Pre-Workout 101: Everything You Need To Know

By Team Cellucor

Maybe you’re looking for energy and focus to get off the couch and into the gym. Maybe you’re looking to take your gym session, workout class, or at-home training to the next level. What if there were something out there that could help you crush your workouts no matter what your training level or goal? There is.

It’s not a bag of magic beans; it's a pre-workout supplement.

What is a pre-workout supplement?

On a practical level, the best pre-workout supplements are designed to help you increase training volume and intensity so that you can get more from each workout session. In time, those extra reps, sets and minutes spent add up to major gains. When you see your hard work pay off, the more motivation you have to train. And the more you train, the more progress you continue to make.

So, when combined with the proper training regimen and nutrition program, taking a pre-workout can offer that extra push–not just to workout today, but to do it again tomorrow, then again the day after...

Who should take pre-workout?

Traditionally, pre-workouts have had a reputation for being exclusive to the highly advanced gym-goer whose sole focus is to get as muscular as possible. But the truth is, pre-workout ingredients can help just about anyone who wants to improve his or her fitness levels–from the beginner all the way to the hardcore gym buff.

In a nutshell, pre-workouts can benefit you if:

You want to improve your performance–in the gym or for sport


      Coffee & Energy Drinks vs. Pre Workout Before the Gym

      Coffee and energy drinks have their place in an active lifestyle. But it's important to note: while you do get an energy boost from a cup of coffee or a standard energy drink, pre-workouts offer additional performance benefits. That’s because most pre-workouts have tailored formulas that enhance physical output for a variety of activities–whether that's deadlifting 500lbs or running a marathon.

      In other words, pre-workouts combine specific ingredients in specific doses to give you the biggest bang for your buck–a.k.a they maximize time and effort you put into your workouts.

      How Long Does Pre-Workout Last?

      The effects of pre-workout will depend on your sensitivity to caffeine and the other ingredients discussed below. For a standard dosage, the average individual can expect the full effects to be felt within 45 minutes and last 3-6 hours. For those more sensitive to stimulants, the effects will likely be felt faster and last closer to 6 hours.

      What are the best pre-workout ingredients?

      You don't just buy a car without checking out the features. You read the fine print to make sure what you're getting is exactly right for your lifestyle. The same goes for choosing a pre-workout.

      Before purchasing a pre-workout, you want to examine the label and look for ingredients that support your fitness goal, training level, and so forth.

      A few key ingredients to look for in a traditional pre-workout are:


      Caffeine is the classic ingredient found in your morning pick-me-up to get you energized before your workout. Your C4 pre-workout can have anywhere from 135mg-300mg per serving compared to a coffee or standard energy drink, which falls within the 80mg-150mg range.

      After oral ingestion, caffeine is 99% absorbed within 45 minutes by the gastrointestinal tract, according to a review in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy. For this reason, research on caffeine’s effect on athletic performance has primarily been in the areas of running and cycling. Specifically, a 2010 Journal of Sports Sciences study found that 3mg of caffeine per kilogram of body mass improved cycling performance compared to a placebo.

      Another study found experienced cyclists were able to ride faster for 60 minutes at 75% of peak power output in 95 degrees Fahrenheit compared to cyclists that weren’t stimulated. Other studies have found improved reaction time, mental clarity, and focus in strength-athletes that take caffeine. This improved alertness can also come with a better tolerance for pain.

      CarnoSyn® Beta-Alanine:

      Your muscles are made up of proteins, and amino acids are the foundations of those proteins. CarnoSyn® Beta-Alanine is a patented amino acid used to help your muscles endure a tough workout. It’ll also give you tingles to tell you “hey, I’m working”.

      Beta-alanine is a nonessential amino acid (meaning our bodies can produce it) but it can also be found in protein-packed foods like beef, chicken, pork, and fish. Beta-alanine is a precursor to carnosine, which buffers hydrogen ions within muscle cells. This buffering results in a fatigue-fighting effect since the muscles are able to contract for longer/more efficiently.

      According to a 2014 review in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, there are studies that found beta-alanine may increase power output and working capacity, decrease the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion, and have a positive effect on body composition and carnosine content.

