Pre-Workout - Everything You Need To Know
What is Pre-Workout?
“Pre-workout” is the name given for supplements you take before your training session to help boost energy and blood flow. There are dozens upon dozens of different pre-workout supplements, drinks, and powders.
In this article, we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about pre-workout supplements. We will also go over which ingredients are backed by research and what dosages of each ingredient you should be looking for in your pre-workout.
What Does A Pre-Workout Supplement Do?
A well-formulated pre-workout supplement or drink should accomplish a few things. Most importantly and obviously, it should help improve your performance. After all, if you’re not actually improving performance, what’s the point of taking pre-workout or any supplement for that matter? Many people take pre-workout supplements to increase energy or to improve their “pump” at the gym. The benefits of an increased “pump” are psychological and physical (increased blood flow has numerous benefits), so there can be value in that, especially if it helps you be more consistent with your workouts.
What Is The Best-Pre Workout?
The “best” pre-workout is a combination of a few things. Most importantly, it does not start with a pre-workout supplement. In fact, it starts with proper recovery and getting a good night’s sleep.
It also means eating the right foods in the hours before your workout to give you the fuel you need to perform. Pre-workout nutrition for optimal performance should include complex carbohydrates and protein at least a few hours before you work out.
A pre-workout supplement is the icing on the cake that can help you take your workouts and performance to the next level. But without a solid base of recovery, sleep, and nutrition, a pre-workout supplement will be next to useless.
Is Pre-Workout Bad For You?
The short answer is no, but it depends on what’s in your pre-workout. Relying on way too much caffeine and combining numerous other stimulants is never a good thing. Especially if you’re using it to compensate for a lack of sleep or recovery like we discussed above.
A pre-workout supplement is like the proverbial icing on the cake. You need an excellent foundation built on proper nutrition and recovery in order to get the most out of it.
Some pre-workout drinks have a ton of sugar in them, which may not be something you want, depending on your diet and goals. If you are extremely sensitive to caffeine, then taking a pre-workout without a bunch of caffeine may to be the best way to go. In this case, a caffeine-free or stimulant-free pre-workout supplement would be your best bet.
Pre-Workout Powders vs Pre-Workout Drinks
While pre-workout drinks may be easier to take for athletes on the go, they often do not have high enough dosages of some ingredients that they powdered pre-workout counterparts may have. A pre-workout RTD (ready-to-drink) may be great if you’re in a rush, but if you’re looking to maximize your performance, a pre-workout powder like UEN pre-workout is the way to go.
Ingredients Matter, Dosages Matter More
Remember, it’s not just the ingredients that matter. While it is important to have the right ingredients, it is even more important that each ingredient is effectively dosed.
For example, a pre-workout could have caffeine, beta-alanine, and citrulline malate. So far so good. But when you look at the ingredients panel, you see it has 100 mg caffeine, 1 g of Beta-Alanine, and 1 g of Citrulline Malate. No good.
While this “formula” has some great ingredients, they are all significantly underdosed, and won’t get you optimal results. If you’re going to take a pre-workout supplement, you might as well take one that will help you get the best results possible. Below, we’ll go over the proper dosages for each ingredient you should be looking for.
Caffeine – A Fan Favorite
Caffeine is the staple ingredient of most pre-workout supplements on the market. And for good reason. It is one of the most well-researched and scientifically backed performance enhancing supplements available. Here are some highlights from the recent 2021 International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) position stand on caffeine:
- Pre-workout supplements including caffeine typically improve both aerobic and anaerobic performance, which includes endurance, sprinting, and jumping performance.
- Caffeine consistently shows best results at a dose of 3-6mg/kg of body weight. The minimally effective dose may be as low as 2mg/kg of body weight. Anything higher than 6mg/kg seems to cause more side effects, and there are diminishing returns in terms of performance.
- Caffeine can help improve cognitive function and also help mitigate effects of sleep deprivation
- Caffeine seems to peak at approximately 60 minutes after ingestion.
We recommend that pre-workout supplements be taken about 30-45 minutes before training, so that the caffeine can peak after your warm-up, or about 15-30 minutes into your workout.
Some pre-workout supplements include way too much caffeine, and some don’t include enough. Based on the research, a pre-workout supplement that includes somewhere between 200-300 mg of caffeine per serving will be effective for most people.
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout contains 275 mg of caffeine per serving. For those who are sensitive to caffeine, we recommend starting with about half a scoop to see how you react.
L-Theanine – Caffeine’s Best Friend
One reported side effect of caffeine for some people is the “caffeine jitters.” L-Theanine is an amino acid which helps to reduce these. Multiple studies have also showed that caffeine and L-theanine taken together have a synergistic role in cognitive and performance enhancement.
L-theanine induces an anti-anxiety effect through enhanced alpha brain wave activity and increased synthesis of GABA, making it the perfect partner for caffeine in a pre-workout supplement. While L-Theanine can help reduce the anxiety or jitters sometimes associated with caffeine, it does not take away or inhibit any of the performance-enhancing aspects of caffeine.
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout contains 275 mg of L-Theanine.
Citrulline malate is the amino acid L-Citrulline bound to malate, which is an organic salt of malic acid. It has been shown in research to increase power output and decrease fatigue. It has also been shown to help increase work capacity, or the ability to do more sets and reps in training.
Three studies in particular show the power of Citrulline Malate. The first one evaluated the effects on the number of repetitions performed for chin-ups, reverse chin-ups, and push-ups to failure in trained males.
Another study looked at the effect of citrulline supplementation on the number of reps to failure on the leg press, hack squat, and leg extension in trained males.
