The Pre-Workout Crash Course

If you have ever entered a supplements store, you surely have noticed the incredible number of products they offer. Vitamins and mineral blends, protein powders and gain boosters, amino acids and legal substitutes for anabolic steroids… There are dozens of different items to choose from!

One of the largest classes of sports supplements are pre-workout blends. Manufacturers claim these products can drastically boost your effectiveness at the gym—but is that really so? Do you need a pre-workout blend? Can you even learn what are all of these components and WHY have they been added to the product?

Well, this is your lucky day, because today we’ll give you a comprehensive and BS-free overview of everything related to pre-workouts.

Ready? Let’s roll!

What is a pre-workout and do you need one?

Pre-workout supplements are products that allegedly boost your physical performance during exercise. As a rule, pre-workouts come in the form of water-soluble powders and have to be taken about 30 minutes before working out. These blends usually include a whole bunch of ingredients, each of them aimed to improve a specific aspect of exercising—for example, increase energy levels, enhance blood supply to the muscles, and so on.

Contrary to what you may think, pre-workouts are a relatively new thing in the world of bodybuilding. The vast majority of sports and bodybuilding legends (like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane) didn’t take any kind of pre-workout at all. Well, maybe a banana for some extra energy.

The first pre-workout supplement was introduced to the bodybuilding market in 1982. It was called Ultimate Orange, and the thing pretty much became a universal sensation overnight. Basically, it was a caffeine bomb that acted as a massive stimulant to help bodybuilders level up their lifting game.

From then onward, the pre-workout market has been all about the ”harder, better, faster, stronger” principle: more ingredients, more claims, more boost, more, more, more!

But… Do they work at all?

Hi-Potency InnovaPharm Pre-workout


Here are some studies on the effectiveness of pre-workouts:

  • In 2014, a study reported that a pre-workout blend was able to boost perceived levels of energy, focus, and concentration. On the other hand, the study couldn’t find any sort of real improvement in physical performance or muscle gains.
  • In 2014, a study was unable to find any improvements in muscle gains, body composition, or workout performance in a small group of 20 males after 8 days of training (4 of them were workout days)
  • In 2016, a study concluded that although pre-workouts don’t boost strength directly, they do increase the effectiveness of energy expenditure in the muscles.
  • In 2017, a study reported that pre-workout blends reduce fatigue and improve energy levels. They also may slightly boost the power of concentric muscle contractions (active shortening of the muscles, like during biceps curls) by 5-20% in males
  • In 2018, a study concluded that a pre-workout supplement was able to improve focus during high-intensity exercise and somewhat increase the number of bench press repetitions to failure.

To summarize, pre-workout supplements kinda work.

They do seem to boost perceived energy levels, focus, concentrations, and in some cases they even slightly improve real physical performance.

The main problem in this matter is that no two pre-workout blends are identical: every company goes above and beyond to create a proprietary and unique product to promote on the market.

Therefore, it’s basically impossible to conduct a large-scale study on EVERY supplement—so you can’t be 100% sure that this or that blend really works.

Photographer: Victor Freitas | Source: UnsplashPhotographer: GMB Monkey | Source: Unsplash


So how can you pick a safe and effective pre-workout blend?

The trick is to focus on the ingredients, one by one.

Since they are more or less universal throughout 80% of the pre-workout products you’ll find on the market, this should do the trick just fine.

Let’s take a closer look at the main types of ingredients you’ll find in the wild.

The seven major groups of pre-workout supplement ingredients:

  • Stimulants for more energy and focus
  • Nitric oxide (NO) boosters for bigger pumps
  • Energy metabolism enhancers for endurance
  • Insulin mimickers for improved glucose metabolism and energy supply to the muscles
  • Muscle repairers and anti-cortisol agents for faster regeneration after exercise
  • Carbohydrates as a source of energy
  • Electrolytes to restore lost minerals through sweat

In the following sections posts, we’ll go through each and every one of these sections so that you know exactly what you’ll be taking with your pre-workout supplement.

To Be Continued…

The Cost Plus Nutrition Team