Explaining 27+ Pre-Workout Ingredients & What They Do

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With so many pre-workout formulas on the market these days it can be hard to tell the difference between each one and whether or not the ingredients will line up with your goals and preferences.

To help you better understand the benefits of each ingredient so you can choose a pre-workout supplement that will work for you, I’ve created a list of the most common pre-workout ingredients (a total of 27).

I’ll explain what they are, what they do, and the science behind the safety and dosing strategies for each ingredient.

If you’re looking for the right combination of pre-workout ingredients for your goals and the effective doses for each ingredient then check out our Top 7 DIY Pre-Workout Recipes.

Common Ingredients Found in Pre-Workout and What They Do

Note: This list is alphabetized so you can find the ingredients you’re looking for more easily and their effective doses

Agmatine

  • What It Is: Agmatine is a chemical found in bacteria and plants. It is made from the amino acid, arginine which is involved in the regulation of vascular function and blood flow.
  • What It Does: Agmatine functions as a neurotransmitter in the brain and can stimulate the release of Luteinizing Hormone in the body. 
  • Benefits: Agmatine’s function as a neurotransmitter, is thought to give it the ability to improve mental focus and mood. Additionally, because it can stimulate the release of Luteinizing Hormone, it may positively impact testosterone levels and lead to muscle growth.

    The important thing to note here is that most of the studies on agmatine have been done on rats, so a lot more research is needed.
  • Dosing: There is currently no accepted standard for agmatine dosing due to the lack of research on humans. To improve cognitive performance, the estimated human dose is 1.6-6.4mg/kg of body weight*, taken daily.

    For a 175lb individual, this works out to approximately 126-500mg. 

    *This is an estimation based on the current dosage for rats. You should not exceed 6.4mg/kg of bodyweight.
Bulk Supplements Agmatine Sulfate

Alpha-GPC

  • What It Is: A form of choline (an essential nutrient for humans) and a precursor of acetylcholine (a chemical messenger vital for muscle control, involuntary bodily movements, and various brain functions). Research links acetylcholine to improved memory and muscle contractions
  • What It Does: The theory behind alpha-GPC supplementation is that by having more alpha-GPC in the body, you will have more acetylcholine. Therefore, you will also have improved brain power and muscle function.
Bulk Supplements Alpha GPC (L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine)

Arginine

  • What It Is: Arginine is an amino acid that is used by the body to make protein. It also acts as a vasodilator, opening the body’s blood vessels to allow blood to pass more easily. 
  • What It Does: Because of its role as a precursor to muscle protein synthesis (which leads to muscle growth), there is a potential for L-Arginine to increase lean body mass and improve body composition.
  • Benefits: The majority of research surrounding L-arginine is in regard to improving cardiovascular health and erectile dysfunction. Even a lot of the studies that looked at improving exercise performance were done specifically on patients with heart disease and congestive heart failure

    To date, the studies looking at l-arginine and athletic performance have had mixed results, at best.
  • Dosing: So far, the most promising studies suggest that for immediate performance benefits, you should aim for 0.15g/kg of body weight (or 0.068g per pound) taken 60-90 minutes before exercise. 

    For a 175lb individual, this works out to approx 12g.

    Over the long term, arginine supplementation should include a maintenance dose of 1.2-2g daily for 7+ weeks to improve aerobic performance, and 10-12g daily for 8 weeks to improve anaerobic performance.
Bulk Supplements L Arginine

BCAA

  • What It Is: BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) are a group of three specific amino acids Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. They make up about 30% of the protein found in skeletal muscle.
  • What It Does: BCAAs can be broken down inside the muscle cells, rather than in the liver like other amino acids. As a result, it is believed that they can play a beneficial role in increasing muscle energy during exercise. 
  • Benefits: Truthfully, if your protein intake is adequate then you likely don’t require additional BCAA supplementation. 

  • Benefits: Truthfully, if your protein intake is adequate then you likely don’t require additional BCAA supplementation. 

