What Is Pre-Workout?

by Nader Qudimat
Updated July 13, 2023

Pre-workout supplements have become a staple, boosting energy and focus on helping you maximize your workouts.

But what exactly are these supplements, and how do they work? Let's dive in.

What Is Pre-Workout? The Quick Run Down

Pre-workout is a dietary supplement designed to boost energy, focus, and endurance during a workout.

It typically contains a blend of ingredients like caffeine, amino acids, and other performance-enhancing substances.

The Science Behind Pre-Workouts

Pre-workout supplements utilize a combination of ingredients designed to enhance physical performance.

One of the key components in many pre-workouts is caffeine, a well-known stimulant that increases alertness and reduces the perception of effort during exercise.

This can improve performance, allowing you to push harder and longer during workouts.

Another common ingredient is creatine, a natural substance in muscle cells that helps your muscles produce energy during high-intensity exercise.

Research shows that creatine supplementation can improve strength and power output during resistance exercise.

Beta-Alanine, an amino acid, is also frequently included in pre-workout formulas.

It's been shown to reduce muscle fatigue during intense exercise, potentially allowing you to work out longer and harder.

Pre-Workout Ingredients

Pre-workout supplements enhance performance, increase strength, reduce fatigue, and stimulate muscle growth. They contain a variety of ingredients, each with a specific role.

Here, we will discuss three main categories of pre-workout ingredients: stimulants, ergogenic aids, and nootropics.


Stimulants are substances that increase physiological activity in the body.

They are commonly used in pre-workout supplements to increase energy, focus, and endurance. Some of the most common stimulants found in pre-workout supplements include:


This is one of the most common ingredients in pre-workout supplements due to its potent and well-known acute ergogenic effects.

It has been robustly demonstrated that caffeine positively influences central fatigue and muscular endurance by its direct effect on muscle anaerobic energy provision and its ability to increase muscle contractility.

Caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist and has been shown to acutely improve cognition and performance during endurance, power, and resistance exercise when consumed in dosages between 3 and 6 mg/kg bodyweight.


This is a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant and is found in chocolate. It is a vasodilator, diuretic, and heart stimulant.


This is a purine alkaloid found in the kucha tea leaf. It is believed to act as a stimulant, enhancing energy and mood.

Ergogenic Aids

Ergogenic aids are substances, devices, or practices that enhance an individual's energy use, production, or recovery. Some of the most common ergogenic aids found in pre-workout supplements include:


This is an amino acid that improves blood flow to body tissues. It is often used to enhance athletic performance and cardiovascular health.

Betaine Anhydrous:

This is a compound derived from the amino acid choline. It is used in pre-workout supplements for its potential to boost strength and power.


This is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise.


This is a metabolite of L-arginine and is a molecule that is used for many functions. It is often used to improve athletic performance and reduce pain and depression.


Nootropics are substances that can boost brain performance. They are often called "cognitive enhancers" or "smart drugs". Some of the most common nootropics found in pre-workout supplements include:

Huperzine: This is a substance extracted from the herbs of the Huperziceae family. It is known for its neuroprotective and nootropic properties.

Choline: This nutrient supports various bodily functions, including cellular growth and metabolism.

DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol): This compound is known as a mind health compound.

It reduces the buildup of the age pigment in the brain, impairs cognitive function and is implicated in cognitive decline with age.

Types of Pre-Workouts

Pre-workout supplements come in various forms, each designed to meet different needs.

Stimulant-based pre-workouts contain caffeine or other stimulants to boost energy and focus.

On the other hand, non-stimulant pre-workouts do not contain stimulants and are often used by individuals who are sensitive to caffeine or prefer to work out in the evening.

Nitric oxide pre-workouts contain ingredients like L-arginine and L-citrulline, which boost nitric oxide production in the body.

Nitric oxide helps increase muscle blood flow, enhancing nutrient delivery and muscle pump during workouts.

There are also natural pre-workouts made with all-natural ingredients and vegan pre-workouts designed with plant-based ingredients suitable for those following a vegan diet.

Types of Pre-Workouts

Pre-workouts are supplements designed to enhance your performance during your workout.

