Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements (MIPS) are filling a need for athletes across the fitness spectrum.

Nick Collias

April 3, 2024

6 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Pre-workout supplements are not just for hardcore bodybuilders.
  • Performance also desired by students, gamers and everyday people.
  • What is in MIPS blends — and how much of the key ingredients they should contain.

[Editor's note: This feature is part of the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine, "Get Swole!" Download the issue to learn more about high-intensity sports nutrition ingredients with evidence and impact, from creatine and HMB to high-quality branded ingredients from leading suppliers.]

Pre-workout supplements are no longer solely for hardcore bodybuilders. A new generation of customers are looking for ergogenic benefits both inside and outside of the gym, and they place a premium on transparency and efficacy. 

Here’s what’s inside the bottles of the best MIPS blends for 2024, and how to dose them for maximum effectiveness — all while meeting the demands of discerning buyers. 

Defining MIPS 

Research into pre-workouts often refers to these popular supplements using the acronym MIPS. But depending on the scientific study, that could stand for one of two things: 

- Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement; or 

- Multi-ingredient performance supplement. 

That may look like two words for the same thing, but Susan Hewlings, Ph.D., VP of research affairs at contract research organization (CRO) Radicle Science, explained the shift toward “performance” is an important one that typifies “the entire sports nutrition market.” She continued, “When sports nutrition first started, pre-workouts were all about the bros. But there’s been a realization that regular, unassuming people are out there running, lifting and getting it done. And they want better performance, too.” 

Related:Get swole! High-intensity sports – digital magazine

“Pre-workout” brings to mind a 2010s-era bodybuilder interested primarily in stimulants and muscle pumps, and who perhaps doesn’t mind that a supplement’s precise ingredients and dosages are concealed in a proprietary blend. But “performance” expands the customer base to include competitive athletes, students, gamers and everyday people using MIPS instead of energy drinks. 

The expanded audience brings increased scrutiny on both what is in MIPS blends — and how much of the key ingredients they contain. 

How MIPS work 

A person doesn’t have to dig very deep at a sports nutrition store to find a blend whose basic recipe is “stims, stims and more stims.” But studies looking into the most effective uses of MIPS point to their ability to check multiple boxes, utilizing several related but not completely overlapping mechanisms of action. These include: 

- Improving muscular endurance. 

- Maintaining or improving mood during training. 

- Boosting strength and power production. 

- Enhancing mental focus. 

- Providing energy. 

Related:Here's why creatine sales are surging this past year

Digging into the research and expert commentary brings context around which MIPS ingredients to consider for a formulation. 

1. Beta-alanine for work capacity

A 2019 study published in Nutrients ranked the most popular ingredients and dosages in 100 commercially available MIPS blends, which produced a surprise winner: beta-alanine. This nonessential amino acid appeared in 87% of pre-workouts, even beating out almighty caffeine by a percentage point. 

One reason for its popularity is its most prominent side effect, paresthesia — a skin-tingling sensation around the face and neck that lifters have been known to “seek and enjoy,” as a sign that their MIPS is taking effect, said Di Tan, Ph.D., director of scientific affairs for CarnoSyn brands, maker of the only beta-alanine to have obtained NDI (new dietary ingredient) status per FDA. 

Beta-alanine also has decades of research showing it can help delay fatigue and increase muscles’ work capacity, especially during the type of intense training that produces high amounts of blood lactate and hydrogen ions. 

“CarnoSyn beta-alanine is fundamental for sports nutrition, as it’s the rate-limiting factor of carnosine production,” Tan maintained. “Carnosine is naturally produced in our body and provides a unique mechanism for buffering the hydrogen ions generated by intense training. Beta-alanine works well alongside other ingredients like NO boosters, caffeine, amino acids and creatine, based on different but complementary mechanisms.” He suggested this makes it a natural fit for both higher-rep lifting and sprint-heavy track, team or racquet sports. 

