When we ask experts about healthy ways to increase our strength and boost our overall performance, they emphasize eating fruit or vegetables. While this is a great suggestion, it might not be the best.
While certain fruits like bananas are rich in potassium and help increase energy, they do not contain all the ingredients you need while working out, which are found in pre-workout formulas. To get all the essential ingredients, you may need to consume a complex combination of fruits, vegetables, or nuts.
Best pre-workout products have ingredients that boost blood flow and provide more nutrients and oxygen to your muscles. Moreover, pre-workout formulas contain a unique blend of all the necessary ingredients to perform well in the gym. With time, much research has been done regarding pre-workout ingredients comparing the advantages of each ingredient, and more ingredients have been added to pre-workouts.
Each ingredient in a pre-workout formula has a unique role and may be essential (1). Whether that ingredient in the list of many pre-workout formulas is essential for you or not depends on what you are looking to achieve. And there are so many different pre-workouts available worldwide. It is not easy to select the one that fits you best.
Pre-workout supplement manufacturers have introduced many helpful pre-workout supplements. But while they are good, the best pre-workout supplements are the ones that fulfill your needs perfectly.
So for your ease, we have compiled a list of pre-workout ingredients that entails the name and advantages of critical ingredients. It will help you know what is best for you, depending on your goals and body physique.
Hopefully, this list will help you reach your goal faster and more efficiently. Do not pour your money down the drain thinking that the best pre-workout has to be the most expensive. Instead, choose the one that fits your needs.
Pre-workout products are available in powders, pills, or drinks (2). These different types of pre-workout formulas help you during challenging workouts. Moreover, the pre-workout ingredients may be the same in all types of pre-workouts. However, the quantity of each ingredient makes them different.
What Does A Pre-workout Do?
Working out requires a lot of energy, and you need to be adequately fueled to have a good workout. In case you do not have enough energy or are not properly fueled, it is possible that you will get tired quickly and will not be able to exercise effectively.
So, as the name suggests, pre-workout is used before heading to the gym for your workout. A pre-workout supplement is mixed with water and consumed 20 to 30 minutes before working out.
The ingredients in a pre-workout effectively provide you with more energy, which will help you while you work out.
So taking a pre-workout is much more effective than using a homemade pre-workout, fruits or vegetables.
Ingredients In Pre-workout
Caffeine is one of the most essential and well-known ingredients in a pre-workout supplement. Yes, caffeine is the same as in your morning coffee or tea. The only difference? A Pre-workout supplement contains a bit more concentrated amount of caffeine.
The effect of caffeine in a pre-workout supplement is similar to the one you feel after sipping your morning coffee. Your morning coffee makes you happy because it produces neurotransmitters in your brain. It manages to wake you up and alert you- gearing you up for your workout. Caffeine is essential in a pre-workout as it fights against any laziness you may feel, which urges you to skip the workout.
There are two types of caffeine supplementation usually added in pre-workout ingredients. The regular caffeine and caffeine anhydrous. Caffeine anhydrous is the usual choice of addition in most pre-workouts. The word anhydrous, in caffeine anhydrous, means without water. It means the caffeine is a bit more concentrated than regular coffee (as it is not diluted with water).
Some scientific research regarding pre-workout ingredients has found the many other benefits of caffeine in pre-workout supplements. (3) It helps increase the blood flow to muscles, increasing endurance and energy levels while working out. Coffee also decreases appetite aiding in fat loss and weight loss.
It also alerts your brain, putting you in better focus while working out. Caffeine is known to help in improving memory which helps in learning new exercises and how they are done.
- Caffeine plays an active role in decreasing fatigue and helps in keeping you active.
- It freshens up the mind and keeps you more focused.
- It also increases your reaction time while improving your memory and focus.
- Increased caffeine intake can lead to problems like shakiness, dizziness, and headaches.
Another well-known and fan-favorite ingredient of pre-workout supplements is beta-alanine. It is a complex form of amino acid that helps in muscular aches and cramps after working out. Beta-alanine helps counter the effect of lactic acid- the main reason for muscle fatigue. Therefore, beta-alanine is one of the building blocks for pre-workout supplements. (4)
When working out, energy is used at an increased pace, which puts the need for the body to boost energy levels. Energy is produced from aerobic respiration, which uses carbohydrates and oxygen to form energy.
