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A gym goer will likely never forget the first time they added a pre-workout supplement into their routine. I vividly remember my first time, I was ten minutes out from the gym and blasting my usual pump up music in my car after work, and suddenly it hit me; this tingling sensation engulfed me and then I felt this surge of energy course through my body. I pulled up to the gym and entered through the doors like I was a superhero, and despite being a scrawny 18-year old I remember crushing that workout. My body felt stronger, my muscles looked bigger, and the weights felt lighter. I remember thinking, what more could you ask for from a performance supplement.
I now know that the energy I felt was from the caffeine, the tingly sensation was from an ingredient called beta-alanine, and my muscle pump was due to some nitric oxide boosters. However, at that point in time I had no idea what to look for in a pre-workout supplement. That is still a question that many people still have, especially from a supplement that has so many different ingredients, dosages and effects.
If you’re new to pre-workout supplementation, or simply looking for a different product then you know that finding a pre-workout supplement that fits your needs is a daunting task. There are so many different products and options to choose from. Which company is a reputable supplier? What ingredients should I prioritize? Which flavors will I actually enjoy?
These are all questions you might have, and this article will be able to help you answer these questions and more. You don’t need a pre-workout supplement for the gym in the same way you don’t need running shoes to run. Although it isn’t necessary it definitely is going to help. Check out our comprehensive list shown below for some of the best pre-workout supplements currently available, our personal favorite powder, and why one of these products might become your new favorite supplement of 2022.
Talk to your health care professional before taking a pre-workout supplement.
Our Picks for the Best Pre-Workout:
Transparent Labs offers a high quality pre-workout supplement that provides consumers much more than a 180 mg dosage of caffeine. This product includes a range of ingredients from 6 grams of citrulline malate, a nitric oxide precursor; 4 grams of beta-alanine for muscular endurance; a branched chain amino acids (BCAA) complex; and some vitamins and minerals for performance and hydration.
What I like about this product, is that it doesn’t make any outrageous claims on its products, shows no misleading research and has testing done on all of the products it offers. Additionally, products from Transparent Labs contain no artificial colors, sweeteners, or preservatives; they keep it simple, avoid proprietary blends and use clinically effective dosages of ingredients. As mentioned above, this product does contain 4,000 mg of beta-alanine which may cause a harmless tingling sensation felt on your skin. I personally like this feeling because it lets me know that my pre-workout supplement is kicking in, but if you dislike that feeling then this may not be the supplement for you. The ten flavors for its Bulk pre-workout supplement include sour grape, watermelon, green apple, orange, blue raspberry, strawberry lemonade, tropical punch, lemon lime, black cherry, and peach mango. I loved the peach mango and strawberry lemonade but wasn’t much of a fan of the orange or sour grape.
Cost: $49.99 for 30 servings ($1.66/serving)
Buy Transparent Labs BULK (transparentlabs.com)
Kaged Supplements’ Pre-Kaged is a well rounded, powerful pre-workout powder formulated to boost your energy, endurance, and focus in the gym. It is verified by Informed Sport, meaning it has no banned substances and no flavors from artificial sources. In addition to various amounts of the usual ingredients — 6.5 grams of L-citrulline, 1.6 grams of beta-alanine, 1.5 grams of creatine, and 274 mg of caffeine — this formulation also contains 6.5 grams of BCAAs, a 600 mg hydration blend containing coconut water powder which supplies the body with five essential electrolytes to support water retention, and a focus matrix comprised of taurine and tyrosine. With the highest dosage of caffeine per serving on this list, this supplement is powerful enough to work on someone with even the highest caffeine tolerance.
Overall it’s a top tier pre-workout supplement, but I wouldn’t advise users to take this everyday due to the amount of caffeine per serving. Flavors include berry blast, pink lemonade, grape, fruit punch, krisp apple, orange krush, cherry bomb.
