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February 11, 2022 9 min read

Over the past few years, you may have heard all kinds of things about pre-workout supplements from friends, athletes, or personal trainers. There is a popular claim that these types of supplements improve your fitness and give you the energy you need for the most challenging of your workouts. This article will give you some more background into what exactly pre-workout is good for and how effective it is.

3d render of pre-workout powder with dumbbells and kettlebell isolated over white background

A Definition of Pre-Workout

Pre-workout supplements, sometimes referred to simply as “pre-workouts”, are multi-ingredient dietary formulas designed to boost your energy and athletic performance. They often come pre-packaged in liquid form, or you can also select powdered substances that you mix into water and drink before you start exercising. 

You might have seen other people at your gym consuming these drinks and wondering if they can also be helpful for your own performance. The best answer to that question is for you to simply give pre-workout supplements a try and see how your body reacts to them. Most pre-workout supplements are readily available in stores like Wal-mart, so they can be very easy to find.

Although there is a wide variety of formulas available, there is surprisingly little consistency in terms of their ingredients. Amino acids, beta-alanine, caffeine, creatine, and artificial sweeteners are all ingredients that are often included, but the amounts or dosages of all of these substances can often vary wildly depending on the specific brand.

Because of this, a good place to start seeing the benefits of pre-workout is with our  VIS Premium Pre-Workout. VIS uses the highest quality ingredients with full clinical dosing to produce skin-tearing pumps, increased pain tolerance, superior mind-muscle connection, tunnel vision focus, and no caffeine crash. It is available in flavors like Ginger Lime, candied limes muddled with a hint of ginger, or Raspberry Honeycomb, with fresh tangy raspberries and a chunk of raw honeycomb to bring out the berry's sweetness.

What Are the Most Important Pre-Workout Ingredients? 

There are certain common ingredients in the best pre-workout supplements that have quite often been shown to benefit overall performance for most athletes. Some of these common ingredients include nitric oxide, caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Common Pre-Workout Ingredient #1: Nitric Oxide

Nitric oxide is a compound that your body naturally produces to improve blood flow and relax your blood vessels. Pre-workout supplements often include some of the common compounds that your body uses to make nitric oxide. These compounds include L-arginine, L-citrulline, and other sources of dietary nitrates, such as beetroot (beet) juice.

Some research has shown that supplementing with these compounds  boosts oxygen and nutrient transport to your muscles, which can potentially enhance athletic performance for some people. However, while L-citrulline has been shown to boost exercise performance, L-arginine is actually broken down before it even reaches your bloodstream. Thus, while it boosts nitric oxide production, it does not always necessarily benefit exercise performance. 

As a further notable point, most of the available research on nitric oxide has focused only on relatively young men, so it is not clear whether these results would apply equally to other types of people. A lot more research will need to be done until there is scientific consensus about the use of nitric oxide.

Common Pre-Workout Ingredient #2: Caffeine 

Caffeine is another common pre-workout ingredient and it can give you a real boost in your energy levels. Because it is a nervous system stimulator, caffeine is often added to pre-workout products to get your body ready for exercise. It enhances your performance during endurance, power, and resistance exercises, and it can also improve your cognitive functioning.

Always read the label on the product to find out the amount of caffeine in each serving size. Some products have the same amount of natural caffeine as you might find in a regular cup of coffee, but others have significantly more than that, so be careful not to get the jitters. Too much caffeine can also increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure.

If you generally work out later in the afternoon or evening, or if you have any kind of caffeine sensitivity, opt for pre-workouts without caffeine. These types of supplements rely on other stimulants. You can also find non-stimulant pre-workout products that will increase your energy levels and get your blood circulating as well as possible.  

Common Pre-Workout Ingredient #3: Creatine 

Creatine monohydrate is another chemical compound naturally produced in your body. It is primarily stored in skeletal muscle, where it plays a role in energy production and muscular strength. It can often be found in pre-workout formulas but it can also be purchased as a standalone supplement. Most pre-workout products do already contain creatine to accelerate the production of muscle cells in strength training or other high-intensity exercises.

Although many people choose to increase their creatine intake, the best type of creatine is a naturally occurring substance that is found in the muscle cells of the human body, in the liver and kidneys specifically, from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. It is also formed when you eat foods containing these amino acids, such as meat.

Creatine tends to be especially popular among weightlifters, bodybuilders, and other types of power athletes. Supplementing with creatine can greatly increase your body’s stored supply of this compound, and it can also  improve your recovery time, muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance.

Also, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that creatine supplementation combined with resistance training can  increase fat-free mass and boost strength. So consuming creatine immediately post-workout may be better than taking it pre-workout if you are trying to improve your body composition and strength.

Common Pre-Workout Ingredient #4: Beta-alanine

Beta-alanine is an amino acid that’s included in many pre-workout formulas because it may help prevent acid buildup in your muscle tissue, thus allowing your muscles to work harder and longer. Beta-alanine is related to the burning feeling you get when you push through your last few reps and push your muscles to their limit. Beta-alanine has been studied extensively and it has been shown to be safe in recommended amounts. 

While some research supports its effectiveness, it is important to note that consuming this compound may cause a slight tingling sensation. While it’s completely harmless, you may find it unpleasant. If you have ever felt this sensation, you can avoid it in the future by taking smaller amounts of beta-alanine over a longer period of time. Many pre-workout products will include beta-alanine, so if this is a helpful ingredient for you, be sure to select one that does.

