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A Guide to Pre-workout Supplements: Benefits, Side Effects, and Risks

The benefits of pre-workout supplements have caught on almost as much as protein supplements. As serious athletes become more aware of all that is available to enhance their training efforts, they have sought out the benefits of pre-workout supplements. 

Just as protein supplements provide the benefits of added amino acids for building muscle, the benefits of pre-workout supplements give the extra boost you need for high-intensity training. Among the obvious pre-workout benefits is extra energy for motivation and increased blood flow for stamina. 

Even as interest in pre-workout benefits has increased, you may not know the full range of these benefits. There are many other things serious athletes should know in addition to pre-workout benefits. 

There is a long list of pre-workout benefits that we will address in this guide. We will also walk you through all the information you need for potential side effects and other considerations. 

What is a Pre-Workout?

pre-workout supplements

In many ways, this is self-explanatory until you start getting into the complicated world of pre-workout supplements. A quick internet search will reveal more things than you knew existed. 

Put simply, a pre-workout supplement is a mix of nutrients, vitamins, and amino acids along with some caffeine and sugar that will enhance your training and workout regimen. A pre-workout combines ingredients that boost energy and help develop the muscle and endurance you require for high-intensity training. 

Pre-workouts contain ingredients like caffeine to give you a little burst of energy for motivation and to keep going during a workout. They also contain ingredients that will increase blood flow and pump oxygen to your muscles. The best pre-workouts will also contain amino acids, especially BCAAs, that will build muscle as you work out, reduce muscle soreness, and continue to facilitate muscle protein synthesis even after your workout.

Pre-Workout Benefits 

The benefits of pre-workout supplements are many. Depending on the type of training you do, pre-workouts can be taken to enhance endurance and stamina, or they can be focused on building muscle and strength.  

We can break these down according to the multiple ways that pre-workouts help with workouts and intense training. 

For Muscle Gains

The main ingredients that benefit muscle gains are amino acids. Pre-workout supplements contain high levels of essential amino acids. Specifically, they contain concentrations of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are three of the essential amino acids that go directly into muscle protein synthesis. BCAAs effectively by-pass the digestive process and become immediately available for building muscle. 

In addition to BCAAs, pre-workout supplements also contain citrulline. This is another amino acid. Specifically, citrulline increases blood flow to muscles. This process boosts oxygen levels and carries extra nutrients to muscles as they undergo the stress of training. The net result is muscles that can work longer and harder for more intense and productive workouts. 

The combination of BCAAs and citrulline make for a powerful supplement for muscle gains. 

Enhances Strength

Pre-workouts enhance strength in several ways. In addition to the obvious benefit of increased muscle, pre-workouts also fortify your metabolism for increased strength as you work out and for lasting increases in strength from your workout.  

Perhaps the most important ingredient in pre-workout supplements for enhancing strength is creatine. On the cellular level, creatine increases the biochemical mechanisms that enhance energy in your body. Creatine enhances strength, muscle mass, and endurance. 

The presence of nitrate in pre-workout supplements allows your body to carry more amino acids and other nutrients to your muscles. This results in increased strength as you exert yourself during training and for competition. Nitrate effectively feeds your muscles the necessary nutrients to perform. The result is enhanced strength.  

Boosts Endurance 

The primary way to boost endurance is to remove the mechanisms that cause fatigue. Pre-workout supplements achieve this in two important ways.  

Caffeine gives you energy. In the same way that you blast yourself awake with a strong cup of coffee or an espresso, the caffeine in pre-workouts charges you up for motivation and endurance through an intense workout. 

The other main stumbling block for endurance is muscle fatigue from soreness. This is mostly caused by the buildup of acids in your muscles. To combat this, pre-workouts contain beta-alanine. This chemical eliminates acids from your body, specifically from your muscles. Beta-alanine reduces the acid accumulation that causes the burn from intense training. As a result, you can push harder and longer through your workouts. 

Another ingredient in pre-workouts that helps reduce acid buildup in muscles is simple sodium bicarbonate: baking soda. Sodium bicarbonate has been clinically shown to reduce acid accumulation in muscle tissue. The benefit to you is less soreness and longer harder workouts. 

Some pre-workouts contain a chemical called L-theanine. Derived from green tea, this inhibits some of the effects of caffeine that cause anxiety and creates a synergistic reaction that focuses the caffeine on increased energy levels. 

How does Pre-Workout work?

The way pre-workout supplements work is to provide physiological effects from multiple angles at the same time. 

First, pre-workouts stimulate the nervous system. This has the combined effect of increasing your energy levels and enhancing your motivation. Let’s face it, the starting point for an intense workout is to have the energy to proceed and the motivation to begin.  

Next, a good pre-workout will increase blood flow and the flow of nutrients and oxygen. This gives your muscles the most elemental ingredients for high-intensity training. Oxygen provides stamina, nutrients build muscle and increase metabolism, and increased blood flow allows your body to work through the stain of a serious workout. 

With the addition of things like creatine and BCAAs, a pre-workout supplement sends the vital building blocks for increased muscle protein synthesis and fat reduction. This produces the results you are looking for.

Within this matrix of functions, things like beta-alanine work to reduce soreness and muscle fatigue that can slow you down. 

Sugars provide energy for the elemental metabolic reactions necessary for building muscle and sustaining high energy exertion. 