    However, for those who don’t consume enough protein, BCAA supplementation before/during/after exercise has been shown beneficial for reducing markers of muscle damage and decreasing muscle soreness.
  • Dosing: The best strategy appears to be combining a high daily intake (>200mg per kg) over a long period of time (>10 days). 200mg per kg of body weight works out to around 91mg per pound of body weight. 

    For a 175lb individual, this equals around 16g of BCAA daily. 
  • Where To Buy: You can buy unflavoured BCAAs from bulksupplements.com. If you do choose to include them in your pre-workout, though, you might consider purchasing a flavored BCAA supplement instead of buying a separate product like Mio or Gatorade. 

    The caveat to buying flavored BCAA is that it is difficult to find one that doesn’t have other added ingredients like other amino acids. I like the Ghost BCAA which tastes great and offers 7g of BCAA per serving. 

Beta-Alanine

  • What It Is: An amino acid that plays a key role in the synthesis of carnosine (a molecule that is highly concentrated in the brain and muscles) in the body.
  • Benefits: Supplementing with beta-alanine is shown to increase muscle carnosine levels by 15-85%. As a result, muscle fatigue will be delayed, meaning you can exercise at higher intensities for a longer duration.
  • Dosing: Beta-alanine should be taken long-term (longer than 2 weeks) on a daily basis for optimal results. Optimal dosing appears to be 3-6g daily for 4-10 weeks, with a maintenance dose of 1.2 grams per day afterward. 
BulkSupplements Beta Alanine 1kg

Learn more about the science of beta alanine in our article What Does Beta Alanine Do In Pre-Workout?

Betaine

  • What It Does: Helps with liver function, making carnitine (a substance that converts fat into energy), and metabolizing the amino acid homocysteine
  • Dosing: Betaine should be taken daily over several weeks at a dose of 2.5g per day. The studies evaluating human performance and betaine have been done over the course of several weeks, using doses of approximately 2.5g daily. 

    Researchers have studied betaine in doses 4-5x that amount for a 6-week period with no adverse side effects. Therefore, it is presumed safe at the 2.5g daily dose.
Bulk Supplements Betaine HCl

BioPerine

  • What it is: Piperine, or its patented name BioPerine, is black pepper extract. I have added this here because it is found in nearly every pre-workout available on the market.
  • Benefits: It is a common addition to many pre-workout supplements to help with the absorption of the other ingredients.
Bulk Supplements Black Pepper Extract (95% Piperine)

Caffeine

  • What It Does: It is a stimulant that speeds up the mental nervous system, increases alertness and mood, and delays the time to exhaustion. 
  • Where To Buy: Caffeine is most commonly found in capsule or tablet form. You can buy it from Amazon in 100mg and 200mg doses. You can not purchase caffeine in powder form due to the potential health concerns of accidental overdose. (Just one teaspoon of pure caffeine can have the same amount as 28 cups of coffee).

Important Note: The FDA recommends an upper limit of 400mg of caffeine per day. To stay within a safe limit at a higher body weight, stick to the lower caffeine recommendation. It is also important to consider other sources of caffeine in your day, like energy drinks and coffee, to avoid going over the FDA’s safety limit.

Carbohydrates

  • What It Is: Carbohydrates are used by the body for all of its energy systems (short, medium, and long-duration exercise). However, they are utilized in varying amounts, depending on what kind of exercise you do. 
  • What It Does: It is likely that you consume enough carbohydrates in your diet to sustain your exercise. But if you are preparing for competition/competing at a high level, pre- and post-workout carbohydrates might be beneficial for both performance and muscle recovery. 
  • Dosing: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a daily intake of anywhere from 3-12g/kg/day – on the lower end range for low-intensity exercise and the higher end range for high-intensity exercise. 

    Before very intense, prolonged exercise, take in 200-300g of carbs spread out over a few meals several hours prior. Taking in an additional 15g right before starting exercise can help prevent a rebound effect that can cause low blood sugar.

