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Do You Really Need Pre-Workout?

A woman drinks from a shaker bottle before working out.

Wanting to elevate your workout to new heights and wondering what steps you might be able to take from a supplement standpoint? Adding pre-workout to your fitness routine might be just the enhancement your body and mind need before your next gym session, or evening run around the neighborhood.

To unpack all of the details, Lifesavvy spoke with Megan Hardy, fitness trainer, nutritionist, founder of Fitness Uncharted and host of the Muscle Makeover podcast, an online fitness and nutrition coaching program designed for women. With her expertise, she was able to share the details behind what pre-workout is, if you really “need” it, and different populations who should leave it out of their routine.

What Is Pre-Workout?

Simply put, pre-workout is a type of dietary supplement used prior to a workout or exercise. Most commonly, it comes in the form of a powder mixture to put in water.
The oft-cited benefits of pre-workout include increased energy, improved focus, enhanced endurance, and better performance during workouts.
Hardy gave a comprehensive description of the ingredients most commonly included in a pre-workout mixture that create the boost of energy, and improved athletic performance levels that most experience:
  • Caffeine: increases energy and alertness, and decreases fatigue.
  • Creatine: helps increase muscle strength, power, and endurance
  • Beta-alanine: an amino acid that can improve muscular endurance by reducing the buildup of lactic acid during exercise
  • Amino Acids: such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are important for muscle growth, repair, and recovery
  • Nitric Oxide Boosters: helps widen blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the muscles and improving nutrient and oxygen delivery
  • Citrulline: enhances exercise performance, improves blood flow, and may accelerate recovery
  • Betaine: improved exercise performance and muscle protein synthesis

Do You Need Pre-Workout?

A woman and a man workout side by side in a gym.
4 PM production/Shutterstock.com

Hardy emphasized that while pre-workout is helpful in optimizing energy levels and performance, it is not necessary in order to build out an effective and successful workout routine over time. The most important workout-optimizing foundations are actually in your diet, water intake, and recovery days.

“The foundation of a good workout typically involves proper nutrition, hydration, and sufficient rest,” said Hardy. “A balanced diet with adequate carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats can provide the necessary energy for your workouts. Staying hydrated and well-rested also play vital roles in optimizing performance. Pre-workout supplementation can be helpful for some people, but the effectiveness and necessity of pre-workout supplements vary from person to person.”

Who Should and Shouldn’t Use Pre-Workout

Before deciding to take a pre-workout before your next session at the gym, it’s very important for you to carefully read the label on your pre-workout of choice to be aware of any potential side effects or drug interactions with any other supplements or medication you are already taking.

Hardy recommends consulting with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before starting any new supplement regimen to ensure it aligns with your body’s needs and your overall health trajectory, including any pre-existing health conditions.

Since pre-workout is designed to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, those who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding should be extra cautious before adding pre-workout to their regimen.

Others who should be cautious about their pre-workout intake include those who struggle with sleep disorders, insomnia and those who have a general sensitivity to stimulants.

What Should You Look for in a Pre-Workout?

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

When selecting a pre-workout supplement, it is important to consider the dosage and potency of the active ingredients. The effectiveness of pre-workout supplements can differ depending on the quantity of each ingredient used. Hardy recommends opting for a product that provides clinically effective dosages and steering clear of those that rely on “proprietary blends” concealing individual ingredient amounts.

“Research the reputation and credibility of the brand producing the pre-workout supplement,” said Hardy. “Look for brands that prioritize quality control, and transparency, and have a good track record of producing safe and effective products. Reading customer reviews and seeking recommendations can be helpful in assessing the reputation of a brand.”

Vega Sport Premium Vegan Protein Powder Vanilla

Protein is an important part of your nutrition post-workout.

Finding the right fit, and compatible combination of ingredients when searching for pre-workout is one of the most important steps you can take! Hardy shared that most pre-workout brands have copious amounts of caffeine and a significant amount of an ingredient called “beta-alanine” which produces a “skin tingling” sensation for the first 30-60 minutes after consumption.

For these reasons, Hardy likes to customize her pre-workout with exact measurements of caffeinated BCAA, creatine, and beta-alanine. While the caffeinated BCAA helps optimize her muscle growth and recovery, creatine serves as the safest, and most cost-effective fitness supplement on the market for improving overall athletic performance. While beta-alanine is known for giving off “skin tingles,” when your portions are controlled, it helps improve muscular endurance.

You can find pre-workout powders (or make your own variation like Hardy) in most Walmarts, Amazon, and other online sites like bodybuilding.com or GNC.

While pre-workout can help optimize a workout, it is not necessary in order to have a successful and very effective movement session. Hardy emphasizes the importance of doing your research to determine which ingredients are important for you to reach your individual fitness goals.

Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
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