What Does Pre Workout Feel Like? (What You Should Expect)

Pre workout supplements can be great, but you should know what to expect when you take them.

Many workout beginners and people that are new to supplements are immediately introduced to two categories - protein and pre workout. The most common question that is asked about the latter is "what does pre workout feel like?"

The initial thoughts about taking a pre workout, or "pre" for short, may be exciting to many people with lofty fitness goals, but it can also be intimidating to others that are just starting to exercise. They may like the thought of how it increases energy and improves exercise performance as well, but some mistakenly believe it is a matter of the one with the most caffeine, beta alanine, and other popular ingredients wins.

The pre workout may appear to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but are there other side effects? Some people have reported having digestive issues and dealing with water retention. Others have noticed other issues in how it made the body feel. What is fact, and what is myth?

We can't speak for every single pre workout supplement on the market, but we can share what to expect from taking a high quality pre workout with the best ingredients and what potential side effects you may want to steer clear form.

What Is a Pre Workout Supplement?

The simplest definition for a pre workout is a supplement that you take before a workout with the intention of helping you improve the quality of that workout. The benefits for pre workout supplements may vary from one product to another, but the main incentives include to improve the body by improving exercise performance in and out of the gym, mental performance, energy production, reduce fatigue, and improve endurance, lift heavier weights to improve muscle strength, and in some cases weight gain. Along with a balanced diet and the right workout program, hey can be used to help you lose weight too.

No Two are the Same

Pre workout ingredients may vary from product to product as will the amounts of those ingredients in each formula, but the most common you will find on the label include caffeine, beta alanine, niacin, and amino acids such as citrulline, taurine, and tyrosine.

Some will also contain other stimulants as well as the three branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) and even creatine for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production.

When combined into a pre workout supplement, many fitness junkies count on them for increased nitric oxide levels to maximize the pump, to get more reps, increase muscle strength, help in the struggle against fatty acids, and reduce fatigue. Some brands (like Transparent Labs) share all the details of their ingredients for the consumer so they know exactly what is in the pre that they are putting into their body before they begin the workout.

Other companies prefer to not share the amounts of each ingredient and combine into one space on the label, which are known as proprietary blends. Ultimately, you as the consumer will need to decide what is best for you and your body.

Common Sensations Associated with Pre Workouts

There are several sensations and feeling that can come with taking pre workout before exercise. You should know what to expect and why you are having the experience you are having when trying one for the first time. These will be common among many pre workout supplements.

Skin Tingling Sensation

The tingling sensation can be credited to both beta alanine (1) and niacin (2) (also called Vitamin B3). This is no risk to this feeling, but some users may find it annoying. As tempting as it may be in the moment, don't excessively scratch your skin. The tingling and itching will subside after a short period of time. You may also find that as you continue to take a pre workout that the beta alanine tingles will decrease.

Increased Energy

It will not take long for a pre workout supplement to start working if it has enough stimulants in it. The caffeine can help increase your heart rate, which will lead to an increased blood flow. You can expect more output during exercise as a result.

Being More Alert

Some consumers like having a pre workout to help improve and cognitive performance. L-Theanine is an amino acid that can serve this purpose very well, especially for middle-aged and older people. (3)

Positive Effects of a Pre Workout

The pre workout category has boomed for one obvious reason - they work, at least with the best quality ingredients. When taken properly, the body reacts positively and you can see significant benefits during the workout that make buying a pre workout worth it.

Improved Athletic Performance

If you take pre workout and notice an improvement in your strength with lifting weights or higher energy levels throughout the entire workout, that is not a coincidence. That is literally what they are designed for. Quality pre workouts will help against lactic acid buildup in the muscles, which means you can train harder for longer.

Increased Motivation

Many members of the fitness community report that they feel better about mental performance during their workout thanks to their pre-workout of choice. Some of the credit can go to a compound called carnosine, which has been shown to help with brain health (4). The increase in nitric oxide levels also help.

Another factor is that as you see improvement in weight lifting numbers, muscle endurance, and other aspects of your workouts, your confidence will improve, which can help you stay focused and passionate about moving forward.

Potential Side Effects

No supplement is perfect, and pre workout supplements are no exception. Some consumers may notice adverse side effects in the body that may curtail them from taking them at all. In some cases, it may be due to high doses of some ingredients while others may simply not be able to use them. These side effects will be based on the individual, but you should be aware of what to watch for.

