Is Pre-Workout Good For Running? (Should You Take It?)

When most fitness enthusiasts think of pre-workout supplements, they conjure images of weight lifters inside a gym. As a runner, though, can a pre-workout offer you any benefits?

We look at the supplements, side effects, and negative aspects to find out. We will also look at alternatives, specific brands, and their ingredients.

We cover all of this to answer the burning question, is taking a pre-workout safe for runners?

Runners aren't known to partake in pre-workout supplements. Because it is seen as something you take to get started with an intense gym workout, runners think they don't typically need the nutrient benefits.

Can we offer a reduced perception and make you reconsider using a pre-workout for running?

As a jogger, runner, or marathon trainer, getting up, dressed, and starting to run is typically not a problem. Runners, instead, look for assistance in athletic performance, lower muscle fatigue, decreased lactic acid buildup, and stamina to make their workout last longer.

The good news is that pre-workout energy drinks, powders, and mixes have evolved enough to include the right ingredients, such as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

With the latest formulas, ingredients like L-Citrulline, creatine, caffeine, and other supplements help runners reach their fitness goals.

Woman running in sunny park after taking pre-workout

Is It Completely Safe To Take Pre-Workout Before Running?

While nothing is 100% safe, pre-workouts have a relatively low danger level. Most of the ingredients are natural ingredients that have been researched and studied to exhaustion by a registered dietitian or sports nutrition expert.

Some ingredients show no long-term side effects with constant use, such as creatine monohydrate.[1] Taking a pre-workout regularly doesn't show many, if any, negative long-term side effects on your exercise performance.

Choosing the right supplement mix for your specific needs can help you boost performance, limit your soreness, heighten perceived effort and prolong your runs and workout performance.

There are side effects and negative aspects to be aware of (covered below). You should also always talk to your doctor before you start any supplement regimen.

However, unless you have an intolerance to caffeine or another ingredient common to pre-workouts, you won’t have much to worry about.


Possible Pre-Workout Downsides (For Cardio)

As mentioned above, there can be some potential side effects or downsides, like that jittery feeling, to taking a pre-workout.

While there are many benefits or potential benefits, let's look closer at these possible cardio cons.

Some Brands Can Cause GI Distress In Some Runners

Having digestive upset while out running can be a major issue. Several pre-run supplement ingredients can cause stomach or intestinal bloating when consumed in higher amounts. Creatine, caffeine, and magnesium are the most common culprits.

Sodium bicarbonate can also have a laxative effect and lead to diarrhea.[2] As you can imagine, this can be detrimental to a runner's workout.

To combat these issues, monitor and limit your intake amounts and ensure you take with plenty of water.

Some Brands May Not Work At All

Because most pre-workouts are designed for HITT workouts, weight training and lifting, your diet as a runner may vary.

If you are eating healthy and correctly for your body size and abilities, the ingredients in pre-workout supplements may have little to no effect.

Because you can get the same benefits from your diet, taking more with a pre-workout mix may offer no benefits at all. The essential amino acids can only come from your diet, as well.

Also, if you are taking creatine, too much might result in water retention, bloating, or digestive upset. So while the additional energy may be a benefit, it may not be worth the cost in the long run.

Some Supplements May Not Be Safe

As with anything you ingest, there may be ingredients that do not sit well with you or that can cause health complications. You want to avoid brands with proprietary blends, which can mask the actual amounts of the ingredients listed.

Caffeine can cause an increased heart rate, for example, or even raise your blood pressure. Other stimulants have the same effects even when the caffeine source is from green coffee beans or green tea.

If you have cardiovascular concerns, are caffeine sensitive, have high blood pressure or insulin level problems, some pre-workout ingredients may not be safe to consume.


Ingredients Runners Should Look For In A Pre-Workout

There are several ingredients that can assist your performance levels and endurance to help you run longer with less fatigue.

  • Beta-Alanine
    Beta-Alanine is an important amino acid that helps fight muscle fatigue and can improve endurance levels. Beta-alanine is also known to help increase muscle gains and lean muscle mass.
  • Caffeine
    Caffeine increases energy levels but can also help the body burn fatty acids for fuel instead of muscle sugars.
  • Creatine
    Creatine is one of the most studied supplements and helps muscles recover faster, provides hydration to the muscles, and supplies more adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to your muscles for increased strength.[3]
  • Vitamins and Minerals
    Vitamin D, C, B6, and B12 are commonly found in pre-workout drink mixes and can help you reach your recommended daily values. The same is true for minerals such as potassium and magnesium. These help replenish electrolytes in the body, which can reduce fatigue.

