What is a pre-workout, and do you need one?

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What is a pre-workout?

Pre-workouts are supplements that are designed to be taken right before exercise, to improve the quality and results of your workouts.

They are best-known for their stimulant effects, which are commonly used to boost alertness and motivation for exercising, especially weight lifting.

What many people overlook, however, are the various other benefits that pre-workouts can provide. We can group the benefits into four main effects:

1. Stimulant energy
2. Mood and focus enhancement
3. Performance enhancement
4. Pump enhancement


Stimulant ingredients are by far the most-recognized ingredients in pre-workout supplements. They are also the primary reason that many people use them.

Stimulants can provide an effective energy boost that increases wakefulness and motivation, mentally preparing the user for their workout.

Many stronger stimulants have substantial effects on energy, mood, and even fat-loss, but are often accompanied by dangerous side effects.

New stimulant compounds are regularly discovered, but many of these are closely related to already-banned compounds and are seldom proven to be safe for regular consumption.

Because of these health risks, your best bet is to stick to better-researched stimulants such as caffeine. Although not as powerful, these lighter stimulants are much safer, but still effective.

Commonly used stimulant ingredients include Caffeine and Caffeine-like compounds, Ephedrine, and compounds derived-from or similar-to Amphetamines (e.g. Methylhexanamine, also known as DMAA).

Mood and focus

Pre-workouts often contain nootropic ingredients that can make you feel more enthusiastic about working out, and help you to really “zone-in” and concentrate. This makes for more enjoyable and effective workouts, improving your frame of mind, effort, and form.

Nootropics can have a variety of specific effects: improved calmness, improved mood, increased cognition, increased focus, reduced fatigue, and more. These effects can usually be generalized into two groups: mood and focus.

Many of these ingredients are not specific to pre-workout products, and can often be found in brain health, de-stress, or study-aid supplements.

Some commonly-used mood and focus ingredients include: Choline, Theanine, Tyrosine, Ornithine, and Huperzine-A.


Perhaps the most overlooked parts of a pre-workout supplement are the performance-enhancing ingredients.

These can significantly increase workout quality via increases in strength, power, and endurance. Generally, lifting heavier weights and performing more reps translates to better results.

Unfortunately, these ingredients are very often under-dosed in many products. Supplement companies are known to capitalise on the fact that the majority of customers do not know the effective doses of ingredients, and include them in only in small amounts. Our reviews are designed to expose these products and companies.

Some of these ingredients have long-term rather than immediate effects, but are included in pre-workouts since they are better absorbed when taken before or after exercise.

Many performance ingredients may also have positive effects on recovery and growth.

Well-known ingredients for performance enhancement include: Creatine, Beta Alanine, Citrulline Malate, Betaine, and even Caffeine at high doses.


The pump is the term given to the [good] swelling of muscles while lifting weights.

It comes from increased blood flow to the area, which comes with benefits such as increased oxygen supply, and quicker removal of waste products. It may also contribute to increases in muscle size, via a process known as sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

Above all else, however, the pump is a very satisfying feeling that greatly increases muscle size and vascularity while lifting weights, and can be a great boost to your self-esteem.

There are 3 main mechanisms for enhancing the pump: the dilation of blood vessels (usually with a nitric oxide booster), increases in cell fluid volume (inside muscle cells), and increases in plasma volume (outside muscle cells).

A combination of all three effects will produce the best pump.

Common pump ingredients include: Nitrates, Arginine, Citrulline, Creatine, Taurine, and Glycerol.

So, do I need to use one?

The short answer is no, they are just an extra luxury. BUT they can be extremely helpful.

If you’re lacking motivation or energy to work out, lacking focus, or would like to improve your performance or results in the gym, a pre-workout could go a very long way for you.

Before using any type of supplement, though, we recommend making sure you’re hitting your macronutrient and calorie intakes consistently. You should also have a clearly defined short-term goal of either losing fat or gaining muscle. This ensures that you’re making progress and allows supplements to give you an extra boost in that particular direction.

Supplements won’t make up for a lack of direction and diet guidelines, and will largely be a waste of money if those basic requirements aren’t met.

How do I pick a good pre-workout product?

An ideal ingredient label: All clinically effective doses (Legion Pulse)

An ideal ingredient label: All clinically effective doses (Legion Pulse)

1. First, you need to know which effects you want out of the product. This could involve any number of the 4 main categories.

2. Know which ingredients that will help you realize these effects (master list of ingredients and effects on its way soon!).

3. Find the optimal dose of each ingredient, using a site like examine.com.

4. Take a look at ingredient labels to see which products come closest to your requirements. Disregard any products that use proprietary blends (these supplements tend to hide the fact that they have not used the clinically effective doses).

Alternatively, you can use our pre-workout reviews – the above process is already done and summarized for your convenience.

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