Cost: $44.99 for 20 servings ($2.25/serving)
Buy Kaged Pre-Kaged (kaged.com)
Naked Nutrition’s pre-workout Naked Energy is a supplement designed with your health in mind. As with many of Naked’s products, this supplement contains no additives or artificial sweeteners; in fact, this product is completely unflavored which definitely makes it stand out from the other supplements on this list. The powder mixes easily in water but since it is unflavored it tastes bitter—I suggest chugging it quickly or mixing it with a juice you enjoy. Since I work out in the morning, I mix this supplement with my morning water and lemon juice and it goes down just fine.
This product contains vitamins B3, B6, B9 and B12 as well as vitamin C and the mineral calcium. It also contains 2 grams of beta-alanine, 1 gram of creatine monohydrate, and 1 grams of L-arginine; all of which could be dosed slightly higher for their performance enhancing effects. One ingredient that is dosed effectively is the caffeine, at 200 mg per serving this pre-workout will have you ready to hit the gym hard without causing the jitters felt from higher dosed products. Overall if you’re looking for a standard pre-workout with no fillers or artificial ingredients this will definitely get the job done.
Cost: $44.99 for 50 servings ($0.90/serving)
Buy Naked Nutrition Naked Energy Pre-Workout (nakednutrition.com)
Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard pre-workout is a fairly average pre-workout supplement formulation. The 175 mg dosage of caffeine will definitely be enough to get you to the gym and the flavors I have tried, including blueberry lemonade, green apple, and fruit punch, have all tasted great. However, some other ingredients in this product are under-dosed. A 1.5 gram dosage of beta-alanine, and a 750 mg dose of L-citrulline are likely ineffective at this concentration and therefore will have no real performance enhancing benefits.
That being said, this product does contain 3 grams of creatine monohydrate per serving — while it’s on the low end of what you might want to consume, it does satisfy the daily creatine requirement for most individuals using creatine for its muscle building effects. It is important to note that this product does contain artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners and for what it’s worth I think there are better options available at a similar price point — Transparent Labs is slightly more expensive, but a better choice for many athletes.
Cost: $29.99 for 30 servings ($1.00/serving)
Buy Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout (optimumnutrition.com)
If you are a consistent gym goer then C4 by Cellucor is likely a pre-workout supplement you have heard about if not already tried. In fact, I am pretty sure it was the first pre-workout supplement I had ever taken when it launched back in 2011. Despite being one of the most well known pre-workout supplements on the market, C4 original pre-workout is definitely a supplement I would only recommend to people that are new to the gym and supplements in general. At a dosage of 150 mg of caffeine per serving, you will definitely feel the stimulant effect without the worries of overdoing it. Per serving, the other ingredients include beta-alanine at 1.6 grams, creatine nitrate at 1 gram, and arginine alpha ketoglutarate at 1 gram.
These ingredients are significantly underdosed compared to what the literature tells us is actually effective at enhancing performance meaning that C4 original is effectively just flavored caffeine. The good thing is that Cellucor does offer different C4 energy products based on its consumers goals and ability level in the gym. In addition to C4 original it has pre-workout supplements such as C4 Sport, C4 Ripped, C4 Ultimate, C4 Extreme, C4 Dynasty, and C4 NO3 (stim free). These supplements range in price and ingredients based on your current health and fitness goals. As far as the taste, the cherry limeade and watermelon flavors were my favorite from the five flavors available including orange burst, icy blue razz, and fruit punch.
Cost: $29.99 for 30 servings ($1.00/serving)
Buy C4 Original Pre-Workout Powder (cellucor.com)
For consumers looking for an all natural alternative to the standard pre-workout formulation, Ora Organics Renewable Energy pre-workout formula is created for you. This product is organic, vegan, non-GMO, and dairy, gluten and soy-free. It also contains no artificial ingredients. Ora Organics uses plants known to have similar energy, focus and pump-inducing effects. The organic energy and electrolyte blend is a combination of coconut sugar, coconut water, green coffee bean, matcha green tea and yerba mate. The nitric oxide blend contains pomegranate and beetroot juice powders, and the focus and endurance blend contains ashwagandha, rhodiola root, panax ginseng and maca root.
