Superior physical performance. Finer mental clarity. Supercharged energy, from rep-to-rep. These are all benefits of a pre-workout—when chosen wisely.
The pre-workout supplement industry is saturated, but there’s a reason athletes and gym-goers use them before each workout: When they’re good, they work!
If you want tangible results and true advantages in your fitness pursuits (who doesn’t?), a pre-workout is highly recommended. But you should know they aren’t all created equal, and you must understand the benefits of pre-workout before choosing the best one for you.
So, let’s look at the most beneficial outcomes of taking a pre-workout—plus some of the highest-quality ingredients one can contain. This knowledge will help you pick the best pre-workout supplement for your needs.
6 Exceptional Benefits of Pre-Workout Supplements
Pre-workout supplement use seems to have started in the 1980s. Before that, gym-goers and bodybuilders relied on stimulants like coffee or, shockingly, harder drugs to fuel their workouts. Even early pre-workout results were remarkable, with users citing various benefits.
Today, pre-workouts are very popular for their results—and here are the top seven.
1. More Energy and Stamina (and Less Fatigue)
The main goal of taking a pre-workout is extra energy to power through workouts. And there’s one common pre-workout ingredient that stimulates you most of us: caffeine.
Caffeine helps you feel energized, focused, and wakes up your nervous system so you’re ready to pump that iron or complete that circuit. A pre-workout may contain other ingredients meant to boost energy as well, even caffeine-free ones like B vitamins or amino acids.
The main goal is to let you train harder, longer, and with a steady energy flow that pre-workout-free exercise can’t match. As long as the dose and combination are safe, it can make a significant difference in your performance.
2. More Muscle Build and Tone
As you go through a workout, your muscles begin to tire as energy levels decrease. Pre-workouts help optimize performance and energy to prolong exhaustion—allowing you to push further and make every rep count.
Pre-workouts may also boost your anaerobic potential:
- When you perform quick exercises for short periods of time (like when you’re lifting weights), you use your body’s anaerobic systems—systems that don’t utilize oxygen.
- When your anaerobic power improves, your body can perform at greater intensities—enhancing your overall muscle-building performance.
- In a study from 2016 published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, males at a moderate training level took a pre-workout 20 minutes before exercise. Results found their “anaerobic peak and main power” improved greatly compared to the placebo group .
See also: 7 Must-Haves for Building Lean Muscle
3. Better Focus and Mental Clarity
Any athlete is familiar with muscle fatigue, but did you know a fatigued brain can affect performance too? While self-care habits like sleeping enough, listening to your body, and scheduling rest days are vital for fighting fatigue, the benefits of pre-workout help too.
Pre-workouts stimulate you to stay focused and on-task during each workout, boosting alertness and mental clarity while also preventing mental fatigue post-workout.
In addition, according to a 2012 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, a pre-workout containing caffeine and other substances like B vitamins and creatine has been found to improve muscular endurance and reaction time while delaying fatigue during strenuous exercise .
Another benefit of pre-workout supplementation: reduced risk of injury. If you’re mentally present and honed-in on the physical movements of your exercise, you’re less likely to make harmful mistakes caused by mental strain or lack of focus.
4. Stimulated Fat Burning and Metabolism
Pre-workouts contain ingredients like caffeine and B vitamins to stimulate and support your metabolism.
When you consume caffeine, for example, your body’s heat increases, raising your metabolic rate and energy expenditure . If you’re trying to lose weight and/or get leaner, pre-workout stimulants can be particularly helpful.
5. Faster Recovery Post-Workout
Any great workout can precede the impending muscle soreness the next day (or several days) as your muscles recover.
Thankfully, several pre-workout ingredients are tailored to bring better post-workout recovery, helping as your muscles repair and your body fights inflammation. Even though you take them before exercise, they’ll have you covered after your workout ends too.
6. Calmer Mind and Mood
This pre-workout benefit results mostly from products that use adaptogens for supporting emotional well-being. (We’ll get into this more in the pre-workout ingredients list below.) However, some amino acids used in pre-workouts may also support less stress and better mood.
Since stimulants can increase anxiety in some people, ingredients that promote a calm mind can be helpful for enhancing the mood-boosting effects of exercise.
Common High-Quality Pre-Workout Ingredients
The most important factor in getting the greatest benefits of a pre-workout is quality. Look for all-natural, preferably mostly organic, high-quality ingredients in your pre-workout.
We know, cheap pre-workouts are tempting—and they’ll make their product look enticing and on-par with everything else on the shelf. But there’s a reason the price tag is below average: The ingredients are low-quality, often artificial ingredients that aren’t hard or costly to produce and distribute.
