The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements (2023)

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The pre-workout market has become a feature of the supplement industry in the past decade. Every major supplement brand will offer a pre-workout, if not multiple iterations.

Pre-workout formulations typically come in powder form. This is due to the comprehensive supplement ingredients required to make a quality pre-workout. You simply could not fit that much into a pill.

Pre-workout supplements are unique in that they can be composed of a variety of ingredients. Two companies could have completely different formulations. This is why it’s important to be knowledgeable about ingredients so you can choose what’s right for you.

Benefits of a Pre-Workout Supplement

The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements (5)


The primary reason most people purchase a pre-workout is to increase their energy. If a pre-workout contains a stimulant, it is likely in the form of caffeine.

Everyone has a unique sensitivity to the effects of caffeine. Some people experience anxiety and jitters with a tiny amount, while others can have multiple servings per day. Over time, your tolerance for caffeine will increase if you consume it regularly.

Caffeine may also increase thermogenesis and boost metabolism. It is also an appetite suppressant. This is helpful for users who want to lose weight or maintain weight loss. .

The energy benefits from a pre-workout are not limited to stimulants. Many pre-workouts contain vitamins and minerals which can increase energy, especially if you are deficient. It will not be the same stimulatory effect as caffeine, but will make you feel lively and energetic overall.

The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements (6)
(Video) Pre-Workout Supplements: How To PROPERLY Use It To Boost Performance (Avoid Side Effects!)

Mental Focus

Caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and wakefulness. It does so by inhibiting adenosine in the brain. The adenosine molecule is partially responsible for sedation and relaxation, particularly as the day goes on. It’s a natural part of the sleep-wake cycle.

Caffeine is similar to adenosine in structure, and essentially blocks adenosine from attaching to its receptor (temporarily). Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours. This means it takes 6 hours for half of the caffeine ingested to be removed from the body.

This goes to show that even after the noticeable effects of caffeine have worn off, it remains in your system. As a result, you should avoid having caffeine too close to bedtime so sleep quality isn’t compromised.

Certain pre-workouts contain ingredients specifically for mental focus called nootropics. While some people have experienced success anecdotally, research is still limited. Since they are relatively new to the market, there are still unknowns about their side effects and interactions with other supplements.

The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements (7)

Muscular Endurance

Certain pre-workout ingredients can delay time to fatigue, thus increasing muscular endurance. When exercising, whether it’s lifting weights, running, or playing a sport, metabolic byproducts build up and cause you to slow down. Some people refer to this as the “burn.”

To a certain degree, this is inevitable. You simply can’t exercise forever. However, measures can be taken to increase endurance and have better workouts.

One of the byproducts of intense exercise is ammonia. Ammonia builds up in the muscle, which leads to a decrease in performance. Citrulline, a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements, helps to recycle and remove ammonia from muscle. This allows you to train longer and harder.

Muscle Pumps

Muscle pumps may seem like a superficial benefit from a pre-workout. But increased blood flow to the muscle being worked can help with the mind-muscle connection when lifting weights.

Some people struggle to feel the muscle contract for a certain exercise. Enhanced blood flow may make this process easier. The ability to feel the exercise is not just old bodybuilding folklore, it has real application to building muscle.

This is particularly important for bringing up lagging muscle groups. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses with their physique, even at the professional bodybuilding level. The ability to put tension on the muscle is an important key to growth.

(Video) Pre Workout Supplements for Beginners - How to Choose

This enhanced blood flow also carries nutrients and oxygen to the working muscle. This aids both workout performance and muscle growth.

Muscle Gain

Muscles grow as an adaptation to a stimulus. For most people, that stimulus is resistance exercise in the gym. While it may seem obvious, it’s important to not lose sight of this concept.

Muscle will not grow unless you give it a reason to.

We’re all guilty of going through the motions for a workout. For some people, however, this becomes habitual. Consistency is great, but you don’t get points for just showing up to the gym. To improve your body, you need to push it.

A pre-workout may not directly build muscle the way a protein supplement would. But if it aids your workout performance, it’s providing a tangible benefit. Better workouts = more muscle growth in the long run.

The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements (8)

Are Pre-Workout Supplements Safe?

There is a certain perception around supplements due to them not being FDA approved. However, there are still FDA rules and regulations that must be followed by supplement companies. A reputable company will follow these guidelines and ensure that a quality product is placed on the shelves.