 

  • Where To Buy: As mentioned, you can get your daily carbohydrate requirements from whole foods like rice, pasta, bread, fruits, and vegetables. If you struggle to eat enough or want quick and convenient options, you can buy pure dextrose powder from Amazon.com or choose a carbohydrate and electrolyte blend like Allmax Carbion

Related Article: Can You Take Dextrose While Cutting? (Tips For Proper Use)

Carnitine

  • What It Is: L-carnitine is a compound created in the body by combining the essential amino acids lysine and methionine. 
  • What It Does: L-carnitine has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, meaning it can help the body adapt to oxidative stress (which can damage your cells) and may reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.
  • Benefits: In a 9-week long study on resistance-trained males, L-carnitine was found to cause an increase in bench press and leg press lifting volumes and power output and reduce post-exercise blood lactate levels relative to a placebo group. 
  • Dosing: L-carnitine should be taken daily over the long term (longer than 2 weeks) to see optimal results. Most research done on L-carnitine to enhance performance uses a dose of 2g daily for several weeks.  

    So far, studies looking at L-carnitine and exercise performance have been done over a period of 4-12 weeks. More research is needed on its effectiveness for supplementation longer than 12 weeks.
Bulk Supplements L-Carnitine

Citrulline Malate

  • What It Does: Citrulline is a nitric oxide (NO) enhancer, meaning it increases levels of NO in the body. Nitric oxide helps the body dilate and constrict its blood vessels. It can also improve blood flow to the muscles and heart health. 
  • Benefits: Supplementing with citrulline may help delay fatigue during high-intensity exercise, increase muscular endurance and strength performance, and improve recovery. 

    The current literature on acute dosing of citrulline for improved exercise performance is inconsistent due to many different methods and some quality control issues within the studies. More research is needed, but it shows a lot of potential. 
  • Dosing: While more research is needed, the optimal dose based on current research appears to be 8g of citrulline ingested 1 hour prior to exercise

    Concentrations of citrulline in the body appear to peak at approximately 1 hour but decrease pretty quickly 15-30 minutes afterward. 
Bulk Supplements L-Citrulline

Creatine

  • What It Is: Many people confuse creatine and pre-workout, but they are not the same, although many pre-workouts contain creatine. Creatine is an important part of one of the primary energy systems used during resistance training. During this energy cycle, creatine phosphate is broken down, and the phosphate moves on to make ATP (or energy).
  • What It Does: If you have higher concentrations of creatine in your body, you have more potential energy stored, resulting in increased strength and performance.
  • Benefits: Creatine monohydrate is one of the most thoroughly studied sports supplements available and has been shown to increase muscle performance in short-duration, high-intensity exercises like resistance training or sprinting. 
  • Dosing: Creatine should be taken daily over the long term. There are two ways you can begin supplementing it. You can either do a loading phase at 20-25g or 0.3g/kg daily for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 3-5g daily. Or you can take a consistent maintenance dose of 3-5g daily. After about 3-4 weeks of supplementation, creatine levels in the body will be saturated in the same way as if you did the week-long loading phase.

    There are some potential small benefits to body composition/increasing lean mass by supplementing post-workout, but ultimately the biggest benefit comes from consistent daily supplementation. 
BulkSupplements Creatine Monohydrate

DMAE

  • What It Is: DMAE (Dimethylethanolamine) is a compound found naturally in foods like salmon, anchovies, and sardines.
  • What It Does: DMAE affects neurotransmitters in the brain associated with memory and can reduce the buildup of something called beta-amyloid, which is known as the “age pigment” which is a possible contributor to the age-related decline of cognitive function. 

    DMAE also works as an antioxidant in the brain, protecting brain cells from damage.
  • Benefits: Benefits of DMAE supplementation include increased mood, memory, and mental focus. 
  • Dosing: There is insufficient evidence to provide an effective safe and healthy dosing strategy for improving athletic performance. 

