What To Look For In Pre-Workout? (Always Check Your Labels!)

A pre-workout supplement is designed to give you an energy boost, mental focus, and drive to perform. Whether you use them before every workout or only on days you don't feel like performing at your best, you need to know what is on the ingredient list.

The best pre-workout supplement will show you exactly what it contains and offer you an optimal dose of the right ingredients. What is pre-workout made of, though?

We will take you through all the common (and uncommon) ingredients found in these supplements to show you what to look for in your next training session.

The ingredients list on pre-workout supplements shouldn’t be difficult to read or follow. There are specific items you should look for that you ensure are included. Let’s cover the most beneficial pre-workout ingredients now.

1. Amino Acids

With just over 21 amino acid types, you need to supplement to get them all. The essential amino acids are naturally found in your body and supplied by your diet. Together with supplemented nonessential amino acids, you get branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

BCAAs are absorbed fairly quickly by the body and help to enhance athletic anaerobic performance. The most common are citrulline malate, L-arginine, and tyrosine.

Read Also - BCAAs Vs Pre-Workout: Do You Need Both?

What To Look For In Pre-Workout? (Always Check Your Labels!)

2. Beetroot Extract

One of the less common pre-workout ingredients is beetroot. The extract raises the body's levels of nitric oxide, which can increase blood flow. This not only helps to increase muscular endurance but also gives you that coveted muscle pump.

3. Beta-Alanine

Beta-Alanine is one of the nonessential amino acid supplements needed to perform your best. Like niacin rush, Beta-Alanine gives you a tingling feeling as your blood vessels expand and blood flow increases to your extremities.

It is not harmful and will subside in about 10 minutes, but it is one of the triggers many look for to know their pre-workouts are active. Beta-Alanine has also shown that it can reduce muscle fatigue and relieve muscle soreness, helping you push more reps overall.

Related Article - How To Get Rid Of Beta-Alanine Itch

4. Betaine

With betaine supplementation, you are looking at long-term solutions. By regulating fat metabolism and increasing muscle protein synthesis, your training volume can increase without raising blood pressure. Higher muscle contractions mean more reps and sets during your exercise performance.

5. Caffeine

Caffeine is the most common pre-workout supplement ingredient. This is the stimulant used to give you that boost of energy and motivation throughout your workout routine.

Caffeine is also responsible for increasing muscle endurance, muscle strength, and anaerobic capacity.

Caffeine and other stimulants can also cause nervousness, jitters, and other side effects when taken in excess.

Because a single scoop of your powder mix can contain up to 400mg of caffeine, or a total of 4 cups of coffee, it is advised you limit your daily intake levels.

See Also - How Much Caffeine Is In My Pre-Workout?

6. Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine monohydrate is easily the most popular dietary supplement among all gym enthusiasts, as well as the most studied on the market. Many studies show that creatine is safe, stable, and offers many benefits without long-term side effects [1].

The most significant benefit is that creatine delivers oxygen and hydration to the muscles.

Too much creatine, though, can lead to bloating, cramping, and excess weight gain. If you are supplementing with creatine on its own, you will want to find a pre-workout that does not include creatine.

Learn More - Creatine Vs Pre-Workout Compared

7. L-Citrulline

L-Citrulline is a supplement that helps other ingredients work more efficiently. By opening the blood vessels, oxygen, hydration, and other supplements can get to the muscles faster.

This helps in reducing muscular fatigue and soreness and allows for more hydration in the system.

It also helps reduce the burning sensation or tingles and can also contribute to blood pumping or better blood and oxygen flow to the muscles.

8. Natural Minerals And Vitamin Complexes

Vitamins (like Vitamin D) and minerals are a standard part of any healthy diet. However, when you are performing a vigorous exercise program, HIIT workouts, or other strenuous activities, you may need supplementation.

Pre-workout supplement drinks are loaded with these much-needed vitamins and minerals. The most common minerals are magnesium and potassium. Magnesium is known to boost cardiovascular performance, improve endurance performance and reduce muscle cramping.

Potassium can help reduce lactic acid buildup, which will help your workouts last longer by delaying fatigue.

