Study: do pre-workouts work?

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Pre-workouts are a popular category of strength sports supplements. The purpose of such a supplement is to give you a boost during your training. However, new research strongly questions this.


The study compared three types of pre-workouts with a placebo drink of the same color and taste, namely:

A group of experienced female strength athletes completed a series of bench presses and leg presses to failure, after taking each of four drinks on four different days in a random order.

The result: There were no significant differences in the number of reps they could do for either exercise with a pre-workout supplement compared to the placebo control.

The researchers concluded that “the results of the current study contradict the advertised and marketed ergogenic benefits of pre-workout supplements.”


Are pre-workouts necessarily worthless? Not that either. First of all, this is only one study, conducted among ten women. In addition, whether a pre-workout actually ‘does’ something depends on its composition. Whether a pre-workout actually ‘does’ something depends on its composition. And that is often lacking, both in terms of the ingredients and their dosage. Sometimes the exact dosage is not even stated on the label.

The ingredients in a pre-workout must have at least a somewhat proven positive effect on strength and/or endurance. In addition, that effect must be acute (that is, it must occur within an hour or so), otherwise there is no reason to take them immediately before training. Beta-alanine (recommended dose 4-6 g) and to a lesser extent betaine (2.5 g) do have scientifically proven positive effects on training performance, but these effects are not acute: you can in principle take these supplements at any time of the day . They actually do not belong in a pre-workout.

The only two ingredients in the study’s pre-workout that should provide an immediate training boost are caffeine and citrulline malate. Caffeine apparently did nothing in this study, not even the incredibly high amount of 6 mg/kg, but there is quite a bit of research that supports the stimulating properties of caffeine. However, they may be mainly mental. Research into the ergogenic benefits of citrulline malate produces mixed results.

Ingredients that may also have a small acute positive effect on training are rhodiola rosea, alpha-GPC and taurine. You can read more about this, and how to make your own pre-workout, in this article.


Apart from creatine, there are not many substances that can significantly increase training performance in strength athletes. The research results are mixed for the handful of ingredients that could give you a boost, such as creatine and citrulline malate. A new study even shows no effect whatsoever with these ingredients. And to the extent that there is an effect, it is small and may or may not be placebo.

In this article we describe the ingredients that may do ‘something’ as a pre-workout. To our knowledge, there are hardly pre-workouts available that contain all these ingredients and in the correct doses. However, the ingredients in question are all available separately. That is why it is best to make a pre-workout yourself, even if it is a bit more expensive.

IF you already want a pre-workout. Strength supplements have traditionally been way overhyped. The only supplement that has been extensively researched and declared effective for strength gain/muscle growth is creatine. But even creatine supplementation is not a must to achieve optimal results.

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