    In the majority of commercially available pre-workouts, the dose of DMAE ranges from 100mg-350mg per serving. 
Bulk Supplements DMAE-Bitartrate

Glycerol

  • What It Is: Glycerol is a compound that accumulates in body fluids and can increase the total volume of water in the body.
  • Benefits: Since dehydration (defined here as the fluid loss equivalent to 2% of your body weight or greater) can lead to decreases in exercise performance, hyperhydration in advance may help prevent that. Glycerol can help increase total body hydration, therefore potentially increasing performance. 
  • Dosing: Glycerol should be taken approximately 30 minutes before exercise. The literature on how many grams of glycerol to take pre-workout does not align with the quantity typically found in pre-workout supplements.

    A summary of available research established that in order to hyperhydrate with glycerol, doses of 1.2g/kg of body weight should be dissolved in around 26ml/kg of body weight of fluid over a period of 60 minutes, ending approximately 30 minutes before exercise. (So you should start drinking it around 90 minutes prior to exercise). 

    This is an incredibly large dose, and I would really only recommend it for prolonged exercise and/or exercise in the heat where significant water loss and risk of dehydration are likely. 

    Consuming 0.125g/kg of body weight of glycerol in 5ml/kg of body weight of fluid during exercise has been shown to delay dehydration and will likely be sufficient for day-to-day exercise.

    For a 160lb person, this translates to around 9g of glycerol dissolved in 362ml (or 1.5 cups) of water. 

    The majority of pre-workout supplements have between 1.5 and 2g of glycerol in their formulas, so you may just choose to mimic that. 

    Clearly, more definitive research is needed.
Bulk Supplements Glycerol Monostearate

Learn more about the science of Glycerol in our article What Does Glycerol Do In Pre Workout?

Grape Seed Extract (GSE)

  • What It Is: Grape Seed Extract (GSE) is made from the seeds of wine grapes. 
  • What It Does: GSE can improve endothelial function (the endothelium is a thin membrane inside the heart and blood vessels) and enhance blood flow with exercise.
  • Dosing: Human studies have used doses between 150mg and 300mg
Bulk Supplements Grape Seed Extract

Huperzine

  • What It Does: Huperzine can increase acetylcholine levels (a chemical messenger) in the brain, which can result in improved memory and cognitive function. 

Their recommendation was that it not be included in pre-workout supplements. 

  • Dosing: Research on humans used a dose of 200mcg of Huperzine before exercise. 
Bulk Supplements Huperzine A 1%
  • Where To Buy: Bulksupplements.com

    *Note: if you are buying this product from bulksupplements.com, it is a highly concentrated product and a 15mg dose will give you 150mcg of Huperzine. 

Juniper (Juniper Berry Extract)

  • What It Is: Juniper Berries hail from the juniper tree found in Europe, North America, and Asia. Juniper Berry Extract will be listed in the ingredient list under its patented name AMPiberry®. 
  • What It Does: Juniper Berry Extract (AMPiberry®) can increase the uptake of caffeine by the body, making smaller doses of caffeine more effective. 
  • Benefits: While there is insufficient evidence to suggest that juniper berry extract increases exercise performance, it does have natural antioxidant properties and can help improve digestion. 
  • Dosing: There is insufficient research in regard to ideal dosing for improving athletic performance in humans. 

    I could only find a small number of pre-workouts utilizing this ingredient, and most of them are proprietary blends (meaning that they don’t disclose the exact amounts of ingredients in their product). 

    I was able to find that RedCon1 Total War used 150mg of Juniper Berry Extract in their formula.
Bulk Supplements Juniper Berry Extract

Lion’s Mane/Cordyceps (PeakO2)

  • What It Is: Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps are mushrooms native to North America, Europe, and Asia. You can find them as individual ingredients or in a patented blend called PeakO2.
  • What It Does: Mushrooms like Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps are being added to performance supplements due to their adaptogenic nature, meaning they help the body adapt to stress. 
  • Dosing: Like creatine, you want to saturate the body and may prefer to do a loading phase to achieve saturation levels more quickly. You will see some immediate performance benefits, but those benefits are more pronounced with longer periods of supplementation (i.e., multiple weeks). 