      Beta-alanine is one of the few ingredients in any C4 product that elicits a physical feeling—if you feel a tingling sensation in your lips, face or even fingertips, it’s a harmless effect of beta-alanine.

      Beta-alanine works best where large muscles are contracting quickly, like when running sprints, wrestling, high-intensity cycling (yes, spin class), and Olympic weightlifting.

      Creatine Nitrate:

      You’ve probably heard of it before, but we promise it’s not just for giant shredded weightlifters. Creatine can be found naturally in bone and certain foods and helps to build strength and lean muscle. Creatine Nitrate is a university studied, advanced, and more soluble form of creatine that helps with "pumps".

      Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate:

      Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate is a precursor to nitric oxide, which promotes nitric oxide production in the body. Ultimately, this helps in achieving pumps.

      Arginine is an amino acid found in eggs, chicken, nuts, dairy, pork and other foods. The body converts arginine to nitric oxide in a complex reaction. Arginine is also used in the urea cycle which is the natural process in which ammonia is detoxified through its metabolism into urea.

      Although arginine may improve blood flow and circulation, there’s no conclusive evidence that the arginine-nitric oxide relationship results in improved performance.

      TeaCrine® (Tetramethyluric acid/Theacrine):

      TeaCrine® is a non-stimulant source of energy and focus, and it is structurally similar to caffeine. Preliminary human studies indicate that the body does not adapt to it as quickly as it does to caffeine, therefore prolonging the tolerance buildup.


      N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine is a more soluble form of L-Tyrosine, which supports the production of noradrenaline and dopamine, in turn supporting mental and cognitive health during stressful activities – such as physical training.

      According to a 2010 European Journal of Applied Physiology study, oral supplementation with tyrosine improves cycling performance in the heat. Moderately trained athletes were able to cycle longer compared to a placebo after taking 150mg of tyrosine per kg of body weight. Tyrosine plays a role in providing a better mood, which may result in getting more out of your workouts.

      Velvet Bean (Mucuna Pruriens) seed extract (standardized for L-Dopa):

      Mucuna Pruriens contains high concentrations of L-Dopa. L-Dopa crosses the blood-brain barrier where it then converts to Dopamine, therefore supporting a positive effect on mental well-being, enhanced mood, alertness, and cognitive function.

      What is the best pre-workout supplement?

      There are different levels of pre-workouts thanks to the amount of stimulants found in each serving. In general, pre-workouts can fall into 3 categories:

      Level 1: Low/moderate stimulant. Good for those who enjoy a standard energy drink or cup of coffee during the day.

      Level 2: Moderate/high stimulant. Good for those who enjoy multiple energy drinks or cups of coffee a day and/or take pre-workout before the gym.

      Level 3: Extremely high stimulant. Good for those who have taken pre-workouts for years.

      C4 is America’s #1 selling pre-workout brand

      There are a lot of pre-workout brands out there but C4 is America’s #1 selling pre-workout brand. We've sold over a billion servings of the C4 family of products (that’s enough to stretch around the world three times, although we’re not sure why you’d do that).

      Unlike other brands, we don’t skimp on quality and our formulations include patented, clinically studied ingredients at doses that yield the best possible products for your goals.

      With the C4 family of pre-workouts, you’ll be able to find one that fits your lifestyle–whether you want to lift as heavy as possible and get all Schwarzenegger-ed out, kill it harder at the sport you play, or just look a little more toned for the beach.

      How do you know which C4 to take?

      That depends on your goals and stimulant tolerance. The C4 ID Series personalizes your pre-workout experience so you can choose the best formula for you.


      Find Your C4 Pre-Workout

      C4 Sport:

      The perfect choice for athletes, coaches, and trainers of all levels! C4 Sport provides explosive energy & performance, and proudly wears the NSF® Certified for Sport® logo. The NSF certification is recognized by many major sporting agencies. You'll be ready to crush it the second the clock starts.

      C4 Original:

      The ORIGINAL explosive pre-workout! It's great for beginners as well as those who want to take their training to the next level. Featuring clinically studied ingredients – such as CarnoSyn® Beta-Alanine, and NO3-T® Creatine Nitrate, C4 original combines incredible ingredients & flavors, to provide explosive support for energy, pumps, and muscular endurance! That’s why it’s America’s #1 selling pre-workout!