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Are There Pre-Workouts Made Specifically For Running

There are several brands that cater specifically to runners, joggers, and endurance athletes. Their ingredients and compounds are made to help you get the most from your runs.

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout

Optimum Nutrition (known as ON) Gold Standard is designed for endurance and focus. The ingredients help you gain energy, burn fat stores for energy, and prevent fatigue so you can run longer, harder or faster.

Combining caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine, you get all the good things without a lot of complicated fillers.

Some flavor options come with natural and artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors, though, and some fitness enthusiasts try to limit their intake of these ingredients.

If this is you, look for the Watermelon Candy flavor that doesn't use any color dyes.

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Science in Sport Go Caffeine Shots

Geared towards a more professional athlete or competitor, the Science in Sport pre-mixed supplements give you fewer steps to consume and contain all the ingredients you need to run faster.

There are no powdered substances or pills here, just pre-workout drinks ready to enhance performance. It is like a personal trainer in a bottle.

The Go Caffeine shots combine caffeine, L-Citrulline malate, magnesium, and the range of B vitamins to keep you focused and give you an energy boost.

This formula does not contain vitamin B6, creatine, or vitamin C or D. It does contain carbohydrates but at a minimal level to help maintain ketosis.

These pre-workout drinks are vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut free.

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Alternatives To Taking Pre-Workouts Before Running

While runners do not need to take a pre-workout supplement, there are other factors that must be followed to get the most out of your workouts and to improve your overall conditioning.

A proper diet is at the forefront of any list, and it is critical to maintain energy, weight levels, and muscle endurance. For runners, that diet needs to contain plenty of carbohydrates.[4] Especially if you are looking to reduce stored fat and increase running performance.

Carbs supply the body with energy and the muscles with the fuel needed to perform. Your diet should also include vitamins and minerals as well as protein to aid in recovery. Even with optimal performance levels, and the health benefits from taking pre-workout supplements, muscle cells break down.

Rest, hydration and diet are critical factors for all runners. And while a pre-workout can help move the needle on your performance a bit, there are better options for long-term adjustments.

man running outside with orange joggers

Frequently Asked Pre-Workout & Running Questions

How long do pre-workouts last?

Pre-workouts take about 30 minutes to take effect. With benefits lasting between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the amounts taken and how intense your workouts are, you can get a full run in and more.

Some ingredients will wear off after a few minutes (like the tingling sensation from niacin flush), while other benefits can last long enough to affect your sleep.

Why use collagen in a pre-workout drink?

Collagen is a protein that helps leg muscles and ligaments recover after damage. For high-intensity workouts, collagen can help you recover faster.

When used in a pre-workout supplement, it can help the workout recovery phase during rest days after enough is built up in your system. When you want to boost muscle strength, collagen can help.

Can caffeine give you a boost before your run?

As coffee drinkers know, caffeine can increase energy levels and heart rate to give you an extra boost of motivation before your workout.

It is recommended that you take 200 to 400 mg in a pre-workout to get the most out of the stimulant. Too much caffeine can cause jitters, increased heart rate, and other cardiovascular issues.

Do pre-workout supplements help you lose weight?

The short answer is that no, a good pre-workout supplement is not a weight loss device. However, it can provide more energy and focus to help you work out more frequently, for longer periods, and at higher levels.

These, combined with meeting proper dietary needs, can lead to burning more calories and eventual weight loss.

How long before running should you take pre-workout?

It is recommended that you take the pre-workout drink 25 to 45 minutes before your run. Most of the active ingredients need about 30 minutes to be absorbed into the bloodstream and begin working as expected.

Should I use pre-workouts before every single run I do?

If you are tolerant of all the ingredients found in a pre-workout supplement, there is no downside to taking a pre-workout before every session. However, it can be beneficial to skip a few days to keep your tolerance low and allow your diet and regimen to help keep you energized and motivated.

If you follow interval training or partake in endurance events, using a pre-workout to aid in energy production or limit muscle breakdown, you may only need to have these drinks on those days.


Conclusion

Runners of all types, abilities, and capabilities can get a boost in energy, increased blood flow, and performance with the right pre-workout powder or drinks.

While it may not be required for you, the best pre-workouts can help push you over the edge of a plateauing in your output.

Proper diet, additional sleep, and frequent rest days for recovery will help more in the long run. Likewise, carb loading can help your muscles recover faster and increase endurance.

Still, for a quick boost on days where you aren’t feeling top form, supplementation can be the difference maker.

References:

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9662683/
2. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0182158
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3849389/
4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/runners-diet

Last Updated on September 29, 2022