    There are two possible strategies: 1-2 grams daily for 28 days or 12g daily for 7 days.

    While both dosing strategies improve physical performance, a 7-day loading phase is associated with higher benefits and an improved heart rate economy during submaximal aerobic exercise. 

    In other words, when supplementing with 12g daily of PeakO2, participants were able to do more work with less effort. 

    If you choose to do the loading phase of 12g daily for 7 days, follow it up with a maintenance dose of 1-2g daily for long-term benefit.

Sodium Bicarbonate

  • What It Is: Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is a salt that breaks down in water. It makes a solution alkaline, meaning it can neutralize acid. 
  • What It Does: Sodium bicarbonate is what is called a buffer. It helps the body resist fatigue by mitigating the changes in acid-base balance caused by exercise. This means that as you exercise, hydrogen ions build up in the muscles, creating an acidic environment that contributes to fatigue. Sodium bicarbonate helps reduce that effect.
  • Benefits: When used as an ergogenic aid (i.e., as a performance enhancer), sodium bicarbonate was shown to improve performance during short-duration, high-intensity exercise as well as prolonged exercise (longer than 1 hour). 

Synephrine/Bitter Orange Extract

  • What It Is: Synephrine, or Bitter Orange Extract, comes from the Bitter Orange tree native to Asia. The active ingredient (synephrine) is similar to ephedra which was banned in 2004 by the FDA
  • Dosing: For improving athletic performance, it is recommended to take a dose between 10mg and 53mg pre-workout

    Experts recommend a dose of 10-20mg taken up to three times daily for fat loss, or one single dose of 50mg for pre-workout. 

    It has been tested in doses as high as 3mg/kg of bodyweight (equal to around 237mg for a 175lb individual) for up to 12 weeks with no adverse side effects. However, more research is needed on the effects of longer-term use.

    NOTE: Synephrine is banned by the NCAA and shouldn’t be used by any drug-tested athletes.
Bitter Orange Peel

Related Article: List of 11 FDA Banned Pre Workouts + Can You Still Buy Them

Taurine

  • What It Is: Taurine is an amino acid found naturally in meat, fish, dairy products, and human milk.
  • What It Does: Taurine plays a role in energy metabolism and glucose and fat regulation. It also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • Benefits: For athletes, taurine can increase aerobic performance (by increasing the time to exhaustion) and anaerobic performance (i.e., strength and power) and enhance recovery (reduce feelings of muscle soreness). 
  • Dosing: There are mixed findings regarding taurine supplementation overall due to limited research, but it shows a lot of potential. So far, a dosing strategy of 1-3g taken 60-180 minutes prior to exercise seems ideal. 
Bulk Supplements Taurine

Learn more about the science of taurine in our article What Does Taurine Do In Pre Workout?

Theacrine

  • What It Is: Theacrine is a naturally occurring chemical that is similar to caffeine.
  • What It Does: Theacrine works by stimulating the central nervous system, similar to how caffeine works. However, Theacrine has a half-life of around 20 hours, meaning that 20 hours after ingestion you will still have half of the amount you initially took still remaining in your system. This is significantly longer than the half-life of caffeine, which is around 5 hours. 

Theanine

  • What It Is: Theanine is an amino acid found naturally in tea and some mushrooms that can help with relaxation without causing drowsiness.
  • Benefits: When paired with caffeine, theanine can promote relaxation, improve mental focus, and reduce jitteriness (a common side effect of pre-workouts). 
  • Dosing: L-theanine should be taken daily at a dose of 200-400mg and may become more effective with a longer duration (several weeks) of supplementation. 

