What is a Pre Workout?

What is a pre-workout? What does it mean? What does it consist of? If you are new to the gym, you may not be completely sure. In this article, we will help you to learn all there is needed to know about pre workouts. 

What is a Pre Workout?

Pre Workout is a meal or supplement that you take before your workout. Whether you choose a supplement, or a meal (or snack) will depend on what your training goals are, what time you are training, and your calorie allowance is for the day.

If you tend to train at 2pm each day, then it may be that your lunch works as a pre workout meal. If you train at 5pm, then you may need a small meal to provide you with the energy required to train at a high intensity. 

Sometimes a meal or snack is not necessary. But most people will at least take some form of pre workout supplement. This could be a dedicated pre workout powder or drink, or it could just be a protein shake. Again, there are many factors that can influence what is needed. 

Pre Workout supplements tend to be either stimulatory or non-stimulatory. Stim pre workouts will contain ingredients such as caffeine which will perk you up and banish fatigue. Non-stim pre workouts try to achieve the same thing, but without ingredients that stimulate the nervous system (which can affect sleep). 

What Does a Pre Workout Do?

There are several things that a pre workout does. They should help give you enough energy to perform the workout at your maximum intensity and provide you with protein for muscle building. They should reduce fatigue, reduce pain and stiffness, and improve your mood. A good pre workout will also improve concentration and focus.

Very few pre workout meals or supplements will manage all of this on their own. A good pre workout supplement can help with fatigue reduction, pain and stiffness reduction, and improvements to mood and cognition. But they can’t provide you with energy, nor will they help supply the muscles with protein. 

A pre workout meal should help with energy and protein intake but is unlikely to perform any of the other benefits that are associated with supplements. 

Most gym goers either have a pre workout meal and a pre workout supplement. Or they take a pre workout supplement and schedule their workouts around their meals. So, a 2pm workout where lunch becomes the pre workout meal.

Do You Need a Pre Workout?

You don’t necessarily need a specific pre workout meal, nor do you need a pre workout supplement. But you need something before a workout. Fasted cardio was very popular in the early 00s, but most fitness experts agree that training on an empty stomach will lead to a subpar workout. 

Even a banana and a cup of coffee is better than nothing. Or instead of coffee you could try caffeine tablets (all the benefits, but a reliable dosage and no bitter aftertaste). 

Need is a strong word, what we would say is that a properly planned out pre workout meal and careful supplementation can make a really good workout that little bit better. 

Our ideal scenario would be this:

  • 12pm Lunch: High in protein, high in carbs, low/medium fats
  • 1pm Protein bar, banana, pre workout supplement
  • 1:30pm Gym

What is Usually in a Pre Workout?

Pre workout supplements can vary in what they provide, but you can split most of them into stim and non-stim. Stim pre workouts contain caffeine, while non-stim pre workouts do not. Stim pre workouts may also contain certain nootropics that can also stimulate the central nervous system. 

Here is a list of the most common pre workout ingredients. 

  • Caffeine
  • Creatine
  • Beta Alanine
  • BCAAs
  • Citrulline Malate

Caffeine is popular because it is so effective. Reducing the perception of pain and fatigue, allowing you to train harder and for longer at a higher intensity. Caffeine is also great if you are training early in the morning.

Creatine is a superb supplement ingredient, and is often found in pre workouts. Creatine can help with energy recycling, allowing you to knock out those extra couple of reps when tired.

Beta Alanine is great for enhancing muscular endurance. It is an amazing pre workout ingredient, it is also responsible for that (completely safe) tingling feeling you get in your fingers when taking some pre workouts. 

BCAAs, this supplement is great for reducing fatigue during a workout. If you are taking a protein shake as part of your pre workout then BCAAs may not be required, but as an anti-fatigue they work excellently. 

Citrulline Malate is similar to other ingredients on this list in that it can banish fatigue and increase power. It also helps to increase blood flow to the muscles and is responsible for a muscle “pump” where your muscles swell a little more than usual. Great for posing in the gym, but also great for delivering nutrients to tired muscles.

Pre Workout FAQs

When Should I Take a Pre Workout Supplement?

About 30-40 minutes before a workout if the pre workout contains caffeine. If it is non-stimulatory, then it can be taken a lot nearer.

How Long Does a Pre Workout Typically Last?

It takes about 30 minutes for the effects to show themselves in a stimulatory pre workout. Which is why we recommend taking it around 30 minutes before your workout. The effects should last you 40-60 minutes after that (i.e. your entire workout). Caffeine can stay in your system for hours after ingestion, which is why we recommend a caffeine-free pre workout for evening workouts.

How Much Caffeine is in Pre Workouts?

This can vary from product to product, so always check the label before ingesting. But it can be as low as 50mg and as high as 300mg. A small black coffee is around 50mg for context. 

 

References

https://www.theproteinworks.com/thelockerroom/the-best-pre-workout-supplements/

https://www.theproteinworks.com/products/powders/preworkout

https://www.theproteinworks.com/performance-caffeine

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17136505/

 

Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith

Matt has a degree in Sports Science, a lvl 3 certificate in personal training, and ten years experience in the industry. His dissertation was on the effect of caffeine on run performance, and he has been fascinated with supplements ever since.

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