For women looking to push the limits of physical performance, a pre-workout can be a huge help.
These supplements combine a range of performance-boosting compounds to help you generate more power for longer from your muscles, thanks to the ergogenic effects of compounds like caffeine, beta-alanine, L-carnitine, and more.
Add to that compounds like BCAAs to protect your muscles from damage and soreness during the toughest gym sessions and electrolytes for sustained performance, and you’ve got a category of supplements that are nearly indispensable for hardcore athletes.
Here are the key benefits you can expect to get from a good pre-workout supplement for women.
Pre-workout for women benefits
1. Achieving your workout goals gets a lot easier when you choose the right pre-workout supplement
A pre-workout supplement can keep you hydrated, increase the amount of fat you burn, improve your anaerobic power, and help you recover faster from heavy lifting sessions, all of which are critical for peak performance.
2. Pre-workout supplements provide quality hydration
Pre-workouts help you avoid the drops in performance that occur when you get dehydrated (1). By providing core electrolytes like sodium and potassium, pre-workouts keep your body’s power output from being limited by poor hydration levels.
3. Pre-workout supplements can replace trace minerals lost in sweat
Most people know that sweat is salty, but salt also contains calcium, chloride, and magnesium. A good pre-workout for women can help you avoid depleting these trace electrolytes during exercise as well (2).
4. Some pre-workouts use glycerol powder to boost water retention
This is a biochemical trick that’s been known to elite exercise physiologists since at least the 1990s, but has only recently become popular among pre-workout supplements for women (3).
5. Pre-workouts for women can increase fat oxidation
When it comes to fat oxidation, the key ingredients are herbal extracts like green coffee bean and green tea extract, which are both potent fat oxidizers.
These ingredients interact synergistically, giving you a bigger boost in fat loss than you’d expect from each ingredient alone (4).
6. Beta-alanine and L-carnitine in a pre-workout supplement can boost anaerobic performance
Anaerobic power output depends on your body’s ability to buffer lactate, and this ability can be augmented by beta alanine and carnitine.
Supplementing with these compounds improves performance in high-intensity sprints and repeated-sprint tests, so they’re great ingredients for events like CrossFit and HIIT training (5).
Beetroot juice is well-suited for continuous high-intensity training, since it boosts your ability to utilize oxygen in your muscles, according to a 2012 scientific article (6).
7. Including amino acids in pre-workout is key for strength gains
For strength gains, you’ll want to seek out a pre-workout supplement that includes amino acids (particularly branched-chain amino acids) and creatine, especially if you are looking for absolute gains in strength.
Amino acids, and BCAAs in particular, help athletes who are pushing themselves right to the limits of recovery, preventing overtraining and improving recovery during training (7).
8. Creatine in a pre-workout is one of the most proven ingredients for increasing strength
Creatine’s not just for men. One study on female lacrosse players, for example, showed that creatine increased upper body strength and decreased body fat content (8).
Other research shows that just five days of creatine supplementation helps healthy women increase their leg strength (9).
Pre-workout for women side effects
Almost all ingredients in quality pre-workout supplements for women will be well-tolerated. The only category of ingredients that can cause side effects are those designed to increase fat metabolism, and the biggest culprit among these is also one of the most ubiquitous in everyday life–caffeine.
Caffeine jitters and sleeplessness can affect women particularly strongly. Women seem to be especially susceptible to the negative effects of caffeine, partially because they just tend to be smaller and thus affected more by a given dose of caffeine, but also because of hormonal influences.
Estrogen affects how long caffeine lasts in your body. Caffeine lasts a lot longer in the bloodstream of women who take contraceptives, which means that taking a pre-workout supplement with caffeine in it in the afternoon could keep you up late into the night (9).
If you get jittery, irritable, or restless later in the day, check the caffeine content of your pre-workout supplement.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) and beta-alanine can cause tingling and pins and needles. B-complex vitamins and beta-alanine are both common pre-workout ingredients, but can cause a tingling sensation when taken in high doses.
