The popularity of pre-workout supplements has seen a significant boom over the past 5-8 years, and I'd be lying to your face if I said I've never taken them before. While it's easy to take an "ultimatumist" view towards pre-workouts (DON'T EVER DO IT), that'd be inaccurate because like all things it lies somewhere on a bell curve. In other words, you always have to consider context before saying something is good or bad. Anyways...this isn't going to be a dissertation on pre-workout supplements, but rather a collection of random thoughts concerning their usage.
The Danger of Dependency
So back in college when my biggest concerns in life were playing baseball, getting jacked and hanging out with my friends, I became somewhat of a pre-workout connoisseur. And by connoisseur I mean I just took a lot of different kinds of pre-workouts because I enjoyed that "jacked up" feeling it gave you.
Now I was never "hooked" on it like some people I knew who would wake up in the morning and take NO Explode just because they needed it, but I did become dependent on it for workouts.
In essence, I felt like I couldn't workout without it because I had lost control over my own dimmer switch of "aggression," and here's what I mean by that. Think of your aggression output like a dimmer switch (and by aggression output I'm talking about sympathetic vs. parasympathetic tone). At some points, like when you're working out, you may need to ramp that switch up (boost sympathetic tone), and at others, like when you're chilling on the couch at night before bed, you need to ramp that switch down (boost parasympathetic tone). The problem many people run into with pre-workouts is that they lose control of this dimmer switch. They become dependent upon the pre-workout to ramp the dimmer switch up (partly because it's damn near impossible to match the feeling you get from a pre-workout naturally) , and lose the ability to do it themselves.
Ultimately, this isn't a road you want to go down, and if you're one of those people who can't self motivate without an artificial kick, then I'd recommend doing what I did and throw them all away.
*I'm not saying I don't ever use pre-workouts anymore because there can be a time and place for them when used correctly.
Ignoring Important Cues
Here's one of my favorites:
Random Bro: "Dude...I was so exhausted this morning when I woke up. I mean my body just felt like crap. It was probably because I haven't gotten much sleep over the past several nights, ate like crap, and had a little bit too much to drink, but that's okay. I woke up, CRUSHED my pre-workout, headed to the gym, and still got a good lift in."
Me: Banging my head against a wall incessantly.
Now I'm not knocking the effort. I think it's great that you still found time to make it into the gym, but let's just analyze what in the world you're doing: ignoring every important cue your body is trying to send you.
This, in case you can't tell from my tone, is really dumb. It might work a few times, but eventually you're going to run yourself into the ground.
Takeaway: listen to your body. Don't tell it to f*ck off.
A Time and Place
Now there is a time and place when you can utilize pre-workouts, and that's strictly for your most intense sessions.
Please know that you should check with your doctor before making any decisions concerning supplements. Especially pre-workout supplements.
Assuming you've been lifting for a while, you should know what these sessions look like and when they're taking place. If you don't have ability right now to cipher out your different types of sessions, then I'd highly recommend getting a coach who can help get you going in the right direction.
While there are 100's of different pre-workouts on the market, I've honestly become a fan of just having a cup of coffee prior to lifting when it's appropriate. The caffeine from the coffee does it's job of ramping up the central nervous system, and I sleep a little better at night knowing I didn't just ingest what might be cancer juice. Granted, cancer juice is an extreme statement. I'm merely referring to the fact that you have NO IDEA what's actually in the pre-workout you're taking, and considering how dramatic of an effect it has on your system, you need to respect that.
*If I'm looking for a pick me up that takes things to another level, however, I tend to go with Pre-Jym because it's the best product I've taken to date. Please know I'm not endorsing this product, and that you need to check with your doctor before taking it.
Performance Over Health
Let's just go ahead and end with this thought: if you're taking a pre-workout you are consciously making a decision to choose performance over health, and THAT'S TOTALLY FINE. People have to respect that performance and health are vastly different things, and that individuals who have serious performance related goals will have to make decisions that play on this trade off.