When the requirement for energy is increased, it is produced by the anaerobic respiration process, which uses more carbohydrates and hence burns more stored carbs and fats (aiding in weight loss and helping to burn fat). Anaerobic respiration is also much faster in energy production than aerobic respiration.
The only downside to anaerobic respiration is the production of lactic acid, which causes muscles to ache during and after exercising. Beta-alanine fights against the production of lactic acid hence decreasing the pain. It also helps prevent muscle breakdown, which is not a good sign when looking for muscle growth. (5)
Beta-alanine, the pre-workout supplement, helps by pumping you up to exercise more by putting in more reps and pushing more weight, which would then help you put on more lean muscle mass. Therefore, it is one of the favorite pre-workout ingredients.
Beta-alanine in pre-workout supplements may cause some tingling and flushing of the skin. While some people love this effect as it proves that the pre-workout and beta-alanine are in effect, some do not like it. This only occurs when the daily dosage of beta-alanine is increased (the daily dosage is 1.5 to 5 grams).
If you cannot tolerate the feeling of buzzing and tingling due to the increased amount of beta-alanine added in pre-workout supplements, then it is advised to decrease the amount of pre-workout taken. It would decrease the amount of beta-alanine and decrease the effects.
- Beta-alanine is known to decrease the exhaustion felt during exercising.
- It pumps you to be more active and be able to exercise more.
- It promotes an increase in lean muscle mass.
- Increased beta-alanine can lead to flushing and tingling of the skin, which can irritate some.
If you are sensitive to Beta Alanine, you can always look at Beta Alanine free pre workout.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
The full name for BCAA is branched-chain amino acids. 20 amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like meats and eggs.
Branched-chain amino acids in pre-workout supplements contain a chain of 3 amino acids out of the 20 different kinds of essential amino acids linked together. Depending on the different pre-workouts, different amino acids are added as BCAAs.
Often pre-workout supplements have the names of these amino acids mentioned on the back (with the list of ingredients).
Branched-chain amino acids in pre-workout supplements help improve muscular endurance, strength, and energy while working out. Additionally, it has been researched that BCAAs help decrease muscle soreness by fighting against lactic acid buildup, improving liver health, and pumping you up for a workout. (6)
The pre-workout supplements containing BCAAs help stimulate muscle growth and increase body mass. The requirement for BCAAs is usually based on your body weight and varies from user to user.
BCAAs are essential in pre-workout supplements, especially if you are lifting heavy weights and want something to work against lactic acid buildup. It helps make the muscle tissue strong and enlarge it, meaning more muscle growth.
According to specialists, people weighing less than 150 pounds should consume about three grams of BCAAs daily dose of pre-workout supplements. However, the BCAA would increase from 5 grams to 10 grams per day with increasing weights.
- It promotes accelerated muscle growth.
- It prevents muscle damage during exercise.
- It also aids in improved liver health.
- BCAAs should be used cautiously before performing activities requiring motor coordination like driving.
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most common pre-workout ingredients. If you go to the gym, the chances are that you may have already heard of creatine monohydrate and its many advantages.
Creatine monohydrate is an essential pre-workout ingredient found in many pre-workouts. It helps improve the overall endurance and energy while working out as it decreases the recovery time needed by your muscles and improves your overall athletic performance aiding in increasing muscle mass. (7)
Creatine monohydrate in pre-workout supplements is essential for people whose primary focus is body building. Bodybuilding requires you to do exercises demanding immense energy, like lifting heavy weights.
Creatine monohydrate in pre-workout supplements helps your skeletal muscle pump with energy to help you lift easily. It also helps improve muscle memory which aids in remembering exercises and how they are done correctly with the correct posture.
Therefore, if you take part in weight resistance exercises, creatine monohydrate is an essential ingredient that should be a part of the pre-workout supplements you use. However, the amount that you should consume depends from person to person and their goals.
A person who just began training with weights will take a lower amount compared to someone who has been training for a longer time. Hence in a daily dose, creatine monohydrate can be taken anywhere from a teaspoon (5 grams) to 20 grams.