Jitters and Anxiety

If you feel jitters, shaking, or even anxiety before or during the workout, then there is a good chance that the pre workout you took has too many stimulants for you. The best bet would be to cut the serving of that pre in half. If that doesn't work, then you shouldn't take that particular pre-workout at all and look into a stimulant free pre-workout.

Digestive System Upset

Sodium bicarbonate is very likely in your kitchen cabinet right now because it is also known as baking soda. It can help improve athletic performance (5), but it also could mess with your digestive system. If the body can't process food properly, then the pre won't be as effective.

In some cases, sipping the pre workout supplement slowly can minimize this, but notice how you process food throughout the day anyway. If you notice digestive issues, stop taking it temporarily to see if it helps.


You may have heard of a "caffeine headache" before. If you're used to taking caffeine but haven't in a while, you may notice a headache. Well, it works the other way too. If you take a strong pre workout with high doses, the it may have too much caffeine.

Blood Pressure

There is a chance you could also notice an increase in blood pressure. Once again, reduce or stop taking the pre workout completely if this persists. There is good news on the other side of the coin, pre workouts with l theanine can actually help lower blood pressure in some cases.

How to Choose the Right Pre Workout Supplement

Now you know the pros and cons to taking a pre workout, but how do you go about choosing the right one for you? Dosing is everything when it comes to the right pre workout for you. Products that have clinically dosed ingredients will be safe to take.

Even then, the smart play is to start with low doses and build up. When looking at caffeine alone, you wouldn't go straight to the strongest amount available right out of the gate. The minimal amount that can help allows you to both take it safely and keep you from spending more.

The same approach works with a pre workout. Pay attention to the recommended dose on the label and don't assume you can take more. The body will only use so much before the rest is eliminated as waste.

Next, think about your goal. You want a pre that will work in conjunction with your training approach and a balanced diet that is set up to support that goal. The ingredients and amount you will need could vary depending on what success will look like to you.

If you want to build muscle and improve strength, then taking supplements catered toward fat loss would not be the best strategy. Conversely, the pre you take for weight loss shouldn't be marketed to those that feel size is the prize. You wouldn't want a personal trainer to train you for fat loss if the goal is weight gain. The same theory applies to your pre.


A high quality pre workout supplement can help you feel extra energy, train harder, and can even help you improve your overall fitness and look of your body. You should be aware that it is about more than caffeine, though. There are some pre workout formulas that are stronger than others, and there are even some people that may not see any benefits from taking them at all.

If you're new to taking pre workout, then you should know what to expect when you try it before going to the gym. When you have the right pre workout with high quality primary ingredients, you can see several potential benefits with little or possibly no adverse effects. Like many gym goers that love to exercise, you may find that pre workouts are worth adding to your personal supplement plan. As long as you don't break your budget, they can be a great tool to help you reach your full potential.


1) β-Alanine Supplementation Hoffman, Jay R. PhD, FACSM;; Emerson, Nadia S. BS;; Stout, Jeffrey R. PhD https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/fulltext/2012/07000/__alanine_supplementation.10.aspx

2) https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Niacin-HealthProfessional/

3) Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study, Yoshitake Baba 1, Shun Inagaki 1, Sae Nakagawa 1, Toshiyuki Kaneko 2, Makoto Kobayashi 1, Takanobu Takihara 1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33751906/

4) The Potential of Carnosine in Brain-Related Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of Current Evidence

Martin Schön,1,2 Aya Mousa,3 Michael Berk,4,5 Wern L. Chia,3 Jozef Ukropec,2 Arshad Majid,6 Barbara Ukropcová,1,2,7,* and Barbora de Courten3,* https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627134/

5) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: sodium bicarbonate and exercise performance. Jozo Grgic 1, Zeljko Pedisic 2, Bryan Saunders 3 4, Guilherme G Artioli 5, Brad J Schoenfeld 6, Michael J McKenna 2, David J Bishop 2, Richard B Kreider 7, Jeffrey R Stout 8, Douglas S Kalman 9 10, Shawn M Arent 11, Trisha A VanDusseldorp 12, Hector L Lopez 13 14, Tim N Ziegenfuss 13, Louise M Burke 15, Jose Antonio 16, Bill I Campbell 17 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34503527/

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