      C4 Ripped:

      C4 Ripped takes the explosive energy and flavor experience of C4, and incorporates a formula to support weight loss! With ingredients such as Green Coffee bean extract, L-Carnitine tartrate, Coleus Forskohlii, and Capsimax® Cayenne, C4 Ripped is the perfect combination of energy and weight loss support!

      C4 Extreme Energy:

      For those seeking the next level of pre-workout energy, C4 Extreme Energy combines 300mg of caffeine with 3.2g of CarnoSyn® Beta-Alanine in every serving! C4 Extreme Energy also incorporates Huperzine A and Rauwolfia root extract – providing focus support and taking energy to the extreme!

      C4 Ultimate:

      For those who are seasoned pre-workout users looking for a fully-loaded, high-impact pre-workout. C4 Ultimate combines 300mg of caffeine with 3.2g of CarnoSyn® Beta-Alanine in every serving – alongside 6g of Citrulline Malate! This ultimate C4 also contains Nitrosigine®, Creatine Nitrate®, BetaPower® Betaine, and a robust cognitive support blend – featuring Zembrin®, AlphaSize® A-GPC, and Huperzine A!

      C4 Extreme:

      Over two years in the making, spanning multiple formula tweaks and hundreds of flavor tests, C4 Extreme has been reengineered and reimagined from the ground up to help support explosive energy, extreme performance, powerful pumps, and mental alertness. In addition to explosive energy and performance, C4 Extreme delivers an extremely clean nutritional profile built with zero calories, zero sugar, and zero carbs, with zero compromises on the naturally and artificially sweetened flavor options you'd expect from C4.

      What if I am sensitive to stimulants?

      You can still reap the benefits of a pre-workout without having stimulants. Non-stimulant formulas focus on the power of amino acids to enhance muscular endurance and may also include ingredients for pumps. 

      *If you are sensitive to caffeine, Beta BCAA is the perfect stimulant-free alternative to our C4 line.

      Can I take other supplements if I take pre-workouts?

      You certainly can, however, you want to make sure you do not exceed your nitrate threshold or double up on stimulatory products such as pre-workout and weight loss products. One stimulant based product should be used at a time.

      Products with higher concentrations of nitrate-based ingredients such as the C4 ID Series family and NO3, for example, are not recommended to be used together.

      A good rule of thumb when stacking products: take a pre-workout (a C4 ID Series product), an intra-workout (Alpha Amino to support hydration and recovery) and a post workout (a Whey product: Cor Whey, Casein or Gainer).

      When should I take pre-workout?

      Typically, you take pre-workouts 20-30 minutes before your training session. Refer to each product's 'Suggested Use' for specific directions.

      What's up with scoop sizes?

      The first day of the best workouts you’ve ever had

      Taking a pre-workout isn’t going to immediately make you able to deadlift 500 pounds or run 50 miles, but what a pre-workout can do is help you get off the couch and into the gym, onto the field, or wherever you put in work. Over time, you will reap the benefits of taking pre-workouts consistently, with increased muscle, strength, and power, along with better endurance performance. And when you’re ready to progress to the next level, we’ll be right there for you with a C4 for your goals.

      Now that you have the 411 on pre-workouts, find training advice, motivation and more here.

      The world’s most personalized pre-workout.
      What is your stimulant tolerance?
      no stims for me thanks
      a standard energy drink or cup of coffee is enough for me
      I drink multiple energy drinks or cups of coffee a day and/or I take pre-workout before the gym
      I drink pre-workouts or energy drinks all day long
      What is your goal?

      Enhanced Performance
      start a fitness program and/or take it to the next level

      Weight Loss
      fat loss and cutting

      Muscle Growth
      gain strength and size
      Do you play collegiate or competitive sports?
      Alpha Amino BCAA

      Alpha Amino is the ultimate performance, hydration and recovery sports drink powder. Its premium formula is built on the power of amino acids and formulated with ingredients that promote healthy fluid balance. Alpha Amino has 14 Amino Acids including a well-studied 2:1:1 BCAA ratio. These Amino Acids support the body’s ability to fuel skeletal muscles, preserve muscle glycogen stores and reduce protein breakdown.