    While it may be effective at lower and higher doses, more definitive research is needed. 
Bulk Supplements L-Theanine

Learn more about the science of L Theanine in our article What Does L Theanine Do In Pre-Workout?

Theobromine 

  • What It Is: Theobromine is in the same class of stimulants as caffeine, and is found in kola nuts, tea leaves, and chocolate.
  • What It Does: Though similar to caffeine, theobromine offers longer-lasting, calmer energy without the spike and crash that you get with traditional caffeine. 
  • Dosing: There isn’t a lot of conclusive research on theobromine as an ergogenic aid, but one study noted that there were some subjective mood effects at a 250mg dose, but they also found that at higher doses the effects were negative.
Bulk Supplements Theobromine

Tyrosine

  • What It Does: Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine and norepinephrine and may improve cognitive function after just one single dose. 
  • Dosing: Optimal dosing is 100-150mg per kg of body weight.

    This translates to 9-13.5g for a 200lb person or 7-10g for a 150lb person. This is a lot more than you’ll typically find in pre-workout supplements. Most pre-workouts have a dose between 500mg and 2000mg. 

    Even so, there is a lot of anecdotal support in favor of L-Tyrosine supplementation used in smaller doses pre-workout. 

    Eric Trexler, a sports nutrition researcher with a Ph.D. in Human Movement Science from UNC Chapel Hill speaks to the benefits of tyrosine on catecholamines (a classification of organic compounds that include neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine), especially when taken with caffeine:

“Tyrosine is one of maybe five supplements I take regularly, and I use it with caffeine because a lot of the cognitive effects that caffeine produces relates to stimulating catecholamines. This is kind of anecdotal, but one of the things you see with repeated caffeine consumption is we habituate to some of its effects in many cases, including the catecholamine response. So, if we’re drinking caffeine day after day, it might not be a bad idea to give my brain a bit of a boost to make sure there are still some building blocks there so I can get some catecholamines out of this caffeine dose.”

– Eric Trexler
Bulk Supplements L-Tyrosine

Vitamin B6

  • What It Is: Vitamin B6 (aka Pyridoxine) is a water-soluble vitamin that is found in foods like beef liver, tuna, salmon, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, and bananas.
  • Benefits: Supplementing with Vitamin B6 can elicit results like increased muscle repair, increased mood, brain power, and energy. 

    B Vitamins in general are associated with energy metabolism in the body and are referred to as your “mood-boosting vitamins”. Daily supplementation with B-Vitamins (especially B6 and B12) is likely to increase mood and energy levels naturally. 
  • Dosing: While a general daily dose of Vitamin B6 is around 1.3 mg daily, pre-workouts have anywhere from 35mcg-26mg. At this time, there is no scientifically proven effective dose of Vitamin B6
Bulk Supplements Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6)

Yohimbe/Yohimbine 

  • What It Is: Yohimbe is a tree native to Africa that contains the chemical, yohimbine. 
  • Dosing: The recommended dose is ≤0.2 mg per kg of body weight, but even at this dose Yohimbine has still been associated with nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness, and anxiety. 

    This works out to approximately 16mg for a 175lb person.

    My professional opinion is that yohimbine supplementation isn’t worth the risk, though this is due in part to a bias since this product is banned in my country. 

    One of the main risks associated with yohimbine is the fact that negative side effects happen with excessive consumption, and a 2005 study found that most products that contained yohimbine actually contained a lot more than what was listed on the label. 

    One of the main risks associated with yohimbine is the fact that negative side effects happen with excessive consumption, and a 2005 study found that most products that contained yohimbine actually contained a lot more than what was listed on the label. 
Bulk Supplements Yohimbe Extract

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About The Author

Jennifer Vibert

Jennifer Vibert is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Nutrition Coach, and supplement store manager. She has a Bachelor of Kinesiology with a major in Fitness and Lifestyle and a minor in Psychology from the University of Regina. She is a Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, with a passion for helping clients learn the fundamentals of nutrition and supplementation in order to build healthy, sustainable habits.

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