By using all natural and organic ingredients you don’t need to worry about any potential negative side effects of artificial sugars, flavors, or colors; and with only 90 mg of caffeine per serving it has slightly more than an 8 oz. cup of coffee so you shouldn’t experience any anxiety or jitters. Although not nearly as powerful as some of the other pre-workout supplements on this list, this pre-workout did surprise me. I did get a nice boost in energy and felt good throughout my workout.
If you would like to learn more, visit the Ora Organic website where the brand has a list of the ingredients and research studies that support their use. With all of the purported benefits, I think this supplement could be taken not just as a pre-workout but even as a replacement for a morning coffee or tea for energy. The flavors include raspberry lemonade, beet pomegranate, ceremonial matcha. The raspberry lemonade version uses organic raspberry and lemon flavor and tastes light and fresh. I would definitely recommend this product for people looking for all natural ingredients and a jitter-free energy boost.
Cost: $34.99 for 20 servings ($1.75/serving)
Buy Ora Renewable Energy Performance Pre-Workout (iherb.com)
Thavage pre-workout is a supplement from Raw Nutrition designed by the 3x classic physique Mr. Olympia champion Chris Bumstead. The name “Thavage” is a play on words for savage, which is Bumstead’s way of jokingly embracing the fact that he speaks with a slight lisp. You can expect the pre-workout of an Olympia champion to be powerful and this product delivers.
A single scoop contains 130 mg of caffeine, 3,000 mg of L-citrulline, 1,600 mg of beta-alanine, 1,250 mg of betaine, and 1,000 mg of both L-tyrosine and taurine. The amount of caffeine per scoop is moderate because the brand advises that serious gym goers use two scoops of this product. This two-scoop serving provides the dosages scientifically recommended to provide real performance benefits in the gym. Flavors include blackberry lemonade, green crush (a refreshing cucumber melon flavor), rocket candy (a flavor based off the classic red, white, and blue popsicle), and 3-peat (fruit punch). They are artificially sweetened with both acesulfame potassium and sucralose but colored naturally with vegetable powder. The only flavor I have tried so far is blackberry lemonade and it was flavorful without being too sweet which I enjoyed.
Cost: $49.99 for 40 servings ($1.25/serving), 2-scoop dose ($2.50/serving)
Buy Raw Nutrition Thavage Pre-Workout (a1supplements.com)
Podium is a new supplement company founded in 2021 by Mat Fraser, the 5x CrossFit games champion; CrossFit HQ media team alums Heber Cannon and Marston Sawyers; and Paul Haverland, a leading executive in the supplement industry. The supplement is focused around both a performance and energy complex. The performance matrix has 4 grams of L-citrulline, 3,200 mg of beta alanine, and 1 gram of taurine; and the energy complex is a mix of L-tyrosine, 200 mg of caffeine, and some other ingredients commonly found in pre-workout supplements such as GABA, Astragin and Huperzine A.
While not as robust as other pre-workouts that include ingredients such as creatine or specific plant extracts; this is an overall well-dosed pre-workout supplement that will have real benefits during your workouts. Flavors include peach mango and sour watermelon and are sweetened with both sucralose and acesulfame potassium; the peach mango was delicious and I am excited to try the sour watermelon in the future.
Cost: $44.99 for 30 servings ($1.50/serving)
Buy Podium Fuse Pre-Workout (rogue.com)
Huge Supplements delivers one of the strongest pre-workout supplements on the market with its flagship “Wrecked” pre-workout. Although it is the most expensive supplement on this list, it is also one of the most potent. This product contains a massive 250 mg dose of caffeine per serving, so if you’re new to pre-workout, and want to give this product a try, I would suggest starting with a half scoop serving size. This supplement is definitely intended to be used by serious gym goers: It contains a whopping 8,000 mg of L-citrulline, 3,500 mg of beta-alanine, 3,000 mg of betaine, and 1,500 mg of L-tyrosine to name a few.
Personally, I would have to rank this product as the strongest pre-workout I have ever tested and I have easily tried over 50 different pre-workout supplements in my life. My energy and work capacity were definitely increased and I felt energized and engaged through my entire workout. I am careful about when I take this supplement in particular because anytime I have taken it after 4 p.m. I have had trouble falling asleep at my usual bedtime.