Supplement companies can go above and beyond by doing independent testing on their products. In addition, they can follow good manufacturing practices within the facilities that their supplements are made.

Beyond good manufacturing practices are the ingredients in the pre-workout supplements themselves. The bad press that pre-workout supplements sometimes receive is due to the stimulant content.

Some pre-workout supplements can have upwards of 400mg of caffeine per serving. In addition, they may contain other stimulants like yohimbine. Some people will even take multiple scoops of a pre-workout, which is typically the reason for any adverse response.

A normal pre-workout with a reasonable amount of caffeine is unlikely to cause any problems. A stimulant-free pre-workout is even less likely to cause issues.

(Video) The 4 BEST Supplements To Build Muscle Faster (And How Much They Help) ft. Dr. Brad Schoenfeld

What To Look For In A Pre-Workout

All pre-workouts are not created equal. It’s important for supplement consumers to be educated about what to look for in a pre-workout to choose the best option for them. What’s right for one person and their goals may not be the optimal choice for someone else.

Avoiding Proprietary Blends

On a supplement facts panel, you may find something called a proprietary blend. A proprietary blend shows the ingredients in a product, but not the exact amount of each one.

As a consumer, you want to know exactly what you’re getting, especially in a supplement. Proprietary blends are typically something you want to avoid. Companies that stand behind their formulations will not use proprietary blends in their products. Conceivably, a product could have great ingredients but in doses that are completely ineffective.

The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements (9)

Choosing The Right Ingredients

With a clear fitness goal, you will be able to choose a pre-workout suited to your needs. Some people want to be wired and have intense focus. They may be willing to sacrifice performance-based ingredients for extra caffeine and stimulants.

Other people who want better workouts, muscle pumps, and strength gains will look for ingredients like creatine, citrulline, and arginine. These ingredients have clinical research showing their efficacy in the gym. Each person will have a unique response to a pre-workout supplement. Some trial and error may be involved in finding the right one.

Artificial Sweeteners

Most pre-workout supplements are low in sugar, if not completely sugar free. In order to flavor these supplements, companies will turn to artificial sweeteners.

While artificial sweeteners are generally safe to consume, some people may choose to avoid them for a variety of reasons. One common reason is that they experience stomach discomfort. Another is that they simply don’t like the taste of a specific type of sweetener.

In any case, a number of natural sweeteners can now be used in dietary supplements. Monk fruit and stevia are two natural sweeteners that you may find in flavored supplements like pre-workouts, protein powders, and amino acid powders.

Who Can Benefit From a Pre-Workout?

Anyone who wants to improve their exercise or sport performance can benefit from a pre-workout. Men and women over 18 years of age can use a pre-workout supplement.


A pre-workout can help invigorate your training and increase performance. It’s important to get the most out of each training session. Whether the goal is to increase endurance, get stronger, build muscle, or burn fat, a pre-workout can be beneficial.


Can I Take a Pre-Workout If I’m Sensitive to Caffeine?

The caffeine content of a pre-workout can vary wildly. A pre-workout can contain 100-400mg of caffeine per serving. It is up to you to assess your tolerance and choose the right one. If you are unsure, it is best to start with half a serving or less and adjust from there.

If you are completely intolerant to caffeine, or just wish to avoid it for any other reason, a number of stimulant-free pre-workout options are available.

How Long Does a Pre-Workout’s Effects Last?

The duration of a pre-workout’s effects is dependent on the ingredients. As mentioned, caffeine has a half life of about 6 hours. Some people metabolize caffeine at a faster rate. However, caffeine’s actual stimulatory effects will last for a shorter period.

Nitric oxide boosters like citrulline and arginine last 1-2 hours. The length and potency of its effects are dependent on the dosage, your body type, and sensitivity to the ingredients.

The Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Supplements (11)

When Is The Best Time To Take A Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout ingredients take some time to digest and assimilate in the body. As a result, a pre-workout should be taken 20-30 minutes before training.

Should You Take Pre-Workout On An Empty Stomach?

Some people choose to train fasted, while others enjoy a meal to help fuel their activity. The good news is that there is no hard rule on food intake and pre-workout supplementation.

Generally speaking, taking a pre-workout on an empty stomach would enhance its effects. Food can slow the absorption of the pre-workout ingredients, particularly caffeine. A pre-workout taken with food may increase the duration of its effects, but minimize the peak.

