If you struggle with getting the energy to complete your workout, a good pre-workout supplement can come in handy. When used correctly, it can provide the necessary jolt of energy to maximize your gym time, plus enhance endurance to help your power through more reps with greater intensity. But used incorrectly, your pre-workout can be the demise of your gym time.
For anyone new to the pre-workout world, downing that first scoop can be intimidating. Rather than stressing out, we’ve developed a guide containing everything you need to know about getting started with pre-workout.
What Is A Pre-Workout?
Pre-workout supplements are a class of fitness aids designed to enhance energy and performance. In general, there are two kinds you’ll see: those with stimulants and those without. While there’s a fair bit of research on the benefits of caffeine for performance, caffeine just doesn’t work for some people.
And while you may be under the impression that no caffeine means a no-good workout, that’s not the case. When you combine the best ergogenic ingredients into one high-performance supplement, the results you’ll see will speak for themselves.
Pre-workout supplements typically contain a blend of ingredients such as amino acids, creatine, caffeine, β-alanine, and other ingredients designed to improve acute exercise performance, which has the potential to augment training adaptations when used long-term in conjunction with a training program 1.
As a result, you’ll find that pre-workout supplements help to:
- Increase workout intensity
- Enhance focus and attention
- Boost power
- Increase endurance
- Reduce fatigue
How To Use A Pre-Workout
If you’ve never used a pre-workout before, knocking back your first scoop is a big deal. For some people, the effects can kick in fast and hard, while for others, it may take some time depending on how much you took and what was in your supplement.
In general, there are a few things you want to keep in mind before taking a pre-workout:
- When are you training?
- What’s the recommended serving size?
- How much caffeine is in your pre-workout?
If you’ve never used a pre-workout before, start with half of the recommended serving size and work up to the full dosage. The last thing you want is to overdo it and be caught off guard with major overstimulation.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to be taking your pre-workout about 30 minutes before you plan to train. That provides sufficient time for most ingredients in pre-workout supplements to absorb. That said, you also don’t want to wait too long after taking your pre-workout to train, as the effects won’t be as strong.
Be mindful that taking a pre-workout too often can cause your body to build up a tolerance to some of the ingredients, especially if it contains caffeine. If you want to avoid this issue, cycling on and off your pre-workout may be something to consider. We’ll talk about this more in the tips section.
The 4 Best Pre-Workout Ingredients You Must Have
When it comes to pre-workouts, they’re not all created equal. Some are heavy on stimulants, while others are completely stim-free.
What you choose will depend on what you’re looking to accomplish, but here are some of the best ingredients that should be in your pre-workout.
Caffeine isn’t essential in a pre-workout because it can easily cause overstimulation and tank your entire training session, but there are certain aspects of performance that it can benefit.
Apart from its ability to enhance energy, focus, and alertness, research also finds that caffeine can alter substrate utilization during exercise, which may positively affect aerobic exercise performance.
This effect is likely mediated through improved energy status of the muscle in the early stages of intense aerobic exercise, which may be due to increased availability of fat and/or improvement in the ability of mitochondria to oxidize fat during exercise after consuming caffeine 2.
But when it comes to power and strength, there’s not much evidence supporting the beneficial role of caffeine.
Keep in mind that while caffeine can exhibit good effects on exercise performance, you don’t want to go crazy with it. Look for a supplement that contains moderate doses of caffeine fine-tuned for precision and peak performance, not overstimulation.
Red Beetroot Powder
If you’re looking for the ultimate pump, nitric oxide boosters are your best bet. And while there are several compounds that increase blood NO levels, nothing does it quite like red beetroot powder.
It’s an ultra-concentrated source of natural nitrate that converts to nitric oxide to dilate blood vessels, enhance blood flow, and increase oxygen and nutrient delivery to active muscles.
Because NO functions as one of the body’s most powerful vasodilators, its ability to increase blood flow and enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery can also improve the capacity of muscles to contract and maintain function. As a result, you’re getting a greater work capacity, improved time to exhaustion, and overall better performance 3, 4.
Glutathione + L-Citrulline
The combination of L-Glutathione + L-Citrulline is a performance powerhouse that can boost and sustain nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream twice as long as equivalent doses of L-arginine or L-citrulline alone.
