Even with perfect diet and faithful exercise, some weight loss plans can fall short. Supplements can help to fill gaps that might be left open by traditional weight loss plans, allowing consumers to achieve their wellness goals more effectively without starving themselves or risking injury by working out far too often.
Pre-workout supplements can supercharge your performance. A good pre-workout supplement can raise energy levels, enhance fat burning, and boost focus. Some pre-workout supplements are loaded with caffeine and other traditional stimulants. Others widen blood vessels or work in other ways to help optimize the practical benefits of workouts and exercise.
But all pre-workout supplements are not created equally. Many supplements come packed with unnecessary additives, and some can even counter the benefits to weight loss and workout effectiveness offered by their producers. Our guide to the top pre-workout supplements of 2020 will introduce readers to the most effective products, including a list of frequently asked questions about pre-workout supplements.
Top 20 Best Pre-Workout Supplements of 2020
Our guide to the top pre-workout supplements provides users with the most up-to-date information on the most effective workout boosting performance supplements, including the most frequently asked questions about preworkout supplementation.
- 1 Top 20 Best Pre-Workout Supplements of 2020
- 1.0.1 Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout
- 1.0.2 Vintage Blast Two-Stage Pre-Workout
- 1.0.3 Six Star Pre-Workout Explosion Ripped
- 1.0.4 Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
- 1.0.5 HumanN BeetElite
- 1.0.6 NitroSurge Shred
- 1.0.7 MuscleTech Muscle Builder
- 1.0.8 Cellucor C4
- 1.0.9 Mr. Hyde NitroX Pre-Workout
- 1.0.10 Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Energy & Focus
- 1.0.11 Atomic Rhino Smelling Salts
- 1.0.12 Redcon1 Total War
- 1.0.13 G Fuel Energy Formula
- 1.0.14 HumanN SuperBeets
- 1.0.15 BSN N.O.-XPLODE
- 1.0.16 MusclePharm Assault Pre-Workout
- 1.0.17 Genius Pre
- 1.0.18 Bucked Up Woke
- 1.0.19 Nutra Champs Nitric Charge
- 1.0.20 Snap Supplements Nitric Oxide Booster
- 1.1 How We Ranked
- 1.2 Who Should Take a Pre-workout Supplement?
- 1.3 Benefits of Pre-workout Supplements
- 1.4 Side Effects of Pre-workout Supplements
- 1.5 Recommended Dosage of Pre-workout Supplements
- 2 Pre-Workout Supplement Alternatives and Meals
- 2.1 Pre-Workout Meal Tips and Tricks
- 2.2 Protein Shakes
- 2.3 Easy Protein Snacks
- 2.4 Extra Effort Meals and Snacks
- 3 Frequently Asked Questions About Pre-workout Supplements
- 3.1 Q: What is a pre-workout supplement?
- 3.2 Q: When should you take pre-workout supplements?
- 3.3 Q: Are pre-workout supplements safe?
- 3.4 Q: Are pre-workout supplements effective?
- 3.5 Q: Do all pre-workouts contain caffeine?
- 3.6 Q: What’s in a preworkout supplement?
- 3.7 Q: How much pre-workout should you take?
- 3.8 Q: What is nitric oxide?
- 3.9 Q: What do pre-workout supplements do?
- 3.10 Q: What’s a good amount of caffeine in a pre-workout?
- 3.11 Q: What are the side effects of pre-workout supplements?
- 3.12 Q: What are BCAAs?
- 3.13 Q: Who are pre-workout supplements for?
- 3.14 Q: What makes a pre-workout supplements different than coffee or energy drinks?
- 3.15 Q: How long do pre-workout supplement effects last?
- 3.16 Q: What are the best pre-workout ingredients?
- 3.17 Q: What is C4?
- 3.18 Q: Will pre-workout supplements affect your sleep?
- 3.19 Q: What’s in a stimulant-free pre-workout supplement?
- 3.20 Q: How do you take a pre-workout supplement?
- 3.21 Q: What’s the difference between a pre-workout and post-workout supplement?
- 3.22 Q: What’s an intra-workout supplement?
- 3.23 Q: Are pre-workout supplements only for bodybuilders?
- 3.24 Q: What is citrulline?
- 3.25 Q: What is sodium bicarbonate?
- 3.26 Q: What is nitrate?
