What is Pre-Workout? Your Smart Guide

What is Pre-Workout? Your Smart Guide

With so many supplements out there promising the earth when it comes to quick recovery and outstanding athletic performance, knowing which ones to try can seem impossible.

Now, if you’re looking for a serious energy boost before a pump, a big training session or an epic outdoor adventure, there’s nothing better than a pre-workout supplement.

The right pre-workout will flood your body with amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to level up your performance and sharpen your mental focus.

The problem is, most pre-workout supplements say they’re designed to squeeze more juice from your training sessions—but fail to deliver the goods (often miserably).

But, here at Smart Protein, we know that knowledge is power. So, to help you make the right choice for…you, we’re going to tell you all you need to know about pre-workout supplements.

Ready? Let’s get started.

What is a pre-workout, exactly?

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Good question. As an essential branch of sports nutrition, pre-workouts are supplements made to improve your performance.

Pre-workout formulas (the good ones, at least) contain a melting pot of essential nutrients that optimise the body and mind for high-intensity exercise.

Pre-workout supplements come in pill, powder or premixed form and are designed for a quick, convenient boost before hitting the gym, pushing your body or embarking on an epic physical adventure.

What are the ingredients in pre-workout powder?

Most pre-workout formulas vary slightly when it comes to ingredients—but any supplement that delivers the goods will include a balanced mix of goodies that boost exercise performance.

Some formulas are laden with caffeine or added sugar for a short, sharp energy boost while others contain electrolytes or creatine to improve endurance while helping with post-workout recovery (an added bonus).

Some others even contain active ingredients like branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that play a role in muscle growth and repair.

SmartTip: When you’re looking for a pre-workout, you should consider your personal goals and go with a supplement with ingredients that will help you achieve them. 

If you’re stuck for ideas, take our Smart Quiz to discover the perfect products for your needs. 

So, what does a pre-workout do?

As we’ve mentioned, a solid pre-workout will:

  • Increase your energy levels
  • Improve mental concentration and focus
  • Give you more strength (excellent for squeezing in those extra muscle-boosting reps)
  • Enhance your endurance and stamina during workouts

When and how to take pre-workout?

The best pre-workout supplements offer a big brain and body-boosting punch in one small package. 

Take the right pre-workout, and you’ll reap plenty of performance-boosting rewards.

When to take your pre-workout

For the very best performance-boosting results, you should take your pre-workout around 20 to 30 minutes before your training session. 

Doing so will allow all of your supplement’s key nutrients to flood your body—giving you optimal focus and energy for your workouts.

How to take your pre-workout

You can take a pre-workout supplement in pill form. But, most pre-workout supplements come in powdered form.

You can mix most pre-workouts with water or milk, add to a shaker bottle, shake, and drink before a workout or training session. 

Always make sure you check the usage instructions of your pre-workout before using it for the best taste and consistency.

The power of pre-workout supplements uncovered

Now that you’re up to speed with the basics, let’s get extra smart by looking at the body-boosting benefits of pre-workout in more detail.

1. Enhance athletic performance

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First of all, the right pre-workout will enhance exercise performance, which is a big bonus if you like to train often.

By increasing blood flow as well as oxygenation, a solid pre-workout supplement will not only help to level up aerobic performance but it will also give the muscles a much-needed energy boost.

The best thing is, whether you’re looking to increase stamina, build more muscle or improve your technique, the right pre-workout formula (coupled with a balanced lifestyle) will help you get where you need to be.  

2. Enjoy extended energy

As we said, pre-workouts are designed to enhance energy. Not only will these super supplements elevate your energy, but they will also work to increase your endurance.

The result? You will be able to push harder for longer, getting the gains you deserve from your activity of choice, whether it’s weight training, trail running, cycling, circuit training…the list goes on. Another big win for pre-workout supplements.

3. More focus

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One of the lesser-known but equally epic benefits of pre-workout is brain power (yeah, that’s right—brain power).

As you’ll no doubt know, when you’re taking part in a sport or activity—getting your head in the game is a huge part of your performance outcome. With a sharper, stronger mind, you can push harder, improve your technique, and squeeze more juice from your workouts.

The best pre-workout products contain active ingredients like L-arginine that improve mental focus while making you more alert. Coupled with extra endurance and a sharp burst of energy, your next training session is likely to be more epic than you ever could have imagined (if you take a pre-workout).

4. Swift recovery

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A pre-workout drink isn’t just effective at powering up your workouts—it also plays a pivotal role in recovery between training sessions. Why? Well, because it combats muscle fatigue.

