selection of essential amino acids, or the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These amino acids work directly with muscle protein synthesis, the process of building and repairing muscle.
In addition to the amino acids, pre-workouts would also contain other amino acids and dietary nitrates that would help increase blood flow to the muscles, thus boosting oxygen levels and helping to carry essential nutrients to the muscles as they undergo the stress of a workout.
This results in the muscles working longer for harder doing more intense workouts, therefore providing the stimulus and progressive overload required for building muscle.
Pre-Workout for Enhancing Strength
A pre-workout supplement containing creatine monohydrate appears to be more effective at enhancing strength compared to pre-workouts that don’t contain creatine. This is perhaps the most important ingredient in a pre-workout supplement for enhancing strength.
On a cellular level, creatine can increase the biochemical mechanisms in your body that enhance energy - in other words, increasing ATP production (adenosine triphosphate, your body’s energy currency). This can help enhance strength, muscle mass, and endurance.
Though, there are several ways in which a pre-workout supplement can fortify your metabolism for increased strength during your workout. For example, the presence of nitrates, such as from beetroot extract or the amino acid arginine, allows your body to carry more nutrients to your working muscles.
This can often result in increased strength as you exert yourself during training, while nitrates are feeding your muscles the necessary nutrients needed to perform optimally.
Pre-Workout for Boosting Endurance
The main way to boost endurance is to remove the mechanisms that eventually cause fatigue, and pre-workout supplements can achieve this in two ways:
The first is caffeine, a common pre-workout ingredient, which gives you energy by suppressing the production of adenosine in the brain, the chemical that causes us to feel sleepy.
The second way is to block muscle fatigue and soreness caused by a buildup of acid in the muscles. To combat this, you may find beta-alanine listed in the ingredients, which is a chemical that eliminates acids from your muscles.
Beta-alanine reduces acid accumulation that causes the “burn” feeling in your muscles from intense training, and as a result, can allow you to push harder for longer throughout your workouts and increase overall exercise performance.
Are There Specific Benefits of a Pre-Workout for Women?
To put it simply, there are no specific benefits to women taking pre-workout supplements. While it is no secret that many nutrition and fitness strategies, and supplements, are tailored to male physiology, they often provide the same benefits to females.
While it is true that males and females have different chemical needs, and women often need to think about additional factors such as pregnancy and menstruation when it comes to certain strategies and supplements, on a general level, it doesn’t make any difference!
Pre-workouts are suitable for all healthy adults and will provide performance-enhancing benefits across the board, regardless of sex.
Is Pre-Workout Safe for Women?
Pre-workouts are perfectly safe for females provided they are healthy individuals, but the same can also be said for males.
If you have specific health issues that would not agree with the use of caffeine or any other ingredients found in a pre-workout, it would be a good idea to consult your doctor or a registered nutritionist before taking, especially for pre-workout newbies.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it may be worth opting for a low-caffeine pre-workout, as well as familiarising yourself with the ingredients to ensure that the supplement you are considering is safe to take during this time.
Find out more about “Is pre-workout safe to take while nursing?” here!
Ingredients to Look for in Your Pre-Workout Supplement
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that increases carnosine in the muscles, thus acting as a pH buffer to help reduce lactic acid accumulation. Lactic acid is the “burn” you feel in your muscles during intense exercise!
Caffeine is a stimulant that can increase mental alertness and energy. Caffeine often forms the foundation of any pre-workout supplement, being the most researched ergogenic aid in the industry. You may see it in many forms, including caffeine anhydrous, green tea extract, or Coffea robusta beans.
This may be seen in the form of concentrated beetroot extract, which is a natural source of nitrate. Dietary nitrate raises nitric oxide production in the body, which in turn relaxes and dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow throughout the body.
This can have a profound impact on an athlete’s performance, helping to push their hard-working muscles to their limits, no matter the training modality.
Arginine & Citrulline
On the topic of increased blood flow, arginine and citrulline are also two key players when it comes to increasing nitric oxide production in the body. Arginine specifically has been shown to promote blood flow, while citrulline is an arginine precursor, so essentially has the same effect.
