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May 16, 2023
Ladies, long gone are the days in which we avoid the gym's weight area. In fact, these days, glance over at the lifting section and you'll find many women training hard.
Because somewhere in recent workout history, many of us discovered the joy of pumping iron and building muscle. More and more women are also realizing that they will not get big and bulky overnight. The beauty is that the more muscle you build, the more sculpted and toned you look.
With this shift in training mindset, it's become pretty common to see females dripping sweat as they bench press and deadlift with the best of the gym bros.
But just like guys, in order for women to work as hard as possible, we need to make sure our supplements align with our goals. One such supplement? Pre-workout, which has the ability to improve your energy, power, and focus, ultimately leading to more muscle.
So, ladies, this one's for you. It's everything you need to know about the supplement you should be taking!
Table of Contents:
Pre-workouts, which often come in powder or pill form, include a variety of ingredients that lead to an increase in exercise performance.
Stimulants, like caffeine and green tea, are some of the most popular pre-workout ingredients as they are what get you hyped. In addition, many pre workouts include various muscle buffers to balance the pH level in the muscle and mitigate the burning sensation many of us feel when we're lifting.
For the most part, these changes are acute and transient, meaning you will experience them temporarily until the pre workout wears off. As for when to take pre workout, the answer lies in the supplement's name. You got it - before your workout!
The bottom line here: Pre workouts are designed to improve your immediate performance in the gym.
So, we just discussed how pre workout improves your athletic performance. But, how?
The majority of pre-workouts will include ingredients that boost your energy, improve your focus, and increase your power, strength, and endurance, leading to more significant gains in the gym.
These physiological responses can lead you to exercise longer, more intensely, and lift heavier and with more force. However, the specific reactions your pre-workout elicits will depend on the ingredients in your pre-workout.
Let's talk about the most common ones.
We're going to hit on the most common and popular pre-workout ingredients. It's important to note that these are not all-encompassing, so for more information, check out our article that does a deep dive into pre-workout ingredients.
Caffeine is the most common ingredient used in pre-workouts, and you can even buy caffeine pills as a sole supplement because it works awesomely.
Many people associate caffeine with their morning cup of coffee. It wakes you up and gives you energy - what's not to like?
But caffeine's benefits don't end there. It can directly improve exercise performance, helping to delay fatigue, increase your workload, and decrease your rate of perceived exertion¹. And, as icing on your caffeine cake, recent studies have even shown it can help anaerobic output, which is beneficial for strength training and power efforts.
When talking about the most effective pre workout ingredients, caffeine is easily in the top 5. You'll find tons of great caffeinated pre-workout options on our list of the 15 Best Pre Workout Supplements! Looking for a specific recommendation? I'd suggest NutraBio Pre, an effective pre workout with 350mg of caffeine per serving.
Beta-alanine is another very popular ingredient. Beta alanine is the ingredient that causes your pre workout to make your skin tingle and itch.
Beta-alanine works as a muscle buffer, meaning it helps to keep a healthy pH balance, which it does by allowing your body to produce more of the compound carnosine, your primary muscle buffer.
So to be clear, beta-alanine doesn't directly work as a muscle buffer. Rather, it's the limiting compound in the synthesis of carnosine. Therefore, pre workouts with beta-alanine enables you to produce more carnosine, which in turn maintains the muscle's pH level.
Beta-alanine is another great pre workout ingredient. Not only does it work, but it works well.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) and essential amino acids (EAA) are the building blocks of muscle protein synthesis. In fact, protein is a term used to describe a compound that has all 20 amino acids. This means that protein is just amino acids.
In terms of muscle growth, some of these amino acids (BCAAs and EAAs) are more important than others. BCAAs and EAAs are put in pre workouts to help support muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness. It's like preemptively feeding your body with the supplies it needs to support muscle growth.
Interested in BCAAs specifically? We've rounded up the 7 Best BCAAs For Women To Help Muscle Growth & Recovery.
Nitric oxide boosters can increase the production of nitric oxide. When larger amounts are present, a nitric oxide booster will widen blood vessels to allow more blood flow. As a result, they give an amazing "pump" and can help support harder, longer workouts.
Common nitric oxide boosters you may find on a pre-workout ingredient list include Agmatine Sulfate, L-Citrulline, and Beet Root.
Nootropics are brain supplements. These compounds, which include ingredients like Alpha-GPC, Theanine, Huperzine-A, and Tyrosine, provide energy by improving cognitive function. Think about how awesome and focused you feel after an awesome night's sleep, and that's the effect nootropics will have.
Nootropics are especially prevalent in non-stimulant workouts (we'll talk about this more shortly) and are designed to increase your focus, awareness, and mood, improve clarity, and create smooth, clean energy to fuel your workouts.
The list of pre-workout ingredients goes on and on, but I do want to mention two other ingredients that may pop up. First, carbs are a primary ingredient in some pre-workouts, and they're included for a reason.