- 3.27 Q: Can you make your own pre-workout supplement at home?
- 3.28 Q: Do you need to take a pre-workout?
- 3.29 Q: What does creatine do in pre-workouts?
- 3.30 Q: What’s inside a pre-workout supplement?
- 3.31 Q: How do pre-workout supplements work?
- 3.32 Q: What is pump and why is it important?
- 3.33 Q: Which pre-workout ingredients are the strongest?
- 3.34 Q: What pre-workout supplements are natural?
- 3.35 Q: How do pre-workout supplements enhance focus?
- 3.36 Q: Is caffeine bad for you?
- 3.37 Q: What should you mix my pre-workout with?
- 3.38 Q: Can pre-workouts cause kidney failure?
- 3.39 Q: Are BCAA supplements considered pre-workout supplements?
- 3.40 Q: Do pre-workout supplements damage the liver?
- 3.41 Q: Can pre-workout supplements help you lose weight?
- 3.42 Q: Can you take a pre-workout supplement before cardio?
- 3.43 Q: Can you take a pre-workout on an empty stomach?
- 3.44 Q: Are pre-workout supplements legal?
- 3.45 Q: Can you take a pre-workout supplement at night?
- 3.46 Q: Do all pre-workout supplements contain caffeine?
- 3.47 Q: Should you feel itchy or tingly when taking a pre-workout?
- 4 Final Thoughts
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout
Optimum Nutrition is one of the most recognizable names in the supplement space. The company does an excellent job of creating effective formulas at reasonable price points. The ON Gold Standard Pre-Workout is no exception. Priced at just $16 for 30 servings (30 x 10g scoops), the formula contains strong doses of creatine, beta-alanine, and caffeine in flavors like blueberry lemonade, pineapple, and fruit punch.
Each serving contains 175mg of caffeine, or about the equivalent of two cups of coffee. Optimum Nutrition even recommends mixing two scoops for an added jolt. There’s also 3g of caffeine, 1.5g of L-citrulline malate, and 1.5 of beta-alanine, among other ingredients. If you want a great pre-workout at a great price point that works in multiple ways, then Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout may be the right choice for you.
Vintage Blast Two-Stage Pre-Workout
Vintage Blast’s Two-Stage Pre-Workout claims to be the world’s first two-step pre-workout supplement. The “two stages” include a burst of energy at the start of your workout and long-lasting ingredients to power you through the remainder of the workout.
The “Stage 1” part of the supplement includes 5000mg of L-citrulline malate, 1,000mg of beta-alanine, 1,000mg of L-arginine AKG, and 150mg of caffeine. The “Stage 2” portion, meanwhile, includes 2,000mg of D-aspartic acid, 250mg of N-acetyl-l-tyrosine, and 100mg of microencapsulated caffeine.
Overall, it’s a unique pre-workout that uses different mechanisms than most other formulas on this list. It’s the only supplement that contains “micro-encapsulated caffeine” for a sustained boost of energy, for example. The 2,000mg of D-aspartic acid, meanwhile, may raise testosterone levels in men, keeping you strong and driven from the beginning of your workout to the end.
Vintage Blast is one of Amazon’s most popular pre-workout supplements. With 7,700+ reviews, the supplement has an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5. Each 20 serving package is priced at around $40. It’s not cheap, but if you’re willing to spend extra for a quality formula, then Vintage Blast may be the right choice for you.
Six Star Pre-Workout Explosion Ripped
The packaging for Six Star’s pre-workout supplement looks exactly how you’d picture a pre-workout: it’s loud, in your face, and covered with words like “explosion”, “ripped”, and “elite”. The pricing, however, is surprisingly reasonable: you’ll pay just $12.30 for 33 servings. Each one serving scoop (6g) contains 135mg of caffeine anhydrous, a 1,500mg dose of beta-alanine, and 1,100mg of L-arginine, among a dozen other ingredients.
If you want amino acids to widen your blood vessels, caffeine to stimulate your energy, and vitamins and minerals to balance out everything, then Six Star’s Pre-Workout is one of the best options available today. It’s also one of Amazon’s best-selling pre-workout formulas.
Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
This is the second Optimum Nutrition pre-workout supplement on this list. Amino Energy uses green tea extract and green coffee extract to boost energy in a more unique way. You get a hefty dose of caffeine along with 5g of amino acids that should raise nitric oxide levels, boost energy, and give your body the ingredients it needs for a long, productive workout.
