When To Take Pre-Workout Supplements

By Chris Lockwood

By: Chris Lockwood, PhD, CSCS

When to take a pre-workout supplement?

The best opportunity to take a pre-workout supplement is if...

  • You need physical and mental energy to improve exercise motivation
  • You need to improve your mood towards working out
  • You need to increase training volume
  • You need to speed up intra-workout recovery
  • You’re a beginner in the gym
  • You’re a competitive athlete

    Should I take a pre-workout supplement?

    Whether you’re a beginner or an elite athlete, exercise constantly or you don’t exercise, one thing is universally necessary for everyone when it comes to exercise: motivation.

    It’s what gets you off the couch and into the gym, enables you to push yourself beyond your limits–to exhaust yourself throughout an entire workout, and then to return again and again and again...

    Answering the question if you should take a pre-workout.

    Without motivation, you’ll never reach your full potential.

    While there are genetic factors and regions of the brain that impact motivation to exercise, what worldwide coffee and tea consumption rates support and what pre-workout supplement users have inherently learned – the drive to stay focused on a difficult task (e.g., exhaustive exercise) is fueled best when the brain’s battery is charged.[1-6]

    How do you “charge” up?

    Use and timing of aides such as a pre-workout can serve as a positive trigger to get you in the zone for your workout.

    In other words, an intelligently formulated and tasty pre-workout drink may work a little more consistently. Not to mention, providing other benefits toward goal attainment.


    When to drink a pre-workout supplement?

    In addition to motivation, the Journal of Clinical Obesity recently reported that mood and feelings toward exercise are two of the most influential factors for someone out of shape to begin an exercise program.

    Then, to adhere to regular exercise, motivating factors such as mood and seeing results that reinforce perceived effort (e.g., early and significant changes in physique) are amongst the greatest contributors.[7]  

    Anything that safely and effectively promotes energy, improves mood, and can help increase the speed at which exercise yields beneficial results sounds like a good thing, right?

    Seeing results, whether mentally or physically is what gets you coming back to the gym, achieving goals, and setting new ones.

    A pre-workout designed to help increase training volume, when combined with the proper exercise and nutrition program, can be just the extra help someone may need to achieve their goals. The more goals you hit, the more motivation you have to train. 

    Ingredients commonly present within pre-workout formulas and that can influence training volume are caffeine (e.g., can reduce fatigue / increase exercise time to exhaustion), creatine (e.g., can increase the number reps to failure at a given load and accelerate recovery) and beta-alanine (e.g., can increase the number of reps to failure at a given load). [8-11]

    Is it absolutely necessary to consume a pre-workout supplement? No.

    Could a pre-workout supplement be helpful, however? Absolutely, yes.



    1. Roberts, M.D., et al., Dopamine D1 receptor modulation in nucleus accumbens lowers voluntary wheel running in rats bred to run high distances. Physiol Behav, 2012. 105(3): p. 661-8.
    2. Ruegsegger, G.N., et al., Mu opioid receptor modulation in the nucleus accumbens lowers voluntary wheel running in rats bred for high running motivation. Neuropharmacology, 2015. 97: p. 171-81.
    3. Thompson, Z., et al., Circulating levels of endocannabinoids respond acutely to voluntary exercise, are altered in mice selectively bred for high voluntary wheel running, and differ between the sexes. Physiol Behav, 2017. 170: p. 141-150.
    4. Saul, M.C., et al., High motivation for exercise is associated with altered chromatin regulators of monoamine receptor gene expression in the striatum of selectively bred mice. Genes Brain Behav, 2017. 16(3): p. 328-341.
    5. Rhodes, J.S. and T. Garland, Differential sensitivity to acute administration of Ritalin, apomorphine, SCH 23390, but not raclopride in mice selectively bred for hyperactive wheel-running behavior. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 2003. 167(3): p. 242-50.
    6. Claghorn, G.C., et al., Caffeine stimulates voluntary wheel running in mice without increasing aerobic capacity. Physiol Behav, 2017. 170: p. 133-140.
    7. Burgess, E., P. Hassmen, and K.L. Pumpa, Determinants of adherence to lifestyle intervention in adults with obesity: a systematic review. Clin Obes, 2017.
    8. Goldstein, E.R., et al., International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2010. 7(1): p. 5.
    9. Buford, T.W., et al., International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2007. 4: p. 6.
    10. Trexler, E.T., et al., International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2015. 12: p. 30.
    11. Roberts, P.A., et al., Creatine ingestion augments dietary carbohydrate mediated muscle glycogen supercompensation during the initial 24 h of recovery following prolonged exhaustive exercise in humans. Amino Acids, 2016. 48(8): p. 1831-42.

    About Chris Lockwood

    Dr. Lockwood is president of LOCKWOOD, LLC, an innovations, research, and consulting firm within the dietary supplement, nutrition and fitness industries. Beginning in Fall 2017, will also begin serving as an Adjunct Professor at Auburn University, School of Kinesiology. He has raised over $1.04MM in cash donations toward protein and dietary supplement research, is the lead inventor on five patents and pending applications, co-authored 58 peer-reviewed manuscripts and presentations, has authored 100s of consumer and trade articles, and is widely regarded as one of the foremost experts in sports nutrition and dietary supplements. He has previously served as Editor-in-Chief of Muscle & Fitness and M&F Hers magazines, Senior Category Director of the Diet, Energy, Food and Beverage category of GNC, Senior Brand Manager of ABB, and as Chief Scientific Officer of 4Life Research. 

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