Pre-workout Supplements: How They Can Help You Get A Great Workout In, Even If You Are Tired

We’ve reviewed pre-workout supplements before on GreenEyedGuide, but in this guest post, Klemen Bobnar briefly reviews the science behind the ingredients commonly used in pre-workouts.

Some days, you are just bursting with energy, ready to take on the world and crush your workout.

Other times, dragging yourself out of bed demands all the willpower you can muster.

Life isn’t ideal and too much work, studying, or stress can leave you with the desire to switch the squat rack for the couch.

Luckily, there is a solution for those drowsy days: pre-workout supplements.

What is pre-workout?

Pre-workout supplements, or pre-workout for short, are a group of products meant to be taken an hour or less before your workout to enhance your energy, improve your strength, and generally make your workout more awesome.

They do that with a carefully chosen combination of ingredients, which can be broken down into two categories: stimulants and other performance enhancers. The stimulant in the majority of them is caffeine, while other ingredients include creatine, beta-alanine, L-arginine, niacin, protein, and many others (don’t worry if you don’t know some of them, they will be covered in detail in the next section). Every formula is different in the attempt to find the best possible combination.

However, that means that there are a lot of options when it comes to picking one product, which can get confusing. Let’s take a look at these ingredients and try to make your decision easier.

Common ingredients and how they work

These are the most common (and proven useful) ingredients in pre-workout mixes.


Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world. Who doesn’t like to start their day with coffee? Just like a cup of coffee in the morning, caffeine in pre-workout is there to give you the extra kick and reduce fatigue and drowsiness.

Besides that, caffeine is a proper performance enhancer: it improves performance in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions, while showing documented benefits to both endurance and power output. It also improves reaction time and motor coordination. Since you will build a tolerance with regular use, try to only use it when you really need it. Try to stay under 200 milligrams per serving and 400 milligrams per day.


Creatine can increase maximum power (like in sprinting) and performance in high-intensity bouts of lifting with rest times (like lifting in a rep range between 3 and 15) by 5-15%. When going closer to your one rep maximum, the increase drops down to 1-5%.

A 5 to 15 percent increase is really a no-brainer for anyone lifting weights with the goal of building weight. It is considered safe, as long as you stick to the recommended dose of 3-5 grams per day and don’t have preexisting kidney or liver conditions (if that is the case, consult your doctor before taking anything!). However, many supplements contain levels above the recommended dosage. Always check the label!


Beta-alanine delays muscle fatigue, allowing us to do more work before the “burn” sets in (as much as 20%). Supplementation was found to increase exercise performance, reduce neuromuscular fatigue and appears to be safe in healthy adults (dosage!), with the only known side effect being harmless tingling. A standard dose ranges from 2-5 grams but doses 0.8-1 gram are small enough to avoid the tingling sensation (paresthesia).

Related Post by GreenEyedGuide: How beta-alanine works, explained via Harry Potter


L-arginine is added to pre-workout supplements to increase blood muscle volume, meaning you get a better “pump”. Three out of five studies reported immediate improvements and only four out of eight showed an increase in performance with regular use.

As of now, it is too soon to recommend L-arginine as an effective supplement when it comes to improving performance, but it does give you more vascularity during your workout, and hey, since the health risk is minimal, go for it if it helps you be more consistent in the gym.

Related Post by GreenEyedGuide: Did You Know Citrulline (watermelon extract) increases L-arginine levels?

Betaine anhydrous

Betaine is one of the less known ingredients of pre-workout supplements. However, it is a useful one. A study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported an increase in total volume that people were able to do on the 10 set bench press after 14 days of taking it. The increase was 6.5%, which is big enough difference to think about use.


Protein is one of the essential components of food and the building block of muscle. We all know that we have to eat a certain amount every day to build muscle. Since eating enough can be hard, especially for taller people, supplements are used to bring protein intake up (since you can drink more calories than you can eat). That is why it is added to some pre-workout formulas, but you could also have it post-workout separately, or just get enough of it in your diet. Hint: the timing of it doesn’t make that big of a difference.


Taurine is a common ingredient in energy drinks and it performs many functions. In the case of pre-workout supplementation, a 2014 study found increased strength levels, decreased muscle soreness and oxidative damage, but not decreased inflammatory response after taurine supplementation.

Related Post by GreenEyedGuide: Taurine the Taxi – Book Excerpt of the Week


Tyrosine is a precursor to both norepinephrine and dopamine, two chemicals that (if we simplify) regulate mood and behavior. It improves cognitive function
and may provide benefits to people in demanding situational conditions.

Studies on whether or not it can be used as an exercise enhancer are of conflicting opinion. In any case, whatever benefits that are there to be had are cognitive benefits, which makes this supplement interesting to people who do longer bouts of exercise, especially endurance athletes.

Carbohydrates, Electrolytes, and Vitamins

If you workouts tend to take longer than an hour, you might benefit from replenishing some of the things you lost, namely the above three. For longer workouts, carbohydrates help sustain energy levels. They are included in many pre-workout drinks, but a bag of jelly beans or dry raisins works just as well. With electrolytes, they again become more important when the workout is longer. It also depends on how much you sweat during your workout, as some people don’t sweat much during strength training, but much more when doing cardio.