If you're performing a particularly long workout (think endurance) or a high-intensity workout that lasts for quite a while, pre-workouts with carbs can help refill your glycogen stores. This may also be helpful if you're hitting the gym and haven't had anything to eat in quite a while as it can help you feel a little more energized.
The other ingredient I wanted to discuss is creatine. Women will find creatine just as beneficial as guys do, as it has been proven to help build more muscle. One thing to note here: Creatine needs to be taken every day, and you don't need to take pre-workout every day (especially on days where you don't hit the gym).
My suggestion would be to pick up one of these 7 Best Creatine Supplements and begin taking it daily. And then if you like the idea of adding a little more creatine into the mix on days when you take your pre-workout, check out these 9 Best Pre Workouts With Creatine.
The good news with pre workouts? You've got options! The bad news? You have an overwhelming amount of them.
Let's dig into the different types of pre-workout products, so you can hone in on what will work best for you.
The most common pre-workout is in powder form. The vast majority come this way, allowing you to scoop as much or little as you want. It's cheap and effective. Plus, these tend to come in awesome flavors and taste great, particularly these 7 Best Tasting Pre Workouts!
Pro Tip: Try mixing your pre-workout in fruit juice. This lets you make a delicious drink and get in some carbs to fuel high-intensity exercise.
Pre-workout in drink form is another option. These are simply the powder form that come pre-mixed for you. As far as what's better, drink or powder, it's exactly the same thing assuming you're using the same product.
Because it's pre-made, these will cost quite a bit more than if bought in powder form. On the flip side, they're super convenient.
While I wouldn't make this my go-to option, they're great for days when you're in a rush and need something you can quickly grab on your way out the door.
Stim pre-workouts refer to pre-workouts that stimulate the central nervous system. The best example of this is caffeine. These are your traditional pre-workouts and what people generally think of when getting "hyped" for the gym.
Over the past few years, there has been an increase in gym goers who want a pre workout without the jitters that can sometimes come from caffeine. And that was how non-stimulant pre workout was born.
Non-stim pre workouts include ingredients like nootropics, muscle buffers, and nitric oxide boosters. Wondering if non-stim pre-workout works? I can answer that here. It does!
Some women prefer the non-stimulant option as it provides the perfect increase of focus and energy. If you fall into this bracket, check out this round-up of the best caffeine-free pre-workouts.
Ladies, if you're wondering whether pre-workout is for you, check out these 3 benefits.
The most common reason women (and men) should take a pre-workout supplement is simply for the energy boost it provides. The vast majority of pre-workouts include stimulants and other compounds that directly lead to you having more energy.
Having a quality pre-workout supplement can help improve your energy levels on days where you're either not feeling it, are tired, or know you have a hard workout you really want to crush.
Women are crazy busy. Trust me, as someone juggling a family and career, I get it. I also know that after a long day, hitting the gym for squats sounds less than appealing. But you know what helps me push through? Well, first, a lot of willpower, and then second, my favorite pre workout.
This is especially important if you have a tough workout scheduled. Maybe it's an upper body day, or perhaps you have heavy squats programmed. Lifting isn't always fun, but in order to make progress, it needs to get done. Pre-workout supplements make that a bit easier by delaying fatigue and providing you with the energy boost you need.
To be clear, a pre-workout is not traditionally known as a fat-loss supplement, nor should it be. Pre-workouts can be very powerful, and using them specifically as a fat burner is dangerous. If you're looking for a fat burner, you're betting off actually using a fat burner.
With that said, pre-workout can help you lose weight. Remember that the main goal of pre-workout is to allow you to go farther and harder. Basically, it'll help you do more work.
This ultimately amounts to building more muscle mass and burning more calories. In other words, it can assist in building muscle mass or losing fat, both of which lead to better body composition.
And if you're looking for solid proof, this exact finding was concluded in a 2022 study, which looked at the results of using a supplement called NO-Shotgun for 28 days². NO-Shotgun is a multi-ingredient pre-workout and has just about every effective ingredient, such as caffeine, beta-alanine, essential amino acids, and Tyrosine.
At the end of the study, the group that took the pre-workout increased their muscle strength and mass and myofibrillar protein content more significantly than the group taking a placebo.
In addition, a 10-week study from the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that sedentary men using a pre-workout, Celsius, were able to improve their exercise adaptations from working out, leading to better body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and endurance performance².
Interested in a pre-workout to support your weight-loss goals? Check out the 8 Best Pre-Workout Supplements For Weight Loss.
Getting to the gym sporadically is relatively easy. Getting to the gym consecutively year after year is tough. Unfortunately, you need the latter (going for years) to make a significant difference. A quality pre-workout can make this more manageable.
While you should never become reliant on a pre-workout, it can give you the much-needed energy to get there. And isn't that at least half the battle?