Vitamin D, C, and B-vitamins (primarily 6 and 12) are commonly found in foods, but supplementation helps achieve the higher levels needed for bodies to workout out regularly. They help with higher metabolism, strength, and converting amino acids into energy.

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What To Beware Of In Pre-Workouts

Not everything found in a pre-workout mix is good for you. Some brands have a lot of additives or are cryptic about their actual ingredients. Here is what you should be on the lookout for.

1. Proprietary Blends

A proprietary blend must include a list of ingredients, by law. However, they are protected from displaying their exact ingredient amounts, so you are without knowing how much of a supplement you are receiving per serving.

The major downside is that you may not get the amount you are expecting. With proprietary blends, your servings may hold more or less than what you expect, causing you to accumulate too much caffeine or insufficient amino acids to be effective.

2. Artificial Colors and Dyes

Artificial colors can have negative side effects. Certain dyes, such as FD&C Blue 40 or Red 5, are carcinogenic and may pose health concerns.

Artificial sweeteners are also a major concern for many in the health and fitness industry, yet continue to be a major ingredient in health supplements.

3. Chemicals

Complex chemicals and ingredients with names you can't pronounce pose a lot of dietary and health risks. Without proper studies and research on the ingredients, you can be taking filler or ingredients with bad side effects.

If you aren’t familiar with a particular ingredient or it isn’t found on the list above, make sure you do your own research and talk to your doctor before taking the supplements.

4. Soy Lecithin or Carrageenan

Soy lecithin and carrageenan are used in powders and mixes as a thickening agent. When excessive amounts of these ingredients are ingested, it can cause upset stomach or other digestive problems, including bloating and water retention.

5. Refined Sugars, Maltodextrin & Glucose Syrup

As mentioned before, artificial sweeteners can cause major issues for your cardiovascular fitness. However, it isn’t limited to only artificial sweeteners. Refined sugar is just sweet and offers no nutritional value at all.

Likewise, maltodextrin and glucose syrup are also sweet. However, they can cause extreme spikes in blood sugar, reduce the levels of good bacteria and raise the levels of bad gut bacteria. [2] These sweeteners can lead to gastrointestinal issues and the risk of inflammatory bowel disease.

Read Also - Why Does Pre-Workout Make You Poop?

ingredients to avoid in pre-workouts

Do These Popular Brands Pass Our Test? 

Some pre-workout supplement brands are more popular than others. Is this due to good marketing or good ingredients? Let’s take a closer look at some of the more popular name brands on the market right now.

Essential Elements Pre-Workout

Essential Elements is a plant-based option for many health enthusiasts. It contains some of the more important aspects of our lists above but may not be exactly what you are looking for.

The main ingredients here are apple cider vinegar and beetroot. These two ingredients work to give you nutrients and nitrates to help increase nitric oxide counts. Apple cider vinegar also has natural electrolytes for hydrating your muscles.

The downside is that they use a proprietary blend for their caffeine, which contains 100 mg total (90 mg of caffeine) between green coffee beans, green tea, and yerba mate teas.

So while you don't know exactly how much of which is included, you do get some caffeine to promote energy production.

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C4 Pre-Workout

Cellucor C4 is one of the most popular and well-known pre-workouts on the market. It is sold in almost every health food store, retail outlet, and nutritional store in the country. It also contains low levels of carbohydrates for those looking for keto-friendly options.

On the vitamin front, you will find vitamins C, B6, B12, and niacin. It also has beta-alanine, creatine, and citrulline malate, as well as anhydrous (dehydrated) caffeine.

It does come with some artificial flavors and Blue #1, though. It also contains sucralose and silicon dioxide to help keep the powder from breaking down.

Learn More -  Cellucor C4 Pre-Workout Review

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Alani Nu Pre-Workout

Alani Nu is a brand that has been on shelves for a while and is often chosen by those looking for a more simple ingredient list.

This blend offers L-citrulline malate, beta-alanine, and other nonessential amino acids like L-tyrosine, L-arginine, and L-theanine, which aren't as studied as the others. However, Alani Nu uses only coffee bean extract as the caffeine source (200mg per serving) and uses only natural colors and flavors.

Learn More - Alani Nu Pre-Workout Review 

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Woke AF Pre-Workout

Woke AF is marketed to experienced gym goers and makes a point of telling beginners to stay away. However, their mix contains a lot of key ingredients that may or may not have any benefits.