Though it can be irritating, it’s not indicative of any more serious problems. You can avoid this tingling by spreading out your dosage or choosing a pre-workout that’s free from these compounds.
Pre-workout for women dosage
Most high-quality pre-workout supplements for women have had their serving size calibrated to correspond to the ideal dosage of all of the active ingredients, but you can’t always count on a product’s serving size to get it right.
Caffeine: 2-3 mg per kilo of body weight. If your pre-workout supplement contains caffeine, you should know that most research suggests you can garner all of the benefits with a dose as low as about 2-3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. That’s about 100-150 mg of caffeine for a 120-pound woman.
Creatine: at least 3 grams. Traditional creatine supplementation routines often call for doses of 15 grams per day or more, but new research shows that as little as three grams per day total can achieve the same effects (10).
Beta-alanine: 1-2 grams (ideally in separate doses). For beta-alanine, optimal effects occur with one to two grams per day, but if you take too much all at once, you can get a tingling sensation in your skin. It might be better to allocate some of your total beta-alanine to a post-workout or intra-workout supplement.
BCAAs: 5-10 grams. Most research on BCAAs for women suggests that five to ten grams is the optimal dose, though this is total across the day. If other supplements, like a protein shake, contain BCAAs as well, these also count towards this total.
Exact dosage is less critical for electrolytes and antioxidants like vitamin C, so you can be flexible with the amounts of these ingredients.
You’ll notice that most high-quality pre-workout supplements already have these dosages dialed in, so you often don’t have to worry too much if you’re using a top-notch product.
Pre-workout for women benefits FAQ
Q: What can you take instead of pre-workout?
A: One of the simplest and most old-school “pre-workout” alternatives is a cup of coffee. A little hydration and a healthy serving of caffeine is more than enough to boost your performance and motivation at the gym.
If you want to go more high-tech, try adding MCT oil to your coffee for a boost of energy from medium-chain triglycerides.
You can also cobble together your own supplementation routine that provides, separately, key pre-workout ingredients like creatine, beta-alanine, and branched chain amino acids, but at that point, why not just take a pre-mixed pre-workout?
Q: Is pre-workout bad for you?
A: Some people have negative reactions to pre-workout products that are too heavy on caffeine, or load up on too much beta-alanine. Too much caffeine can result in anxiety, nausea, jitters, and irritability—not exactly what you want for peak athletic performance.
Too much beta alanine can cause tingling in your skin, as can pre-workouts with huge amounts of niacin, though both of these are harmless side effects.
Q: Why does pre-workout make you tingle?
A: Tingling from a pre-workout supplement comes from two sources. Either the product contains a lot of beta-alanine, or it contains a lot of niacin (vitamin B3).
The flushing and tingling from these ingredients is harmless, but it can be pretty annoying and even distracting when you are trying to get a good workout in. However, it isn’t harmful.
You can eliminate this tingling by spreading your dosage out over 30-60 minutes, or taking a pre-workout with less or no beta-alanine and niacin.
Q: Can women take a pre-workout for men?
A: There’s a lot of crossover in ingredients between pre-workout for men and pre-workout for women, but the dosage of some stimulants and thermogenics can be a bit too high in a men’s pre-workout. That’s because dosages of these ingredients are often targeted based on body mass.
If you are taking a general-purpose pre-workout, or one made specifically for men, keep an eye on the content of ingredients like caffeine, guarana, matcha, and green coffee bean extract, as these are all thermogenic stimulants that can cause jitters and sleeplessness when taken at too high of a dosage.
Related: Our best pre-workouts for women
If you are a serious female athlete, a pre-workout supplement formulated specifically for women is a great choice for boosting your performance.
For power, strength, or endurance-based sports, pre-workouts can both increase performance and limit the damage you incur to your muscles during your toughest training sessions, making them an excellent tool in your arsenal.