Ever gulped down a pre-workout, something happened, and you were stuck wondering if you're doing your body a disservice by skipping the gym? 

You're not alone. The burning question of “Can you take pre-workout without working out?” has puzzled many who have downed it but skipped the intense gym session. 

Full disclosure - I was one of those people, too.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a ton since then, so you’ll join me on a ride where we’ll unravel the controversy, potential benefits, and concerns of drinking pre-workout without breaking a sweat. 

Will it boost your daily life or backfire? We're about to find out.

Pre-workout supplements are designed to energize you and optimize your workouts. Taking them will enhance your energy, focus, and muscle performance primarily through caffeine and other notable ingredients, such as L-citrulline and L-tyrosine, ensuring you make the most out of each exercise session.

As you know, pre-workouts are often consumed as drinks or powders, and they’re remarkably popular at the moment - but - what kind of magic do these concoctions hold?

In a nutshell, pre-workouts:

  • Boost Energy Levels: Most notably, pre-workout will combat fatigue and give you that energy kick, especially during early morning or after-work training sessions.
  • Enhance Cognitive Performance: Combined effects of caffeine and other cognitive boosters will heighten focus and reduce brain fog, ensuring you remain locked in throughout your exercise.
  • Increase Blood Flow: It’ll relax blood vessels and improve performance by delivering more oxygen and nutrients to muscles during physically demanding activities. It’ll also pump you up.
  • Improve Muscular Endurance: You’ll be able to push past your regular limits. Plain and simple.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper.

Pre-workouts primarily work by stimulating the central nervous system. 

Most pre-workout supplements on the market contain caffeine, a known stimulant renowned for its power and energy-boosting properties. [1] This boost not only prepares the body for high-intensity workouts but also sharpens your mind and focus.

Another critical component in many pre-workout formulas is nitric oxide precursors.

NO precursors, such as L-citrulline, promote blood flow, resulting in improved delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissues. As you might imagine, this is pivotal for massive pumps and improving exercise performance and muscle recovery. [2]

Now, the inclusion of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and creatine supplementation in some pre-workout stacks can further boost muscle strength and reduce fatigue, although personally, I’m not a huge fan of this. 

While BCAAs aid in muscle recovery and reduce the onset of muscle soreness and creatine, a powerful ergogenic aid supports energy production during short, intense bouts of exercise - neither of them really do anything for your immediate performance.

So, all that said, should you still take it if you intend on skipping the gym?

Man promoting C4 Pre-Workout Supplement

Is It Bad To Take Pre-Workout Without Working Out?

No, it's not bad to drink pre-workout without working out. While these supplements serve to optimize exercise performance, consuming them on off days or unexpected rest days won't cause serious harm. However, there are potential side effects to be aware of.

Let’s picture a scenario.

You're all set. You’re mixing your pre-workout drink and mentally preparing for a great session at the gym. 

But then, life happens. 

The gym unexpectedly closes, your loved one gets sick, your toilet clogs and overflows, or perhaps, you just say, “Eh, I don’t want to go today,” and you skip the gym.

I’ve been there. Your coach has been there. Everyone has been there.

So, what happens when the energy-boosting, focus-enhancing effects of the pre-workout kick in, but you can’t channel that energy into heavy weights?

Well, a few things, but nothing inherently bad.

As we learned, the primary purpose of most pre-workout supplements is to give you that energy blast and focus boost you need for a physically demanding job or workout.

Therefore, when taken without working out, you’ll simply feel more alert and energetic, which - and correct me if I’m wrong - can actually be handy in all kinds of different situations.

You can channel that buzz and joy into all sorts of stuff (which we’ll get to later), so don’t stress.

Now, as with anything, there are potential drawbacks to be aware of - especially if you’re sensitive to stimulants.

Here are a few of these:

  • Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: Pre-workouts, especially those with lots of caffeine, can lead to an increased heart rate. Without exercise, this may feel quite unsettling for some. Increased blood pressure and an accompanying headache could also strike you if the pre-workout was very potent.