How Does Creatine Increase Energy?
It is simple creatine exponentially improves the energy rate by increasing ATP production. The complete form of ATP is adenosine triphosphate, a cell's energy factory.
ATP is the primary source of energy. It is a compound in which energy is stored until it is needed to be used. Creatine monohydrate increases the amount of energy by increasing the production of ATP.
- A highly effective supplement for athletic performance and health.
- It accelerates muscular growth.
- It helps in fighting many neurological diseases.
- Stomach bloating leads to discomfort and stomach aches.
L-citrulline is another essential amino acid that is a critical ingredient in pre-workouts. There are many other amino acids with different advantages, and L-citrulline is one of them (8). The primary importance of L-citrulline is increasing the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide works as a vasodilator.
Vasodilation means dilating the blood vessels (increasing their circumference). This helps in increasing the flow of blood to their target muscle cells. As blood contains essential nutrients and oxygen, if the blood vessels are dilated, these nutrients and oxygen will reach a faster rate to their target cells.
Oxygen helps in respiration and release of energy. The more the oxygen, the more the release of energy and hence the more pumped you are while working out.
By dilating the blood vessels, which causes an increased blood flow, nitric oxide helps oxygen reach muscles easily and quickly. This increased rate of oxygen with the help of increasing blood flow helps in muscle memory and exercise. (9) Therefore, the main advantage of L-citrulline is aiding muscles by increasing the blood flow to provide more oxygen. This increased blood flow helps the workout by increasing the intensity and energy. (10)
According to scientists, the maximum amount of L-citrulline safe for consumption is about 15 grams. But in most pre-workouts, the regular doses included are in the ranges of 3 to 6 grams. This L-citrulline amount may feel inadequate compared with the safe amount, but it is more than enough to bring out the desired effect.
- It increases the blood flow throughout the body.
- It helps fight against many heart conditions like a possibility of a stroke which often results due to narrowing of the blood vessels.
- It provides increased energy for an active lifestyle.
- Taking more than required may cause issues such as problems related to blood pressure.
Another ingredient on our list of top pre-workout ingredients is taurine. It is an amino sulfonic acid in foods rich in proteins like meat, poultry, and fish. It is also included in pre-workout supplements.
In pre-workouts, taurine is never found alone and is often accompanied by other ingredients, primarily stimulants like caffeine.
Taurine is researched to improve muscle fat burn and endurance, helping you work out more and better. Taurine is also researched and tested to decrease muscle soreness compared to not taking any supplements.
Taurine is not a popular ingredient in pre-workouts as it is being deeply researched why other stimulants often accompany it (11). This ingredient also helps in electrolyte balance and hydration, which is essential while working out.
- It helps in the fat-burning process in the body.
- It increases endurance which helps while working out.
- It aids in keeping the body hydrated while keeping electrolytes balanced.
- The daily consumption of taurine should be between 1 to 3 grams daily. Excessive usage can cause side effects like nausea, headache, stomach pain, and irritation.
Beetroot extract is the juice of beets, a highly fibrous plant. Beets are packed with fibers, potassium, and nitrate, which is why they are added in pre-workouts. Athletes rely on beetroots to increase their athletic performance and consume it through a pre-workout or taking it separately while working out.
The nitrate is reduced to nitric oxide in our body, which works its magic (12). Nitric oxide is a well-known agent which improves the blood flow in the body, which helps skyrocket the overall performance and endurance during heavy weight exercises or challenging performances like long runs (exercises that require a lot of stamina).
You must supplement your pre-workout according to your need; therefore, if you are focused on heavy weight lifting or high-intensity cardio, you require more beetroot extract.
Beetroot extract is not added in high quantities in pre-workouts, but that is not something to worry about as you can consume it separately too. The main advantage of beetroot extract is that it has significantly fewer calories and high amounts of vitamins and, therefore, will not cause any weight gain.
- It improves blood flow throughout the body.
- It decreases cholesterol levels.
- It helps in improving liver health.
- It has few calories.
- Beetroot can cause the formation of excessive hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This can lead to acidity and burning.
