This morning I took pre-workout for the first time and it was simultaneously one of the best and worst experiences I’ve ever had. I had so much energy and absolutely destroyed my training session but was pretty certain I was also going to die due to spontaneous combustion or just pass out for no reason. 
Pre-workout is basically a massive stimulant designed to give you as much energy as possible during your workout, allowing you to lift heavier and with a higher number of repetitions for maximum muscle building potential. Typically a pre-workout will contain things such as:
1)      Caffeine
Caffeine has been proven to improve exercise performance in endurance and high intensity training, so whatever your discipline it’s a great addition to your supplement routine. Caffeine works by delaying the perception of fatigue caused by sleep deprivation or dehydration. Just a 2% decrease in body weight due to dehydration leads to large decreases in performance, but this can be overcome with caffeine. 
There is debate about the effects of caffeine when it comes to fat metabolism. It’s widely accepted that caffeine may have some effect on fat burning but this varies greatly between individuals.
2)      Creatine
Particularly important for those doing high intensity work such as weightlifting, creatine increases muscle strength, size and power. This consequently means that you’re able to lift more and make those all-important gym gains. It works by helping to rapidly regenerate ATP, the molecule used by the body for energy. Creatine is one of the most heavily researched supplements out there and 3-5g per day should be sufficient to maintain muscle creatine levels. 
3)      Beta-alanine
When ATP is broken down by the body hydrogen ions are produced, as ATP breakdown occurs more rapidly during high intensity activity hydrogen ions begin to accumulate in the cells, creating a more acidic environment. Acidity results in the muscles becoming fatigued more quickly and decreases performance. Beta-alanine is readily converted in the muscle cells to carnosine, which acts as a buffer to help maintain pH balance. 
4)      BCAA’s
Although BCAA’s have been a subject of controversy recently, they are likely to be incorporated in to your pre-workout formula. There has been much debate about whether they actually work when it comes to preserving muscle mass. If you plan on training in a fasted state then the anabolic environment created by branched chain amino acids can help to promote muscle protein synthesis. 
Aside from these four major components, there are likely to be other ingredients such as taurine, tyrosine, arginine and citrulline malate however this varies depending on the brand.
So should you take pre-workout?
If you struggle to motivate yourself to train, maybe you’re in the final few weeks of a competition prep and a calorie deficit is leaving you drained and lacking energy, then pre-workout could be worth considering. If you have a poor caffeine tolerance then begin by taking half of the stated dose and see how it affects you. 
I’ll probably just be sticking to coffee and a big bowl of porridge for my pre-workout fuel in the future!
- Charlotte Fisher
Nutritional Science Student