Is Pre-Workout Actually Safe? A Complete Guide

Are you looking to take your workouts to the next level? Pre-workout is the PB-makin’, earth-shakin’ supplement that can help you to zero in on your workout and get the most out of your time in the gym, at least, that’s what it says on the bottle. The simple fact is that many people are still on the fence when it comes to figuring out if pre-workout is safe and if the best pre-workouts on the market are all they’re cracked up to be.

So, what is pre-workout?

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What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout supplements are designed to fight fatigue, boost energy, and clear your head so you can concentrate on the task at hand – shifting some tin. It’s an umbrella term for any supplement taken by athletes or weightlifters before exercise to boost energy and athletic performance. Generally, these supplements are taken to increase the focus, endurance, and energy of the individual.

Pre-workout supplements come in powder, tablet, and premixed form, and are generally taken 15-30 minutes before exercising. Because pre-workout is an umbrella term for a range of different products, ingredients, and formulas, the effect they have on the body can vary. The main active ingredients in pre-workout supplements that are beneficial to gym-goers are caffeine, branch chain amino acids (BCAA), creatine monohydrate, L-Citrulline, and beta-alanine.

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Benefits of Pre-Workout

Avid users profess to not being able to train hard without them, so what are the must-have benefits of pre-workout? Well, the benefits include:

1. May Improve Blood Flow

Pre-workout formulas include chemicals like L-arginine and L-citrulline that have shown to help the body produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a naturally occurring chemical that increases blood flow and relaxes blood vessels. Known in gym terms as a ‘pump’, this excess blood flow is thought to boost oxygen and nutrient transportation to muscles.

2. More Gains

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition revealed that combining pre-workout with HIIT training resulted in large increases in VO2 max, training volume and lean body mass. Further, the study also found that adding the supplement to your workout regime sped up the rate at which moderately-trained recreational athletes lost body fat.

From an ingredient perspective, pre-workout supplements contain Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s). BCAA’s are essential amino acids and fuel your muscles during a workout while also reducing the protein breakdown that occurs during exercise. This leaves more glycogen in your muscles for protein synthesis and muscle growth.

3. Increased Energy and Focus

Caffeine is an important ingredient in pre-workout supplements. Caffeine, including caffeine anhydrous, is a well-studied stimulant that can improve mental alertness, exercise performance, and fat burning capabilities. It can also help fight fatigue, meaning the athlete can work out harder and for longer.

A study by the International Journal of Medical Sciences found that pre-workout supplementation with MPP, a proprietary blend containing creatine, TMG, dendrobium extract and caffeine, significantly improved subjective levels of energy and concentration. These supplements also tended to increase focus and lessen fatigue versus comparator product containing caffeine alone.

4. Stronger Muscles

Most pre-workout supplements contain Creatine Monohydrate. One of the most studied supplements on the market, Creatine Monohydrate with research from the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Tokyo Medical University indicating it can help muscles to produce and circulate more adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the compound that releases energy used for muscle contractions, meaning you can contract your muscles faster and stronger.

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Is Pre-Workout Safe?

For years, fitness fans have debated if pre-workout is safe or not. A study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences examined the effects of chronic MIPS ingestion on heart rate, blood pressure and several hematologic markers, finding minimal adverse effects. However, one of the major issues with pre-workout safety relates to regulation. Outside of Australia, there is limited governance surrounding the supplement, which often opens the door for potential risk.

In fact, a 2014 report indicated that a methamphetamine analog was identified in a popular MIPS product, which prompted its removal from the market by request of the FDA. While pre-workout supplements are usually fine when consumed in recommended doses, there are a few concerns you should first address before using them.

  • While many of the ingredients used by pre-workout formulas are well studied, limited research has been done on the impact of pre-workout supplements themselves.
  • There is limited government regulation on pre-workout supplements. This means that labels and ingredient lists can, in rare cases, be misleading or false. This lack of regulation also means the quality of ingredients is not enforced.
  • Pre-workout supplements that promote containing no sugar and no carbs frequently contain artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. These artificial sweeteners may cause intestinal distress and other negative effects on some people.
  • Because these products are high in caffeine (sometimes up to 8 cups of coffee), users have reported effects of excess stimulant consumption. These effects can include increased blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety.
  • Your body can adapt to taking these supplements if you do not cycle on and off using them.

Isolated incidents aside, pre-workout supplements have remained a mainstay for bodybuilders over several years, and with little no adverse reaction when taken in moderation, the supplement has been found to be purely health-neutral.

What To Look For in a Pre-Workout

When choosing a pre-workout, there are a few key ingredients to look out for. Sometimes, the company may list a ‘proprietary blend’, ‘energy matrix’, or something similar instead of telling you the actual ingredients and how much the product contains. Whether they’ve got a secret formula or not, I’d say to always go for a transparent product from a reputable company.

