When starting out on a weight loss journey, it’s common to explore various supplements in hopes that they will help boost results.
One of the most popular supplements in the fitness world is pre-workouts, which are taken before a workout to help boost performance.
This article will review some of the ingredients typically found in pre-workouts, including how effective they are and if they could help you lose weight.
Quick Summary of Pre-Workout for Weight Loss
Good pre-workout supplements can increase energy, focus, muscle pump, oxygen flow, and provide that boost you need in the gym during tough workouts. In theory, taking a pre-workout supplement can be great for weight loss, especially if you're using it to power through your training sessions, whether that be weight training or cardio workouts. However, just taking a pre-workout supplement without working out will not suffice if you're trying to lose weight - no supplement or food has the power to do that.
What is a Pre-Workout?
A Pre-workout is a dietary supplement, usually in a powdered form, that is designed to help give you an energy boost so you can have a great workout.
Most pre-workouts are meant to be mixed with water and consumed 30-60 minutes before a workout.
Some of the commonly used ingredients in pre-workouts are caffeine, beta-alanine, and others that are all aimed at boosting your energy and performance in the gym.
Key Ingredients Analysis
While there is a huge variety across brands in terms of specific ingredients, we’ll review some of the most common ones found in pre-workout formulas below.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is naturally occuring in the body. It’s often added to pre-workout formulas because research has shown that it can improve your muscles’ time to exhaustion, meaning you can push harder for longer (1, 2).
Currently, there is no specific research suggesting beta-alanine has an effect on weight loss.
Just a heads up on beta-alanine, it can cause a tingling sensation, which may be slightly uncomfortable for some individuals, but it’s completely harmless and nothing to worry about.
Some research even supports caffeine for helping to reduce body fat, though more in-depth research is still needed on this topic (6).
Still, it’s important to note that some individuals are more sensitive to caffeine and its effects than others. If you’re new to pre-workouts or using caffeine, I recommend starting small. In terms of pre-workouts, go for a half-serving first to assess your tolerance.
As a general rule, adults should limit their daily caffeine to 400 mg per day (7).
Creatine is one of the most well-studied supplements in the fitness world. It’s found naturally in the skeletal muscle in the body and research has found that by supplementing with it, we can increase the stores (8).
Creatine supplementation has been found to improve muscle strength and exercise performance (9).
However, creatine is not a supplement that is directly linked to weight loss. Still, many of these ingredients could indirectly lead to weight loss, which we’ll discuss in a bit.
L-theanine is an amino acid that is often found in combination with caffeine as it has been found to help lessen the intensity of caffeine (10).
Taurine is another amino acid that works as an antioxidant. It’s important for several functions in the body, including electrolyte balance, digestion, and more.
You’ve likely heard of taurine because it’s a popular ingredient in many energy drinks, like Red Bull and others.
Research has shown that it can help delay muscle fatigue and it may even increase strength as well as fat burning during exercise (14).
While this sounds promising, the research on taurine and exercise performance and fat loss is still in its early stages and more research is still needed.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are another popular ingredient in the fitness industry. It’s also a popular stand alone supplement as well.
The BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are essential amino acids, meaning we must consume them in our diet because the body cannot make them on its own.
They play an important role in muscle protein synthesis, but also have other functions in the body.
As a supplement, they have been found to boost muscle growth and reduce soreness, especially when taken before a workout (15).
Despite the popularity of BCAAs, they’re actually probably not all that necessary as they are found in dietary sources of protein. Chances are, you get enough BCAAs through your diet already (16).
Betaine is found naturally in the body and it plays an important role in liver function and amino acid metabolization. It’s also found naturally in some foods, including spinach, beets, and whole grains, but it’s also made by the body (17).
When taken as a supplement, it may help improve body composition and exercise performance, but overall the research on this is a bit mixed (17).
Betaine has been found to help lower levels of homocysteine in the body, which has been associated with a decrease in risk for some chronic disease (18).
Can Pre-Workout Help With Losing Weight?
Pre-workout on its own is not going to lead to weight loss. For that matter, no specific food or supplement has that kind of power - if only!
However, it could indirectly help you lose weight by helping improve your performance in the gym (or wherever you exercise) and increasing muscle strength.
If you find that you perform better when you take pre-workout before an exercise session, this may lead to better results over time. Though it’s important to note that better results come from consistency over time, rather than from a specific supplement.
Some of the ingredients, like caffeine and taurine, have even been linked to improved body composition and fat loss through research. Keep in mind, though, that the research is not conclusive just yet.
So while some of those ingredients have the potential to help promote weight loss, they aren’t going to lead to drastic results on their own. Ultimately, weight loss is achieved through consistency and putting in the work, which is why it’s often so hard.
What to Look For In a Pre-Workout Supplement
Some ingredients found in pre-workout formulas are supported by research. Still, there are so many different pre-workouts out there, it can be difficult knowing which one to choose.
Try to look for pre-workouts that contain some of the ingredients we’ve reviewed here, as they do have some evidence supporting their effectiveness.
Then, as with any supplements, it’s really important to take the time to read the label and become familiar with the ingredients. As mentioned above, if you tend to be sensitive to caffeine or stimulants, try a stimulant-free option or start with just a half-serving to see how you feel before going for a full serving.
Alternatively, there are non-stimulant formulas available that you might want to try out if you prefer to avoid caffeine or other stimulants altogether.
Additionally, as with many supplements, a lot of pre-workouts contain proprietary blends, which can be dangerous because the amounts of specific ingredients are not listed. They also may contain things like artificial sweeteners, additives, or other ingredients that you might wish to avoid.
Lastly, always choose products (pre-workouts and otherwise) that have been third-party tested. This ensures that what’s on the label is what’s actually in the product. It also ensures that the supplement has been tested for banned or unsafe substances.
Our Recommended Choice
1st Phorm Project-1 pre-workout has every box checked when it comes to what to look for that we just covered above. It's made in the USA and the company is arguably the best for performance supplements, including weight loss products.
Who Should Use Pre-Workout?
Most healthy adults should be okay to try a pre-workout, though I’ll always recommend chatting with your doctor first.
If you have your foundation nailed down - nutrition, sleep, hydration, exercise - and you’re looking for an added boost for your workouts, a pre-workout might be a great fit.
However, if you feel like you don’t have the energy to workout without it, there may be something else going on with your health or lifestyle that needs attention first.
Because pre-workouts often contain stimulants and other potentially dangerous ingredients, it’s important for anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid them.
Additionally, some ingredients could interact with certain medications, so if you are taking any, pre-workouts may not be a good fit for you. On a similar note, some medical conditions, aside from pregnancy and breastfeeding, could be negatively impacted by taking certain supplements.
Generally speaking, you should always run new supplements by your doctor before trying them.
If you feel like you absolutely need a pre-workout to function, I encourage you to consider your lifestyle and habits that could be contributing to that need.
That being said, some ingredients found in pre-workouts have been shown to be potentially effective in terms of boosting energy, focus, strength, and performance.
If you’re going to try one for yourself, start with a smaller dose first, especially if you’re new to pre-workouts. Mix the powder with water and drink it 30-60 minutes before your workout.
Lastly, remember that a pre-workout is not necessary to reach your goals. As a dietitian, I support a food-first approach to all things. Food is an excellent pre-workout fuel and can make a huge difference in your performance.
If you’d like to avoid spending more on supplements, try a pre-workout snack that contains some easy to digest carbs, like a banana or a handful of cheerios 30-60 minutes before your next workout.