Pre-workout for runners: should you take it?
Chances are you’ve seen a runner or two drink a Redbull, a cup of coffee, or an odd-looking coloured drinking before running or even during their run.
These are all forms of pre-workout, used to enhance performance during exercise such as running.
If you too would like wings, helping you break those personal bests then maybe pre-workout is something you should consider.
In this post, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about the popular supplement, including side effects, whether or not it’s safe, and more.
What you will learn
- What pre-workout is and why you should take it
- The side effects and whether or not it’s safe
- When you should use the supplement
- Our favourite pre-workout for runners
What is pre-workout?
Pre-workout supplements are multi-ingredient dietary formulas designed to increase energy and boost athletic performance, whether out running, in the gym, or performing bodyweight circuits.
As previously mentioned, there are countless types of pre-workout from coffee to Redbull to powdered substances which are mixed with water and consumed before exercise.
Each of these supplements does similar things, mainly using caffeine to reduce fatigue and increase muscular strength.
Various studies signpost the many benefits of caffeine – with this being a popular go-to supplement for athletes of all sports.
Other benefits are dependant on the ingredients contained within your choice of supplement. For example, some will increase strength and power while others may also improve endurance – perfect for sports such as running and cycling.
Towards the bottom of the article, we have highlighted our top choices of pre-workout for runners.
Should I take pre workout before running?
Taking pre-workout before running should improve your performance, whether drinking a redbull or a proper supplement drink.
Pre-workout (caffeine included) should reduce your perceived effort, increase alertness, reduce your perception of pain, and may even contribute to increased fat burning during exercise – perfect if you’re looking to lose weight.
Despite this, if your goal is weight loss, then avoid sugary drinks such as Redbull before running.
For optimal performance, we recommend taking your chosen pre-workout supplement 30-60 minutes before exercise.
Are there any side-effects?
If you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine, it is advised to either avoid pre workout or alternatively start with much smaller doses.
You can slowly build these doses up depending on the supplement, but ensure to do this gradually.
According to WebMD, potential side-effects of pre-workout may include:
- Digestion problems
- Jitters & an increased heart rate (unsafe for some)
- Feelings of anxiousness
These potential side-effects differ from person to person – it’s ultimately down to trial and error and personal experience.
Should you use pre-workout before every run or workout?
Supplementing pre workout before every run may not be quite as effective as taking irregularly.
Taking this supplement regularly may increase body adaptation to this. Therefore, reducing the overall effect. This would require you to take more pre workout to receive the same benefits – a common problem with coffee drinkers.
Instead, we recommend taking this supplement as infrequently as possible, but definitely when it matters. For example, take this before a race, a hard interval session, or when you really can’t be bothered getting out of bed for that Sunday long-run.
Is pre-workout safe for running?
While this supplement was originally intended for weight-lifters and gym-goers, there are many benefits that transfer over to cardio, including running.
Benefits of pre-workout include:
- Increased alertness
- Improved endurance & energy reserves
- Decreased perception of pain
- And others!
For most, this supplement is entirely safe whether taken before running, circuit training, or a tough interval session on the track.
However, if you’ve never taken this before we recommend starting with a much smaller dosage – building this up slowly over time.
How long does pre workout last?
This will depend on your sensitivity to the ingredients of your chosen supplement, mainly caffeine. However, many runners should feel the benefits within 30-45 minutes with these lasting anywhere between three and six hours.
Once again, this is entirely individual-based so we recommend playing around with it a little and seeing what works best for you.
1. C4 Original Pre-Workout
Our best overall pre-workout for runners
C4 creates some of the most widely used supplements for athletes, with this product being no exception. Containing 150mg of caffeine, 1.6g of CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine, 1.5g of Creatine Monohydrate, and 1g of Arginine AKG this is the ultimate pre-workout for all athletes.
2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout
A source of natural caffeine with the gold standard approval
Containing naturally souced caffeine, a wide variety of vitamins and available in five different flavours, this supplement really lives up to the “gold standard” hype. The blue raspberry is our favourite!
3. Optimum nutrition vegan pre workout supplement
A vegan pre-workout option for runners
Because not all pre-workouts are vegan friendly; we’ve also provided this vegan pre-workout from Optimum Nutrition. This product contains 85mg of natural caffeine and comes in two popular flavours: lemon limeade or strawberry.
4. Bulk Powders pre-workout supplement
Premium, high-quality pre-workout from a trusted brand
This supplement from bulk powders comes in two flavours: Cherry Cola and Orange & Mango. It contains 67 mg of caffeine and other key ingredients, including B6, creatine, and essential amino acids.
5. Optimum Nutrition Caffeine Shots (12 pack)
An alternative to the regular powder option
For those not a fan of pre-workout, you can also take caffeine shots. These convenient shots contain 175mg of caffeine – ideal for a quick burst of energy or before a race.
So, as a runner should you take pre-workout?
Most runners should benefit from taking pre-workout, whether you choose a mixture based product or a large cup of coffee. The benefits are numerous, but most notably a reduced perception of pain, increased endurance and even increased fat burning during exercise.
However, we can’t stress enough that pre-workout is not for everyone – especially those who are caffeine sensitive. Ultimately this is a trial and error situation, finding out what works best for you.
Frequently asked questions
Does pre-workout work for running?
Yes! Pre-workout should reduce fatigue, your perception of pain, and even increase endurance - perfect for running.
Is pre-workout safe?
For most runners, pre-workout is safe. However, if you're particularly sensitive to caffeine you should be extra careful, certainly starting off on much smaller doses.
How long does pre-workout last?
Pre-workout will usually take 30-45 minutes to kick in with these benefits lasting anywhere between 3 and 6 hours.
Should I try pre workout?
We recommend using pre-workout before a hard interval session, race, or difficult long-run for the biggest benefit.
Matthew is an avid runner, freelance writer, Durham University graduate, and the founder of Running101.