  • Trouble Sleeping: Consuming pre-workout late in the day without exercising to sweat it out might lead to difficulty sleeping, thanks to its energy-boosting ingredients.
  • Tingling: Beta-alanine, which is a common pre-workout ingredient, can cause a tingling sensation (paresthesia) on the skin - usually of the face, neck, hands, and sometimes even “where the sun don’t shine”. It goes without saying that some of you may find this uncomfortable. [3]
  • Jitters: Pre-workout jittery feeling can be a nuisance (take it from someone that still struggles with them). However, over the years, I’ve learned that having a bite and a few ounces of water can help.
  • Anxiety: While it isn’t common, having your mind and body buzzing from energy while you just sit and do nothing could be an anxiety trigger.

So, in summation, it's not detrimental to take a pre-workout without hitting the gym, but there could be a few side effects.

That said, there may be a solution...

When Is It OK To Drink Pre-Workout And Not Have Physical Activity?

As we’ve established - it is more than OK to drink pre-workout and skip physical activity as long as you use your energy elsewhere.

So, when would that be?

1. Before Work

If you have a physically demanding job or even one that requires you to stay laser-focused (or awake) for hours on end - pre-workout might do you good. 

Think doctors and nurses doing 16-hour shifts or even software engineers on a deadline. 

If you fall into any of those (or any other that sounds similar) - sip a pre before you go to work.

Ingredients like caffeine, tyrosine, theanine, 5-HTP, DMAE - all of those will make you stay fresh and focused for a few hours. [4]

But at the same time - think it through. 

If your job runs into the evening, taking a pre-workout too late might cause you to lose sleep that same night, and then you’re back in this vicious circle tomorrow. 

Also, if you’re working out in the heat and you’re already beat as it is, I’d say it’s probably best you don’t strain your heart even further.

2. Before Taking a Long Drive

If there was ever a situation where pre-workouts can shine - it’s long drives. Especially at nighttime. 

Focusing on monotonous roads is unbearable even during the day, let alone at night. 

Thankfully, a pre-workout can offer the same kick of caffeine as several black coffees, keeping you alert and reducing the risk of nodding off at the wheel.

At the same time, you don’t want to overdo it.

Not that I’m speaking from experience, but I wouldn’t say driving while you’re anxious or your heart is in sync with “Beat It” is particularly safe.

Also, if your pre-workout is particularly powerful, there's a good chance you might have to stop for a restroom brake, which can be quite inconvenient if you're driving down the highway.

3. Before Studying

Finals week? Midterms? Or just a dense textbook that needs devouring? 

Pre-workout might be what you need.

We all know students have been downing energy drinks and triple-espressos for decades at this point, so why not spice it up?

In fact, I’d say you’re much better off drinking a pre-workout than four cans of Red Bull.

But then again, too much of a good thing can be bad - particularly if this is the night before the exam.

Overload on stimulants, and you’ll crash like the stock market in ‘08 before you even start the test.

You don’t need me to tell you what happens next…

4. Other Mentally Exhausting Tasks

If you're into tasks that require prolonged concentration, like writing, coding, designing, or even strategizing for your business venture - pre-workouts can help improve focus and potentially enhance creativity.

At the same time, be wary of pretty much every pre-workout side effect I mentioned above.

Migraine and Headache Pre-Workout Side Effect

What Are The Benefits Of Taking Pre-Workout Outside The Gym?

As you can tell from the previous paragraph, there are a few situations where pre-workouts can be helpful outside the gym's confines.

But since not all of you are in those situations, let’s just briefly discuss the benefits so you can see how those translate into your lifestyle.

  • More energy: All that caffeine won’t go to waste. With a half-life of approximately 5 hours, you’ll blaze through everyday tasks without breaking a sweat and needing a nap.
  • Improved focus: Can’t seem to zone in on your work after a few hours? Well, many can’t. But a single scoop of a decent pre-workout will pull you right back in.
  • Better mood: While it’s entirely possible all this energy makes your fuse shorter, a pre-workout with ingredients like L-tyrosine and L-theanine will play a role in neurotransmitter production, keeping you zen even when your supervisor’s micromanaging you. [5]
  • Faster metabolism: While I’m definitely not saying you’ll lose weight if you just drink a pre-workout, I AM saying that caffeine will get your metabolism up and running a bit faster than usual, which could be pretty neat if you have a tendency to reach for the cookie jar.

How Long Will The Pre-Workout Effect Last if I Don’t Workout?

