Pre-Workout Supplements: Are They Safe & Effective?

Medically CitedMedically Cited Fact Check Fact Checkedby Reviewed by CHD TeamUpdated: Jul-10-2024

Before the advent of bodybuilding supplements, an egg or a banana was deemed enough before a tough workout. That's not the case anymore. Since the advent of bodybuilding supplements, everyone is now talking about a "pre-workout" before hitting the gym. So, what is a pre-workout supplement?

In this article, learn more about pre-workout supplements and find out how they can help you achieve your fitness goals.

We've researched the ingredients & compared the best pre-workout supplements on the market.
pre-workout supplements

Choosing a pre workout can be a daunting task, but we're here to help. Photo via Shutterstock

What are Pre-Workout Supplements?

A pre-workout supplement pertains to any supplement, often a drink mix, taken before a workout to boost energy levels and enhance physical performance. Basically, it allows the user to get the most out of every workout session.

Combined with good nutrition and proper training program, pre-workout supplements are effective in giving that extra push needed to power through the most intense workouts.

Why Should You Take A Pre-Workout Supplement?

Pre-workout supplements were once intended only for fitness buffs whose main goal is to be as muscular as possible. Nowadays, they can be used by anyone who wishes to improve their fitness level, regardless if they're a beginner, an amateur, or a hardcore fitness enthusiast.

It a nutshell, the main reasons for taking pre-workout supplements are the following:

  • Boosting energy levels before an intense workout
  • Taking a workout program to the next level
  • Building muscle and losing fats
  • Improving muscle strength and size
  • Improving overall physical and athletic performance

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What are the Key Ingredients to Look for in Pre-Workout Supplements?

The key ingredients one should look for in a good pre-workout supplement include the following:

Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate - This amino acid is a precursor to nitric oxide, a substance that dilates (or opens up) blood vessels. Nitric oxide improves blood circulation throughout the body, most especially to the muscles (source).

Beta-Alanine: A non-essential amino acid that serves as the precursor to carnosine, which fights fatigue by buffering hydrogen ions within muscle cells. The buffering effect allows the muscles to contract more efficiently and longer, resulting in increased power output, less exhaustion, and overall improved athletic performance. It works best in activities such as weightlifting, wrestling, running sprints, and high-intensity cycling.

Caffeine: Popularly added in many brands of pre-workout supplements, this stimulant boost energy levels by using fat as the main source, in effect preserving the body's glycogen stores. This results in improved athletic performance. It also improves alertness which, in turn, improves mental clarity, focus, reaction times, and even pain tolerance especially of athletes. Furthermore, there are also some studies which suggest that caffeine may help increase muscle power.

Creatine: One of the most well-researched sports supplements, this amino acid is often included in many workout supplements, both pre- and post-workout, although studies suggest that it is more effective when taken after workout. It is naturally produced by the body, where it is stored by muscle to serve as a source of energy. High doses has been found to increase muscle mass and improve strength over time. Creatine is also linked to improved brain function and lower risk for cardiovascular disease.

Fish Oil: Aside from its obvious benefit of promoting heart health, athletes also swear by this ingredient due to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It contains omega-3 fatty acids which resolves inflammation at a cellular level (source).

Beetroot Juice: Compared to other supplements in our list, this one is probably the least researched. Relevant studies, however, have consistently shown that it increases nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels, thus improving blood flow and effectively decreasing the heart's pumping effort during any given workout. There even is a study wherein heart failure patients who took beetroot juice everyday for one week have shown 24% improvement in their aerobic endurance. Other studies on beetroot juice also produced promising results.

Do Pre-Workout Supplements Work?

Individuals who use or are planning to use pre-workout supplements often ask how is using such supplements give them an edge over, say, taking caffeinated drinks. While is true that you get an energy boost from caffeinated drinks, pre-workout supplements are tailored formulas that offer numerous other fitness benefits, among which is improved performance for a wide variety of physical activities. Again, they are more effective in terms of maximizing your workout efforts.

do pre-workout supplements work
Pre-workout supplements can help boost performance in the gym. Image via Shutterstock

As for the duration of effects, a standard dosage of pre-workout supplements tends to kick in at 30-45 minutes and lasts for 3-6 hours. For those who are sensitive to stimulants, the onset may be fast and the duration of action longer.

Are Pre-Workout Supplements Safe?

Safety is always the biggest concern when it comes to supplements in general. Pre-workout supplements is no exception. They are not regulated by the FDA so they can be sold anywhere until there's enough reason to pull them out of the market.

In addition, most of the ingredients found in workout supplements are generally safe, but they can become harmful when taken in high concentrations. And again, since they're not regulated, we wouldn't know for sure if the amounts stated in the label are true or not.

How to Choose the Best Pre-Workout Supplements

To pick the best pre-workout supplement, one must look at the ingredients and read the label carefully. If you're not sure what to look for, seek the recommendations of your physician or trusted fitness expert. Most importantly, before jumping on the bandwagon, do some research first to find out if you really need a pre-workout supplement.

The Bottom Line

Looking at the information above, one would think that pre-workout supplements are the key to maximize your workouts. That may be true, but it still depends on your ability to decipher which products work and which ones will just waste your money. Always check the ingredients and make sure that the claims of safety and effectiveness are backed by a third party researcher.

Most importantly, don't depend on these supplements alone. Combine it with energy-boosting, nutrient-rich foods and good workout regimen. Equally important are adequate sleep and plenty of fluids.

**This is a subjective assessment based on the strength of the available informations and our estimation of efficacy.

*Result may vary. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a serious medical condition, or have a history of heart conditions we suggest consulting with a physician before using any supplement. The information contained in this website is provided for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and should not be relied upon as a medical advice. Always consult your doctor before using any supplements.

Disclosure of Material connection: Some of the links in the post above are "associate sales links." This means if you can click on the link and purchase an item, we will receive a commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services which we use personally and/or believe will add value to our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials."

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