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What Is Pre-Workout? Is It Really Worth Using?


Different athletes and weightlifters use pre-workouts to amplify their athletic performance. 

Pre-workouts refer to a generic term that includes a wide array of bodybuilding supplement products to bolster endurance, focus, and energy during a workout.

So if you are looking out to know whether pre-workouts work or not, then this article is meant for you. But before moving further, let’s know the meaning of pre-workout.

What Is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout supplements, which may also be referred to as pre-workouts, are dietary formulas concocted with different ingredients to bolster athletic performance and energy levels.

Generally, pre-workouts may be in powdered form that could be mixed in water or any other drink and consumed before your exercise. 

Though the Pre-workouts may be devised using a different formula, some of the ingredients remain the same.

These ingredients may include caffeine, amino acids like creatine and beta-alanine, and other artificial sweeteners. 

However, the quantities of these ingredients in different pre-workout supplements may vary according to the specific brands.

Moreover, you should know that some of the pre-workouts may not even have been substantiated for their purity or quality. 

Due to this, it becomes crucial for you to be very careful before you choose a pre-workout supplement for yourself.

However, a study[1] conducted on 13 males in 2016 concluded that using a pre-workout had significant improvement on the anaerobic power performance.

What Does Pre-Workout Do?

Though the research on the efficacy of pre-workout supplements is limited yet it could be said that certain ingredients in pre-workout supplements may improve your athletic performance[2].

Hence, let’s have a look at the different ingredients that you may look out for in your pre-workout.

These ingredients could assist the pre-workouts to provide you several benefits which are as follows-

  • Caffeine

    The major reason behind including caffeine in your pre-workout could be to amplify your focus[3] and energy levels.

    Other than this, this ingredient could also ameliorate your mental alertness, and memory and truncate your body fat.

  • Creatine

    Creatine is another ingredient that you could look out for in the pre-workouts. Generally, it is a chemical compound that may be naturally produced by your body.

    Once the chemical compound is produced in the body, it is primarily stored in the skeleton muscles.

    Hence this compound might help in ameliorating the muscular strength and energy production in the body.

    Due to the same reason, it could be included in different pre-workout formulas. Moreover, creatine is even available as a standalone supplement.

    Research[4] shows that it could increase the supply of the chemical compound creatine produced in your body and hence may help in improving your exercise performance, muscle mass, and strength.

  • Nitric Oxide Precursors

    The human body naturally produces nitric oxide, which could help in ameliorating the blood flow and relaxing the blood vessels in the human body.

    Due to the same reason, different pre-workouts may include some common compounds that may be used by your body to produce nitric oxide.

    These common compounds may include[5] sources of dietary nitrates like beetroot juice, L arginine, or L citrulline.

    One could also consume proper foods to increase blood flow.

  • Branched-Chain Amino Acids

    BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids, when added to the pre-workout formulas might help to spur your muscle growth and reduce the soreness of the muscles before the workout, as suggested in this study[6].

    Generally, these amino acids are even included in different sources of protein, so you might already be consuming them throughout your diet.

    There are other BCAA benefits as well, that you might want to know.

  • Beta-Alanine

    Beta-alanine is another amino acid that may evade the acid buildup in your muscle tissue. Hence it may facilitate[7] you to workout for longer time.

  • Carbohydrates

    Consuming carbohydrates before your workout could help to fuel up your body for energy.

    The reason behind this is that once you are involved in strenuous workouts, your body may use blood glucose and glycogen as a form of energy.

    Glycogen refers to the stored carbs that could intensify the energy levels[8] while you work out.

Thus, these are some of the ingredients you could look for in your pre-workouts before including them as part of your workout schedule.

The amount of these ingredients will help you analyze the benefits you can gain from a pre-workout.

Is Pre-Workout Bad For You?

Though the pre-workout supplements may be generally safe, you should always assess their pros and cons together.

This is because sometimes pre-workouts may not be risk-free and hence you should have an insight into their potential downsides before incorporating them into your workout regimen.

So, here are certain potential side effects that you need to consider before adding the pre-workouts to your workout schedules.

  • Mild Reactions

    Sometimes the pre-workouts may result in mild reactions in your body. The reason behind this could be the presence of two ingredients named beta-alanine and niacin.

    Though beta-alanine could improve your exercise performance and curtail fatigue during high-intensity exercises, it may cause paresthesia,  or tingling, from prolonged extensive use, confirms the research[9].

    Paresthesia is a tingling sensation in your feet and hands. Though it is a harmless reaction to the nervous system, it may be uncomfortable.

    Another ingredient that could cause certain mild reactions is niacin. Niacin might result in red patches on the surface of your skin because it may cause an augmentation in your blood rush.