      • Performance BCAA’s with 0g Sugar
      • 14 Amino Acids
      • 5g BCAA’s in the clinically studied 2:1:1 ratio
      • Electrolytes for hydration
      • Zero Stimulants & Zero Sugar
      C4 Sport

      C4 Sport! If you are a collegiate athlete or play sports competitively, C4 Sport is the perfect pre-workout for you because it is NSF Certified for Sport. C4 will help you tackle your training in the gym and on the field.

      • Boosts energy + focus
      • Enhances muscular endurance
      • 135mg of caffeine
      • Contains CarnoSyn® Beta Alanine, an amino acid, patented and clinically studied form of beta-alanine that has been shown to support muscular endurance
      • NSF certification is trusted by the MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAA, and everyday athletes alike
      C4 Original

      C4 Original! This is our best-selling pre-workout with more than 1.3 billion servings sold! C4 Original is perfect for you if you are new to the pre-workout game or you are seeking a lower stimulant C4.

      • Perfect for energy, focus and pumps
      • Good if you’re at the start your fitness journey/want to step up your workouts
      • 150mg of caffeine

      Pro tip: If you are just starting out on a pre-workout, take half a scoop to assess tolerance level.*

      Also available in convenient, bottled, ON THE GO formula!

      C4 Ripped

      C4 Ripped! If your goal is to lose weight, C4 Ripped is the perfect pre-workout for you.

      • Helps you train harder while supporting your body’s ability to burn fat
      • Creatine-free
      • Includes ingredients like Green Coffee Bean Extract to support weight loss
      • 150mg of caffeine
      • L-Carnitine Tartrate
      C4 Extreme

      C4 Extreme! If you love energy drinks and are always on the hunt for higher caffeine levels, C4 Extreme is for you.

      • 200mg Caffeine Explosive Energy®
      • 2g CarnoSyn® Beta- Alanine
      • 1g Nitramax (NO3-C)™
      • 1g Creatine Nitrate (NO3-T®)
      C4 Ultimate

      C4 Ultimate! If you’re a seasoned gym goer who loves pre-workouts and you’re looking for a fully-loaded, high-impact pre-workout, C4 Ultimate has what you need.

      • The most powerful C4 created
      • Per scoop: 300mg caffeine, 6g Citrulline Malate, 3.2g of CarnoSyn® Beta Alanine, 1.5g Nitrosigine®, 1.5g Creatine Nitrate, plus a powerful blend of nootropics
      • Fully-loaded formula packs a heavy punch of ingredients for focus, endurance, and pumps to help push you to your ultimate limit
      • Formulated for the ultimate – not entry level

      Also available in convenient, bottled, ON THE GO formula!

      BCAA Sport

      BCAA Sport! If you are a collegiate athlete – or play sports competitively, BCAA Sport is a perfect stimulant-free option for you, because it is NSF® Certified for Sport®! BCAA Sport supports all day hydration & recovery, to maximize your workout results

      • All Day Hydration & Recovery
      • Supports All Day Hydration & Recovery
      • Zero Stimulants & Zero Sugar
      • 4G BCAA’s, 2.25G Added Amino Acids, 2G Added Glutamine, and Added Electrolytes
      • NSF® Certified for Sport®

      CN3&trad; combines 3 forms of Creatine into a stimulant-free 3-in-1 Creatine complex! Providing 6.25 total grams consisting of micronized Creatine Monohydrate, Creatine Nitrate, and Creatine Hydrochloride. CN3&trad; is an amazing product to be taken before, during, or after a workout. Looking to amplify Strength & Pumps? CN3&trad; has got you covered!

      • Strength & Pump Amplifier
      • Stimulant free
      • Includes Creatine Monohydrate, Creatine Nitrate, and Creatine HCL
      • Unflavored or flavored

      Cellucor CLK® is a stimulant free toning and sculpting supplement built on the power of four all-star weight loss ingredients: CLA, Raspberry Ketones, Carnitine, and the latest in diet support; Slimpro®.

      • Stimulant Free Fat Loss
      • Stimulant free toning and sculpting formula
      • Powered by four ingredients to support weight loss
      • Can be taken standalone, or paired with C4 Ripped (C4 Ripped contains stimulants)
      • Raspberry flavored softgels

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