The Complete Guide to Using Pre-Workout
Every year, 50% of New Year’s resolutions are to exercise more and live a healthier lifestyle. Who doesn’t want to have more energy, be more fit, and feel more attractive?
Getting committed to the gym is a process, though - burnout and plateaus are real. Sometimes, an extra boost is just what we need to push through a difficult workout session or challenge ourselves by completing an additional set.
Pre-workouts have been a favorite among athletes for years. Known to maximize the effects of workouts, the best tasting pre-workout will motivate you to put a little extra effort into your fitness regimen.
But with countless options on the market, it may be overwhelming for first-time pre-workout users to start implementing it into their workouts.
That’s why we’ve created this guide explaining how pre-workouts work. From the ingredients to know the perfect time to take it, here’s everything you need to know!
What is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Pre-workouts are supplements that combine all of the ingredients that will make your workouts as effective as possible. For serious athletes, drinking a pre-workout is a signal that it’s time to get focused on the upcoming game or workout ahead.
The benefits that pre-workouts provide depend on what you take and what you’re looking to achieve. In most cases, a pre-workout will improve focus and give you extra energy during a workout.
But athletes with specific goals will notice the benefits of pre-workout in certain areas. For example, an athlete looking to gain strength may notice that pre-workout allows them to push out a heavy rep, while a runner may notice that they’re able to cut down their mile time.
Pre-workouts can be found with stimulants and without. Stimulants typically mean caffeine and are often the most popular choice for athletes. Other stimulants include theacrine and guarana.
If you’re looking for a pre-workout that will get you amped in time for your workout, you’ll be able to find one with close to 400mg of caffeine. But if you want nothing resembling a stimulant in your pre-workout, you can find that, too. And you’ll have no problem finding a pre-workout that falls in the middle of these two, either.
What Ingredients Are in High-Quality Pre-Workouts?
Not all pre-workouts are created equal - and when it comes to what you're putting in your body before a workout, there's nothing more important than researching the ingredient list of your pre-workout.
A high-quality pre-workout will include some variation of the following ingredients.
For reference, we've used the ingredient list from our Elevate pre-workout line. All ingredients listed below can be found in this supplement with explanations about why they're necessary for the optimal workout.
What's even more important is that our pre-workout includes these ingredients at optimal levels. For example, chemicals like caffeine drastically affect your workout and energy levels depending on the amount that's found in your pre-workout.
Beta-alanine is included in every high-quality pre-workout because of its significant effects on your workouts: it helps you overcome the burning feeling you experience during a heavy set and helps you complete a few more reps.
When your body engages in high-intensity exercises, it uses oxygen to break down glucose for energy. However, your body will create a substance called lactate if not enough oxygen is readily available.
This lactate enters the bloodstream in the form of acid, tiring your muscles and reducing your performance. Beta-alanine helps to buffer the formation of these acids, so you can maintain your intensity for longer periods of time.
However, you won’t experience the benefits of beta-alanine right away. It will take about 2-3 weeks of consistent use before you start to notice results.
Caffeine is probably what first comes to mind when you think of pre-workout, and for good reason - many athletes swear by caffeine as the best way to transform workouts.
Repeated studies have shown that caffeine increases alternating focus and tolerance for pain. It’s also been shown to help burn fat and achieve more work in the gym for longer periods of time.
Caffeine will give you the quick energy you need if you’re doing a high-intensity exercise like lifting or a HIIT workout. And if you want to run longer and faster, caffeine will also be your friend.
The drug is so effective that the World Doping Agency banned its use for a number of years. Now, 3 out of 4 elite athletes have caffeine before or during a competition.
Similar to any other substance, you may build up a tolerance to caffeine over time. Though it won’t affect its performance-boosting effects, you may not feel as energetic as you did in earlier stages.
For this reason, many athletes like to take tolerance breaks or switch up their pre-workouts for a change of pace.
This substance is a natural form of Citrulline, which is found in watermelon. L-Citrulline boosts your nitric oxide levels, helping to dilate your blood vessels. The increased size of blood vessels will send more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
L-Citrulline also helps the body remove ammonia, which is a compound that can cause exercise-related fatigue.
L-Arginine is another nitrogen dioxide booster and amino acid found in Svelte's pre-workout formula. Like L-Citrulline, it’s considered to act as a vasodilator and will allow for easier nutrient flow.
Folic acid is a form of folate that appears in Svelte’s pre-workout supplements. Folate helps with the production of new cells, which boosts your muscles when they replace damaged cells with new cells called satellite cells.
Folate is also used to make DNA and RNA, both of which are used during your workout to signal to your body that more muscles need to be produced.