Common Pre-Workout Ingredient #5: Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) 

Some pre-workout formulas include branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which have been shown by several researchers to help increase muscle growth and decrease muscle soreness when taken before a workout. BCAAs are also naturally found in dietary sources of protein, so you may already be consuming an adequate amount throughout the day.

Branched-chain amino acids, often referred to as BCAAs, help control the ways thatprotein is used throughout your body. They are clinically formulated to reduce recovery time and improve the synthesis of muscle protein. They increase your protein synthesis and production while minimizing the amount of protein breakdown that happens with the combination of other amino acids like valine, leucine, and isoleucine.

BCAAs help you build muscles and can minimize the amount of soreness and damage that you feel. With this type of muscle recovery, you can train for longer periods and more regularly. BCAAs represent about 40% of all the essential amino acids in your body. Because essential amino acids include those that the body cannot produce on its own, BCAAs are an important ingredient to have in your pre-workout supplement. 

Top view of woman eating healthy food while sitting in a gym.

Solid Food Alternatives

Fueling your body adequately for exercise is important and it can make a big difference in how you feel and perform in your training session regardless of whether you choose to use a pre-workout supplement. Even if you don’t take a pre-workout supplement, you should always consume a solid meal as part of your nutrition plan and workout routine.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has found that consuming carbs and protein before and after exercise can improve both your strength and your body composition. To reduce muscle fatigue, plan ahead for your next workout so that you can eat a balanced meal containing carbs, protein, and fat at least two hours before the time. 

For example, you might want to try a Western omelet with a few slices of whole wheat toast, as well as a side of fresh fruit. If you are in a rush, try an easily digestible source of carbs like a piece of fruit about an hour before your workout. If you skip the pre-workout supplement but still want the performance-boosting effects found in caffeine, simply drink a cup of coffee with your pre-workout snack. 

What Supplement Ingredients Should You Try To Avoid? 

Although pre-workout supplements are generally safe for most people, they are not considered completely risk-free. If you’re thinking about adding them to your workout regimen, be sure to consider their potential side effects first. Always consult a dietitian, nutritionist, or healthcare professional before you start using pre-workout on a regular basis. 

In the United States, dietary supplements like pre-workouts are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as foods, not as drugs. This means that, due to regulatory gaps, some of their product labels may be misleading or even entirely inaccurate. To stay safe, you should only consume supplements that have been tested by a third party, such as NSF International or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). 

Artificial Sweeteners

Pre-workout supplements frequently contain artificial sweeteners. While these ingredients enhance flavor without adding calories, some sweeteners may cause intestinal distress and discomfort. Some people report a similar digestive response from eating certain artificial sweeteners like sucralose. 

Not all of these symptoms have been scientifically proven, but you still may want to avoid pre-workout formulas that contain large quantities of these sweeteners, especially if a lot of your training is tied specifically to the goal of weight loss. Otherwise, try a small amount first to find out how well you tolerate it. 

Sugar Alcohols 

Pre-workout supplements often contain sugar alcohols. While these ingredients enhance flavor without adding calories, a high intake of sugar alcohols may trigger uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea, which can all disrupt your workout. 

However, these types of symptoms have not been scientifically proven. You may want to avoid pre-workout formulas that contain large quantities of these sugar alcohols, especially if a lot of your training is tied specifically to the goal of weight loss. Otherwise, try a small amount first to see how well you tolerate it.

Excess Caffeine 

The major energy-boosting element of most pre-workout supplements is caffeine. Excessive levels of caffeine can quickly lead to many unpleasant side effects, such as increased blood pressure, impaired sleep quality, and heightened feelings of stress. Too much caffeine can also increase your heart rate to dangerous levels.

Some single servings of most pre-workout formulas can contain about as much caffeine as you might get in up to two big mugs of coffee, but if you are also adding more of this compound from a range of other sources throughout the day to boost your energy, you may also accidentally be consuming a bit too much of it. 

If your pre-workout contains caffeine or other types of stimulants that can keep you awake, pay careful attention to the time of day that you take it because it can really affect your ability to fall asleep, as well as the quality of sleep that you get. To greatly increase your stamina and endurance, you can also try ourpremium cognitive enhancer called Illumino.

Taking Pre-Workout as a Habit 

Keep in mind that pre-workout supplements are not for everyone. If you frequently lack energy or find it hard to complete your workout, consider other lifestyle factors like hydration, sleep, and diet before using supplements. The variability in ingredients makes it difficult to determine their effectiveness. Always consult a dietitian, nutritionist, or healthcare professional before you start using pre-workout on a regular basis.

Pre-workout supplements can also be expensive and research has not conclusively proven them to be more effective than whole foods that provide similar nutrients. For example, a banana and a mug of coffee is a suitable, cheap alternative to a pre-workout supplement, especially if a lot of your training is tied specifically to the goal of weight loss.. 

But if you find that pre-workout formulas work for you, then keep taking them. Just pay attention to their ingredients and your total intake. Most pre-workout products include detailed instructions for how to take them. While you should follow these instructions, start with a smaller serving so you can assess your tolerance, especially if the supplement includes caffeine or beta-alanine. 

Remember, if the supplement provides beta-alanine, you might experience a tingling sensation. While this is completely harmless, some people may find it uncomfortable. Most pre-workout supplements can be taken about an hour before you work out. This allows enough time for the ingredients to fully reach your bloodstream.