Don’t be fooled. If you’re going to invest in a pre-workout supplement, choose one with ingredients that are worth it.
It also helps to consider what benefits of pre-workout you most desire, as different ingredients boost varying outcomes.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the top pre-workout ingredients and their functions.
Caffeine: the Perfect Pick-Me-Up
Caffeine is the often most-desired substance in pre-workouts. While you do want to choose a pre-workout supplement with more beneficial ingredients than just caffeine (otherwise, it’s the mark of a cheap product), a healthy dose of caffeine can really help.
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, increasing neuron firing that leads to a number of effects on your body:
- The “fight or flight” hormone adrenaline is released, pepping you up.
- Pupils dilate.
- Heart rate increases.
- Blood vessels constrict while blood flow to muscles is increased.
- Muscles tighten, preparing for use.
- Airways become more open.
- You feel more energized, excited, and ready to hit the gym (or your Gorilla Bow at-home gym!).
These effects can benefit your endurance, focus, and performance during a workout.
That being said, be mindful of how your body responds to caffeine. Some supplements contain huge doses that aren’t ideal for everyone. If you’re prone to anxiety or panic attacks, for example, a pre-workout with a small or moderate amount of caffeine may be more ideal.
Note: If you have a pre-existing heart condition or other heart concerns, consult your doctor before consuming caffeine-containing products.
Pre-workout caffeine can come from a variety of sources, too. We believe the best source is natural green coffee beans. Since they’re unroasted (unlike regular coffee beans), green coffee beans contain a higher amount of chlorogenic acid, which has been studied for benefits related to weight loss, metabolism, blood sugar, and more. It’s what we use in our Gorilla Boost pre-workout (coming soon!).
B Vitamins: Energy Rockstars
B vitamins are incredibly vital for energy production. They’re also necessary for the health of your nerves, blood, and brain. Your body also needs B vitamins to metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates into energy
There are eight main B vitamins, known collectively as the “B-complex”:
- Thiamin (also known as vitamin B1)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine)
- Folate (also called folic acid in some supplements)
- Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 typically comes in one of two forms in supplements: (1) methylcobalamin, the natural form or (2) cyanocobalamin, the synthetic form.
B vitamins are water soluble, meaning the body assimilates them in water and excretes them through urine. This means they need to be consumed daily to stay present and usable in the body.
There’s also some evidence that taking B vitamins as part of a pre-workout may support protein synthesis after the workout.
While they work together, each B vitamin has their own specific functions. Most good pre-workouts contain any combination of some B vitamins.
Branch-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): Growth and Recovery
BCAAs are a group of the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Amino acids are often fondly known as the “building blocks” of protein. Thus, taking them can help with recovery as well as muscle growth after a workout. While not necessary in a pre-workout, they can be a helpful addition.
That being said, it’s important to get protein through your diet as well, so don’t use BCAAs as a substitute for proper nutrition.
Quercetin Dihydrate: Antioxidant and Recovery Power
Quercetin is a phytonutrient, also known as a bioactive compound, derived from plants that provide a number of health benefits to humans:
- Falling into the flavonoid category, quercetin is a type of substance that has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are necessary for scavenging harmful free radicals in the body, as well as enhancing communication and signaling between cells.
- In a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, quercetin was found to increase VO2 max and endurance in as little as 12 days for untrained, healthy participants .
- This was mirrored through another study the same year, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, where taking quercetin for two weeks increased participants’ running distance (during a 12-minute trial) by 2.9 percent .
Quercetin is found naturally in plant-based foods like oranges, apples, onions, and buckwheat. (Fun fact: It’s also what gives these foods their colors!)
Put simply, quercetin is great in pre-workouts to aid recovery, muscle stress caused by workouts, and endurance potential.
Beta-Alanine: Protein Building Block
Like BCAAs, beta-alanine is also an amino acid. It helps increase your muscle stores of carnosine, another protein building block that is necessary for many body functions.
Beta-alanine is used in some pre-workouts to help reduce muscle fatigue, promote endurance, and possibly allow you to train harder.
Creatine Monohydrate: for Muscle Maintenance
Creatine is a compound created during protein metabolism. It’s found in many of your tissues.
For muscle growth and maintenance, protein synthesis must be greater than or equal to the rate of protein breakdown. Some pre-workouts will include creatine for your muscle stores with the goal of promoting better physical performance—especially exercise that happens at a higher intensity for shorter periods.
Calcium: for Your Bones!
It’s easy to think of our bones are super strong and impenetrable—but they’re still a living tissue that needs nourishing, especially with regular exercise.
