The Best Pre-Workout For Women: Supplements, Meals, & Drinks

Fitness Tips, Sweat

It can be hard to find workout motivation when some days you just want to be a couch potato. But, incorporating fitness into your daily routine is an important component of living a healthy life. Maybe you already go to the gym regularly, or perhaps you’re interested in starting but not sure how you can squeeze out the time or energy. In either case, a pre-workout supplement can be a great addition to your routine to combat tiredness and ensure you kill your workout every time. But if you don’t know much about them yet, it might be hard to tell what the best pre-workout for women is.

Heck— it might even be scary thinking about taking a supplement typically marketed towards ripped men. Women tend to work out to stay toned and fit, but not to get super muscular (if you do want to get ripped, more power to you!). However, taking a pre-workout won’t make you gain massive muscles overnight. So what will it do?

It will make you feel energized and focused, give you the stamina to have longer, more intense workouts, and help give you the motivation to hit the gym. Let’s explore what exactly is pre-workout, what are the best types for women, answer some common questions, and investigate their side effects.

What is Pre-Workout: What Does it Do & How Long Does it Last?

A note showing a food plan for optimal training, with a pre-workout, complex, and BCAA before training, and a protein shake after training.
You probably have some post training food plans, but don’t forget to incorporate a pre-workout before training for optimal results.

Pre-workout, not to be confused with post-workout, is usually a powder you mix with water and drink about 30 minutes before your workout. Don’t worry, they usually taste pretty good and come in a variety of flavors (even strawberry margarita!). They contain a combination of ingredients that are meant to increase your energy and endurance so that you can push yourself more at the gym. This leads to more fat burned and more muscle gained, depending on what you’re working on.

So how does it differ from post-workout meals? Aside from drinking it after rather than before your gym session, post-workout meals or supplements have different ingredients that help your muscles repair. Higher protein content is usually one of them. The key difference is that your post-workout won’t give you the same rush of focus and energy that pre-workout does. It’s important not to confuse the two workout supplements as you might not see the same results.

What does pre-workout do?

The ingredients in your pre-workout supplements have numerous effects. Mostly, they revolve around waking up your nervous system by providing energy, and increasing stamina so that you can work out longer without feeling fatigued.[1][2] The best pre-workout for women can also elevate your mood,[3] which is just an added plus!

Fun Fact: Regular exercise can positively affect your mental health. One study showed that women who were physically active experienced less depression and better overall mental health than women who were not active. Even just one or two days per week can make a difference![4]

How long does pre-workout last?

Pre-workouts typically last no more than three hours from when you take the supplement. This can vary depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, so be cautious when first trying one out. The best thing to do is start with only half a scoop of pre-workout and then gradually increase to one scoop or two.

The Best Pre-Workout For Women: Common Questions Answered

Woman drinking a green pre-workout smoothie before yoga
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Believe it or not, there actually are pre-workouts just for women. So, if it is a concern to you, you don’t have to worry about consuming testosterone or other hormones you may not feel comfortable with. Still, there are many misconceptions about taking supplements that turn many women away. Let’s find out the deal with pre-workouts and answer some common questions you might have.

  1. Is pre-workout safe for women? The bottom line is that yes, pre-workout is safe for women. As long as you use it as directed, you should be fine. In fact, one study that tracked active women using a pre-workout blend showed no abnormal side effects.[5] This is the typical case when used within the dosage recommendation, which is usually less than 2 servings per day. Taking a pre-workout won’t turn you into a bodybuilder overnight, it just gives you the energy to have a better session.
  2. Will pre-workout disrupt my sleeping schedule? The caffeine in pre-workout mixes can be strong, so there is a chance your sleep could be disrupted if you are sensitive to caffeine. That is, unless you work out in the mornings, in which case you shouldn’t have any trouble falling asleep. If you’re concerned about disrupting your sleeping schedule or if you take your pre-workout closer to late-afternoon, start with a small scoop and increase it from there. Try to treat it like a big cup of coffee that kicks in quick—if you wouldn’t have coffee at 6 pm, don’t have your pre-workout then either.
  3. Will pre-workout make my muscles too big? Pre-work will not make your muscles too big. It takes a lot of motivation to grow big muscles, even with supplements. So if your goal is to stay toned without gaining a lot of mass, fear not! Pre-workout ingredients are generally energy and stamina-based. The only ingredient you might want to watch out for is creatine, which we will explain about in more detail later. It’s not in all supplements, but it does have water-retention abilities. That being said, it won’t make you “swole” unless you are pumping some serious iron and working to increase weights.
  4. Will pre-workout make me gain weight? No, actually, the effects of a pre-workout can contribute to weight control. One study showed that pre-workout mixes increase lean muscle and have no effects on fat content in those who took these supplements.[6] This is because pre-workouts don’t have a ton of protein or fats that some post-workout drinks do. That being said, keep in mind that it’s something meant to supplement your nutrition plan, not replace it.