  • Augment The Water Retention

    Pre-workouts may even increase your water retention due to the presence of a popular ingredient known as creatine.

    Some of the major side effects associated with creatine[10] could include bloating, digestive issues, water retention, and weight gain.

Other potential downsides that may result due to the regular consumption of certain pre-workouts could include headaches, nausea, migraines, digestive issues, insomnia, amplified heart rate, drowsiness, restlessness, etc.

Pre-Workout Meal

The pre-workout meal refers to the food eaten before the workout to overstate energy levels.

The pre-workout food should generally include a meal plan to build nutrients that could help you to perform better and reduce the recovery time after your workouts.

This means that pre-workout meals may enhance your workout efforts because it is an ideal whisk of proteins, carbs, and fats.

So let’s have a look at some of the meals you could eat before your workouts.

  1. Greek Yogurt With Granola And Berries

    The greek yogurt in this meal could provide you ample protein to evade any muscle breakdown.

    On the other hand, granola and berries might provide quick digestive carbs that can improve[11] energy levels.

    However, make sure to choose a granola bar that could contain different wholesome carbs like nuts, seeds, quinoa, oats, etc.

  2. Fruit Smoothie

    As we all know, fruits are rich in simple sugars that are easy to digest.

    Due to the same reason, adding fruit smoothies to your pre-workout meal could provide you with the required energy for a high-intensity workout.

    All you have to do is to whisk the different fruits like bananas[12], apples, blueberries, or avocados with peanut butter, oats, flaxseed, and almond milk together to create this smoothie.

  3. Peanut Butter And Honey With Banana

    In times of hectic schedules, all you have to do is munch on some banana with honey and peanut butter before your workouts.

    Bananas are a rich source[12] of simple carbs and protein that could help to ameliorate your nerve and muscle function.

    On the other hand, eating it with peanut butter and honey may help to release slow and steady levels of glucose[13] in your bloodstream which can help in endurance workouts.

Pre-Workout Snack

If you are looking out for snacks that you can munch on before your pre-workouts, then here’s a list.

  1. Instant Oatmeal

    If you need a quick pre-workout snack for times when you are occupied all you have to do is to grab a packet of instant oatmeal.

    Instant oatmeal may provide you with just enough energy without filling you up a lot. You could receive plenty[14] of carbs, approximately 19 to 27 grams per packet, depending upon the flavor you choose.

    Moreover, it could take even less than two minutes to prepare.

  2. Fresh Fruits

    As a pre-workout snack, you could munch on a piece of fresh fruit like bananas, apples, or oranges.

    Fruits are easy to digest and full of energizing carbohydrates, and you could receive approximately 15 to 20 grams of carbs per piece.

  3. Ricotta Cheese With Cinnamon Toast

    The creamy ricotta cheese, when mixed with carbohydrate-rich cinnamon toast, could provide you with approximately 24 grams of carbohydrates.

    Additionally, you will receive 20% of your daily calcium requirement, as per research[15].

How Long Does Pre-Workout Last?

The exact time that is needed for the pre-workouts to show their effects depends upon the type of ingredients used in your pre-workouts.

The amount of each ingredient, the number of servings you consume, your activity level, your body sensitivity to caffeine, and your body mass all play an important role in determining the lasting effect of the pre-workout.

Generally, two of the most popular ingredients in pre-workouts known as caffeine and arginine will take approximately 60 to 90 minutes to kick in, as per this study[16].

On the other hand, Caffeine may take anywhere near one hour to show its effect. Seeing the effects of different ingredients, overall a pre-workout may last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.

Natural Pre-Workout

As mentioned above, a pre-workout may not be entirely safe and so you may even opt for a natural pre-workout.

The natural pre-workouts could include different foods and drinks that could work the same way as the pre-workout supplements and help to fuel your workout.

Let’s have a look at these natural Pre-workouts.

  • Sweet Potatoes

    Sweet potatoes serve as a great[17] natural pre-workout because they are packed with certain micronutrients like magnesium and potassium.

  • Fruits

    According to a study[18], if you are looking out for simple sugars that are easy to digest, then fruits could serve as great natural pre-workouts for your workout regime.

    You may munch on any fruits like canned peaches, fresh berries, bananas[12], apples, etc.

  • Bread.

    If you do not have any gluten sensitivity, then Bread could even offer you easy-to-digest[19] carbs to fuel you up for your workout.


No matter if you work out at your home or the gym, you may have heard of the numerous benefits related to pre-workout supplements from your trainers, friends, or even advertisements.

Some sources claim that pre-workouts may ameliorate your fitness and amplify your energy levels. 