Your bone mass peaks at somewhere between age 20 and 30, then it begins to decline slowly. Almost one percent of your bone mineral density is lost each year past the age of 65.
To protect our bones, we need to look at factors like :
- What we eat
- Supplements we consume
- How much physical exercise we’re getting daily
- Our genetics and environmental factors
Since this article is about the benefits of pre-workout, we’ll just focus on the exercise and diet parts.
If you’re engaging in regular exercise (which is likely the case, if you’re reading this blog), you’re on the right track for bone health. That being said, your body’s calcium levels do also drop during exercise. This prompts your parathyroid gland to make extras hormones that further drain calcium from your bones.
Over time, this can lead to issues like hip and joint problems, broken bones, and even arthritis, according to Prevention.com. But taking calcium before a workout may help.
Preliminary research has shown that taking calcium and vitamin D before a workout could be the best way to help protect yourself from bone loss and weakness.
Adaptogens like Ashwagandha: Less Stress, More Calm
Adaptogens are natural pharmacological herbs or plants that support your adrenal system. They’re less common in pre-workout formulas—but we believe they should be a regular part of your training routine.
Most of us live with a great degree of stress day-to-day—and exercise, as phenomenal as it is for health, is also a stressor to the body. Adaptogens work to impede the effects of stress on the body. (And they’ve been around since World War II when they were given to pilots and marine crew members for improving mental and physical performance!)
Adaptogens help regulate your system depending on your body’s stress-related needs. As the name suggests, they “adapt” to your body, promoting a state of homeostasis and calm. A 2010 publication in Pharmaceuticals (Basel) looking at comprehensive research on adaptogens summarized they may :
- Reduce problems induced by stress and related to stress systems function
- Help increase endurance and attention in decreased performance situations spurred by fatigue or the feeling of weakness
Some common adaptogens include:
- Siberian ginseng
- Milk thistle
- Aloe vera
- And more
In our Gorilla Boost pre-workout, we utilize KSM-66 Ashwagandha (known by our scientists as the “World’s Best Ashwagandha”) because it:
- Has the world’s most extensive set of clinical trials and research studies
- Contains the highest concentration of “full spectrum” root extract available on the market
- Is unmatched in its quality and consistency as a supplement
Our ashwagandha has also been clinically proven to:
- Increase endurance and strength
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Improve sexual function and testosterone levels (in men)
- Enhance memory and cognition
Choosing a pre-workout with adaptogens just adds an extra degree to physical and emotional well-being that we all need on our fitness journeys. Plus, it’s another way to incorporate self-care into your workout schedule.
Tart Cherry Powder: Fight Inflammation & Soreness
Cherries might seem like an odd (yet tasty) pre-workout addition, but they’ve been shown to boost fitness in significant ways.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked at the effects of short-term powdered tart cherry supplementation on athletes before and after stressful endurance exercise:
- A group of 27 endurance-trained runners or triathletes were given either powdered tart cherries or a rice flour placebo once daily.
- Each subject completed a half-marathon run within two hours. Researchers measured the fasting blood and quadriceps muscle soreness of subjects pre-run and post-run.
- Results showed that subjects taking the tart cherry had a 13 percent faster race finish time, 47 percent lower inflammation markers and reduction in muscle breakdown compared to the placebo group.
These last two pre-workout ingredients are exclusive in our Gorilla Boost pre-workout, offering additional benefits from all-natural ingredients most other pre-workouts don’t consider.
Avoid “Proprietary Blends” Like the Plague
Many supplements companies use “proprietary blends” in their pre-workouts. These mixtures often contain lots of ingredients and may appear impressive—but they’re ultimately a scam. At best, you’re getting a caffeine boost equivalent to a cup or two of coffee, which is accessible for much less at your nearest convenience store.
This can’t be emphasized enough: More ingredients doesn’t mean better. It’s easy to add needless ingredients (and in very small doses) to make the product look great when it really isn’t.
Instead of picking the pre-workout with the most ingredients, look for one that contains trusted, tested, and science-backed substances (like those we’ve covered above). Carefully formulated pre-workout supplements will provide researched benefits to truly enhance your workouts and further your fitness goals.
And as a last note, avoid pre-workouts with low-quality, unhealthy ingredients like:
- Artificial sweeteners, flavors, and dyes
- Filler ingredients like maltodextrin or huge amounts of caffeine
- Banned stimulants that can still be found online sometimes—like synephrine, yohimbe, or DMAA
To sum it up, the benefits of a pre-workout really can ramp up your workouts—and your results. But don’t buy the first product you see at the store. Pick a product whose company is transparent about their ingredients, can explain why they chose them, and with evidence to back up their claims. Then you can rest easy knowing you got what you paid for.