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Pre-workout is a dietary supplement used by athletes and weightlifters to enhance athletic performance.[1] It is taken to increase endurance, energy, and focus during a workout.[1] Pre-workout supplements contain a variety of ingredients such as caffeine and creatine, ranging by product.[2] It can be taken in a variety of forms including capsules and powder.[3] The first pre-workout entered the market in 1982, and since then they have grown in popularity.[4] Some pre-workouts contain ingredients linked to adverse effects.[2] Although these products are not banned, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers to be cautious when consuming pre-workout.[5]


In 1982, Dan Duchaine formulated the first pre-workout, called Ultimate Orange, in Venice, California. Ultimate Orange quickly became popular among bodybuilders.[4]

Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, consumers alleged that an active ingredient in Ultimate Orange, called ephedra, caused high blood pressure, strokes, seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, and heart attacks.[2]

In the early 2000s, supplement companies created more potent forms of pre-workout that caused the blood vessels to enlarge temporarily, giving lifters a better “pump."[2] These more potent supplements are called Arginine AKG, Arginine Malate, and Citrulline.[2]

In 2005, chemist Patrick Arnold formulated a pre-workout called Jack3d, which contained a new ingredient called DMAA (dimethylamylamine).[6] Jack3d quickly gained notoriety for its potency, but its high concentrations of DMAA were suspected of causing shortness of breath, chest pain, and an elevated risk of heart attacks.[2]

Jack3d was banned in 2012 by the FDA.[2]

Ingredients/ Supplements[edit]

Pre-workout supplements are available in different forms including tablets, capsules, liquids, powders, and bars.[7]

One common ingredient found in pre-workout is caffeine, which is found in 86% of the bestselling pre-workout supplements.[3] Caffeine is a popular ingredient in pre-workout because it increases alertness, mental concentration, and energy.[8]

Another ingredient commonly used in pre-workout is methylhexanamine which is also known as DMAA. Methylhexanamine is an amphetamine that is marketed as an alternative or supplement to caffeine claiming to improve energy, mental concentration, perception and decrease tiredness.[9] The FDA has warned that DMAA "is known to narrow the blood vessels and arteries, which can elevate blood pressure and may lead to cardiovascular events ranging from shortness of breath and tightening in the chest to heart attack". DMAA is also considered a prohibited stimulant by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.[10]

Creatine, a natural chemical created in the kidneys and liver, is another popular ingredient in pre-workout. Creatine has been proven to improve physical performance as well as increase strength.[11]

Beta-alanine is another ingredient that can be found in leading pre-workout formulas. Beta-alanine has been found to decrease fatigue during high-intensity exercise by increasing the muscle carnosine concentration which creates a buffer against muscle fatigue.[12]

Taurine is also a common ingredient in pre-workout, and can be used as a supplement taken alone. It is similar to creatine in helping muscle hypertrophy that increases strength, endurance, reduced muscle damage, and helps with a faster recovery.[13]

Recommended Dosages[14]
Ingredient How Much Per Day
Caffeine 200 mg (equal to 2 cups of coffee)
Creatine 5 grams
Beta-Alanine 5 grams
Taurine 500-2,000 mg
Citrulline 6-8 grams
BCAA 10 grams before and 10 grams after workout

Pre-workout Retail Supplements[edit]

Pre-workout supplements are sold in a variety of retailers. The top-selling brands of pre-workout supplements in 2019 included Pre JYM Pre Workout by JYM Supplemental Science, ENGN Shred Pre Workout by EVLUTION Nutrition, and C4 Original Pre Workout by Cellucor.[1] These brands were the top three in the overall bestseller category on leading bodybuilding informational website[1] Some variations on common pre-workout products include creatine-free and stimulant-free options. The market size for pre-workout products was a $2.7 billion industry in 2008.[15]

Purported benefits of pre-workout[edit]

Impact on muscles[edit]

An increase in muscle endurance is primarily attributed to the large amounts of caffeine in pre-workout supplements.[16][17][18] The ingested caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist, which serves to reduce overall pain experienced by the consumer and allowing them to work for longer periods of time.[17]

Pre-workout has shown to decrease time it takes for muscles to recover from intense exercise, allowing athletes to reduce time between training sessions. The improvement in muscle recovery is associated with the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) found in pre-workout,[19] particularly, glutamine.[20]

Other Benefits[edit]

Pre-workout has shown to make athletes feel more energetic during exercise, but the higher energy levels are based on subjective judgement and there is little quantitative proof of an increase in energy.[21] The improvement in perceived energy is associated with the large amounts of caffeine typically found in pre-workout supplements.[22]

Studies also show that the caffeine in pre-workout improves focus and alertness in athletes as observed through a decrease in reaction-time in different settings.[23][21]

Side effects[edit]

Pre-workout supplements that contain between 91–227 mg of sodium bicarbonate per pound may also cause digestive issues.[24]

Those who have taken a pre-workout supplement may also feel tingling sensations. This sensation is called paresthesia. Although this may be an uncomfortable feeling, the condition poses no threat to the body's central nervous system.[24]

Drawbacks of using pre-workout are:

  • Over stimulating.
  • Dehydration.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Addiction.
  • Insomnia.
  • Adrenal fatigue.
  • Drug test fail (if a competing athlete in particular sports)
  • Energy crash.[25]

Food and Drug Administration[edit]

The FDA has minimal control when regulating dietary supplements like pre-workout. Product manufacturers are responsible to verify that dietary supplements are safe for consumption.[26] Financial limitations prevent the FDA from testing dietary supplements before they enter the marketplace.[26] Once a supplement is available for sale, the FDA is responsible to document and monitor manufacturer reports of adverse effects.[5] Manufacturers are obligated to report documented adverse effects to the FDA.[5]

The FDA recommends speaking with a healthcare professional before using dietary supplements. Ingredients in pre-workout can have negative side effects or contraindications with other medications.[5] Taking dietary supplements may have life-threatening consequences if taken with pre-existing health conditions.[5] Federal laws state that a supplement does not have to be declared safe by FDA standards when labeled.[5] Most supplement businesses hire third-party companies to identify the contents of their supplement to ensure it enhances athletic performance. This also aids in assuring that a product’s labeled ingredients are free from illegal substances.[7]


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