On the other hand, other experts even claim that they could be potentially dangerous and unnecessary.

Hopefully, this article has helped you to find out all you need to know about pre-workouts.


Working4Health prefers using primary and verified references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and our primary references include peer-reviewed research, academic, and medical institution studies.

  1. Nic Martinez, Bill Campbell, Madison Franek, et al. The effect of acute pre-workout supplementation on power and strength performance J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016; 13: 29.Published online 2016 Jul 16. doi: 10.1186/s12970-016-0138-7
  2. Michael J. Ormsbee, Christopher W. Bach, and Daniel A. Baur Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance Nutrients. 2014 May; 6(5): 1782–1808.Published online 2014 Apr 29. doi: 10.3390/nu6051782
  3. L L Spriet, D A MacLean, D J Dyck, et al. Caffeine ingestion and muscle metabolism during prolonged exercise in humans Am J Physiol. 1992 Jun;262(6 Pt 1):E891-8. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.1992.262.6.E891. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1616022/
  4. Kristina L Kendall, Abbie E Smith, Jennifer L Graef, et al. Effects of four weeks of high-intensity interval training and creatine supplementation on critical power and anaerobic working capacity in college-aged men J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Sep;23(6):1663-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b1fd1f. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19675499/
  5. Richard J Bloomer, Tyler M Farney, John F Trepanowski, et al. Comparison of pre-workout nitric oxide stimulating dietary supplements on skeletal muscle oxygen saturation, blood nitrate/nitrite, lipid peroxidation, and upper body exercise performance in resistance trained men J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 May 6;7:16. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-16. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20459623/
  6. Eva Blomstrand, Jörgen Eliasson, Håkan K R Karlsson, et al. Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1 Suppl):269S-73S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.1.269S. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16365096/
  7. Abbie E Smith, Ashley A Walter, Jennifer L Graef, et al. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation and high-intensity interval training on endurance performance and body composition in men; a double-blind trial J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 Feb 11;6:5. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-6-5. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19210788/
  8. Juul Achten, Asker E Jeukendrup The effect of pre-exercise carbohydrate feedings on the intensity that elicits maximal fat oxidation J Sports Sci. 2003 Dec;21(12):1017-24. doi: 10.1080/02640410310001641403. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14748459/
  9. Eric T. Trexler, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Jeffrey R. Stout, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12: 30.Published online 2015 Jul 15. doi: 10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
  10. Sergej M Ostojic, Zlatko Ahmetovic Gastrointestinal distress after creatine supplementation in athletes: are side effects dose dependent? Res Sports Med. 2008;16(1):15-22. doi: 10.1080/15438620701693280. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18373286/
  11. Aaron Bridge, Joseph Brown, Hayden Snider, et al. Greek Yogurt and 12 Weeks of Exercise Training on Strength, Muscle Thickness and Body Composition in Lean, Untrained, University-Aged Males Front Nutr. 2019; 6: 55.Published online 2019 Apr 30. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2019.00055
  12. David C. Nieman, Nicholas D. Gillitt, Dru A. Henson, et al. Bananas as an Energy Source during Exercise: A Metabolomics Approach PLoS One. 2012; 7(5): e37479.Published online 2012 May 17. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037479
  13. Diabetes and healthy eating Reviewed on: 15-06-2021 Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/diabetes-and-healthy-eating
  14. Zhen Zeng, Patrick Jendricke, Christoph Centner, et al. Acute Effects of Oatmeal on Exercise-Induced Reactive Oxygen Species Production Following High-Intensity Interval Training in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 Jan; 10(1): 3.Published online 2020 Dec 22. doi: 10.3390/antiox10010003
  15. Heliodoro Alemán-Mateo, Virginia Ramírez Carreón, Liliana Macías, et al. Nutrient-rich dairy proteins improve appendicular skeletal muscle mass and physical performance, and attenuate the loss of muscle strength in older men and women subjects: a single-blind randomized clinical trial Clin Interv Aging. 2014; 9: 1517–1525.Published online 2014 Sep 12. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S67449
  16. Piotr Kaczka, Amit Batra, Katarzyna Kubicka, et al. Effects of Pre-Workout Multi-Ingredient Supplement on Anaerobic Performance: Randomized Double-Blind Crossover Study Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov; 17(21): 8262.Published online 2020 Nov 9. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17218262
  17. Sweet Potatoes Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/sweet-potatoes/
  18. Laura K Purcell Sport nutrition for young athletes Paediatr Child Health. 2013 Apr; 18(4): 200–202.doi: 10.1093/pch/18.4.200
  19. [HISTORICAL RECORD]: WHITE BREAD FDC Published:4/1/2019 Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/603270/nutrients

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