They come in various formulations, each catering to different needs and preferences. Here are the main types:

1. Pump Supplements

Pump or nitric oxide supplements are designed to increase blood flow to your muscles during workouts. They dilate your blood vessels, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach your muscles.

This can lead to better performance and increased muscle growth.

Some key ingredients in these supplements include L-arginine, L-citrulline, and beetroot extract. You can learn more about these supplements here.

2. Non-Stimulant Pre-Workouts

Non-stimulant pre-workouts are a great option for those sensitive to stimulants like caffeine or those who prefer to workout late in the day.

These supplements rely on amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine to enhance performance.

They can provide increased strength, improved endurance, and faster recovery. Check out this list for some of the best non-stimulant pre-workouts.

3. Pre-Workouts with Stimulants

Pre-workouts with stimulants are the most common type of pre-workout supplement.

They typically contain caffeine, which can enhance focus, increase energy, and improve performance.

However, the amount of caffeine can vary significantly between different supplements.

At fitfrek, pre-workout supplements here categorized by caffeine content, ranging from 100mg to 600mg and more.

Remember, these supplements may contain other stimulants, so choose wisely based on your tolerance and preference.

Choosing the right pre-workout depends on your needs, preferences, and tolerance to certain ingredients.

Always remember to start with a lower dose to assess your tolerance, and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

Benefits of Using Pre-Workouts

The potential benefits of using pre-workout supplements are numerous. For one, they can provide a significant energy boost.

Pre-workouts can help you power through even the most challenging workouts, thanks to ingredients like caffeine.

Pre-workouts can also enhance your overall workout performance. Ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine can help you lift heavier, run faster, and push harder.

This can lead to more effective workouts and, over time, better results.

In addition to physical performance benefits, pre-workouts can also enhance mental focus.

Many pre-workouts contain ingredients designed to improve concentration and focus, helping you stay in the zone during your workouts.

Potential Side Effects and Risks

While pre-workout supplements can offer significant benefits, they're not without potential side effects.

Some individuals may experience jitteriness, insomnia, or stomach upset due to the high caffeine content in many pre-workouts.

It's important to start with a small dose to assess your tolerance.

Furthermore, because the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements, the quality and safety of pre-workout products can vary.

Choosing products from reputable brands is crucial, and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

How to Choose a Pre-Workout: A Comprehensive Guide

Choosing the right pre-workout supplement can be a game-changer for your fitness journey.

It can mean the difference between a good and great workout and decent and extraordinary results.

However, with countless formulas flooding the market, knowing what to look for is crucial. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a pre-workout supplement:

1. Product Transparency

Always check the ingredient label of your pre-workout.

Effective and reputable pre-workout supplements never hide behind a "proprietary blend."

A proprietary blend is a mixture where the ratio and quantities of ingredients or certain ingredients are considered a trade secret.

This could put you at risk of overconsuming stimulants or even unknowingly ingesting questionable ingredients.

Therefore, always look for a transparent and complete list of ingredients that have been tested and are legal, safe, and effective.

2. Ingredients to Look For

Look for scientifically-backed, wholesome, straightforward, and easy-to-understand ingredients.

Pre-workout supplements work best when they contain third-party tested ingredients, proven to help you maximize strength and increase muscle pump, focus, and energy.

3. Ingredients to Avoid

Avoid pre-workout powders with questionable ingredients.

If pre-workouts contain complicated substances with difficult-to-pronounce chemical names, or if you can’t find any relevant studies backing these ingredients, it's best to avoid them.

This is especially important if you have underlying health issues or particular ingredient sensitivity.

4. Training Goals

Your pre-workout should align with your fitness goals.

If you aim to lose weight, gain weight, build endurance, or reach your 1-rep max goal, choose your pre-workout accordingly, as it can significantly affect these goals.

For example, to build endurance or VO2 max, pick a pre-workout with the right amount and dosage of stimulant ingredients to drive you through exhausting sessions.

If your goal is weight loss and you’re on a calorie deficit, read how many carbs or sugars pre-workout supplements contain. Also, look for pre-workouts with ingredients supporting fat loss.

5. Dosage and Timing

After choosing your pre-workout, knowing when and how to use it is important.

If a traditional pre-workout powder is your supplement, mix with cold water and drink around 20 – 30 minutes before your training session.

