Common Pre-Workout Ingredients: Do they Help or Harm?

Author: Madeline Leone

Pre-workout has become one of the hottest new trends in the world of exercise. Pre-workout supplements can come in many forms, the most common being powder. Powder forms of pre-workout are frequently consumed by mixing with water or any other beverage. Although pre-workout has become a fundamental step in many people’s workout routine, what are the costs and benefits of consuming pre-workout ?

The function of pre-workout is to help increase energy before a workout which is meant to aid physical performance during exercise. Many pre-workout supplements provide a ‘pick-me-up’ before a workout, but these powders contain a multitude of ingredients that are relatively unfamiliar to the general consumer. One of the most common ingredients in most exercise supplements is creatine monohydrate which is known to increase body strength and composition when combined with regular exercise (Prete et. Al, 2018). Creatine monohydrate consumption, when combined with exercise, can produce increased physical ability and performance. Creatine monohydrate is a well-researched supplement and currently the most effective ingredient for increasing  anaerobic performance and lean body mass (Prete et. Al, 2018). Another popular pre-workout ingredient includes branched chain amino acids or BCAAs. BCAAs work to increase protein synthesis throughout the body which aids in the development of lean muscle mass (Prete et. al, 2018). Both creatine monohydrate and BCAAs promote muscle growth with regular consumption. A crucial ingredient used in most pre-workouts to help increase energy levels is caffeine. Caffeine helps to slow the process of fatigue in the muscles which can help increase endurance during exercise (Prete et. al, 2018). These ingredients are most commonly used in pre-workout supplements, and they can serve multiple different purposes during exercise.

The use of pre-workout supplementation depends on the goals of the individual. Certain pre-workouts contain ingredients meant for stimulation during exercise where others strictly aid in protein synthesis. Understanding what ingredients are contained within any given pre-workout powder is important for any consumer, especially those that contain caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can produce energizing effects. These effects can be beneficial during exercise but consuming too much caffeine through supplementation can be dangerous. Consuming more than the recommended amount of caffeine in a given serving of pre-workout can lead to adverse physiological effects. These effects are related more to habitual use of caffeinated supplements. In a study testing the patterns of supplement use and perceived benefits, many people reported additional caffeine consumption along with pre-workout supplementation (Jagim et. al, 2019). The recommended amount of daily caffeine consumption is 400 mg which is the equivalent of about 4 cups of coffee where one scoop of powder caffeine supplements can contain as much caffeine as 28 cups of coffee (Mayo Clinic ). Those who consumed multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements experienced harmful effects such as nausea, dizziness, skin reactions, and heart abnormalities (Jagim et. al, 2019). This study was conducted in the span of one calendar year, showing that additional research is required to determine the long-term effects of multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements when consumed for more than a calendar year. While the potential positive effects of pre-workout supplements can improve athletic performance through increased energy and endurance, the benefits do not come without costs, those of which are relatively unknown and potentially dangerous.

The physiological effects of some pre-workout supplements can be debated. Some pre-workout supplements simply work to increase subjective feelings of fatigue , energy, alertness, and focus during exercise (Spradley et. al, 2012). Some research has studied the association between exercise performance and human psychology with supplementation. One such study had active men participate in maximal exercise while either consuming a multi-ingredient pre-workout powder, containing BCAAs, creatine monohydrate, and caffeine, or a placebo supplement. The researchers found that the perceived feelings of energy, focus, and alertness significantly increased in the group who consumed the multi-ingredient supplement over the placebo group (Spradley et. al, 2012). Additionally, the multi-ingredient supplement group was able to reduce perceived feelings of fatigue along with actual fatigue which increased both muscular endurance and reaction time (Spradley et. al, 2012). These findings allude to the fact that psychological effects of pre-workout can result in physiological changes during exercise.

The consumption of supplements as a means to increase energy and exercise performance has become significantly more popular. Understanding the potential physiological benefits and consequences of consuming multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements is important for avid exercisers who are trying to improve their performance with continuous supplementation.


“Caffeine: How Much Is Too Much?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Mar. 2020,

Jagim, A., Camic, C., & Harty, P. (2019). Common Habits, Adverse Events, and Opinions Regarding Pre-Workout Supplement Use Among Regular Consumers. Nutrients, 11(4), 855.

Prete, J., Biechler, E., Brogley, A., Greene, M., Corkill, E., & Dunlap, H. (2018). The Effect of Pre-Workout on Resistance Training Repetitions to Failure: 2666 June 1 4: 15 PM – 4: 30 PM. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 50(5S Suppl 1), 651-652.

Spradley, B., Crowley, K., Tai, C., Kendall, K., Fukuda, D., Esposito, E., . . . Moon, J. (2012). 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. Nutrition & Metabolism, 9(1), 28.