The science behind pre-workout supplements

What is a pre-workout exactly?

Most of you have heard about this supplement – pre-workout. Are you low on energy and do not feel like going to the gym? Pre-workout is a simple solution. It is a supplement that is intended to be taken prior to any physical exercise. It claims to increase your energy levels, deliver insane focus and other amazing things to make your workout session the best one ever. Let’s look a bit more on pre-workouts and how they work.

If you look on any label of a pre-workout supplement, you have no idea what most of these ingredients are. Which is understandable, because how could you know? These used ingredients are all there to make you feel different, better for a short of period of time. Pre-workouts are not supplements which will make any difference in your physical appearence, improve your strength or endurance. The only thing pre-workouts are designed to do, is to make you feel better so you want to workout more.

Simply said, pre-workout will help you to push yourself when lifting weights, doing that extra rep, running that extra mile etc. Let’s call it ‘a mental support’ from yourself.

The ingredients of a pre-workout

Most pre-workout supplements typically contain a blend of ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids, and nitric oxide agents. The combination of these ingredients is what makes the desired “energy” effect compared to the single ingredients alone.



Caffeine appears to be the primary ingredient responsible for several of the acute ergogenic (enhancing physical performance athletic use of caffeine and other ergogenic aids) effects of pre-workout supplements, as it is rapidly absorbed and typically peaks in the bloodstream within 60 min of ingestion. Caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist and has been shown to acutely improve cognition as well as performance during endurance, power, and resistance exercise when consumed in dosages between 3 and 6 mg/kg body weight. Pre-workout supplement formulations that contain at least 300 mg caffeine per serving will fall within the acceptable dosing range for most individuals.

One regular coffee with 2 shots has about 140g of caffeine, so in comparison with pre-workouts, they have an approximate double of caffeine in them. There is also a possible crash effect. If you were very tired in the first place and you put a lot of caffeine into your system, a few hours later you might experience a caffeine crash. It is because it is going out of your system and you’re back to your tired self.

Amino acids and amino-containing compounds


Taurine is an amino-containing sulfonic acid that has been reported to have antioxidant, metabolic, and ergogenic effects. While chronic consumption of the substance may improve time-to-exhaustion during endurance exercise, acute ingestion of 1.5 g taurine as part of a pre-workout has been shown to improve muscular endurance during resistance training. Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are often added to pre-workout formulations with the intent of boosting rates of muscle protein synthesis, minimizing protein breakdown, and reducing exercise-induced muscle damage. While BCAAs have been theorized to ameliorate fatigue, they do not appear to significantly enhance exercise performance or stimulate muscle protein synthesis.


Creatine is a naturally-occurring amino acid found in the muscle of various animals. Creatine supplementation is safe and has been consistently demonstrated to increase intramuscular phosphocreatine levels by 30% after supplementing with roughly 5 g (0.03 g/kg/dose) per day following a loading period of 20 g/day (0.3 g/kg/day). This regimen has gone on to positively impact high-intensity exercise performance when chronically consumed in doses equal to roughly 3-5 g per day following a loading period of 20 g/day. While post-workout creatine consumption appears to be superior to pre-exercise supplementation, the regular consumption of at least 3 g of creatine from a pre-workout per day for 28 days is likely sufficient to enhance exercise performance and augment training adaptations. Read more about creatine supplementation here.


Beta-alanine is a common pre-workout component and precursor to carnosine, a dipeptide which acts as an intramuscular buffer. The consumption of 4-6 g β-alanine per day over a period of at least 2 weeks has been demonstrated to improve high-intensity exercise performance. Thus, provided that pre-workouts contain sufficient amounts of β-alanine, similar ergogenic effects can be expected, if consumed daily to appropriately maintain intramuscular carnosine levels. This is the ingredient that causes the tingles and you might think it indicates the pre-workout is working. Which is not always the case.


L-Citrulline is one of the three dietary amino acids in the urea cycle, alongside L-arginine and L-Ornithine. Taking L-Citrulline increases plasma levels of ornithine and arginine and improves the ammonia recycling process and nitric oxide metabolism. Consequently, it is used in areas where nitric oxide is relevant, namely erectile dysfunction caused by high blood pressure, athletic performance, and cardiovascular health. There are very few foods that have notable amounts of citrulline.


Limited research suggests that it results in reduced fatigue and improved endurance for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. There isn’t enough evidence to support the claim that L-citrulline supplementation improves power output during exercise. Some pre-workouts contain L-Citrulline Malate, which is Citrulline bound to malate, an organic salt of malic acid, an intermediate in the citric acid cycle. It is the most researched form of citrulline, and there is speculation about an independent role of malate in producing performance benefits, but there’s insufficient research to compare citrulline malate to L-citrulline directly.


-Arginine alpha-ketoglutarate. Argininealphaketoglutarate (AAKG) supplements are alleged to increase nitric oxide production, thereby resulting in vasodilation during resistance exercise. According to recent research, it was not found AAKG helps with muscle performance and improvements in strength. Nevertheless, it increases the production of nitric oxide in muscles. Nitric oxide is known to have blood-flow-enhancing effects, which could, in theory, increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to exercising muscle. Meaning, you get pumped and more vascular.


Research has shown vitamin B-6 to play an important role in the metabolic pathways required for exercise, while vitamin B-12 assists with DNA synthesis, which is necessary for the formation of red blood cells. Together with caffeine, B-vitamins are the only active ingredients likely to influence performance.

Conclusion of pre-workout supplements

In conclusion, none of these ingredients will harm you as long as you do not overdose or take pre-workout on a daily basis. It is here to help you with your lower-energy days. Like with everything, your body will get used to it and you won’t get the desired effect anymore. So be cautious with pre-workout supplements. Do not forget all supplements are not necessary to achieve your dream body. As Jordan Moon (an exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist at the United States Sports Academy and Concordia University Chicago, and chief science officer at the fitness tracking website says:

“In the supplement industry, it’s about marketing; it’s not about what’s in the product. Supplements don’t really do that much unless you’re already doing a lot on your own.”

Jordan Moon

BUT it was found (Nutrition and Metabolism Journal, 2012) that Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance.

It is individual…

Pre-workouts are a really good supplement if you are smart while using it. You can benefit from it a lot. It also depends on how sensitive you are to caffeine or other ingredients. Some pre-workouts contain less caffeine, but more of a different active ingredient, which might suit you better. Like everything in life, it is all about trying different things to find out what works the best for you.

Here at Nutrition First, we only want to provide you with truthful information and really high-quality products. Our customers are the core of the business and we want to make sure they are getting what they asked for. Check our wide range of pre-workout supplements. If you have any questions about any of them, you might be hesitant, make sure to contact us and we will be happy to help you.

  • the warrior project lft-sht
  • T6 ADVANCED DIETICS Pre-Workout 215g

Sources: Journal of the international society of sports nutrition;;

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