The best pre-workout ingredients are also designed to help your muscle fibres repair and recover faster, empowering you to get back on the exercise horse and take on your next no-doubt tough workout with confidence.

SmartFact: Studies show (1) a strong link between taking a regular pre-gym supplement and enjoying bigger gains. Yes, if you’re a budding bodybuilder (or you’re looking to tack on a little extra muscle mass), taking a pre-workout consistently will optimise your workouts for better results. Bonus.

5. Less body fat

Another pre-workout benefit is the potential to help burn body fat. By kicking your body into action and improving circulation, a balanced pre-workout drink or supplement can help burn extra calories during every activity or training session.

As a result, you’re likely to burn more body fat while benefiting from extra power and strength performance. It’s a win-win.

SmartTip: To get the most from your pre-workout supplement, mix it with water and sip it consistently between 20 to 30 minutes before your training session.

Is pre-workout safe? What are the potential side effects?

Now that you’re up to speed with pre-workout benefits, we’re going to look at the potential side effects.

There are a few pre-workout side effects to be aware of—and we’re going to take a quick peek at them right now.

1. Poor sleep patterns

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There is some evidence to suggest that pre-workout supplements can be responsible for affecting the quality of your sleep.

As one of the biggest influencers of long-term health and well-being, getting consistently decent sleep is paramount, especially when you’re an active person.

The reason that pre-workout supplements can impact sleeping patterns is that many of them contain caffeine content. But, if you plan your training sessions for the morning or early afternoon, you’ll avoid restless nights.

Many people debate ‘caffeine vs non-caffeine’ when it comes to pre-workouts. In addition to impacting sleeping patterns, consuming too much caffeine can elevate your blood pressure. But, taken at the right time and in measured amounts, it’s unlikely to cause any real issues.

Some like the addition of caffeine in their supplements for that extra boost, while others prefer products with alternative ingredients. The best thing to do is try both options and see what suits you best. 

2. Digestive issues

Let’s face it, stomach cramps or the threat of having to dash to the toilet during exercise can put a serious dampener on things.

Some pre-workout supplements contain a heavy dose of salt or an arsenal of artificial ingredients that upset your digestive system. That said, it’s always worth checking the ingredients list before committing to any dietary supplement. 

SmartTip: Stick to the recommended doses and make sure you drink plenty of water during your workouts, and you’ll significantly reduce the risk of experiencing any digestive problems.

3. Headaches

Although this isn’t hugely common, some pre-workouts (whether in pill or powder form) can cause headaches.

One of the main culprits linked to pre-workout headaches is a little something called citrulline. If a pre-workout supplement contains more than the recommended six grams of the stuff, you should probably look elsewhere. 

BURNING QUESTION: Are pre-workouts bad for you?

ANSWER: No, as long as you choose wisely, take your supplement in the correct doses, and hydrate, the pros significantly outweigh the cons. 

What to look for in your perfect pre-workout supplement

Now that you’re aware of the pros and cons—let’s consider what to look for in a potential pre-workout product.

Let’s kick things off with…ingredients.

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No nasties

When it comes to sports nutrition, it’s important to choose workout or dietary supplements that contain a solid mix of healthy ingredients.

As mentioned, the best way to avoid any negative side effects is to take your pre-workout supplements in recommended doses—and check the ingredients label.

When you’re looking for a potential pre-workout power-up, you should operate on a ‘no nasties’ (or at least minimal artificial ingredients) policy.

Here’s what to look out for…

  • No artificial colours
  • No added sugar
  • All-natural flavourings
  • Gluten-free
  • FDA GRAS-approved ingredients
SmartTip: It’s also worth remembering that you should take pre-workout supplements as part of a balanced diet. Your supplement of choice should power up your workouts while complementing your overall lifestyle. Step into this mindset, and you’ll be unstoppable.


Many pre-workout supplements come with nothing but empty promises and a bitter aftertaste (literally).

So, when you’re looking for a pre-workout supplement, it’s always worth checking out user reviews as well as professional endorsements.

Often, the best way to scope out the quality and performance of a workout supplement is to consult your peers as well as a thumbs up from professional athletes. That way, you’re more than likely to enjoy a healthy return for your pre-workout investment.

Level up your pre-workout game with Smart Protein

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Does a pre-workout work? Absolutely. Use this essential pre-workout guide to your advantage, and you’ll choose a supplement that will enhance your workouts and exercise sessions time after time.

Want to level up your workout but not sure what products you need to do it. Take out SmartQuiz and find the supplements that are right for you.

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Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

1. Sports Nutrition Society


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