When to Take Pre-Workouts

You want to take your pre-workout supplements at a time that provides optimal benefit. Taking them too soon allows them to metabolize without doing you any good. If you take them too late you will not get the full benefit while you train.

Trainers recommend taking pre-workouts 30-60 minutes before you begin working out. This allows the caffeine to begin energizing you and let the more complicated ingredients begin to enter your bloodstream.  

Remember that pre-workouts contain significant amounts of caffeine. You will want to be able to start working out as soon as they begin to work.

Pre-Workout Side Effects

Many people can be sensitive to caffeine. Although levels of caffeine in pre-workout supplements are well within the parameters considered safe, some people may experience anxiety when using them.

There are some rare allergies to ingredients in pre-workout supplements. Some people may react to the beta-alanine and experience numbness and tingling in their hands and feet. These symptoms are not considered dangerous, but they can be uncomfortable. 

Many pre-workout supplements contain niacin. People with a sensitivity to niacin will experience reddening of their skin. Although not dangerous, this too can be unsettling and uncomfortable. 

Are Pre-Workouts Safe?

Pre-workout supplements are generally considered safe. These are not simple weight loss supplements. They are intended for people who engage in high-intensity training for competitive sports. Some people will experience anxiety with pre-workout supplements. If you are uncertain, check with your physician before taking pre-workout supplements. 

Should I Take Pre-Workouts?

pre-workout shake

If you are the type of person who works out primarily to maintain all-around fitness pre-workouts may not be for you. You simply will not get much benefit from them, and you may end up feeling a little jittery from not burning up all the fuel contained in a typical pre-workout supplement.  

But if you are engaged in high-intensity training, the type of training that creates some real burn and potential exhaustion, a pre-workout may be just the thing you need. Pre-workouts are intended to boost you through those points in a workout where most people want to stop. The added energy, amino acids, and acid burners might be the thing for you. The clinical evidence shows that pre-workout supplements enhance performance and muscle growth when combined with high-intensity training.

Common Misconceptions About Pre-Workout Supplements

With so much buzz and talk about pre-workout supplements, there is bound to be some misinformation floating around. For instance, it is easy to confuse some of the ingredients in pre-workouts with other things that may or may not have some dangers. Without doing your homework, you may stumble across some common misconceptions about pre-workouts.

  1. Pre-workouts are a waste of money. This is just plain wrong. There are valid and effective pre-workout supplements that provide verifiable results in the forms of increased muscle and strength and increased stamina. 
  2. Eat right and you won't need supplements. For someone who works out to stay fit, this can be true. But competitive athletes, people who compete at high levels, require additional amino acids to support the amount of protein synthesis their bodies demand. They require increased blood and oxygen flow. And they must sustain high levels of energy expenditure. This can only be supported by a legitimate supplement. 
  3. Creatine is a steroid. This is simply not true. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance found in our bodies that stimulates cellular energy. Steroids mimic the male hormone testosterone. Creatine is perfectly safe. Steroids carry a host of physical dangers. 
  4. Pre-workout supplements improve muscle and strength without training. This is emphatically not true. Supplements are, by definition, something you add to the training. You may find yourself more alert by taking pre-workouts without training, but the only way to get the benefits of a pre-workout supplement is through serious training and workouts. 

How Do You Know The Supplement Is Working?

You will see increased muscle and you will notice increased strength in a relatively short time while using pre-workout supplements. How long these changes take is dependent on your training goals, the type of training you do, and your own physiology. However, you will notice some of the effects of pre-workout supplements almost as soon as you start taking them.

Here are some key things you will notice:

  • Sudden increases in energy level. 
  • You become intensely focused on your workout. 
  • Beta-alanine can cause tingling sensations. You will likely feel this right away. 
  • You will be able to increase the amount of weight you lift and the number of reps you can handle.

The results from pre-workout supplements will vary from one person to the next. But you will see results and soon. 

Recommended Dosage

Pre-workout dosage

The basic recommended dose is between 20-30 grams.

Keep in mind that every pre-workout supplement is different. They vary in concentrations of the active ingredients, and you should follow the recommended dosage on the label of the pre-workout supplement you choose. 

Best Pre-Workout Supplement

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pre-workout supplements on the market. Pouring through your choices can be difficult. Do your due diligence and read the labels before you buy. Make sure the product you choose contains the active ingredients listed above without any junk fillers, extra sugar, or ingredients you do not recognize. 

NF Sports Pre-workout is one of the best on the market. It contains the finest pre-workout ingredients like creatine, beta-alanine, and citrulline, and it has none of the added junk fillers that do nothing for your workout. 

Wrapping things up

There is so much buzz and talk surrounding pre-workout supplements. It can be difficult to get legitimate information on the benefits of pre-workouts, and even harder to find out the truth about potential side effects. Like most things, the talk is less than informed. This guide gives you the basics for what you need to get started with pre-workout supplements. 

The good news here is that pre-workout supplements do work. You will see demonstrable results from using a good pre-workout supplement. Make sure you sue these supplements as part of an intense training program. They are not intended for general fitness regimens. And take them as directed. When used properly, pre-workout supplements will accentuate your workouts. 

Pre-workout supplements give you extra motivation for high-intensity training. They can help you go longer and harder with your workouts. And you will see more muscle, more stamina, and less soreness from serious physical training.

For the committed athlete, pre-workout supplements can give you the advantage you need. 

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