L-theanine is an amino acid that can help reduce the jittery effects of caffeine, as well as promote a calm and clear-headed mindset. When taken as part of a pre-workout, it can strengthen the mental aspects of exercise, supporting relaxed alertness, positive mood, and cognitive clarity.
Similar to the effects of L-theanine, L-tyrosine can help sharpen focus under stressful situations, such as an intense workout, by maintaining neurotransmitters that are often depleted by caffeine and intense training.
This amino acid can essentially recycle all catecholamine neurotransmitters, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
Creatine monohydrate is often taken as a stand-alone supplement and is incredibly effective at improving high-intensity exercise performance, and may even assist post-exercise recovery. This supplement is arguably more researched than caffeine, and its efficacy has been proven countless times.
Essential Vitamins & Minerals
B-vitamins are essential for energy production, so can have a significant impact on overall athletic performance. Vitamin D3 can also have a big impact on performance due to the critical role it plays in overall health and wellbeing.
Some key electrolyte minerals also play a big role in athletic performance, such as iron, potassium, and magnesium!
The Best Pre-Workout Supplements for Women
Here are a couple of the best pre-workout supplements for women:
Pre Lab Pro is the next-gen pre-workout formula, an all-around ergogenic that helps to increase strength, speed, stamina, endurance, cardio, and recovery.
This nootropic-enhanced formula can provide the most optimal effects from caffeine, as well as the other ingredients - beetroot powder, L-tyrosine, L-theanine, arginine, and citrulline.
The low caffeine content allows you to dose appropriately to your personal needs.
Performance Lab Caffeine+ provides a hit of clean, healthy caffeine without the side effects, ensuring a fast bounce back and less burnout.
This supplement offers greater dosing precision than many pre-workout powders, resulting in superior performance-tuned stimulation.
This would be a great option alongside Pre Lab Pro, much like a pre-workout booster, if you require a higher caffeine dose before training, but with the option to dose more accurately and with fewer side effects.
Pre-workouts offer many benefits to overall exercise performance and recovery by:
- Improving lean muscle mass
- Reducing the onset of fatigue during high-intensity workouts
- Increasing energy production
- Boosting mental energy and cognitive function
- Improving muscular endurance
- Enhancing muscle recovery
- Assisting weight loss
The benefits of a pre-workout supplement would be the same for both men and women. While women may need to consider some factors unique to their sex, such as menstruation and pregnancy, the effects are generally no different from that of men.
When is the best time to take a pre-workout?
The best time to take a pre-workout is around 30 minutes before exercise. This is enough time for the caffeine and other ingredients to take effect, but not too long that the effects would wear off before you start your session.
How frequently should I take pre-workout?
To put it simply, you can take a pre-workout as frequently as you require for your training demands, though it’s important not to exceed the recommended dose over 24 hours.
Additionally, it’s always a good idea to take a tolerance break from caffeine sources every so often, as it may lose its effectiveness if you rely on it too often.
Are there any side effects to pre-workout?
The main side effects of pre-workout would be as a result of the caffeine and beta-alanine. Caffeine may cause jitters and a crash, but this depends on how you dose and how you tolerate caffeine.
Beta-alanine can have a common side effect called paresthesia, which is a tingling or prickling sensation on the skin.
Do all pre-workout supplements contain natural ingredients?
There are a lot of pre-workouts on the market that may not contain all-natural ingredients. It’s important to check the label and understand what the ingredients are, where they are sourced from, and the overall quality of the supplement.
Should all pre-workout supplements contain creatine?
Many pre-workouts you’ll find will contain creatine, though it is definitely not necessary. Creatine is likely more effective when taken as a stand-alone supplement, as it would make dosing strategies more straightforward than having to take a pre-workout every day.
- Thein LA, Thein JM, Landry GL. Ergogenic aids. Phys Ther. 1995 May;75(5):426-39. PMID: 7732086.