While the vitamin B12 and citrulline malate are important, as well as beta-alanine and caffeine, the rest of the list is not well studied or proven.

Things like Himalayan rock salt, deer antler velvet, synephrine HCl and panax notoginseng are included in their ingredients with minimal levels and almost no scientific reasoning. There is also a lot of sodium (39mg) per serving which isn’t highly advised for most diets.

Learn More - Woke AF Pre-Workout Review 

Who Should Be Using Pre-Workouts? (Is It Right For My Goals?)

Not everyone is in need of a pre-workout, and those that are, need to ensure they take it correctly.

These pre-workout supplements are designed to give you a boost of energy and focus that should last through most of your workout.

With higher energy levels, lower muscle fatigue, and more focus, you can hit the gym running and push through the most intensive workouts.

It is also designed to give you that boost on days you workout but may not be feeling it. If you find yourself dragging or more tired than normal, a pre-workout drink can give you the motivation to get on with the routine.

Because it is designed for helping you with energy and motivation, it is only advised to take the mix on days you actually work out. Skipping your off days will also help your body heal and recover naturally and more efficiently.

How To Get The Most From Your Pre-Workout

To get the most out of the pre-workout supplements, you need to take them correctly. While choosing the right brand and type is important, how you take it is just as important.

More water is needed to fight off dehydration, and you need to take them about 30 minutes prior to your gym session.

Complement With A Good Diet

Another factor is that your diet is still the most important aspect of your entire daily routine. If you eat the right foods in the right amounts for your body weight, the additional ingredients in these workout mixes become redundant.

Vitamins and minerals, proteins, and even energy sources are found in a standard, healthy diet. The energy boost, creatine, and BCAAs can come from your pre-workouts, though.

Remember Rest Days!

Resting is important for muscle growth. [3] Rest days do not require a pre-workout though you should still drink plenty of water. Without a rest day, you will experience earlier muscle fatigue, soreness, and slower gains.

what makes a good pre-workout

Pre-Workout Ingredient FAQs

Are pre-workout supplements FDA approved?

Supplements of any kind are not approved or monitored by the FDA. This extends to vitamins and minerals, as well.

Until a major issue requires the government to get involved, they only monitor that the rules are followed for labeling and ingredients lists, not what the supplements contain or how much.

What ingredient gives you tingles in pre-workout?

The tingles you experience from some pre-workout mixes come from niacin, which is why it is commonly referred to as niacin rush.

The tingle is due to widening blood vessels and increased blood flow that brings a light rash or flush to the skin and gives your extremities that tingly feeling. Different ingredients like L-citrulline, caffeine, and beetroot also contribute to the tingling.

Learn More - What Causes Pre-Workout Tingle And How To Stop It? 

How much of each ingredient should be in pre-workout?

The amount of each of the common ingredients will vary based on your individual needs and requirements.

Caffeine is one of the most important ingredients to keep tabs on, and you should limit your daily intake to about 400mg total. Other ingredients should be a minimum of 100mg to be effective; otherwise, follow the recommended daily dose levels.

How much pre-workout should I take for the first time?

Proper dosing is important to get the best effects while minimizing side effects. Following the instructions on the label is the best starting point.

However, you may need to adjust the dosage down until you get to a level that offers the benefits without making you feel jittery or even ill.

Once you have established what is considered safe for your tolerance, you can increase the dosage back up to the recommended amounts as you grow accustomed to the effects.

How long does it take pre-workout to kick in?

Most pre-workout supplements will take 25 to 45 minutes to take effect. More water can help the hydration levels but may delay the effects. It is best to take the drink at least 30 minutes before you begin your workout program.


When taking a pre-workout, you expect certain effects and outcomes. The ingredients and knowing what to look for in a pre-workout drink help you find the best brand and blends that help you stay focused, motivated, and energized for your workout goals.

Knowing what to look for is important, but it is also essential to know what not to include. The wrong ingredients may offer no benefits or can cause adverse effects. Make sure you understand what your pre-workout supplement contains.


1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12701816/

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940893/

3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19691365/

Last Updated on January 22, 2023