In the body, both folate and folic acid get converted to L-Methylfolate for consumption.
B-12 is a vitamin involved in several processes in the body, including energy production, amino acid synthesis, brain function, and nerve cell function.
Proper B-12 levels have also been said to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Even if you’re not a serious athlete, getting enough B-12 is crucial to your health.
If you have a deficiency, expect your workouts to suffer. But even if you’re getting proper levels, it will boost your energy production. When you continue to take a vitamin and it helps you more and more, it means that you’re having enough for your body to take in all of its benefits.
However, you don't want to exceed your B-12 intake too much. Studies differ on how much B-12 you can take without side effects.
Turns out, half of all Americans are deficient in magnesium. That’s too bad because magnesium is one of the most important nutrients for athletes looking to build strength.
Magnesium helps your body relax by regulating stress levels and blood pressure. It improves your sleep quality and even relaxes the muscles in your digestive tract.
In athletes, magnesium is even more helpful because it keeps your muscles relaxed during a workout. This means no more cramps.
Pantothenic acid, also known as B5, plays a crucial role in your workout.
B5 is involved in energy production, the creation of adrenal hormones, and the making of blood cells. It works together with other B vitamins to make ATP, which accelerates the energy provided by cells.
For athletes, this means that taking B5 will give you a serious energy boost. Think longer, more intense workouts.
Though most diets are full of B5, it won’t hurt to add any to your pre-workout. Even taken in high doses, the vitamin has very few side effects.
Svelte's pre-workout also comes loaded with vitamins. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6 all play roles in how your body produces and uses energy, which is why we didn't want to leave them out of our supplements.
The additional boost of B vitamins like 1, 2, and 3 will help your body to produce energy from the nutrients it's consumed from meals. They'll also help with muscle recovery, prevent dehydration, and lower fatigue levels.
Who Should Take a Pre-Workout?
That depends on your current fitness level and goals. If you’re an infrequent gym-goer who only builds up a light sweat, you probably won’t see much of an effect on your workouts with a pre-workout.
But if you’re looking to become a more serious athlete, pre-workout is just the stepping stone you need to reach that next level. It’s also a great choice for athletes who have hit a plateau in their training and are looking to try something new.
Anyone who wants an energy boost and more serious results would benefit from a pre-workout supplement. But the best results will be achieved with consistency: a quality pre-workout, challenging fitness regimen, and adequate rest periods.
The key to knowing whether you should take pre-workout is knowing yourself. Ingredients like caffeine and other stimulants may unsettle your body, or they may give you the energy kick you’re looking for.
And keep in mind that pre-workouts are for adults only. Teens who want to try pre-workout need to have a solid base level of fitness before even considering it.
When Should I Take a Pre-Workout?
When you’re walking into the gym, you’ll often see people who are finishing up their pre-workout right before a session. If you want the best results, don’t follow this method.
The ingredients in your pre-workout fitness supplement take anywhere from 30-60 minutes to reach optimal levels in your blood. If you don’t wait long after consuming it to start your workout, you won’t be feeling its effects until into your second or third set.
For the most part, you don’t have to worry about taking your pre-workout too early.
The caffeine in your pre-workout takes 3 hours to halve in your blood, so you’ll have energy for hours after you take it. So, even if you take pre-workout 90 minutes before your workout, you’ll still have a longer and stronger session.
Because the caffeine won’t be fully out of your system for at least five hours after taking your pre-workout, you’ll need to be strategic about planning your workouts.
Any workout time later than the early afternoon will mean that your pre-workout is going to affect the quality of your sleep. Without the muscle regeneration that sleep provides, you’ll burn out, get sick, or even injure yourself.
Stick to workouts at least six hours before your bedtime to ensure no sleep disruptions.
Another concern is the potential for the caffeine in pre-workout to become addictive. Over time, athletes may find that they need to take more and more to feel its effects.
To avoid building a tolerance to caffeine, save the pre-workout for important workouts. If you’re set on using it as much as possible, try cycling it out for a few weeks at a time to give your body a reset period.
How do I take Pre-Workout Safely?
Pre-workout supplements are a tried-and-true fitness method that athletes have relied on for years. That being said, however, some pre-workouts are definitely safer choices than others.
Understanding the ingredients in any pre-workout you take and managing your reactions will keep you safe in the long run.
If you’ve never had beta-alanine before taking a pre-workout, you’ll likely experience a tingling sensation on your face and neck.
It’s common to experience this - known as “paresthesia” the first time you take pre-workout, and it’s no cause for concern. Paresthesia is harmless and temporary and will go away as you get used to taking pre-workout.