A third study looked at the effects of citrulline on the number of repetitions performed during six sets of bench press and leg press to failure at 80% 1RM in trained females. In all these studies, citrulline malate was shown to significantly increase performance.
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout contains 6 g of Citrulline Malate per serving.
Beta-Alanine – Is The Tingling Worth It?
Beta-alanine is a popular ingredient now found in most pre-workout supplements. Why? Because it works. It has been shown to improve exercise performance and improve endurance. It does this by significantly increasing muscle carnosine concentrations, which acts as an intracellular pH buffer.
Beta-Alanine typically requires at least of 4 weeks of continuous use to reach maximum effectiveness. The only “side effect” that beta-alanine has is that annoying tingling or itching sensation, which is completely harmless. You can avoid this by taking a pre-workout supplement that has beta-alanine with it on a full stomach, or slowly drinking it along with some carbs. An effective dose for Beta-Alanine is 1.6g – 4g daily.
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout contains 3.2 g of Beta-Alanine per serving.
Alpha-glycerophosphocholine, or Alpha-GPC, is a cholinergic supplement that can help enhance cognitive function, prevent cognitive decline, increase power output, and cause small acute increases in growth hormone.
One study showed a 14% improvement in power compared to placebo. Another study by Bellar et al concluded that “A-GPC is effective at increasing lower body force production after 6 days of supplementation.”
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout contains 300 mg of Alpha-GPC per serving.
Betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, is a naturally occurring derivative of the amino acid glycine. It may help improve exercise performance by increasing rates of creatine synthesis, elevating levels of blood nitric oxide, and promoting fluid and thermal homeostasis.
Supplementation of 1.25 g – 2.5 g per day has been shown in studies to improve exercise endurance, along with improvements in power and force production.
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout contains 2.5 g of Betaine per serving.
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that the body produces from phenylalanine. It has been shown to improve subjective well-being, memory, cognition, and improvement in endurance.
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout contains 1 g of L-Tyrosine per serving.
Upper Echelon Nutrition Pre-Workout
UEN Pre-Workout contains research-backed dosages of caffeine, citrulline malate, beta-alanine, betaine, Alpha-GPC, and L-Tyrosine. Having the right ingredients in your pre-workout is one thing. Having all the right ingredients that are properly dosed is another.
Many pre-workout supplements use proprietary blends to hide the actual amounts of each ingredient. Many others have some of the right ingredients but are significantly underdosed, and just try to make up for it with excessive caffeine content.
That’s why we developed our pre-workout supplement with some of the most well-researched and science-backed ingredients, at the right doses, to help you get the best possible results. A pre-workout supplement should not only make you feel great when you work out, but actually help improve your performance on a regular basis. As an athlete, every workout and every rep matters, and our pre-workout is designed to help you get the most out of your training.
Guest, N.S., VanDusseldorp, T.A., Nelson, M.T. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 1 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4
Trexler, E.T., Smith-Ryan, A.E., Stout, J.R. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 12, 30 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
Glenn JM, Gray M, Wethington LN, Stone MS, Stewart RW, Jr, Moyen NE. Acute citrulline malate supplementation improves upper- and lower-body submaximal weightlifting exercise performance in resistance-trained females. Eur J Nutr. 2017;56(2):775–784. doi: 10.1007/s00394-015-1124-6.
Wax B, Kavazis AN, Luckett W. Effects of supplemental citrulline-malate ingestion on blood lactate, cardiovascular dynamics, and resistance exercise performance in trained males. J Dietary Suppl.
Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Kang J, Gonzalez AM, Beller NA, Craig SAS. Effect of 15 days of betaine ingestion on concentric and eccentric force outputs during isokinetic exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(8):2235–2241. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182162530.
Trepanowski JF, Farney TM, McCarthy CG, Schilling BK, Craig SA, Bloomer RJ. The effects of chronic betaine supplementation on exercise performance, skeletal muscle oxygen saturation and associated biochemical parameters in resistance trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(12):3461–3471. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318217d48d.
Lee EC, Maresh CM, Kraemer WJ, Yamamoto LM, Hatfield DL, Bailey BL, Armstrong LE, Volek JS, McDermott BP, Craig SAS. Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7(1):27. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-27.
Nobari H, Cholewa JM, Castillo-Rodríguez A, Kargarfard M, Pérez-Gómez J. Effects of chronic betaine supplementation on performance in professional young soccer players during a competitive season: a double blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021;18(1):67. Published 2021 Oct 18. doi:10.1186/s12970-021-00464-y
Owen GN, Parnell H, De Bruin EA, Rycroft JA. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutr Neurosci. 2008;11(4):193-198. doi:10.1179/147683008X301513
Giesbrecht T, Rycroft JA, Rowson MJ, De Bruin EA. The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutr Neurosci. 2010;13(6):283-290. doi:10.1179/147683010X12611460764840
Parker AG, Byars A, Purpura M, Jäger R. The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12(Suppl 1):P41. Published 2015 Sep 21. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-12-S1-P41
Ziegenfuss, T., Landis, J. & Hofheins, J. Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 5, P15 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-5-S1-P15
Marcus L, Soileau J, Judge LW, Bellar D. Evaluation of the effects of two doses of alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine on physical and psychomotor performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:39. Published 2017 Oct 5. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0196-5
Bellar D, LeBlanc NR, Campbell B. The effect of 6 days of alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine on isometric strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:42. Published 2015 Nov 17. doi:10.1186/s12970-015-0103-x
Pérez-Guisado J, Jakeman PM. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(5):1215-1222. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cb28e0
Tumilty L, Davison G, Beckmann M, Thatcher R. Oral tyrosine supplementation improves exercise capacity in the heat. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011;111(12):2941-2950. doi:10.1007/s00421-011-1921-4