Know What’s In Your Pre-Workout To Avoid Failing A Drug Test

Jake Thorp
Jake is a competitive crossfit athlete and 85 kg weightlifter based out of Albany, NY. He is the in-house weightlifting coach at Crossfit Beyond as well as a crossfit L1 trainer there. He has recently graduated from the College of Saint Rose and has a bachelor's of Science in Molecular biology. He has been involved with the fitness industry for over five years, between personal training, corporate fitness, crossfit, and weightlifting. During his free time he trains and competes throughout the northeast region, and enjoys experiencing the great outdoors as often as possible. Find him on Instagram @hammerofthorp for movement demos and training tips.

I’ll admit it, there’s nothing like taking that first sip of pre-workout. Your heart starts to pound, your veins start popping out, the stimulation rushes down your spine, and “the itch” courses throughout your entire body. Let’s not beat around the bush here, it’s every bodybuilder and strength athlete’s alternative to crack. So what’s the deal with this magic, superhuman potion everyone is going crazy about? Sure it makes you feel good (like any drug) and it helps you kill workouts, but what’s actually going on with these pre-workout formulas?

The supplement industry is absolutely flooded with pre-workout formulas of all different types, every single one containing its own unique “proprietary blend” of compounds that many of us cannot pronounce properly. Although all unique, there are a handful of certain ingredients that most pre-workouts are made of. Be familiar with the popular ingredients so you can make an educated choice on which type is best for you:


1. The big one is caffeine.

  • Not all, but most pre-workouts will start off with a hefty serving of caffeine because caffeine works to arouse the mind, enhancing our focus and providing a stimulating effect on the mind, resulting in increased alertness at the task at hand.
  • It also increases your heart rate, allowing more blood to be circulated through the body per minute. More focus on the workout + increased heart rate = better workout. Unless the front label of the canister says “caffeine free,” you better believe it will have a generous amount of caffeine to get you going. Along with caffeine, you might also find something like taurine, another stimulant from the same chemical family as caffeine. Both of which will keep you alert and awake for a while.

2. The next commonly found ingredient is L-arginine or L-citrulline.

  • These are compounds that act as vasodilators. Vasodilators act to open up our blood vessels to allow more blood flow throughout the body. More blood flow =more oxygen and nutrients delivered to our muscles =increased performance. This also helps give us that pump we all crave.

3. Another common ingredient is a compound known as Beta Alanine.

  • Beta alanine is used to buffer waste products of the reactions occurring in our muscles during exercise (hydrogen ions). Although the human body does a very good job at breaking down and flushing out waste products, during our workout it may get overwhelmed with this waste and may not flush it out as fast as we want it to. That’s where the beta alanine comes in.
  • It will help neutralize the waste products and give our cells a helping hand, and help boost our performance. It will help you bang out those extra two reps or maybe keep you running a few minutes longer. Either way, by buffering the waste products it is helping you train harder and longer.

4. The B- vitamins are also very frequently fortified into pre workout formulas.

  • B-vitamins, specifically B12 (also labeled as riboflavin) and B6, serve many purposes in the human body. For the sake of our workouts, it does a few important things. First, these vitamins help facilitate the conversion of carbohydrates and proteins into usable energy for our cells. So that’s a good thing. They also play a large role in cellular repair and recovery. This is also helpful.
  • Our muscles need to recover as fast as possible so we can keep hitting the gym hard on a weekly basis, and we also need to have a constant flow of nutrients to our cells so we can physically perform at our best.
  • It is recognized that many athletes do not get enough B vitamins throughout the day, it is also recognized that athletes require higher doses of B vitmains compared to the average Joe, so having a pre workout formula that includes a generous dose of B vitamins is not only a smart purchase and a huge performance booster, but necessary in my opinion.

5. Last but certainly not least, the infamous “proprietary blend” that nearly every pre-workout formula contains.

  • I am certainly not against pre-workouts, if it isn’t abused by the consumer and is instead used in the proper doses at the right time, they certainly can help you perform. But I must warn you, keep a close eye on these proprietary blends they dump into their formulas. Basically, when you see “proprietary blend” it basically means “a bunch of chemicals that we don’t have to tell you about.” More times than not, these chemicals are harmless, and are usually just patent-pending compounds that you will probably piss out anyway.
  • However, over the recent years many supplement companies have gotten in trouble with the FDA and have had to change their formulas because of something fishy in their proprietary blend.
  • In some cases, these compounds can go in as one thing and be metabolized in our bodies as something else. For example, in some instances there are compounds that would not be categorized as an amphetamine. However, as it is metabolized in the liver, its chemical properties are altered and can very well become something you did not intend to ingest. This is where athletes can get in trouble. Not only is it potentially harmful to their health, but could also end up with a disastrous failed drug test.

Now you can see why it’s important to know what your buying and putting into your body. Not all pre-workouts are hiding something from us, but it is certainly a good idea to take the time to know what’s in your magic potion.

What’s your favorite pre? Comment below!