L-theanine is another example of an amino acid found in pre-workouts. The primary source of L-theanine is green tea and green tea extracts and is known to aid in working out by improving focus and attention. (13) It helps lower the blood pressure as the flow of blood increases during working out, which can be harmful.
- It promotes healthy mental health.
- It helps lower blood pressure.
- It also aids in reducing anxiety and stress.
- L-theanine can cause nausea, headaches, and irritability.
The main reason for consuming pre-workouts is to receive additional energy before starting workouts. However, pre-workout formulas are created with a more holistic approach and have long-term benefits than just providing energy and endurance for the duration of the workout.
The general vitamins added in pre-workouts are different types of Vitamin B like Vitamin B12 and niacin. The main advantage of these vitamins is that they help tone down the body and increase metabolism and energy. (14)
In addition, these vitamins are a source to regulate other problems like cholesterol levels, stomach issues, and iron levels. When the main focus is to lose weight or gain muscle mass, diet plays a vital role, along with consistent workouts.
But following a diet means that some foods are not consumed that may affect the iron levels, which is solved by the essential vitamins found in pre-workouts that help regulate the anemic levels in the body.
Taking pre-workout can often cause digestive issues in some people; therefore, vitamins play a critical role in regulating gut health. All in all, vitamins may seem unnecessary in pre-workouts but are more than necessary.
- Vitamins boost metabolism.
- Vitamins promote healthy aging.
- Vitamins improve cardiovascular health. (15)
- Excess vitamin supplements can lead to toxicity in the body.
While working out, you tend to sweat a lot, and you lose water with essential electrolytes that are important in maintaining a healthy hydration level in the body.
So pre-workout contains a unique blend of electrolytes (combination of mineral supplements) such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium to compensate for the lost amount. It also helps maintain a safe hydration level, as a drop in these levels can cause you to feel weak or even cause you to faint. (16)
- Electrolytes provide hydration to all the cells.
- They create a proper fluid balance in the body.
- They aid in muscular contraction.
- Athletes may overdo electrolyte consumption which can cause health issues like irregular heartbeat, nausea, or vomiting.
Why Should Each Ingredient In A Pre-Workout Be Taken In A Recommended Amount?
Pre-workout is essential for many people looking to improve their workout intensity and results. And while each ingredient added in a pre-workout has its importance, it is essential to remember not to overconsume it.
Excess of anything is bad. You should do everything in moderation, whether diet, workout, or pre-workout. Taking too much of anything can cause adverse effects on the body, no matter how healthy or natural the ingredient is.
Our body is known to be supplement-rich, and we get some of the supplements through our diet; for example, many of the amino acids mentioned above are part of our body through protein-rich food. We take pre-workout so that it can boost the effects. But taking too much of a particular ingredient can cause a buildup in our body, affecting our digestive health.
Apart from that, instead of losing weight, it may cause weight gain. There may be intense ringing sounds in the ears, flushed skin, and buzzing in the head.
Pre-workout can be a dietary supplement source that athletes need to boost their overall athletic performance. While pre-workout has many benefits, it is not magic, and therefore, for better and faster results, pre-workout should be accompanied by diet and workout.
In addition, pre-workouts differ from person to person depending on the goals they want to achieve. Knowing about the essential ingredients of a pre-workout helps you learn about the importance of each ingredient and then decide whether it will benefit you.
Some of the essential ingredients in a pre-workout have been stated above, along with their importance. But it is important to remember that pre-workout supplements are just supplements; a person should never rely on them solely to see results. The primary step for best results is a healthy diet, plenty of water, plenty of exercise, and at least six to eight hours of sleep. (17)
While taking a new pre-workout supplement, the first step should be to learn what is added to it and the amount you should consume (according to the dietary supplement). The daily dosage of a pre-workout may be a single scoop or two scoops, but you should always start by first taking a quarter scoop or half a scoop.
Doing so will help you check how your body reacts to the ingredients and how you feel after taking that particular pre-workout. With time, the dosage can be increased once you like the specific pre-workout that works best for you.
William Toro ‧ CPT & Nutritionist
William is a certified personal trainer from NASM, he has also been a rehab physiologist for sports persons. He has more than 15 years of experience training people. And has featured in multiple publications like FoxNews, CNBC, Bustle, and other.