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Pre-workout: What is it & should you be using it?

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by Sydney Devine

As Crossfitters, we do a lot for the sake of performance. We drop hundreds on shoes and other equipment, hit bed when it’s still daylight if it means adequate recovery, and even venture into different supplements that can bring better results. And among the many types of popular supplements in the world of Crossfit, one that you’ve likely heard about is pre-workout supplements.

For this month’s blog, we’ll cover the basics on one of the many things that Crossfitters turn to in order to help us perform better: Pre-workouts.


We’ve all seen them one way or another. The multi-colored shaker bottles filled with an enticing liquid. They’re often mixed with water and come in fun flavors like strawberry lemonade or mango.

Although the name seems awfully obvious and it feels like everyone’s drinking them, many of us don’t know how pre-workouts work and what the supplement actually is.

WebMD refers to pre-workouts as a supplement that comes in a pill or a powder form that’s meant to give you energy when you exercise. It also says the supplement’s main purpose is to help you recover, as well as ease the fatigue that comes with an intense workout. Simple enough, right?


There are a number of different ingredients in pre-workouts that give them that oomph. Some of the more common ingredients include:

  • Caffeine. Pre-workouts can keep you focused mid-workout, produce spurts of energy, and help improve your overall performance. You can thank the high-levels of caffeine for those results. 
  • Amino acids. Pre-workouts also contain branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). Experts say this ingredient helps increase lean body mass, as well as promote muscle growth. It can also help reduce damage to your muscles after an intense workout. 
  • Creatine. This word gets thrown out a lot in the Crossfit world. And when combined with exercise, creatine helps you gain strength. Research has also shown that creatine can also help increase levels of lean body mass.
  • Beta-alanine. This ingredient is meant to help you do high-intensity exercises. It may help buffer your muscles during intense workouts. Beta-alanine has been shown to lower fatigue and enhance recovery – especially in those workouts where you’re sprinting.  


At this point, pre-workouts may seem too good to be true. Although most ingredients in pre-workouts can be good for your health and your workouts, the supplements can also bring on side effects that you should be aware of. According to research, the bulk of pre-workout issues arise when the wrong ingredients are used, so make sure you’re doing your research before jumping into a pre-workout supplement.

Thankfully, many Crossfit gyms like Crossfit Liberate have the expertise of Coaches and Dietitians to vet these products for us. For example, Crossfit Liberate offers Gnarly Nutrition’s pre-workouts. 

These products are not only NSF certified – meaning they meet strict standards for public health protection – but they’re also made with all natural ingredients. A great choice, if you’re interested in jumping into a pre-workout regimen.

One other thing to watch for when it comes to pre-workouts is the amount you’re taking. WebMD says to stick to the recommended doses when taking pre-workouts. Taking too much could result in some unwanted side effects like digestive symptoms, irregular heartbeat, rise in blood pressure and changes in blood sugar.

Of course, if you’ve taken pre-workout before a workout and have any symptoms that worry you, stop your workout immediately. And remember to talk to your doctor before you try pre-workout supplements, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.


The experts advise taking your pre-workout around 20 minutes before you kick it into gear – this gives your supplement plenty of time to start working effectively.

And if you’re jumping into pre-workouts, they also advise taking them regularly, rather than every-so-often. In fact, studies have shown that taking them regularly can have better effects, helping those main ingredients build up in your body.

After all, as Crossfitters, we’re all about doing things the right way. And pre-workouts, when used wisely of course, simply help athletes better prepare for the variety of challenges they face during a WOD. So what’s the harm in that!

Of course, experts are quick to note that results will always vary from person to person. Pre-workouts that benefit some, may have no effect on others. But if you’re healthy and have no problems with your heart, kidneys, or liver, then safe, well-made pre-workout supplements are a great tool to up your performance during a workout.