If you are looking for a maximum strength pre-workout then I would advise giving this one a try. This product is both naturally and artificially flavored and the flavors include raspberry mojito, bomb popsicle, rainbow burst, and peach rings. The only flavor I have tried so far is the raspberry mojito, but it tasted great and the performance was unmatched.
Cost: $49.95 for 20 servings ($2.50/serving)
Buy Huge Supplements Wrecked Pre-Workout (amazon.com)
This Maximum formulation is designed to support muscle growth, boost energy and focus, increase muscle strength and stamina, and improve your mood. It is the most robust supplement on our list and would be a great addition to your workout routine.
It was immediately interesting to me because it was the only pre-workout on this list that I hadn’t heard of before. However, after doing the research I was impressed. Shifted’s maximum pre-workout supplement is a full spectrum formulation with clinically effective dosages of the 21 total active ingredients. This product has everything you could be looking for in a pre-workout: 300 mg of caffeine, 8 grams of L-citrulline, 5 grams of creatine, 2.5 grams of beta-alanine, 2.5 grams of betaine, 3 grams of taurine, and 2 grams L-tyrosine. Aside from the ingredients focused on strength, endurance, and a great pump effect (i.e., increased blood flow via vasodilation), they also include a number of ingredients directed towards your overall focus and mood.
In my opinion this is the most robust pre-workout on the list, and for the price, this is a fantastic value. The powder is naturally colored and flavored but does use sucralose as a sweetener. The only two current flavors are tropical and berry, and both tasted great to me. Out of the two, tropical was definitely the stand out option; it was extremely delicious.
Cost: $34.99 for 20 servings ($1.75/serving)
Buy Shifted Maximum Pre-Workout (amazon.com)
Why Buy Pre-Workout?
Pre-workout is most commonly used as a stimulant to increase energy, motivation, focus and drive at the gym. Most formulations contain a hefty dose of caffeine, but there are some that are labeled as “non-stim,” which contain no caffeine but include ingredients that act as nitric oxide precursors which are molecules that increase both vasodilation—widening of the blood vessels and blood flow. Other pre-workouts are created with athletes in mind and might contain electrolytes for hydration, as well as the compound beta-alanine which has been shown to buffer the acidity in muscles during periods of longer endurance exercise.
When looking to purchase a pre-workout, focus on your health and fitness goals and determine what you personally need to get the best training session possible. Questions you might want to ask yourself include: Are you an athlete looking for improved focus and a combination of vitamins and minerals for sustained hydration? Are you a body-builder looking to build the maximum amount of muscle possible at the gym? Or, are you a parent simply looking for a dose of caffeine before an early morning workout before your kids wake up? For each of these scenarios I would likely recommend a different pre-workout supplement.
Research has demonstrated that certain pre-workout supplements, if dosed correctly with the right ingredients, have notable positive effects on lean body mass and overall athletic performance. Whether you wake up early before work for the gym, or need a boost in the afternoon prior to an evening training session, a pre-workout supplement can be utilized as a helpful boost for your workout.
How to Use Pre-Workout
You should always follow the label instructions when ingesting pre-workout. In almost all cases, you will mix it with 6-12 oz. of water and consume 15-30 minutes before a training session. It is advised to never dry-scoop pre-workout, meaning that you ingest the pre-workout powder without mixing and diluting it with water. This is a dangerous trend for a number of reasons; the most obvious is that you can accidentally inhale the powder which poses a potential choking hazard, the second is that dry-scooping essentially floods your body with an acute dose of caffeine which can drastically increase both your blood pressure, heart rate, and potentially lead to an irregular heartbeat rhythm.
Is Pre-Workout Dangerous?
It is always advised to speak to your health care professional before taking a pre-workout supplement.
In most cases pre-workout is not considered dangerous, however, as with almost everything else it can be abused and have harmful side effects if used inappropriately. Some examples of improper usage include dry-scooping, taking more than the prescribed dosage, and using pre-workout without considering your total daily caffeine ingestion.