The key ingredients to look out for are:

  • Caffeine (or Caffeine Anhydrous), for focus and stimulation.
  • L-arginine or L-citrulline, for increased blood flow.
  • Creatine Monohydrate, for increased ATP production and muscle growth.
  • L-Leucine for increased muscle synthesis and energy.
  • Beta-Alanine for fatigue management and less lactic acid build up.

Best Pre-Workouts

When it comes to pre-workout supplements, not all are created equal. Because it’s such a saturated market, low-quality products can be common. Fortunately, there are several companies that have been tried and tested over years and continue to use quality ingredients. These are our picks for the 6 best pre-workouts on the market:

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know Optimum Nutrition Pre Workout

1. Optimum Nutrition Pre Workout

Optimum Nutrition has certified manufacturing facilities using only high-quality ingredients and strict quality control when making their products. This pre-workout is a great price and gives you a good buzz so you can head in and smash out those big numbers.

Price: From$34.95
Contains: Creatine Monohydrate, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know Vital Strength Pre-Workout

2. Vital Strength Pre-Workout

Another incredible product from the sports nutrition experts at Vital Strength, their Pre Workout Powder means business. This product is all killer and no filler, meaning you get the most out of your supplements and your workouts.

Price: $34.99
Contains: Caffeine, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine

Buy it here

Bulk Nutrients Pre-Workout 101

3. Bulk Nutrients Pre-Workout 101

Formulated for athletes, Bulk Nutrients’ Pre-Workout 101 is designed to maximise performance in the gym and on the track. The supplement contains no proprietary blends and is free from ASADA/WADA banned substances, meaning professionals are free to go hard with this addition.

Price: $39.00
Contains: Citrulline Malate, Beta Alanine and Creatine Monohydrate

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know Musashi The Way Pre-Workout

4. Musashi The Way Pre-Workout

Musashi has been pumping out great products for years and the pre-workout is no exception. With a high-potency formula, this version comes with citrulline malate and AAKG.

Price: $39.99
Contains: Caffeine, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine, L-Carnitine

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know Bulk Pro ELEVATE PRE WORKOUT

5. Bulk Pro ELEVATE PRE WORKOUT

The very best pre-workout supplement from Bulk. Each serving is loaded with an incredible 11 active ingredients, dosed at optimal levels, with total transparency so you know exactly how you’re fuelling your body.

Price: $70
Contains: Caffeine, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine, L-Carnitine

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know Ghost Legend Pre Workout

6. Ghost Legend Pre Workout

Not the type to make crazy claims about their products, Ghost Legend combines a solid ‘pump’ mix with a high stimulation formula to ensure you get the most out of every workout.

Price: $69.95
Contains: Caffeine, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine, L-Carnitine

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know Celluclor C4 Pre Workout

7. Celluclor C4 Pre Workout

The C4 original lives up to its solid reputation with a classic formula for advanced energy, endurance, focus, and pumps. Whether you’re just starting a fitness journey or you’re striving to reach that next level, C4 original will help you unlock your full potential.

Price: $42.70
Contains: Caffeine, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine, L-Carnitine

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know My Protein THE Pre-Workout

8. My Protein THE Pre-Workout

Combining both creatine and caffeine, My Protein’s signature pre-workout is a heart-racer. This version is one of the best pre-workouts on the markets, thanks to its steady supply of vitamin B6.

Price: $25
Contains: Caffeine, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine, L-Carnitine

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know Grenade 50 Calibre Pre-Workout

9. Grenade 50 Calibre Pre-Workout

Grenade makes some seriously tasty protein treats, but the brand’s 50 Calibre is one of the best pre-workouts you can grab. Straight-forward and supersized, the formula comes in a range of great-tasting flavours.

Price: $58.00
Contains: Caffeine, Amino Acids, Beta-Alanine, L-Carnitine

Buy it here

Pre-Workout Everything You Need to Know My Protein The Pump

10. My Protein The Pump

Whether you’re after a jitter-free boost or don’t want to be overstimulated after an evening workout before bed, THE Pump is the ideal pre-workout formula. The ingredients have been specially added to help push you further and break barriers — rep after rep, set after set.

Price: $49.99
Contains: Vitamin C, Iron, Beta-Alanine

Buy it here

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General FAQs

How does pre-workout work?

Pre-workout works by supplementing a range of chemicals to the body to increase athletic performance. These supplements contain a range of ingredients that benefit an individual during activity by increasing blood flow, focus, endurance, and energy.

Does pre-workout work?

Yes, pre-workout does benefit athletic performance thanks to various ingredients. However, it is important to note that different pre-workout supplements can vary widely, and it is important to research which product is appropriate for you.