If it’s your first time using pre-workout, consider taking lower amounts than the recommended dosage to test your body’s reaction to the formula.

Remember, it's always important to research and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.

For more information on safe and FDA-approved pre-workouts, check out this list of the safest pre-workouts.

Pre-Workout Recommendations

Here are a few pre-workout supplements that are worth considering:

  • Bulk: This pre-workout supplement is transparent with its ingredients and dosages, making it a reliable choice for those who want to know exactly what they're putting into their bodies. You can read more about it in this review.
  • Pre Lab Pro: This supplement contains 60mg of theanine, 400mg of tyrosine, 2.2g of Citrulline, and 1.5g of Red beet powder. It also includes 80mg of natural caffeine for a stimulating effect. Here's our review on Pre Lab Pro.
  • Intensive Pre-Workout: Although the website for this product is not accessible, the ingredients list includes 7g of Citrulline Malate, 2.5g of Beta-Alanine, 1g of Glycerol Monostearate, 1g of Arginine AKG, 1g of Tyrosine, 1g of Taurine, 400mg of Gluconolactone, 300mg of KSM-66, and 5mg of Bioperine. It also includes 400mg of Phenylalanine and 200mg of Caffeine for stimulation, and 100mg of En-Xtra for an extra boost. You can read more about it here.


What is a pre-workout supplement?

A pre-workout supplement is a product designed to be consumed before an intense workout to improve performance, energy, focus, and endurance.

What are the different types of pre-workout supplements?

There are three main types of pre-workout supplements: stimulant-based pre-workouts, non-stimulant pre-workouts, and pump supplements. Stimulant-based pre-workouts often contain caffeine and other stimulants to boost energy and focus. Non-stimulant pre-workouts rely on other ingredients like amino acids to enhance performance without stimulants. Pump supplements are designed to increase muscle blood flow during workouts, enhancing the 'pump' feeling and potentially improving performance and muscle growth.

What ingredients should I look for in a pre-workout supplement?

Common ingredients in pre-workout supplements include stimulants like caffeine, theobromine, and Dynamine; ergogenic aids like citrulline, betaine anhydrous, creatine, and agmatine; and nootropics like huperzine, choline, and DMAE. You should look for specific ingredients depending on your individual goals and needs.

Are pre-workout supplements safe?

Most pre-workout supplements are safe for healthy adults when used as directed. However, they can cause side effects like jitteriness, upset stomach, and trouble sleeping, especially if they contain high amounts of stimulants. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

How much caffeine is in a pre-workout supplement?

The amount of caffeine in a pre-workout supplement can vary widely, from around 100mg to over 300mg per serving. It's important to check the label to know how much caffeine you're getting, especially if you're sensitive to its effects.

Can I take a pre-workout supplement on an empty stomach?

Some people can take pre-workout supplements on an empty stomach without any issues, while others may experience stomach upset. If you're new to pre-workout supplements, starting with a small dose is a good idea to see how your body reacts.

What is the best time to take a pre-workout supplement?

A pre-workout supplement 20-30 minutes before your workout is generally recommended. This gives the ingredients time to start working.

Can I use a pre-workout supplement every day?

While using pre-workout supplements regularly is generally safe, it's a good idea to cycle off them every few months to prevent tolerance from building up, especially to the stimulant ingredients.

Can pre-workout supplements help with weight loss?

Pre-workout supplements can potentially aid in weight loss by boosting your energy levels, which might help you work harder and burn more calories. However, they're not a magic bullet for weight loss and should be part of a balanced diet and exercise program.

Do pre-workout supplements expire?

Yes, like all supplements, pre-workout supplements do have an expiration date. It's important to check this date and avoid using the product if it expires. Read more if pre-workouts can go bad here.

Bottom Line

Pre-workout supplements can be a valuable tool to enhance your workout performance, energy, focus, and endurance.

However, it's important to choose a product that aligns with your individual goals, needs, and sensitivities, especially regarding ingredients like stimulants.

Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by iron and cold steel, I'm Nader, a mid-30s natural bodybuilder. Once a 100lb skinny guy, I've transformed into a 200lb muscular athlete with over 15 years of lifting experience. Today, I leverage my transformation and extensive experience to guide countless individuals on their fitness journeys.

Click here to check out my 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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