Typically, the effects of a pre-workout will last between 2 to 3 hours if you don’t work out, but considering dosage and personal tolerances play a major role here, you could feel the effects even 6 hours in.

What you’ll notice right away is that the effects peak 30 minutes to 90 minutes post-consumption, which is in line with most exercise regimens. But without the workout to metabolize and utilize this newfound energy - you could be in for a longer ride.

This buzz you’ll feel could linger anywhere from 3 to 6 hours based on the formula's potency and your body's metabolism. 

If you end up feeling like you just can’t take it anymore, try engaging in some sort of physical activity (go for a walk, jog, or just join your partner in the bedroom) to burn off some of that remaining energy.

Can You Take Pre-Workout As An Energy Drink?

Yes, you can use pre-workout as an energy drink. In some cases, pre-workouts contain less stimulants compared to some popular energy drinks. However, I’d say it's crucial to examine the ingredients label beforehand to ensure you actually need what you’re about to drink.

Now, you might wonder, "Why the emphasis on ingredients?" 

Well, let’s say you’re tired but you have a late-night meeting.

Do you think it would be wise to take a pre-workout with 3.2 grams of beta-alanine and spend half of that meeting scratching your face, hands, and ears off?

I didn’t think so.

So, while they can undoubtedly pep you up, you have to pick and choose your pre-workout supplements.

If you want to take a pre-workout instead of an energy drink, look for a simple formula containing no more than 3-5 ingredients - neither of which should be beta-alanine.

Also, keep the caffeine dose under 200 mg, as anything above that will likely be too much, and if you end up drinking pre workout daily, you're likely to build a caffeine tolerance, and realize your pre-workout just isn't cutting it anymore.

So, maybe try and cycle your pre-workout if you switch from coffee.

Find Out More - Pre-Workout Not Working?

10 Natural Pre-Workout Alternatives For Days Off

If you’re anything like me, you like to give your body a break on the off days.

However, that doesn’t mean you just let go.

There are tons of natural pre-workout alternatives you can take instead of a pre-workout supplement to keep yourself energized throughout the day.

1. Bananas

Bananas, as almost everyone knows, are packed full of potassium. However, lesser known are the fact they also contain a lot of magnesium and complex carbohydrates. 

So, having a large banana between meals will not only be delicious but help you stay full, energized, and healthy.

They should also prevent cramps.

2. Oats

Oats, specifically steel-cut oats, are high in complex carbohydrates and vitamin B complexes. An excellent breakfast option, these do a great job of fueling your body for the day.

Just make sure you don’t get any pre-packed, factory-produced oats, as those are bursting with sugar and sweeteners you don’t want or need.

3. Sweet Potatoes

Like bananas, sweet potatoes contain carbs, potassium, and magnesium. 

So, going from regular potatoes to sweet potatoes might just help you recover from muscular fatigue and diminish aches.

4. Coffee

As you would suspect, replacing the caffeine from a pre-workout supplement isn’t very difficult. 

A cup of coffee or green tea can boost your energy and provide alertness and mental focus to get your going.

It won't be the same effect, naturally, but it will still be pretty good.

Related Article - Coffee Vs Pre-Workout

5. Kava Kava

Kava Kava is a plant harvested in the South Pacific, including Hawaii. 

The “intoxicating pepper”, one of the many nicknames for Kava Kava, contains kavalactones, praised for their mood and cognitive enhancement properties.

Kava Kava is also thought to help you sleep better.

6. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is well known for its healthy properties (in moderation, of course). 

Flavonoids in dark chocolate reduce the sweetness but increase nitric oxide levels. 

Increasing blood flow and relaxing blood vessels should give you a boost similar to NO precursors such as citrulline.

7. Guarana

For a natural energy boost, the sugars in fruits are often unmatched. A prime example is the guarana fruit from the Amazon rainforest. 

Not only is it believed to counter stress and reduce fatigue, but you don't even need to eat it raw. 

Given its potential benefits, guarana has been turned into pill and powder supplements, as well as energy drinks, so you may as well pick what you like.

8. Matcha Tea

The properties of matcha tea for skin care and its antioxidant properties are well-known. [6]

But matcha may also give you a neat little energy boost. That is - if you can handle the taste.