These two compounds work as a tag team: L-citrulline enhances NOx production, while glutathione stabilizes and slows the release of NO to protect it from oxidative damage 5.
NO is a delicate molecule that breaks down relatively quickly in the bloodstream, so having glutathione in the blend protects it from degradation and maintains the positive effects of NO longer. That means more strength, power, speed, endurance, and a better overall athletic performance.
5 Tips For Using Pre-Workout
Never used a pre-workout before? Here are some of our best tips to excel your workouts to the top without going overboard.
1. Start Slow
When it comes to performance supplements, following the directions on the label is always your safest bet. Because most pre-workout supplements go heavy on the stimulants, overdoing it on your scoop size can lead to some unpleasant and unwelcome side effects during your workout.
We’re talking about anxiety, jitters, nervousness, nausea, and more. If there’s one way to ruin your workout, it’s going balls to the wall all out on a heavy-stim pre-workout.
Instead, start out slow. If you’re not sure how it’s going to affect you, start with half of the recommended serving size and work up to a full scoop. You’re not competing against anyone, so work at your own pace and find the serving size that works best for you.
Although some people will recommend against it, cycling your pre-workout is generally a good idea to avoid reliance or tolerance, especially if it contains caffeine.
If you find that your pre-workout isn’t eliciting the same effects as it was when you started, it’s a good idea to cycle. That means coming off your pre-workout every 6-8 weeks to give your body a rest, reset your tolerance, and allow your supplement to work as it once did.
In doing so, you can:
- Achieve optimal effects with your pre-workout
- Enhance sleep to burn fat and build more muscle
- Improve energy levels
- Regain the intensity of your workouts
3. Check The Ingredients
What’s in your pre-workout is going to be a significant indicator of how effective it is. Ideally, you want a clean pre-workout that’s low-stimulant or stimulant-free to avoid the negative effects that high-dose caffeine can cause and one that has the proper amounts of the effective ingredients.
Not all ingredients will offer the results you’re looking for, so you want ones that are scientifically backed—like everything in Pre Lab Pro!
On top of that, you also want to avoid anything artificial—colors, flavors, additives—and anything that you don’t recognize. While knocking back a SourPatch flavored pre-workout may taste amazing, it’s not doing anything amazing for your body.
4. Be Mindful Of The Serving Size
As we mentioned with the first tip, you don’t want to overdo it on your pre-workout. Follow the recommended dosing on the label to avoid any side effects.
While it may be tempting to double-scoop if you’re feeling extra bold and want to elevate the intensity of your workout, the recommended serving size is what’s most effective for performance. Increasing it may work for some people, but you’re liable to experience more nasty effects that way.
5. Time It Right
Pre-workout supplements are designed to maximize your training time. If you want to use them to their fullest potential, you need to make sure you’re taking them at the right time. As we mentioned before, 15-30 minutes before a workout is generally when people experience the most benefit.
But if you’re doing a longer and more intense workout, you can also consider supplementing during your workout to help you prolong endurance capabilities. However, check the recommended dose on the label to ensure you’re not overdoing it.
Also, consider mixing in a stim-free pre-workout on days where maybe you don’t need the intensity of a stimulant.
Taking a pre-workout for the first time can be a daunting experience because you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get.
Use these tips to help you navigate how to use pre-workout and what to look for in the best pre-workout supplement.
- Harty PS, Zabriskie HA, Erickson JL, Molling PE, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):41.
- Chesley A, Howlett RA, Heigenhauser GJ, Hultman E, Spriet Regulation of muscle glycogenolytic flux during intense aerobic exercise after caffeine ingestion. Am J Physiol. 1998;275(2):R596-R603.
- Domínguez R, Cuenca E, Maté-Muñoz JL, et al. Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review. 2017;9(1):43.
- Bailey SJ, Winyard PG, Vanhatalo A, Blackwell JR, DiMenna FJ, Wilkerson DP, JonesAcute L-arginine supplementation reduces the O2 cost of moderate-intensity exercise and enhances high-intensity exercise tolerance. J Appl Physiol. 2010;109(5):1394-403.
- Hwang P, Morales Marroquín FE, Gann J, et al. Eight weeks of resistance training in conjunction with glutathione and L-Citrulline supplementation increases lean mass and has no adverse effects on blood clinical safety markers in resistance-trained males. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):30.