The Scoop on Supplements: Pre-Workout

I get a lot of questions about what supplements I take, which brands, how much etc. I went years without taking anything. And in terms of supplements, I still prefer to keep it to a minimum. Your most effective supplement is and always should be the foods you eat. That being said, what I take, I really love, and I think it helps me tremendously, as I work out and in recovery.

Pre-Workout: WHY and WHAT?

Pre-workout is great for helping me focus, and making sure that I can put out a maximum effort when I need to. I’ll be honest, I don’t ALWAYS feel like working out. (I know, it’s shocking) Sometimes, I’m not really in the mood. I feel sleepy, sluggish, and just not excited about moving. Pre-workout helps me dial it in, so I can do work even on days when I’d rather nap and eat ice cream… which, if I’m honest, might be every day. On the other hand, a six-pack is pretty cool, too…

I find a pre-workout to be the most helpful for when I am lifting, as opposed to conditioning. My workouts are generally structured with a strength/lifting element at the beginning for about an hour, then I will condition. So, drinking a best pre workout before and as I lift works really well for me. I feel like my system has processed it well enough by the time I get to conditioning. One of the most effective, and nearly universal ingredients in pre-workout formulas is caffeine. My two favorite formulas have a lot of it. Nutrabio’s Pre Extreme has 270 mg of caffeine. Black Market Adre.n.olyn Cuts has even more, with 300 mg. For reference, a typical 8 oz. cup of coffee has about 95 mg, give or take depending on the roast.

Caffeine has been shown to increase focus, and athletic performance. It also increases heart rate. In CrossFit, high-intensity is a given. It isn’t difficult to reach maximum aerobic capacity very quickly, and I’m sure I get up into anaerobic range on the daily. There’s nothing wrong with that for brief periods, but if my heart rate is already elevated, I hit that wall even faster, which means more rest, and less work. I’m sensitive to caffeine, so I take precautions with this stuff. If you’re new to pre-workout, here are a few things I recommend:

  • Build up to a full serving. I took several weeks, starting with a 1/4 serving, and eventually got to a full serving as I felt it would be effective.
  • Know what you’re getting, and how much of it. Read labels, and do your research on what these ingredients do, then measure carefully, with a food scale. Caffeine is not the only powerful chemical in these supplements. Just as an example, Nutrabio’s Pre Extreme contains creatine. It’s known to be an effective athletic supplement in building lean muscle. It can also be toxic if over-used. Be smart, it absolutely is possible to get too much of a good thing!
  • Sip, don’t chug. This one depends on personal preference, but I find that if I drink all of my pre-workout at once, I get the jitters (again, that’s caffeine, but there are other common ingredients that can cause this reaction). Manufacturers generally recommend drinking pre-workout 30-45 minutes before you work out. I like to drink half my pre-workout about 30 minutes prior, then sip as I lift.
  • Keep an eye on the clock. Don’t use pre-workout later in the day. As I mentioned, I’m on the sensitive side, and I have to get to bed early because I’ve got a 4 am alarm coming no matter what. I try to make sure I finish my pre-workout before 2:00 pm. If I work out in the morning, this isn’t an issue, but most days I work out in the afternoon (1:00-3:00, for example). Nutrabio also carries a stimulant-free pre-workout, which I keep on hand for the rare evening workout. I find it helps, but not as much as the Pre Extreme, so sometimes I’ll just go without.
  • Reduce other caffeine consumption (coffee, tea, energy drinks) until you know how your body reacts.

Now, after all those cautions, I really do like to use pre-workout, and I have two that I keep on hand. Nutrabio’s Pre Extreme is available at for $43.99/20 servings in Watermelon and Raspberry Lemonade flavors. This is my favorite go-to for pre-workout. Occasionally, I’ll take a break and use AdreNOlyn Cuts, which is available from for $59.99, or I pick it up at my local Good Earth. I like Blue Razz or Poison Apple flavors. AdreNOlyn Cuts is better tasting, and it tastes like CANDY. You’ve been forewarned. Last, but not least, I mix in a dose of branched chain amino acids (or BCAAs) with my pre-workout. BCAAs include Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. Supplementing BCAAs can aid in muscle growth/repair, and are supposed to prevent muscle fatigue. This, you really can’t overdose, and for me, it’s one of those, “why not?” supplements.