Energy and convenience—that’s the magic of pre-workouts.
But the truth is, a lot of pre-workouts in the market contain harmful ingredients. Many pre-workout brands use artificial flavorings and unnecessary chemicals that are harmful to your body.
With the abundance of terrible ingredients in pre-workouts, where do you even start? How can you separate the good ingredients from the bad ingredients?
With that said, let’s get straight into this discussion and determine the most important ingredients in a pre-workout.
The #1 Most Important Ingredient in Pre-Workout
There is one ingredient that stands above all—caffeine.
People normally tend to use pre-workouts because they want to have more energy during their workouts. And caffeine is the most common ingredient that can provide you with energy.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in many different foods and beverages. Common examples are coffee, tea, and chocolate.
Caffeine is the most common ingredient in pre-workout supplements because of its many benefits.
It helps increase your energy and focus, allowing you to push through your tough workouts. It can also improve your endurance, which can help you work out for longer periods without feeling fatigued.
Caffeine can also improve your cognitive function—allowing you to stay focused and alert during your workout.
However, you also have the choice of having a pre-workout without caffeine.
We call them "stim-free pre-workouts."
Stim-free pre-workouts are supplements that provide energy, and “the pump,” without using stimulants like caffeine. It works by increasing the body's natural energy production, without using stimulants. It contains ingredients that enhance your energy, such as amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine.
Stim-free pre-workouts are famous for people that are sensitive to caffeine. This is because it doesn’t have negative side effects that sometimes can be related to caffeine or other stimulants.
The Other 5 Best Ingredients for Every Type of Pre-Workout
Aside from caffeine, there are many types of ingredients in a pre-workout and they have unique purposes. So it is crucial to determine what is in a pre-workout to suit your needs and goals.
Here are some of the most important ingredients in a pre-workout for different categories:
Of all the ingredients found in pre-workout supplements, beta-alanine is the best for improving your endurance. It can also improve your muscle strength and power output.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is naturally produced in the body. It works by increasing levels of carnosine in the muscles, which helps to buffer the build-up of lactic acid during exercise.
This means that you can exercise for longer periods without experiencing as much fatigue or muscle burn.
Alpha GPC can help improve mental focus and concentration—an essential factor that can be helpful during intense workouts.
Alpha GPC works by increasing the levels of acetylcholine in the brain, an organic chemical in the brain that can enhance your cognitive function and mental focus.
It also stimulates the production of human growth hormone (HGH), which can help increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.
L-citrulline is another ingredient that can help you boost your energy levels.
It is a non-essential amino acid that is found in foods such as watermelon, cucumbers, and other fruits and vegetables.
L-citrulline is converted into L-arginine in the body, which is used to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator—meaning it widens your blood vessels and will increase your blood flow.
When blood flow is increased, more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles—allowing them to work more efficiently. This phenomenon can lead to better endurance, reduced fatigue, increased energy levels during workouts, and when lifting weights the highly sought after pump.
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in the body that helps produce energy during physical activity. It's also a popular ingredient in many pre-workout supplements because of its ability to improve strength and aid in muscle growth.
Several studies have shown that creatine supplementation can enhance muscle strength and power, particularly during high-intensity exercises such as weightlifting.
It improves your strength by increasing the body's production of ATP—the primary source of energy during exercise. The more ATP your body produces, the more energy you'll have to perform intense exercises—resulting in better strength gains.
L-leucine is one of the nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own and must be obtained through diet or supplementation. It is commonly found in protein-rich foods such as meat, dairy, and legumes. It also enhances strength performance especially in resistance training
L-Leucine is the only amino acid that can stimulate muscle protein synthesis on its own.
It can also help to reduce muscle soreness after a workout. This is because L-Leucine can help to decrease muscle damage and inflammation—the two of the main causes of post-workout soreness. Other benefits can be seen in this study.
5 Ingredients to Avoid at All Costs with Pre-Workouts
Now that we know what ingredients to look for in pre-workout, it is also important to determine the ingredients to avoid.
By knowing what ingredients to avoid, you can separate the wheat from the chaff—this will help you make a better decision on what pre-workout to use.
Here are some of the ingredients to avoid:
1. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and aspartame, are often used in pre-workout supplements to add flavor without the added calories.
However, studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can have negative effects on the body, including increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, disrupting gut bacteria, and causing headaches.
When choosing a pre-workout supplement, it's best to avoid those that contain artificial sweeteners. It is preferable to use natural sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth.
2. Proprietary Blends
Proprietary blends are often used in pre-workout supplements to hide the actual amount of each ingredient. The manufacturer will list the total amount of the blend, making it impossible to know how much of each ingredient you are consuming.
This can be dangerous as some ingredients, such as caffeine, can cause negative side effects if consumed in high doses. It's best to choose pre-workout supplements that list the amount of each ingredient separately.
3. Artificial Colors and Flavors
Artificial colors and flavors are often added to pre-workout supplements to make them more appealing. However, these additives are unnecessary and can negatively affect the body.
Artificial colors have been linked to hyperactivity in children, while artificial flavors can cause headaches and other negative side effects. When choosing a pre-workout supplement, look for those that use natural colors and flavors.
4. High Doses of Caffeine
While caffeine can increase your energy, focus, and performance, high doses of it can cause negative side effects such as jitters, anxiety, and insomnia.
It's essential to choose a pre-workout supplement that contains a moderate amount of caffeine and to avoid those that contain high doses.
5. Banned Substances
Some pre-workout supplements may contain banned substances that can lead to disqualification from competition or even legal trouble. It's essential to choose pre-workout supplements that have been tested and are free from banned substances.
Choose a Pre-Workout With the Right Ingredients
Not every pre-workout is equal.
Just because a pre-workout is popular, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right pre-workout for you.
Your performance and health are at stake here. And to guarantee an optimal pre-workout experience, you need to focus on high-quality ingredients and be mindful of the poor ingredients used in some pre-workouts.
Remember—the quality of the ingredients is what makes a good pre-workout.
By utilizing this article as a guide, you can make informed decisions and select the pre-workout supplements with the best ingredients.
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