Related:Creatine, whey protein, beta-alanine among picks in NFL-style draft at SupplySide West

Dose: Experts recommend taking beta-alanine in a 3.2 g daily dose for athletic performance (other health-focused uses, like potentially helping prevent cognitive decline, may require lower doses). However, the ingredient is only thought to be effective after a loading phase of at least 90 g over a 28-day period. 

2. Caffeine for power and energy 

Caffeine may no longer be the only performance-enhancing ingredient that athletes are looking for, but rest assured, the world’s most popular stimulant isn’t going anywhere. According to the NBJ (Nutrition Business Journal) “Sports Nutrition and Weight Management Report 2023,” 27% of surveyed active people reported they “always” consume caffeine before training, and 27% do so “often.” Also, 23% cited preparing for workouts as a primary reason they consume caffeine. 

Keeping different users in mind, premium MIPS are jettisoning a “more is better” approach to caffeine and trying to dial in the user experience via a blend of short-acting and longer-release caffeine. 

“Formulators can create unlimited types of energy profiles by combining immediate-release, delayed-release and extended-release ingredients,” explained Steve Fink, VP of marketing at PLT Health Solutions, maker of zümXR Targeted Release Caffeine. “These energy profiles can be targeted to specific product types — the morning pick-me-up, the pre-workout formula or the all-night study aid.” 

In light of these targeted release times, brands can also create MIPS that avoid the extreme highs and lows associated with old-school pre-workouts. “A key driver for development of these products was to control and extend the level of caffeine in the blood, so that the common complaint of ‘peaks and crashes’ related to standard (immediate release) caffeine consumption is evened out into a steadier level,” Fink stated. 

Dose: Caffeine tolerance is highly personal, but a commonly cited “low end” for athletic performance enhancement is 3 mg per kg of bodyweight. For an 80 kg (176 lb.) man, that’s 240 mg — and 180 mg for a 60 kg (132 lb.) woman — of standard-release, extended-release or a blend of caffeines. 

3. L-citrulline for fatigue fighting and muscle pumps 

The nonessential amino acid L-citrulline has become a near-mandatory inclusion in MIPS in recent years, ranking only behind beta-alanine and caffeine in popularity in the Nutrients study. Its major appeal comes not from what it does on its own, but from its ability to help the body produce another compound: nitric oxide (NO). 

A potent vasodilator, NO helps relax the arteries, which in turn can increase muscle pumps and help control fatigue. In the world of MIPS, NO boosters could easily be viewed as their own class of nutrients, the most popular of which also include citrulline malate (L-citrulline bonded with malic acid) and the increasingly popular beetroot. (Arginine, another NO-boosting amino which came in at No. 8 on the Nutrients ranking list, has been replaced by citrulline in many MIPS due to concerns that it could cause digestive distress at high doses.) 

Krissy Kendall, Ph.D., a lecturer in exercise and sports science at Edith Cowan University in Australia, pointed out, “Citrulline malate has been shown to increase training volume in the weight room, and beetroot has been shown to improve endurance performance.” The supplement researcher continued, “Couple those results with something like caffeine, and you’re sure to have a winner.” 

Dose: 6-8 g taken 30-45 minutes before a workout, of either L-citrulline or citrulline malate. A number of studies have shown additional benefit from loading 8 g L-citrulline for seven days or more for endurance-focused training. 

To investigate the two remaining MIPS ingredients, download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine, "Get Swole!" — your toolbox for better formulations, marketing tips and best business practices.

About the Author(s)

Nick Collias

Nick Collias is a writer and editor with over a decade of experience working in the health and fitness industry. From 2016 to 2021, he was the host of the Bodybuilding.com Podcast, interviewing elite athletes and training thought-leaders on a wide range of exercise, nutrition and lifestyle topics. Additionally, he has worked for the last 20 years as a longform print and online journalist, as well as a book author, ghostwriter and editor. 

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