Can I Stack a Pre-Workout With Other Supplements?

A pre-workout can typically be stacked with any other supplement. Aside from caffeine, it’s unlikely that any ingredient would negate the effects of another supplement.

Nowadays, a pre-workout and protein powder are the foundation of many supplement stacks. The workout itself is where progress is made. It makes sense to optimize both the pre and post workout period with proper supplementation.

(Video) PRE-WORKOUT EXPLAINED! — What Is It & Should You Be Using Pre-Workout Supplements? | Doctor ER

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How should pre-workout supplements be taken for beginners? ›

Pre-workout can also be consumed in food or pill supplements. As the name suggests, pre-workout should be taken before a workout, and although many people drink it on their way to the gym or during their workout, it should be taken at least 30 to 60 minutes prior to hitting the weights or cardio machines.

How do I choose the right pre-workout? ›

To make sure that you're taking an effective supplement, check the label and look for ingredients that are scientifically proven to boost muscle growth, fat burning, and overall workout performance. Keep an eye out for creatine, L-carnitine, caffeine for added on-the-spot energy, and a testosterone boost if needed.

Which Preworkout supplement is best? ›

  • Best Pre-Workout Supplements of 2023.
  • Kaged Muscle Pre-Kaged Premium Pre-Workout.
  • Legion Pulse Natural Pre-Workout.
  • Naked Nutrition Naked Energy Natural Pure Pre-Workout Formula.
  • House of Athlete Mental Fitness.
  • Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout.
  • Shifted Maximum Pre-Workout.
  • C4 Original Pre-Workout.
Feb 1, 2023

What supplements do you need pre-workout? ›

There are a few common pre-workout supplement ingredients that have been shown to improve exercise performance, including carbohydrates, caffeine, beetroot juice, creatine monohydrate, and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB). Here's a brief overview of what the research indicates they might do for you.

Is it better to take pre-workout or creatine? ›

Creatine Vs Pre Workout: Takeaway

Creatine will help you build more strength and muscle mass, and can help improve performance during high-intensity training. Pre workouts can also be equally as effective in driving more energy and endurance, so long as they have the correct doses and proven ingredients.

Should I take Preworkout or creatine first? ›

Research suggests that the best time to take creatine is after a workout because it has a more positive effect on increasing lean muscle mass and muscular strength. But there are also some benefits to taking it before your workout because your body can digest it fast enough to be able to utilize it during exercise.

Is C4 one of the best pre-workout? ›

Introduced to the market back in 2011, C4 is one of the most well-known and popular pre-workout supplements available. Although it may have smaller quantities of ingredients like caffeine than other C4 products, it's a tried-and-true place to start for beginners and experts alike.

Is pre-workout even worth it? ›

Pre-workout supplements are primarily used to enhance physical performance and energy levels, but research doesn't back many of their supposed benefits. Most pre-workouts are considered safe for healthy adults, but they aren't essential for health or performance ( 1 ).

When should I start taking pre-workout? ›

For most people, the ideal time to take you pre-workout is around 30 minutes to one hour before your workout — this should give the supplement enough time to hit your bloodstream and amp you up ahead of your session.

What is the #1 preworkout? ›

Cellucor C4 Pre-Workout

C4 is the flagship product for Cellucor, and is considered by many as the No. 1 pre-workout in the country. It's carbohydrate-free and contains 150 milligrams of caffeine per serving—a similar dose found in about 1.5 cups of coffee.

Why C4 is the best pre-workout? ›

C4 Pre-Workout is a workout supplement line from Cellucor that people may take before exercise to help increase energy, alertness, and strength. They contain caffeine and creatine, which may help increase the effectiveness of a workout.

Is Preworkout better than caffeine? ›

Both coffee and pre-workout can give you a boost of energy. This is because both usually contain caffeine. However, pre-workout, unlike coffee, contains beneficial amino acids. These amino acids help keep muscle fatigue at bay while increasing blood flow.

Should I take pre-workout everyday? ›

If you have health conditions or are taking medication, check with your doctor before taking any supplement, especially on a daily basis. For most people, however, a clean, high-quality pre-workout is safe to take every day.

What do bodybuilders take for Preworkout? ›

Pre-workout supplements contain other ingredients that athletes and bodybuilders regularly turn to, including creatine, L-arginine, β-alanine, taurine, and betaine. Others include guarana, a plant-based stimulant which contains twice the amount of caffeine per gram as coffee beans.

