Note to self: There is a good time and a bad time for this.

By Emily Abbate
Photo: Milan_Jovic / Getty Images

I've always believed that the only people who needed pre-workout supplements were lunkheads with lofty #gainz goals. In other words: Big guys with even bigger muscles who typically walk into a gym like they own the place with a pair of over-ear headphones on to block out any and all distractions. While research shows that pre-workout supplements are safe, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed-something that's always made me feel uneasy. So when a colleague handed me a bottle of the goods before a group training session earlier this summer, I was mega intimidated. With promises of ultimate America Ninja Warrior-worthy performance and workout superiority lingering in my fingertips, I shrugged and sipped it down. (Related: Should You Be Taking Pre-Workout Supplements?)

The tingles started within 10 minutes. First in my face. Then my hands. Then my legs. I felt a prickly sensation that was so distracting, I had to step off to the side to regroup after my first set of sprints across an indoor turf. Looking at the trainer I was working with, I asked if this was normal. She told me it was something that can be off-putting at first, but would subside after a while. We continued with the sweat fest, and thankfully she was right. With about 25 minutes left in my workout, the tingling subsided.

Once it was all said and done: I needed to know more. Is this off-putting sensation something that happens every time, with every brand? Would it be better to use one with caffeine versus without? I decided to do some experimentation. For the following two weeks, I tried pre-workout supplements before a slew of different workouts. Here's how it all went down.


I felt highly conflicted about taking pre-workout before going to yoga. Because when you think yoga, you think calm. Relaxing. Soothing. The taste of Performix's blackberry lemonade is refreshing and makes me feel alert. I sip it inside a shaker bottle on the subway, and within minutes I feel some of that tingling feeling I got the first time (which I'd attribute to the combination of 320mg caffeine and beta alanine-a nonessential amino acid). It's nowhere near as intense and subsides by the time I show up to the studio.

Of course, this class starts with a 10-minute seated meditation which is not typical of my favorite teacher. During the entire meditation, I feel unfocused. I want to skip ahead to the Vinyasa chapter. I hear what he's saying, but I'm knowingly missing the point. However, once we're done getting deep with our feelings and intentions, the movement starts, and I am so on my game it's undeniable. An extra push-up here. A lower lunge there. The alignment is perfection. There's no shame in my yoga game, and by the end of class, I am sweat-drenched and happy. Note to self: Do not take pre-workout before attempting meditation. (Related: Best Pre- and Post-Workout Snacks for Every Workout)


It's an early morning and I've got 5 miles on deck for my morning run down to yoga. About 30 minutes before I head out, I pour the Revere pre-workout into my shaker bottle and get to mixing. On first sip, it tastes like a delicious light, refreshing alcoholic mixer. I'm now thinking about alcohol, and it's 6:15 a.m.

I digress. After doing all the other routine morning things (journaling, making my bed, organizing my calendar), I hit the ground running-literally. The heat and humidity have made it almost impossible to feel great mid-stride lately, but this day is noticeably different. The humidity is nowhere to be found. It's around 70 degrees. And I feel like a gosh-darn superhero. Weaving my way through midtown streets headed toward my class, I realize I'm hitting an 8:05 pace, which is at least a minute faster than my last few weeks of miles. I get to yoga and feel nervous that this pre-workout energy situation is going to make me feel uneasy again. Thankfully, I feel strong and capable-not antsy-to get through the flow. There's also no meditation this time around.


First things first: I am the worst at Megaformer Pilates. As a big runner and fan of all things high intensity, I show up in front of the machine and instantly feel like a total weakling. Which is why I really hoped that this blackberry basil pre-workout-created by serial entrepreneur Bizzie Gold-would help me really show up for a late afternoon SLT class. Note: this is the only pre-workout I took that had absolutely no caffeine in it. (Related: Your Guide to Pre- and Post-Workout Supplements)

Within five minutes of plank-to-pike movements, I'm impressed with myself. I don't feel like I want to die and as if I'm keeping up, something I've never experienced within one of these classes before. The things that are holding me back are minor injuries I work with regularly (arthritis, nerve damage) and not my muscles fatiguing. I don't notice a difference in my ability to show up or perform sans caffeine, and ride this empowered, I-can-do-it-all feeling straight through until the final lunge. I instantly make a plan to return to the I-used-to-book-this-class-once-a-year experience the following week.


The pre-workout: Cellucor C4 in Blue Razz

This was the workout I was looking forward to the most at the start of this experiment. Mixing up the magic in my kitchen, I wondered if I would be able to channel my inner hulk in a CrossFit workout. On deck, a strength portion of overhead presses with a barbell in the front rack position, then a WOD (that's "workout of the day" in CrossFit lingo) of push presses and over-the-barbell burpees.

The taste wasn't particularly my cup of tea, and I was instantly aware that my tongue may turn a shade of blue during my commute down to the gym. This was the only pre-workout that I took and noticed that I was sweating before the work even started. I felt strong during the strength component of the workout, and the wired feeling I had on my third set that lasted through the workout portion really rivaled what I experience when I chug down an espresso shot. I felt noticeably more tired than usual once the effort was done, so much so that I needed to take a walking lap around the block to get my heart rate back down.

The Verdict

I am 100 percent going to incorporate more pre-workout into my regular routine, but I really want to keep an eye out for what's in each of the formulas I reach for (e.g., Revere's all-natural ingredients label). I learned that I need to make sure to drink it far enough ahead of my workout so it settles in with the body and I don't need to use the bathroom mid-stride. And most importantly, to use it wisely depending on what activity's on deck (not meditation). But ultimately, anything that makes me feel like a real-life superhero (in a safe, no damsel-in-distress necessary way) is worth the splurge in my book.

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