Some initial factors to consider include age and other medications you are taking. To start, pre-workout is only intended for healthy adults, meaning 18 years of age or older. The American College of Sports Medicine echoes this sentiment and recommends that people younger than age 18 should not take pre-workout supplements. You also want to consider if you are pregnant or taking medications such as nitrates, antidepressants, blood thinners, etc. because pre-workout can cause changes to your normal blood pressure and heart rate.
I would also suggest that you should first optimize your lifestyle before selecting a pre-workout supplement. If a client of mine is supplementing with pre-workout solely for the caffeine and energy component, I like to look at possible lifestyle choices we can improve before adding a stimulant into their routine. I advise clients to focus on their hydration, sleep, and nutrition in addition to monitoring their overall daily intake of caffeine. Most pre-workout formulations contain around 150-300 mg of caffeine and if you have 2 cups of coffee in the morning you are already at the suggested daily limit of up to 400 mg per day. This is important because caffeine can take up to 10 hours to clear from your system; so I would advise you to not ingest caffeine after 3-4 p.m. Being a stimulant, caffeine can also affect your sleep which therefore affects your energy the following day, which can lead to caffeine dependence. Excessive intake of caffeine can also trigger some unwanted side effects including anxiety, headaches, jitters, and insomnia. It is also recommended to take some days off from caffeinated pre-workouts to prevent dependence and maintain tolerance levels.
What Ingredients to Look for in Pre-Workout
Here is a list of the most common ingredients found in pre-workout supplements, what they do, and the recommended effective dosages so that you can make informed decisions as to what pre-workout supplement to purchase.
Caffeine is one of the most common ingredients found in pre-workout supplements. This is due to its ability to stimulate the central nervous system leading to improvements in cognition, performance, power output, and endurance through a reduced perception of fatigue. Studies show caffeine supplementation is effective for enhancing athletic performance in dosages of 3-6 mg/kg per body-weight; for reference most pre-workout supplements have between 150-300 mg of caffeine per serving. For example, this means that a 140 lb. female and a 180 lb. male should see performance enhancing benefits around 190 and 240 mg of caffeine respectively. It is important to monitor your total caffeine consumption throughout the day when choosing a pre-workout containing caffeine, the recommended daily allowance for caffeine ingestion is 400 mg/day in adults.
Branched chain amino acids, more commonly abbreviated as BCAAs, are the three amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three amino acids make up about one-third of the body’s muscle protein, and have been shown to help build muscle by increasing the rate of protein synthesis and decreasing the rate of protein degradation in resting human muscle tissue. BCAAs are included in pre-workout formulations with the intent of stimulating muscle protein synthesis which consequently would reduce exercise-induced muscle breakdown due to resistance training. This sounds good in theory but studies have not been able to show that BCAAs alone significantly enhance athletic performance. This is because for performance enhancing benefits to occur, BCAAs must be consumed in conjunction with the other 6 essential amino acids. BCAAs are not what I would look for in a pre-workout supplement, and they can easily be consumed either pre or post workout through your diet or using a protein powder supplement.
Betaine is a metabolite in the body formed from choline. It is consumed naturally in the diet through foods such as beets, broccoli, grains, shellfish, and spinach and further supplementation may provide some performance enhancing benefits. In studies, consuming 2-3 grams per day of betaine has shown some slight resistance training and body composition benefits. One study noted that blood lactate accumulation was slightly lower when taking betaine compared to the placebo group; meaning that betaine supplementation may provide benefits during exercise encompassing high volumes at moderate to high intensity.