But at the end of the day, dedication dictates your success, and some days are just going to be tough. Suck it up, ladies. We got this.
Plus, a good pre-workout makes things a little less sucky when used correctly. If that's what you need to get motivated to hit the gym day after day and year after year, that's a supplement worth taking.
In case you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of pre-workout. But as with pretty much everything in life, there are some things to consider before taking it. Let's start with going over some general precautions and then touch on some special considerations for women.
I don't care how much coffee you guzzle in the morning or how caffeine-resistant you think you are. Always start with a half dose (or even slightly less) when you're first trying a new pre-workout supplement.
Remember, different pre-workouts use different ingredients, combinations, and dosing. There are also way more ingredients than just caffeine, so even if coffee doesn't give you the jitters, a strong pre-workout still may. In fact, it's a good idea to pair your supplement with some natural pre workout (aka, a healthy snack) so you're not taking it on an empty stomach.
Start small to test, and then increase the dosing once you know how your body will react.
Generally speaking, pre-workouts are awesome and work great, and for the most part, are pretty well-regulated.
I would recommend avoiding products from unheard-of companies. These are often easy to spot as the products tend to have amateur logos and names with "extreme" and "skull" in them.
I'm not saying they are bad, but I am saying if a pre-workout is bad, it's likely going to be one of these. Plus, there are so many excellent pre-workout options available, that it's easy to stick with pre-workouts that come from trusted brands and sources.
In addition, when picking the best pre workout supplement for you, select one that is third-party tested for peace of mind. This guarantees you're consuming what the product says you are.
Now, this only makes sense if you're going to work out in the morning. As you should ideally take your pre-workout 30 to 60 minutes before a workout, taking pre workout in the morning and then hitting the gym in the evening, does not make sense.
What I'm suggesting here is that you only use your pre-workout before your morning workouts, until you know how your body will react to the stimulants in your product. If you take your pre workout too late, you may have trouble sleeping that night. And no one wants to lie away tossing and turning hours past bedtime.
My recommendation: Use it before a morning workout to see how it affects your sleep. If you notice you still feel amped hours after your workout, you'll know that taking this pre workout after work isn't going to be good for getting to sleep on time.
Alternatively, if you find you can take it and feel normal an hour or so after working out, it's likely fine to take it in the evening.
We talked about this earlier in the article, but as timing your pre-workout to get the best results is important, it's worth reiterating again. Take your pre-workout 30 minutes to 60 minutes before you're going to start exercising.
Ladies, our bodies are different than men's, so it's important we acknowledge that here. This will help you use your pre-workout in the safest and most effective way for you.
Let's have a look.
The most obvious difference between men and women is that women are smaller! When you consider a lot of guys are 200+ pounds, how much sense does it make for a 140-pound woman to take the same dose of pre-workout supplements?
Now, this isn't a clear-cut "men take this much and women take this much," as your size will ultimately dictate this. However, when speaking in generalities, women should start with a smaller dose.
I actually recommend that men start with half a dose when they first take pre-workout, so ladies, for your first time, try a fourth of the suggested serving and see how it goes. This just means less money spent on supplements, so it's a win.
Women metabolize caffeine faster than men do under normal conditions, meaning that caffeine tends to leave our systems faster.
But if you are on birth control, specifically the pill, it takes your body longer to metabolize caffeine⁴. As a result, caffeine will stay in your system longer, which can make sleep quite difficult. It could also lead you to feel more jittery.
The solution here is simple. If you are taking birth control, start with a low dose and simply assess how it affects you.
Accelerated bone loss is most prevalent for post-menopausal women, but certainly something all ladies should be aware of. Research examining the effect of high caffeine intake in 205 healthy, nonsmoking, postmenopausal women found that women who consumed more than 3 cups of coffee daily had accelerated bone loss, resulting in low bone density⁵.
This only occurred in women who had less than 800mg of calcium daily, which is the suggested intake amount. The higher caffeine intake did not occur in women who ate a sufficient amount of calcium. In fact, these women saw similar bone density regardless of caffeine intake.
However, when an insufficient amount of calcium was taken, the women did see a drop in bone mineral density. But for post-menopausal women who want to take pre-workout before hitting the gym, it's a pretty easy fix. Just consume enough calcium.
Ladies, the takeaway of this article is that we are badass individuals who hit the gym hard. As such, it's a good idea to find a pre-workout that can help give you an oomph on days when your energy is lagging or for that workout in which you're determined to finally beat your deadlift PR.
Just remember to adjust your dosing down, as needed, and don't forget to take your pre-workout 30 to 60 minutes before hitting the gym!
Ready to find the best pre workout supplements for you? Check out our article on the 15 Best Pre Workout Supplements! Or, if you're sensitive to stimulants, these Caffeine-Free Pre-Workouts may be just what you're looking for!
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