What is the most important ingredient in pre-workout? ›

1. Caffeine. Most commonly found in drinks like coffee and tea, caffeine is a stimulant that can increase your energy and focus. It is the most widely used ingredient in pre workout supplements.

Should I mix creatine and pre-workout? ›

Yes, you can absolutely mix creatine with pre workout, and many experts say you should! If your pre workout formula doesn't contain any creatine, it's a great idea to take your creatine dose alongside your pre workout drink.

What are the side effects of taking pre-workout? ›

These include insomnia, nausea, increased heart rate, drowsiness, headaches, anxiety, and jitteriness or restlessness ( 4 ). What's more, many pre-workout supplements pack high amounts — up to 500 mg of caffeine per serving. Serving sizes typically range from 0.35–1 ounce (10–30 grams).

Do I need creatine if I take protein? ›

Studies have observed that taking whey protein and creatine together with exercise offers no additional muscle or strength gains than taking each individually. Taking either alone likely provides the same benefits.

What is BCAA vs creatine? ›

Now that you know how BCAAs and Creatine work, the biggest difference between BCAA vs Creatine is how each affects your athletic performance. BCAAs help build and rebuild lean muscle mass, while creatine helps increase your power output during high-intensity training to increase your strength and training volume.

What happens when you stop taking creatine? ›

The simple answer is that your body will go back to producing energy the way it did before you started supplementing with creatine. However, your body's creatine stores will be depleted, especially in muscle and the brain. Creatine withdrawal can cause lethargy and tiredness, lasting anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.

Can I put creatine in my protein shake? ›

Mixing protein powder and creatine is generally considered to be safe. However, some people claim that creatine itself can cause certain side effects such as weight gain, bloating and even muscle cramps and dehydration.

Is C4 like creatine? ›

Cellucor uses creatine nitrate in C4, a form of creatine with the added benefit of nitrate content [nitrates are in beets!]. The problem is it has not been shown to be superior than the simple monohydrate form [5]. The low dose problem also resurfaces - 1g isn't enough to get the results you probably want.

What's in C4 that makes you itch? ›

Why does this happen? This itchiness or tingling skin is caused by an ingredient called Beta-Alanine. Pre-workout products which feature this ingredient, especially in doses higher than 2g per serve, will most likely cause this sensation. This is due to Beta-Alanine causing acute paresthesia.

What does C4 Ripped do to your body? ›

C4 Ripped was formulated to support energy and fat burning. In addition to explosive energy and muscular endurance, C4 Ripped infuses Capsimax, naturally from Cayenne, to help support fat burning and an increase in metabolic rate.

Is it OK to take pre-workout every workout? ›

Take the pre-workout consistently.

Studies have shown that this has better effects than using it once every so often. It helps the main ingredients build up in your body. After 3 weeks, your workouts may last longer, and you might feel less tired during and after them.

Does pre-workout increase testosterone? ›

A lot of it depends on how much of these proteins and amino acids you're already getting in your diet. But if you find a pre-workout that's right for you, then yes, a combination of caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and BCAAs could help you increase your testosterone.

Does pre-workout burn fat? ›

As stated above, while a pre-workout supplement likely won't trigger your body to burn more fat directly, it can help you accomplish fitness goals by boosting your workout performance.

Is Preworkout better on an empty stomach? ›

You should only take pre-workout on an empty stomach if you don't suffer from gastrointestinal stress or have a high tolerance to stimulants like caffeine. Otherwise, avoid taking pre-workout on an empty stomach.

Can we take pre-workout empty stomach? ›

Most pre workouts are designed so that if you take them on an empty stomach there are no issues or side effects. It just enters your bloodstream quicker. That way you can maximize muscle pumps, it's stimulatory effect and ultimately get going in the gym straight away.

What happens the first time you take pre-workout? ›

Generally, the first time you take a pre-workout supplement, you will an immense rush of energy. Dependent on the supplement, you might experience the purported benefits of taking them.

Is Preworkout healthier than energy drinks? ›

In summary, pre-workout supplements are better for working out because they contain ingredients that are meant to take your training to the next level. Opposed to energy drinks, whose main purpose is to boost energy and improve focus.

Does C4 give you a pump? ›

C4 Original:

It contains CarnoSyn® Beta Alanine to promote muscular endurance and Arginine AKG to support nitric oxide production to help give you a great pump.