9. Coconut Water

Coconut water (often found in pre-workouts) is high in natural sweeteners and electrolytes. 

Since this thing has no artificial sweeteners or excess sugar, it can help you gain energy, feel more awake, prevent exhaustion, and replenish your electrolyte levels pretty easily.

10. Honey

This natural sweetener has a unique blend of fructose and glucose that is pretty much guaranteed to kickstart your day. 

Eating a teaspoon of honey on an empty stomach right after you wake up should give you the increased energy that could last you until lunch.

Hot coffee with beans

Choosing The Right Pre-Workout Supplements For Sporadic Training

Finding the right supplements to meet your lifestyle shouldn’t be too hard - even if you aren't working out regularly.

Here’s how you do it.

Check The Ingredient List Carefully

Since you have a pretty clear idea of what to look for in pre-workout when you’re not working out, you should probably make a habit out of examining ingredient labels.

For sporadic training, I firmly believe you only need caffeine, L-citrulline, L-tyrosine, and L-theanine. That’s it.

You don’t need anything with a laundry list of ingredients whose names you can’t even pronounce if you’re a causal gym-goer.

Double-Check The Dosages

The sad reality is - even the most popular pre-workout supplements feature ineffectively dosed ingredients.

While you certainly shouldn’t push the envelope and max out your RDAs, you also shouldn’t waste your time on products that won’t meet your expectations.

So, check the back, google the dosages, and figure out if the product you’re holding is something you can benefit from.

Only Purchase Tested And Certified Products

Third-party lab certification plays a pivotal role in ensuring product transparency and safety. It's a testament that the contents align with the label's claims - both in ingredients and their amounts. Recognized seals like USP or ConsumerLabs provide confidence that the ingredients are both pure and weighed appropriately.

You can also look for the Informed Choice label or the NSF International labels. [7

These will tell you that the product includes no banned substances and is thoroughly and rigorously tested for ingredients and amounts.

You’ll usually see this with reputable companies that put quality first.

Transparent Labs comes to mind when discussing a company whose main focus is ingredient quality. You can check out the whole Transparent Labs Bulk Pre-Workout Review and check it out for yourself. And while you’re there, you’ll learn more about the product and our testing process.

Taking Pre-Workout Without Working Out FAQs

Is it bad to drink pre-workout without eating?

While it is not inherently bad to drink pre-workout without eating, it is not something I’d recommend you do. You’re much less likely to experience stomach discomfort and jitters if you take your pre-workout after a meal.

Can you take pre-workout without water?

You can take a pre-workout without water, but you really shouldn’t. Dry-scooping your pre-workout can get stuck in your throat, causing wheezing, coughing, and even suffocation. You’re also at a higher risk of stomach pains if you decide to dry-scoop.

Is it OK to drink pre-workout instead of coffee?

It is OK to drink pre-workout instead of coffee as long as you’re mindful of your daily caffeine intake and you know exactly what’s in your pre-workout drink or shake. Many pre-workout ingredients won’t benefit your everyday life, so choosing the right pre-workout formula is the main factor in this discussion.

Conclusion

As we've discovered, pre-workout supplements can be absolutely amazing if you take them without the intention of working out. But we’ve also learned that some ingredients, like caffeine, can lead to overstimulation, minor side effects, and sleep disturbances.

However, this isn't to say there's no place for pre-workout if you're not subsequently lifting heavy weights just because downsides are involved. 

Some of you might find this boost in focus or energy super helpful, and you start taking pre-workout regularly. 

But (and this is crucial), the key is moderation and listening to how your body reacts. As with anything we consume, responses can vary from time to time.

For example, if you use it long enough, you’ll quickly come to realize you’re itching for more, at which point you should probably stop for a few weeks and try some of those natural alternatives we listed, even if the product you’re taking is Transparent Labs’ Pre-Workout.

References: 

1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20421833
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20386132
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3491570/
4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10230711
5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23107346
6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7796401/
7. https://choice.wetestyoutrust.com/

Miloš Lepotic

Miloš Lepotic

Miloš loves three things - science, sports, and simplicity. So, what do you get when you put the three together? A no-BS guy that's all about efficient workouts and research-backed supplements. But he also thinks LeBron's the greatest ever, so...