Pre-Workout Supplements

Now we can tackle the biggest question of them all: what should you be looking for in a pre-workout supplement? Here are some common ingredients in many of the best pre-workouts for women.

Caffeine

A pile of pre-workout supplement containing caffeine

Let’s start with an ingredient that should be familiar to you. Yes, we’re talking about caffeine. Caffeine is in almost every pre-workout supplement. It can sometimes be listed in the ingredients as caffeine anhydrous, guarana or green tea extract. All are powerful, concentrated sources of this energizing stimulant. It’s the “oompf” ingredient that will get you from the sofa to the gym (we can all agree that making it to the gym is a very crucial part of working out). But that’s not all it does.

Caffeine will give you focus and motivation throughout your workout, allowing you to burn more fat, or build more muscle. One study proved that those who consumed caffeine before they exercised used more energy than those who did not.[7] And another study proved that caffeine consumption directly contributes to fat burning by mobilizing lipids.[8] This is great if your workouts tend to be sluggish or if you lack motivation after a few reps. Just be conscious not to take too much if you’re sensitive to caffeine.

Creatine

You might be inclined to shy away from a pre-workout supplement with creatine because it’s typically known as muscle growth hormone.[9] That’s true, but you should learn the full story behind creatine before you judge. Basically, creatine is naturally found in your muscle cells already. It gives your muscles that hit of energy to keep you going when you lift weights. It does this by converting the ADP in your cells to ATP, which is a form of fast-acting energy.

However, as creatine needs to be stored in your cells with plenty of water when consumed, this substance increases your water retention and can make your muscles seem bigger if you take a lot of it.[10] Don’t be scared of creatine, just take it with caution and start with smaller doses. Even if you don’t want too many “gains” from your workout, you can still use creatine to get muscle definition if you use it occasionally. So while it’s not a necessity in your pre-workout, it can still be useful depending on your goals.

Beta-Alanine

A pile of beta-alanine, one of the best pre-workout ingredients for women

Have you ever felt like your legs just couldn’t take one more squat in the middle of your workout? Beta-Alanine can help combat that mid-workout come-down. This ingredient is key in preventing fatigue and keeping your muscles strong. Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid, and is used to create carnosine in the muscle.[11] Carnosine is really important because it combats acid in muscles that occurs when you workout. So by avoiding the fatigue, you’re able to push harder and have a better workout experience.

One study also proved that this ingredient supports the creation of lean muscle in short periods of time.[12] So, unlike creatine which sometimes builds muscle fast from water-weight, beta-alanine is lean-muscle focused. There is one weird side effect to note, however. Some people feel tingling or itching on their hands or face. The reason for this small and harmless reaction is not fully understood, but it might have something to do with the way your neurons are affected.[13]

Citrulline Malate

Another anti-fatigue ingredient! As you know, working out for longer can increase your overall results, so avoiding exhaustion half way through is important. Citrulline malate works by increasing oxygen to your muscles and thus combating tired muscles.[14] This process also helps to reduce soreness later on.[15] So you can workout hardcore and not worry about tomorrow’s repercussions.

Protein

A protein shaker with protein powder

Most people think it’s important to consume protein after a workout so that you can support lean muscle building and encourage healing.[16] However, studies show that it actually doesn’t matter if you consume protein right after, or right before your workout—the effects are the same.[17] So if you find a pre-workout that has protein included, don’t be confused. Protein will give you focus and energy, but it is especially useful for rebuilding muscles during and after your workout.