How long before workout should I take C4? ›

C4 Sport®, taken 30 minutes prior to exercise, provides a boost of energy and focus to maximize your workout. 2 Post-workout recovery. Whey sport, consumed within 30 minutes post-workout provides 30g of protein to help you recover quickly and build muscle.

Is C4 ripped better than C4? ›

However, the key difference lies in the C4 Ripped Blend. This blend takes the place of creatine nitrate in C4. Present at 1g per dose, some would argue that the omission of creatine nitrate from C4 Ripped will not make much of a difference to the products effectiveness.

How long does pre-workout last? ›

Most pre-workout effects last at least 2 hours. This varies by ingredient. For example, the increased blood flow from arginine may wear off in 1–2 hours, while the energy boost you may get from caffeine can take 6 hours or more to wear off.

Can I drink coffee as pre-workout? ›

Because caffeine can enhance physical performance and cognitive function, it is a popular pre-workout beverage. Although research has shown it can improve athletic performance, especially in endurance athletes, be aware of the risks of caffeine. For example, it can cause insomnia, jitters, and stomachache.

Is Preworkout just an energy drink? ›

What's the Difference Between Energy Drinks and Pre-Workouts? The main difference between energy drinks and pre-workout supplements is their goals. Energy drinks are designed to give you a quick pick-me-up, while pre-workouts are specifically designed to make your workout more effective.

Does pre-workout effect kidneys? ›

Such ingredients that may have negative side effects are caffeine, niacin, L-arginine, creatine.” Guanzon warns that these possible drawbacks include “negative effects on your kidneys, liver, and heart,” since the body may struggle breaking down the influx of chemicals, creating high liver enzymes.

What happens if you take pre-workout without working out? ›

It may seem taking pre-workout without working out would lead to extreme anxiety, jitters, or cold sweats. This may happen if the stimulant dose is astronomical and you have no caffeine tolerance. However, taking ½ to 1 serving of a moderately dosed pre-workout will help improve your mental focus for the task at hand.

What are the 2 types of pre-workout? ›

Pre-workouts can be divided into two groups: those with stimulants, and those without. The stimulants pretty much always include caffeine, in widely varying doses, but may include other stimulants including yohimbine, theacrine (Teacrine as the most common), guarana, and many others.

Does Arnold Schwarzenegger take pre-workout? ›

"I had never taken a pre-workout before. The gym was the only pump I needed. But, we know more about science and how to energize your body. Now, I take Pre-Workout and no one can stop me, even if I'm on set or before a big meeting.

Does Preworkout affect muscle growth? ›

As for building muscle, pre-workout supplements do help. Almost all of them contain creatine, and creatine does indeed increase our rate of muscle growth.

What gives you a pump? ›

How to get a muscle pump
  • Do high-volume weightlifting instead of high-load weightlifting. More muscle contraction means more reason for your body to send blood to those muscles. ...
  • Hydrate before and during lifting weights. ...
  • Eat carbs before you work out. ...
  • Utilize supersets and tri-sets.
Dec 23, 2020

Does L citrulline give you a pump? ›

L citrulline benefits bodybuilding because it increases blood flow and stimulates nitric oxide production. This means huge pumps. In addition, it means increased nutrient & oxygen delivery to the muscles. It also reduces fatigue and increases endurance so you can get more from your reps and sets.

What does creatine do? ›

Your body stores creatine as phosphocreatine primarily in your muscles, where it's used for energy. As a result, people take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.

Can beginners take Preworkout? ›

The truth is pre-workout supplements can support all fitness levels – from beginner to intermediate to advanced. If you're looking for energy, endurance, or cognitive focus for physical or mental performance, then you could benefit from pre-workouts.

When should I take Preworkout for the first time? ›

Generally, the first time you take a pre-workout supplement, you will an immense rush of energy. Dependent on the supplement, you might experience the purported benefits of taking them.

How much Preworkout should you take your first time? ›

If you are taking pre workout supplement for the first time, then take half a serving (half the scoop provided in the container). As you progress you can move on to 1 scoop. And adjust as per your body's reaction. But don't go beyond the recommended dose as per the label of the pre workout.

Is pre-workout best on an empty stomach? ›

You should only take pre-workout on an empty stomach if you don't suffer from gastrointestinal stress or have a high tolerance to stimulants like caffeine. Otherwise, avoid taking pre-workout on an empty stomach.


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