Side Effects

Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. So with supplements. In most cases, a healthy person can take all of the above with no risk to health.

However, if you have any pre-existing conditions, especially liver or kidneys, consult with a doctor (preferably one who is used to working with athletes).

It goes without saying that any kind of vomiting, cramps, excessive sweating, chest pain or anxiety are not normal reactions and that you should stop taking whatever caused the reaction.

Labels and “Proprietary Blend”

A label that says “proprietary blend” should make you run for the hills, as it means that the company isn’t willing to share how much of a certain ingredient they put into their product. Often, these doses can exceed the safe recommendations, which increases the health risk.

In other words, use at your own risk.

See “Confessions of a Shady Supplement Supplier” – related Post by GreenEyedGuide

A short-term solution to a long-term problem

Using pre-workout is not a permanent solution. It is a useful tool for the times when you are overslept and overworked. It is not to be used every time you go to the gym. You will build up a tolerance, which will require you to take a larger dose every time to maintain the same effects.

Before you consider taking pre-workout, consider how much of these guidelines you are following:

  • Get 8 hours of sleep per night
  • Drink enough water
  • Eat high-quality foods and avoid processed foods
  • Eat lots of vegetables of all colors
  • Get enough sunlight

But I won’t lecture you about that too much. As a busy student juggling exams, business, freelancing and other activities, I get that “just getting more sleep” often simply isn’t an option. However, you can’t expect to make good gains in the long run on low sleep, a bad diet and little to no water.

To supplement or not?

It has to be said that a sound diet and science-backed exercise program come before adding anything else. Just like you can’t outrun a bad diet, you can’t out-supplement it. No matter how strong your pre-workout is, it is not a permanent solution.

Still, pre-workout ingredients are very useful if you want to get the most out of your gym time. You could take each one separately, or make your own blend to your own taste and needs, but buying a premade one is much more convenient (I’m guessing you don’t have time to make your own pre-workout if you are underslept).

Since taking a pre-workout increases muscular endurance and power output, decreases feelings of fatigue and increases alertness, and has no serious side effects for healthy people, I would recommend them just as anything else – in moderation. We know that consistency in the gym is king, and on a day when you just can’t find the motivation to get a workout in, grab a pre-workout and enjoy the jolt of energy.

About the author

Klemen Bobnar is a freelance health & fitness copy- and ghostwriter. He is a content contributor at and loves to talk training, nutrition and mental game.

Energy Drink of the Month — Sept 2016: Six Star Pre-Workout Explosion

Are you setting new resolutions for a new school year, trying to get used to a new schedule, or just trying to get in shape before the holiday season? This month’s pick is dedicated to September, and all the changes it brings.


The Energy Drink of the Month for September 2016 is Six Star Pre-Workout Explosion.

One serving is one scoop of powder, delivering 135 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. Though this is a dry powder and not a Ready-To-Drink (RTD), we’ll review the Who, What, and When as we do for every Energy Drink of the Month.


Who is this for? Target Audience

As it says right on the label, Six Star Pre-workout Explosion is for active men and women, bodybuilders, and strength athletes. But to find out if this product is worth a try, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you workout for more than 20 minutes? Does your workout exceed the intensity where you find it hard to talk normally / find yourself out of breath?
  • Are you more concerned about limiting sugar and calories than avoiding artificial colors and sweeteners?
  • How much caffeine can you handle?

What is in it? Ingredients and Function

The key ingredients in this product include caffeine (duh), beta-alanine, arginine and citrulline, creatine, vitamin C, and vitamin B3 (niacin).

Caffeine is a stimulant, but it also has been shown to increase muscle endurance and athletic performance in reliable scientific studies. Have you seen my YouTube presentation, Caffeine in Workout Supplements and the 5 Levels of Fatigue yet?

Arginine and citrulline are ingredients we’ve reviewed in depth during for the Ingredient Focus series. In general, citrulline and arginine help the body remove biochemical waste, and they help improve blood flow. For more detail, see the Ingredient Focus three-part series on citrulline: What It Is, What It Does, Dosage and Side Effects.

Creatine and beta-alanine are both ingredients intended to help build muscle and increase muscle strength. In both cases, total doses of 3-6 grams per day are needed on a regular basis to have an effect. Beta-alanine has some fascinating studies behind it (nerd alert!), especially since one brand (CarnoSyn) owns the market and has been responsibly proactive about proving this ingredient’s benefits. In general, beta-alanine is claimed to increase muscle strength and power output. However, the specifics on how much one really needs and how exactly this ingredient works is worth further investigation. Beta-alanine will be our Ingredient Focus pick for this month, so stay tuned for that!

Niacin is like the person everyone wants at their party. Did you know that niacin participates in over 200 reactions in the body – most of them used to produce ATP (the chemical form of energy)? Did you know that niacin deficiency symptoms include the three Ds: dementia, diarrhea, and dermatitis? Niacin is one of my favorite vitamins to talk about, especially since it disproves the idea you can never have too much of a water-soluble vitamin. It’s a popular vitamin in energy drinks, and yet with a 35 mg dosage, some people experience “niacin flush”.