Tip: Don’t overdo it! Taking more than the recommended dose of pre-workout can be dangerous.[18] If you experience excessive diarrhea after taking too much supplement, see a doctor.

Pre-Workout Drinks, Meals, & Snacks

Woman sitting down at the gym drinking her pre-workout drink with a big bottle of pre-workout powder
Don’t be put off by marketing that targets pre-workouts for men. Women can benefit significantly from taking them—and there are even some designed especially for women!

If you’re still not comfortable taking a supplement to enhance your workouts, maybe you want to try something natural for a quick boost instead. You can consume food or drinks with the nutrient benefit similar to a pre-workout supplement. This way, you get the same effects but there are no confusing ingredients to keep track of.

When picking pre-workout drinks, meals, or snacks, keep in mind that you want to choose things that will be quick to digest and give you an energy rush. Stay away from any processed foods or “sugar-added” juices. Instead, go for the real deal, raw fruits and easily digestible carbs. Here are a few examples to get you started.

Banana

Woman eating a banana as a pre-workout

Bananas are an ideal pre-workout snack because they are full of carbs (fuel) and release a steady flow of glucose into your blood (natural energy). You might already know that bananas boast high levels of potassium, but do you know why that potassium is so useful for your workout agenda?

It’s because it helps reduce muscle fatigue and hypertension during your workouts.[19] If you have hypertension, combining bananas and aerobic exercises can be a great duo to combat the symptoms.[20] Try eating a banana with some nut butter and chia seeds 20 minutes before you start your session.

Oats

A bowl of oats topped with fruit and nuts prepared for pre-workout purposes

These easily digestible carbs are a good source of fiber that give you energy to complete your workout routine without crashing later. While some people are afraid of eating too many carbs, they’re actually a vital part of our nutrition and excellent fuel for workouts. So don’t be scared of them.

One sports study even analyzed different types of nutrition for soccer players to determine what yielded the best results. It showed that creatine was not important for players, however, carbs were critical to optimal performance.[21] This is because when carbs break down in digestion, they partly turn into glucose, which fights off the groggy, tired feeling you might experience mid-way through your workout.[22] Why not toss a half cup of oats into a smoothie, or eat them warm topped with some berries?

Smoothie with Greek yogurt

Pre-workout meal smoothie with Greek yogurt

A homemade smoothie can be great as a pre-workout drink. And, especially in the summer, there’s nothing better than a cold glass of creamy, fruity goodness. However, it’s important to avoid any added sugar that might be lurking in your ingredients. Fruit releases all the natural sugar you need, providing the extra hit of energy before you exert a lot of effort. Try and incorporate protein too for maximum benefit.

If you make your smoothie with Greek yogurt, you promote muscle synthesis from the protein, which helps repair the muscles after your workout.[23] A great smoothie trick is to add a frozen banana to your blender, along with the other ingredients. This will thicken the smoothie and make it ultra creamy, so that you can even put it in a bowl, add some crunchy toppings, and eat it with a spoon if you like!

Tip: Try making your own yogurt at home! It’s way easier than you think, and is full of healthy bacteria. The best part is that you can control the sweetness and flavor to your liking.

Coffee

A coffee machine filling up espresso cups

You can probably guess how coffee made it on this list. Caffeine! As mentioned above, one of the most notable effects of pre-workout is the ability to energize and focus users. Coffee does this just as well as the caffeine in a supplement. You can add black coffee to an iced shake, or drink it alone. Just make sure not to include added sugar as it can make you crash later on.

As with any caffeinated pre-workout supplement, you should only drink as much coffee as you know you can handle. If you’re sensitive to caffeine and worry about overdoing it, it might help to pay attention to the blend you’re using. For example, arabica beans are naturally lower in caffeine content than other types, like robusta.[24] So arabica coffee might be a safer choice if you want to control your jitters.