You’ll also want to take a look at the caffeine content per serving of pre-workout. If you tend to have anxious tendencies, a lower caffeine level will prevent the jitters.
In general, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers 400mg (4 cups of coffee) to be the safe upper limit for caffeine consumption. No trustworthy pre-workout supplement will exceed that limit, and most will stay far below.
When in doubt, start small. Use half a scoop for your first pre-workout serving, then notice how your workout goes. Move up gradually until you're getting the best workout possible without feeling like your heart's beating out of your chest.
Getting the Jitters
Flooding your body with caffeine, vitamins, and nitric-oxides is sure to get you amped before a workout, but you may experience the jitters.
Depending on how your body responds to caffeine and stimulants, you may not be able to escape some jittery feelings at the beginning of your workout.
However, the other ingredients present in pre-workout will help to take the edge off.
Paying attention to what you eat before your pre-workout will also make your workout smoother. If you drink a pre-workout on an empty stomach, the high caffeine levels are going to school your system.
Treat your pre-workout to a pre of its own by making sure you eat before drinking it. Having some food 30-60 minutes before your pre-workout will settle your stomach and will also benefit your workout later.
It's normal to be cautious before taking a pre-workout. It's wise to think twice before putting anything new in your body.
Many athletes who are new to pre-workout have similar questions before they decide to get started. Here are a few of the most common ones we get.
Will Diet Alone be Enough?
It depends on your workout. A complete diet will be enough for most low-intensity workouts. But if you're looking to put intense demands on your body, diet may not suffice.
During a hard-hitting workout, you're placing specific, maximum demands on your body. For instance, say you’re doing a few squats at max weight.
Certain muscle groups may not have enough energy on their own to perform to the level that you expect.
Although your diet should be your primary source of nutrients and minerals and should be enough to sustain you during a workout, any workout that’s taking you past your boundaries would likely be more effective with an extra dose of nutrients.
Why Can't I Just Have Coffee Instead?
A strong cup of coffee a few hours before a workout has some of the same effects as pre-workout. Caffeine will contribute to your endurance, strength, and power during a workout, regardless of the source.
But caffeine is just one ingredient, and it doesn’t give your body a multi-dimensional boost.
Think of it this way: if you’re already drinking caffeine to maximize your workout, why not include other ingredients that will take it up to a level further?
Combined with carbs, caffeine is even more effective. The other ingredients in pre-workout will give your body extra fuel that will have a stronger effect than caffeine alone.
Do I Need a Different Pre-Workout If I'm a Woman?
Anyone can use any pre-workout, so long as you're conscious about how much of each ingredient you're consuming.
The key is to be aware of your body weight and current fitness level. The range that’s often recommended is 1.5-3 milligrams of caffeine per pound of body weight (3-6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight).
For a 100-pound woman, that’s a low end of 150 milligrams of caffeine, up to an adrenaline-inducing 300 milligrams on the high end. If you’re new to pre-workout, you’ll likely be just fine with the lower amount.
But if you’re a seasoned bodybuilder coming in at 220 pounds, your caffeine consumption is going to be a lot closer to the 3 milligrams per pound mark.
And as for the other ingredients in the workout, they’ll work for anyone regardless of gender.
Will Pre-Workout Aid in Weight Loss?
Though not the primary goal of supplements, they can help you shed weight if you're using them properly. The goal of supplements is to increase the length and intensity of your workout.
The harder your work, the faster you'll speed up muscle growth and metabolism efficiency, both of which are two key elements of losing weight. If taking pre-workout is making your workouts twice as long, it's possible you'll lose weight more quickly.
What Is the Best Advice to Give to Someone Starting With Supplements?
Pre-workout is not a one-size-fits-all solution that will transform your workouts if you’re not taking the proper steps outside of the gym. It’s merely an addition to a strong foundation that’s already in place.
You’ll still need to get at least eight hours of sleep each night and maintain a diet with proper nutrition.
Pre-workout supplements are meant to add to your existing workout regimen and not to replace anything. You may even want to consider lifestyle supplements.
Start slow when introducing supplements so you can track the effects they’re having. You’ll likely need to experiment with different doses and times to see when you should take your pre-workout and which amount is the most effective.
Reach Your Fitness Goals With the Best-Tasting Pre-Workout
Whether you're an aspiring athlete or a long-term lifter, pre-workout is a great addition to a fitness regimen that's looking to get more serious. With Svelte's best-tasting pre-workout, getting all of the nutrients you need won't feel like a chore.
For more fitness tips, visit our blog. If you're looking to purchase pre-workout, visit our Supplements page to find out more about the different types of products we offer.