What Does Pre-Workout Actually Do?

Pre-workout has become a popular dietary supplement for many fitness enthusiasts and even those not so enthused to go to the gym but still manage to squeeze in a few sessions a week. Promised to boost energy and enhance performance, it’s no wonder it’s become so trendy for frequent gym goers.

But the concept of pre-workout raises a lot of questions. Mainly, what actually is pre-workout? What’s in it? Do I need pre-workout in order to workout well? And are there any natural ways to prepare your body for a workout?

We’ll do our best to break down the answers to these questions and more. So, keep reading if you want to know:

  • What’s in pre-workout?
  • What does pre-workout do?
  • Should I be taking pre-workout?
  • Is there natural pre-workout?
  • What are the best pre-workout supplements on the market?

Pre-Workout Defined

“Pre-workout” is what dietary supplements designed to boost energy and enhance performance during a workout are commonly referred to as.

Pre-workout comes in the form of a powder, pill, or processed snack and is meant to be consumed 30-45 minutes before you workout.

But as to what’s in pre-workout, it’s a bit complicated. There is no set list of ingredients; each brand has a different formula. Some common ingredients include beta-alanine, caffeine, creatine, l-citrulline, and BCAAs. Beta-alanine and BCAAs are for controlling muscle fatigue, caffeine and creatine for elevating energy, and l-citrulline for boosting performance.

What Does Pre-Workout Do?

A focused woman deadlifts a barbell in the gym.
Beta-alanine in pre-workout can increase the carnosine in your body which means less burn and more reps.

To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at what the common ingredients in pre-workout supplements do.

Beta-alanine increases the levels of carnosine in your muscles. Carnosine buffers your muscles’ pH levels which controls lactic acid buildup. Lactic acid buildup causes the burning feeling you get in your muscles when you workout. More carnosine means less burn, which helps you do more reps during your workout.

Caffeine gives you an energy boost, sharpens your focus, gives you a faster reaction time, and elevates your alertness.

Creatine helps your muscles make and circulate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is a compound that releases energy used for muscle contractions. ATP already supplies a high level of energy to your muscles, but only in short bursts. Creatine supports immediate energy production during exercise.

L-citrulline is an amino acid that our bodies can transform into another amino acid called L-arginine, which is necessary for nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide helps your body maintain blood vessel function.

Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) can contribute to decreased muscle soreness and reduced exercise-induced fatigue. BCAAs can also increase muscle growth. The BCAA leucine activates a pathway in the body that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, or, the process of making muscle.

Should I Be Taking Pre-Workout?

The short answer to this is no. You don’t need pre-workout in order to workout well.

However, if you are interested in the benefits of pre-workout, here’s how you should approach incorporating pre-workout supplements into your lifestyle.

Rebecca Dent, a high performance dietician, writes, “pre-workout supplements are for someone who already has their daily nutrition intake sorted and they are now striving to seek those small extra gains where they can.”

So, if you are considering trying out pre-workout supplements, you have to make sure to give your body the proper nourishment, sleep, and hydration, first, or else you won’t see any of the benefits of pre-workout.

Natural Pre-Workout

Oats are scattered across a wide background.
Eat oats for effective slow releasing energy. Top with fresh fruit, nut butter, and seeds as you desire.

If you want the benefits of pre-workout, but aren’t interested in buying a supplement, there are some natural energy-boosting and performance-enhancing foods that you can incorporate into your diet.

Oats offer effective slow releasing energy, and they taste really good topped with fresh fruit, peanut butter, and seeds.

Dates are another great source of energy. Our favorite way to eat dates is stuffed with nut butter and dark chocolate chunks.

Coffee can increase your energy levels as well because it contains the stimulant caffeine.

Our Favorite Brands of Pre-Workout

Dr. Emil’s Pre-Workout Capsule

One of our favorite brands of pre-workout is Dr. Emil’s Pre-Workout Capsule because it’s vegan friendly and easy on the go.

It provides energy and mental focus so that you can make the most of your workout. Their formula promises to deliver momentum without the jitters and eventual crash that come with most other brands of pre-workout.

We also love that it’s free of sugars and other unnecessary additives.

Optimum Nutrition's Gold Standard Pre Workout

A bottle of Optimum Nutrition's Gold Standard Pre Workout in Watermelon Candy flavor.
Optimum Nutrition's Gold Standard Pre Workout is made with creatine, caffeine, and beta-alanine, which are key ingredients for a good pre-workout supplement.

This optimum quality pre-workout is another favorite because it’s made with only high quality ingredients.

Per serving, it contains three grams of creatine monohydrate, 175 mg of caffeine from natural sources, and 1.5 grams of beta-alanine for performance, energy, and focus. It’s recommended that you take the pre-workout consistently over time in combination with a well-balanced diet and exercise program.

There are various flavors to choose from, including Watermelon, Blueberry Lemonade, Fruit Punch, and Green Apple.

Powher Pre-Workout for Women

A bottle of Powher Pre-Workout for Women alongside the box it comes in.
Powher Pre-Workout for Women contains “stim free” ingredients including coconut water, oxyjun, and vitamin B.

Our last is another favorite because it’s just for the girls!

Powher Pre-Workout for Women is designed especially for women. Using a “low stimulant system,” Powher prevents you from feeling the side effects commonly associated with male pre-workout supplements.

Their unique formula includes their secret ingredient, EnXtra, which is a natural caffeine amplifier that works alongside a small amount of natural caffeine in order to boost its effects as well as lengthen the time it is working. Added to this formula are their ten “stim free” natural ingredients, including coconut water powder, oxyjun, and vitamin B.

Wrap Up

Essentially pre-workout can control muscle fatigue, elevate energy, and boost performance, but it’s not essential. You can workout well without pre-workout, and there are many natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements.

However, if you are interested in trying a pre-workout supplement, make sure that you are already caring for your body with proper nourishment, sleep, and hydration. Otherwise, you won’t see the benefits of incorporating pre-workout supplements into your lifestyle.

You should consult a licensed health care professional before starting any supplement, dietary, or exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.