*Bonus* Egg omelet and a whole wheat bagel

Pre-workout meal egg omelet and bagel

If you’re the type of person who can’t eat anything too soon before a workout, there are still ways you can get energizing effects with your food. It just requires a bit more planning ahead.

Eating an egg and a bagel about two hours before your workout enables you to have the simple and complex carbs needed for energy. It also provides protein for later muscle reconstruction. In these forms, your food will digest slower and thus hit you with the right amount of energy when you make it to the gym, or outside for your HIIT training session.

Side Effects You Should Be Aware of

A banana flavored pre-workout shake

When taken as instructed, the best pre-workout for women are totally safe. However, everyone’s body will react differently. When you start to take a pre-workout, there are some side effects to look out for. If you experience any of the following, it could be a signal you need to decrease your pre-workout dosage each day.

  • Tingling/numbness Any tingling or numbness you experience with taking a pre-workout comes from the beta-alanine, as mentioned above. These sensations are harmless and will go away soon after it begins. But still, it’s good to be aware of what’s happening so you don’t assume you’re having a bad reaction.
  • Trouble Sleeping Taking a pre-workout too close to the evening might disrupt your sleep schedule. The stimulants and the focusing agents that you praised during your workouts are at fault here. This might impact your ability to sleep or your quality of sleep. So at first, it’s best to take your pre-workout in the mornings until you know how it affects you.
  • Overstimulated/Jitters Between the caffeine and the other energizers that may be present in your supplement, there’s a chance you could feel a bit too energetic, even long after your workout has ended. It might take a few days of trial and error before you find the perfect scoop of powder for you. Remember to start off with half a scoop, and slowly increase it if you don’t feel it working.
  • Diarrhea If you use a bit too much pre-workout powder, or you mix it with not enough water, you could experience some pretty immediate diarrhea. Because these powders are absorbed swiftly, the more diluted with water it is the better. If not, the caffeine amount might be too high for your body to handle, causing your digestion to be stimulated aggressively.[25]
Best Pre-Workout For Women: Supplements, Meals & Drinks

Conclusion

There’s a ton of misinformation about pre-workouts out there. You should now have all of the information you need about the best pre-workout for women, the side effects, and how to use them safely. So go ahead and get your workout on—not before taking your pre-workout, though!

The Best Pre-Workout For Women Infographic

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Pre-Workout Infographic

References

  • [1] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-016-0122-2
  • [2] https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-9-28
  • [3] https://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?paperID=6976
  • [4] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1034/j.1600-0838.2002.00341.x
  • [5] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0074-y
  • [6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19656392
  • [7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7486839
  • [8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14684395
  • [9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048496/
  • [10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC155510/
  • [11] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-009-0443-4
  • [12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21659893
  • [13] http://www.jneurosci.org/content/32/42/14532.full
  • [14] https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/wk/cocnm/2017/00000020/00000001/art00014
  • [15] https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2010/05000/Citrulline_Malate_Enhances_Athletic_Anaerobic.9.aspx
  • [16] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/2193-1801-3-369
  • [17] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-53
  • [18] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Henry_Spiller3/publication/317600199_Acute_renal_failure_and_death_after_misuse_of_concentrated_anhydrous_caffeine_as_a_pre-work_out_supplement_by_athletes/links/5988ab1ca6fdcc75625a5d26/Acute-renal-failure-and-death-after-misuse-of-concentrated-anhydrous-caffeine-as-a-pre-work-out-supplement-by-athletes.pdf
  • [19] https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/7/444
  • [20] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/485390
  • [21] https://www.gssiweb.org/en-ca/article/sse-94-creatine-carbs-and-fluids-how-important-in-soccer-nutrition-
  • [22] http://revamppt.com.au/category/workout/
  • [23] https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030413p26.shtml
  • [24] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996913003335
  • [25] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Henry_Spiller3/publication/317600199_Acute_renal_failure_and_death_after_misuse_of_concentrated_anhydrous_caffeine_as_a_pre-work_out_supplement_by_athletes/links/5988ab1ca6fdcc75625a5d26/Acute-renal-failure-and-death-after-misuse-of-concentrated-anhydrous-caffeine-as-a-pre-work-out-supplement-by-athletes.pdf

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