If you’re a nerd like me and you want to learn more about what niacin does and why its story of discovery and application is so interesting, check out my book “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks – How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely”


When to take it? 5 Levels of Fatigue

During grad school, when I was doing research on energy drinks and their ingredients, I developed the 5 Levels of Fatigue. This system is designed to match the type and potency of caffeinated beverage with one’s true level of fatigue. In short, if you always reach for the strong stuff when you’re bored (not tired), it won’t work when you really truly need it.

This product contains 135 mg caffeine per serving, but the label of this product encourages people to have TWO servings! While the EFSA has ruled that up to 200 mg caffeine is safe to consume in one occasion, TWO servings would be 270 mg caffeine. That’s more than a whole can of Rockstar, more than the EFSA recommends consuming in one sitting, and more than half the safe daily max of 400 mg caffeine per day. According to the 5 Levels of Fatigue, this product is Fatigue Level 4. In short, this Pre-Workout Explosion may be too powerful for some people (and there’s no shame in that!).

While the EFSA has ruled that up to 200 mg caffeine is safe to consume in one occasion, TWO servings would be 270 mg caffeine. That’s more than a whole can of Rockstar, more than the EFSA recommends consuming in one sitting, and more than half the safe daily max of 400 mg caffeine per day.


Bottom Line

There’s a good reason Caffeine Informer considers pre-workout supplements one of the 8 Most Dangerous Caffeinated Products.  This is a large dose of caffeine per serving — not larger than what is considered safe in one sitting, but large enough to warrant careful consumption by the user.

I’ve been using this product as my pre-workout for about one month (*individual results may vary*) and I have found I don’t need any other source of caffeine the rest of the day. What helps most is that I add one (non-heaping) scoop to a 20 oz water bottle, and it takes me the full 90 minutes of my morning workout to get through the whole drink. Moderation and pacing are critical to consuming caffeine safely and effectively.



Explore the CAFFEINE INFORMER database

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Get your copy of “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks — How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely”

Ingredient Focus: Citrulline Part 3 – How Much?

In Part 1, we learned citrulline is watermelon extract. In Part 2, we learned citrulline’s value is what it does once the body converts it to arginine. In Part 3, we discuss the optimal dosage.

So how much citrulline do we need?

You may wonder, “If citrulline is so great because of how it turns into arginine, can’t I just take arginine?”

Citrulline is better absorbed than arginine. It’s also better tolerated. Doses over 10 grams of arginine can result in diarrhea and other gastrointestinal distress, but doses of citrulline up to 15 grams don’t cause these side effects according to this study.

Citrulline Malate versus L-citrulline

One gram of L-citrulline equates to 1.76 grams of citrulline malate. Citrulline malate is citrulline attached to the natural fruit acid, malic acid. Research studies on citrulline for sports performance typically use citrulline malate more than L-citrulline, so that is the preferred form.

For circulatory health (via arginine and subsequent nitric oxide production), citrulline doses are typically 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) three times with meals.

Although citrulline is not proven to improve muscle soreness, creatine production, or muscle protein synthesis, 6-8 grams as citrulline malate is commonly taken before, and less commonly after, a workout.

Supplements with Citrulline Malate




Citrulline is promoted with claims about improving muscle pump, and strength and power, but “this supplement has somewhat inconclusive findings,” according to’s 2016 supplement guide. This sentiment is echoed by the in-depth assessment of citrulline research on The guide’s rating continues, “…some studies report positive changes following use, while others report no change. The anecdotal evidence is favorable, and although more research is needed, it is still considered safe for use.”

References and Related Reading

Citrulline Part 1 (What It Is) and Part 2 (What It Does)

WTRMLN WTR – Energy Drink of the Month – June 2016

Citrulline on (note – this site has HEAPS of information, but it may be a bit technical for some)



Explore the CAFFEINE INFORMER database

Visit the Energy Drink Guide Facebook page (Woo-hoo!!! 100 Likes!)
Follow the GreenEyedGuide on Twitter
Follow GreenEyedGuide-the-NPC-Figure-Athlete on Instagram and Tumblr

Get your copy of “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks — How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely”


Ingredient Focus: Citrulline Part 2 – What It Does

In Part 1, we used grapes and toothpicks to understand what citrulline is. In part 2, we discuss what it does.

Like a watermelon seed, the best part of citrulline is not what it is, but what it becomes: arginine. When citrulline is ingested, it is converted into the amino acid arginine.

Read more

Ingredient Focus: Citrulline – What It Is, What It Does, How Much to Take (Part 1)

Since citrulline is one of the key ingredients in the Energy Drink of the Month for June 2016, it’s time to take a closer look. With the help of grapes and toothpicks, GreenEyedGuide answers your biggest citrulline questions.

Citrulline is an amino acid, but not an essential/non-essential amino acid our bodies use to build proteins. Citrulline is called “watermelon extract” and gets its name from watermelon’s Latin botanical name, (Citrullus vulgaris). So you’d think watermelon has a lot of citrulline, right?

Wrong. Read more