Breaking Down Pre-workout Supplements – What, Why, When & How

Supplements are a potent tool for modern athletes. They aren’t a substitute for good nutrition or regular workouts, but they can make the entire process much more efficient. Pre-workout supplements are a great option for people who are pushing themselves by working out under particularly rough conditions. They can boost energy and endurance in a way that makes it much easier to burst through plateaus and complete a difficult routine.

Why Take Them?

The primary purpose of a pre-workout supplement is to boost your performance during the workout. There are a few different ways in which they can help, and each supplement will focus on a different one. That means that you need to understand your needs before you choose a supplement.

Many of them provide simple energy boosts. That makes sure that you can make it through your entire workout and give your muscles the exercise that they need to grow. Mental boosts can be just as important, since they make it easier to get through the routine without getting distracted or discouraged. They can also fight feelings of weakness that can cause you to stop early. Finally, some will also boost your strength or endurance. Some supplements even contribute in multiple ways!

All of these benefits can be useful in the right circumstances. When used properly, they can help you power through your workout and surpass your limits. The trick is knowing which ones to take, and how to take them properly.

Proper Use

Proper timing is the key to getting good results from your supplement. Your body needs to have enough time to digest the supplement before it can put it to use. The precise amount of time varies from one supplement to the next. Most of them will have instructions on the box, and you should follow those instructions carefully, but most of them will need somewhere between thirty minutes and an hour. Taking them too late means that they won’t take effect when you need them, but taking them too early means that they will wear off before you finish your workout. Plan carefully, and do everything you can to make sure that you take them at the right time.

You also need to get the dose right. As with the timing, this will vary depending on the supplement. The correct dosage should be on the supplement’s label, and you should usually follow it. In most cases, you cannot get a stronger effect simply by taking more of a supplement. Taking too much can often lead to negative side effects, so it is never wise to take too much.

Picking Supplements

There are thousands of supplements out there, but most of them are blends that use one of a relatively small number of active ingredients. Understanding the most common and effective ingredients is key to picking out the right pre-workout supplements. Many of the blends will also include flavorings or other inactive ingredients that make them more pleasant, but those ingredients do not have an impact on your workout.


Creatine is one of the oldest pre-workout supplements, and it is also one of the best-understood by scientists. It is a compound that humans naturally produce in small quantities, but it can also come from food. The body uses it to help regulate energy through the use of ATP.

That makes it a valuable tool for boosting performance, but it works best in short bursts. It can boost power during maximal effort contractions, but it doesn’t make a big difference for people who are doing low-intensity movements for longer periods of time. That makes it useful for sprinters or for athletes who are lifting fairly heavy weights ‘with a low or moderate number of reps in each set.

Creatine is more useful for some people than others. People can get it naturally from some foods, usually meats. Athletes who have a lot of creatine in their system will not see any benefits from adding more. Very few people are at that point, but it does mean that people whose diets tend to be low in creatine, such as most vegetarians, are most likely to see the biggest benefits.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids

Branched-chain amino acids, also known as BCAAs, are among the most popular supplements. They are a mixture of several amino acids, most notably leucine, that humans need to build muscle. Athletes can often get all of the amino acids that they need from their diets, but those that do not can benefit from supplements that provide them.

BCCAs can help with endurance and promote muscle growth, but they tend to be a situational supplement. The average person will get enough amino acids from their diet, so they will not see major benefits from a supplement. However, people who are not getting enough from their diet will see large improvements from taking the supplement.

This is most common for people who are trying to cut down their weight. They often reduce their protein intake along with their calories, which prevents them from building or maintaining their muscles. BCCAs will make up for the reduced protein intake without adding a significant number of calories. That increases the body’s ability to maintain muscle without stopping it from losing weight. That gives BCCAs a fairly specialized role, but it is a role where they truly excel.


Caffeine is one of the most common ingredients in modern pre-workout blends. It is a fairly mild stimulant, and most athletes use it to provide a simple energy boost during their workout. It can also be a mixed blessing, because it can have side effects when used improperly, and it is not always effective.

Caffeine does provide a boost to speed, power, and endurance. It covers most aspects of physical performance, so it can be a great all-purpose supplement. On the other hand, it is easy to build up a tolerance for caffeine. People who use it regularly soon find that it stops being helpful. If you take it for a long time and then stop, you can also experience withdrawal.

It is best to use caffeine sparingly. If you use it all the time, you will not be able to benefit from it when you need it the most. That having been said, it is a fairly powerful supplement, and you should not hesitate to use it when it can make a difference.

Bringing it Together

Supplements are powerful tools, but they can also be complicated. Getting the most out of them takes careful planning, but it is usually worth the effort. Before you try a new supplement, you should simply ask yourself what role it will fill and do the research to make sure you can take it properly. When in doubt, you should never hesitate to ask an expert for help. If you do that, you can safely and significantly improve the quality of your workout routine.

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