Creatine is a combination of the 3 amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine and is one of the most studied performance enhancing supplements available. It has been shown to aid in building muscle, shortening recovery time, and improving performance. Creatine is considered safe and without significant adverse effects at dosage levels of 4-5 grams per day. A loading phase of 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day for three days is common before starting a creatine supplementation routine. This means that a 180 lb. male might take around 25 grams of creatine a day for the first three days to fully saturate their muscles before moving to a 4-5 gram dosage of creatine per day. It is also important to mention that creatine is an ingredient often added to pre-workout for overall convenience but it is not a critical component because it provides no immediate benefits to your training session. What I mean by this is that contrary to ingredients such as caffeine and L-citrulline which have noticeable, immediate, and short-term effects to increase your energy and focus at the gym; creatine has long-term effects when taken daily, so if you wish to supplement with creatine you can take it whenever you want throughout the day. Since you should supplement with creatine daily, not just on the days you work out, for optimal efficiency I would suggest buying a creatine monohydrate powder so you can still supplement without needing to take your pre-workout powder on rest days.
Non-Essential & Conditionally Essential Amino Acids
Non-essential amino acids are required for normal health and growth. The reason they are classified as non-essential, meaning they do not need to be consumed via our diet, is because our bodies are able to synthesize these amino acids from other proteins that we ingest. These non-essential amino acids often act as precursor molecules in the body, meaning that they change or transition into other molecules through various metabolic reactions in the body.
Conditionally essential amino acids are generally not essential for our body and its usual day to day functions. However, in times of injury, illness, or stress these amino acids can be beneficial for recovery.
Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is used in conjunction with the essential amino acid l-histidine in the body to create the dipeptide molecule carnosine. Carnosine plays a key role in buffering the lactic acid produced in the muscles during periods of intense exercise. This reduction in lactic acid build up ultimately improves performance and increases total time to exhaustion. An effective dose of 4-6 grams per day is suggested to elicit performance enhancing benefits. A possible side effect of supplementation is a sensation of prickly or tingly skin called paresthesia; however the symptom is temporary and there is no evidence that it is harmful.
L-Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid that acts as a precursor to the amino acid L-arginine and the chemical nitric oxide. Studies show that supplementation with L-Citrulline or Citrulline Malate results in increased muscular endurance, reduced muscle soreness and better aerobic performance through enhanced ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. Effective dosage ranges for pure L-Citrulline appear to be between 3-4 grams per day and 6-8 grams per day for Citrulline Malate if in a 1:1 ratio.
L-Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid that is the precursor to the hormone/neurotransmitter dopamine. Supplementation has been shown to lead to improvement of mood and well-being in people under stress, a common emotion experienced during athletic competition, but it seems to still be unclear if this has a direct relationship to exercise and athletic performance. More research needs to be done before L-Tyrosine can be conclusively called an ergogenic aid which is anything that an athlete can use to increase energy, performance, and recovery.
Taurine is classified as a conditionally essential amino acid with demonstrated antioxidant and potential athletic performance benefits. A meta-analysis of 19 taurine specific studies show potential improvements in VO2max, time to exhaustion, anaerobic performance, reduced muscle damage, electrolyte balance, peak power, and recovery. From the analysis, taurine dosages ranging from 1-3 grams per day appear to be effective.
Nitric oxide (NO) itself is not found in pre-workout formulations, however NO precursors such as L-Arginine and L-Citrulline; and chemicals that mimic the effects of nitric oxide such as Betaine are readily found in pre-workout supplements. Nitric oxide’s main role in the body is regulating vasodilation which affects blood pressure and blood flow. During exercise, this increased blood flow means that more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are added to pre-workout supplements for a variety of reasons. Minerals such as calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium are often added to pre-workout supplements for athletes. The addition of these mineral electrolytes will help athletes who sweat a lot during training to better maintain their hydration and intracellular fluid balance.
Vitamins also play a significant role in overall health and physical performance. Specifically, many of the B-vitamins are involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats for energy. They also play a role in the formation of hemoglobin in red blood cells which contributes to the availability of oxygen in the muscles during intense aerobic exercise. Additional vitamins such as vitamins C and E function in the body as antioxidants helping to prevent the oxidative damage that occurs during resistance training. Vitamin D, a nutrient in which many people including athletes are deficient in, is also included in pre-workout formulations due to its role as a steroid hormone in the body. Not only is vitamin-D important for bone health but it has many additional benefits including inflammatory modulation, skeletal muscle growth, and immune health.
Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.