Pre- Workout 101

Do you need to take a pre workout? Should you? Do they even work? ⁣

What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout supplements are sports and/or fitness supplements often taken to 1) Enhance performance via endurance or strength  2) Or reduced fatigue 2) Provide ‘energy’ & enhanced mood.

Common ingredients are often: Beta-Alanine, Caffeine, Creatine, BCAA’S &/or citrulline. 

FIRST OFF — you do NOT have to take any supplement ever. Most sports supplements that do work are either 1) to help you meet your dietary needs with something like protein or carbs or 2) are things you may not normally get in your diet that do have moderate to strong evidence to support performance.⁣

If you’re daily food intake is all over & your workout adherence isn’t great — a pre or post or intra workout won’t magically work without the former. ANDDDD it’s okay if you train for goals that don’t need hyper specific supplement considerations. Good? Good.⁣

NOW while there are plenty of other ingredients included in pre workouts — the most common appear to be caffeine, creatine, citrulline & BCAA’s.⁣


  • ß-alanine, a non-essential amino acid & plays a role in carnosine synthesis (a muscle-buffering substance)
  • Studies show that taking 4-6 g (& some upward of 12g/day) of ß-alanine in divided doses (~1.6g at a time) over a 28-day period effectively increases carnosine levels. 
  • Appear to be improvements in exercise performance with more pronounced effects on activities lasting 1-4 min in duration
  • Studies show supplementation can increase the number of repetitions one can do, increase muscle mass, increase knee extension torque, and increase training volume.


  • Caffeine enhances exercise performance in many but not all studies. 
  • May improve muscular endurance, movement velocity, muscular strength, sprinting, jumping, and throwing performance, as well as a wide range of aerobic and anaerobic parameters.
  • Doses of 3–6 mg/kg body mass appear to improve performance. Minimal effective doses of caffeine currently remain unclear, but they may be as low as 2 mg/kg body mass.
  • Should be taking ~60 min pre-exercise.
  • It may be individual differences in response and/or adverse side effects due to genetics or routine caffeine intake. 


  • I have a full detailed post on creatine breaking down the science behind it and why we take it.
  • Creatine has been shown to enhance muscular strength and mass during resistance training.
  • Creatine has also been shown to improve exercise capacity in a wide variety of sports/fitness settings such as ) single and multiple sprints, b) work completed across multiple sets of maximal effort, c) anaerobic threshold, d) glycogen loading, e) work capacity, f) recovery, and g) greater training tolerance.
  • Less data is clear in endurance athletes but may help support hard efforts and/or glycogen loading + carbohydrate storage.


  • Citrulline in the body is recycled into arginine, a nitric oxide producer, vs. the citrulline-nitric oxide cycle.
  • Nitric oxide plays a role in vasodilation (widening of the veins for increased blood flow)
  • Many studies on aerobic performance show improved performance with 7 days of 2.4-6g/day dosing. With others showing no effect upward of 12 g/day. 
  • In resistance training, studies assessing the impacts of 8g/day have shown improved performance.
  • Overall, the literature is mixed. With 3-6g/day of L-citrulline or 8g/day of citrulline malate as a rough/general recommendation.


  • I have a full post on BCAA’s vs. EAA’s vs. whole protein sources & why BCAA’s are likely a waste of your money.
  • Leucine is the main amino acid that is likely where BCAA’s get their attention from where 3-6g activates the main muscle regulator (mTOR)
  • Protein supplementation, particularly whey protein with adequate leucine, stimulates this.
  •  Theoretically, BCAA supplementation may help minimize protein degradation, thereby leading to greater muscle mass gains, but limited evidence exists to support this hypothesis. 
  • BCAA’s may increase muscle protein synthesis compared to placebo, but still ~50% lower than whey protein intake. 

For more on creatine & BCAA’s I already have 2 post dedicated just to them in my “supplements” guide on my page!⁣

You will also find a lot there on protein supplements as well!⁣

The things about pre workouts is:⁣
1️⃣ Our caffeine actually may be better to take an hour before vs dry scooping in our car⁣
2️⃣ Things like beta alanine should also be treated how we treat creatine taking it daily & consistently⁣

If you’re someone who gets tingly from beta alanine in pre workouts you can also dose it across your day in smaller doses to reduce this effect! + still get the benefit.⁣

For pre workout I will take @legion both in stimulated and non stimulated. (Code: DOCLYSS gets you 20% off). I will often mix a scoop of stim with a scoop of non stim since I personally try to not over do caffeine more than I already do. ⁣

& their post workout for my creatine. It’s okay to take creatine whenever you can but may be best to take post workout.⁣

All of the information shared here is from open access papers if you want to learn more!⁣

Be sure to save this for later +’share if you found it helpful 🙌🏻🤍

Hey, I'm Lyss!

I’m Exercise Physiologist, sports nutritionist, weight lifter, and ultra runner. I am here to bring science to your training in a no-nonsense way. I have helped thousands of women crush big lifting goals, cross race finish lines, and even do both. I’m here to help you do the same!

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Exercise Scientist, ultra runner, lifter, human.