There are plenty of other formulas that give you aminos. What really makes Amino Energy unique, however, is its 160mg “Energy Blend”, which is a proprietary formula containing caffeine (from green tea), green tea extract, and green coffee extract.
Overall, Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy should provide you with a more well-rounded energy boost compared to some of the more caffeine-packed formulas on this list. It’s also available at a fair price point: $20 for 30 servings (2 x 4.5g scoops per serving). Oh, and it’s the only pre-workout supplement on this list that comes in a “Blueberry Mojito” flavor (other flavors like Blue Raspberry, Strawberry Burst, and Blueberry Lemonade are also available).
HumanN BeetElite is one of the most unique supplements on this list. It’s described as an “endurance superfood nitric oxide activator”. It’s not packaged like the other pre-workout formulas on the top of our list, nor does it perform like the other pre-workout formulas. HumanN BeetElite is concentrated beet powder that raises nitric oxide levels, widening your blood vessels and boosting athletic endurance.
Growing research has shown just how powerful beets can be. Beets can quickly stimulate nitric oxide levels. Sure, you could eat a bunch of beets. Or, you can take one serving of BeetElite. Each serving contains the nitric oxide equivalent of six whole beets. You also get hefty amounts of electrolytes like sodium (5% DV) and potassium (9% DV) all without overloading your body with sugar (7g of sugar per serving).
If you want to enhance performance without relying on caffeine and other stimulants, then HumanN BeetElite is an excellent place to start. It’s one of the pricier pre-workouts on our list, costing $40 for a container with 20 servings (two teaspoons or 10g per serving).
NitroSurge Shred is a superpowered pre-workout formula priced at $20 for 30 servings. It promises to offer “instant strength gains”, “sharp focus”, and “powerful pumps”, among other benefits. It’s also advertised as a thermogenic formula, which means it should enhance fat burning during your workout (and make you sweat).
NitroSurge Shred contains 180mg of caffeine in each 8g scoop. There’s also 1.6g of beta-alanine, 2g of L-citrulline, 90mg of L-theanine, and 50mg of theobromine. Overall, NitroSurge is a straightforward, powerful formula with the aminos and caffeine you need for a long, productive workout.
MuscleTech Muscle Builder
MuscleTech Muscle Builder promises to improve muscle building and performance with a “clinically backed” formula. The formula consists of just one active ingredient: Adenosine 5-Triphosphate Disodium, also known as Peak ATP. There’s 400mg of Peak ATP in each capsule and 30 capsules per container.
What is Peak ATP and how does it work? MuscleTech claims the formula “increases anabolic signaling by activating the mTOR pathway” while also boosting vasodilation and enhancing blood flow. The ingredient has even been proven to work in a 12-week human study where participants gained 8.8 pounds of lean muscle versus a placebo group that only gained 4.6 pounds.
If you’re looking for a unique pre-workout formula that doesn’t contain caffeine, stimulants, or aminos, then MuscleTech Muscle Builder capsules may be the right pre-workout for you.
Cellucor C4 is one of the best-known pre-workout supplements in history. It’s been America’s number one bestselling pre-workout year after year. Key ingredients include 1.6g of beta-alanine, 500mg of creatine nitrate, 500mg of arginine AKG, 500mg of citrulline malate, and 150mg of caffeine. It’s like all of the ingredients in other pre-workout supplements crammed into one convenient formula.
The 150mg of caffeine in C4 is on par with what we find in other pre-workout supplements. When you combine the caffeine with the amino, your blood will pump faster and your blood vessels will be wider, which means C4 should truly supercharge you before a workout. It’s priced at $26 for 30 servings from Amazon, which is surprisingly reasonable compared to many other pre-workouts on this list.
Mr. Hyde NitroX Pre-Workout
Mr. Hyde’s NitroX Pre-Workout has packaging similar to MuscleTech’s pre-workout: it’s loud, in your face packaging that makes it obvious you’re dealing with a pre-workout. Key ingredients in the nitric oxide-boosting formula include 2.5g of beta-alanine, 1g of creatine, 500mg of L-citrulline, and 420mg of a “caffeine matrix” (300mg of caffeine, 70mg of di-caffeine malate, and 50mg of caffeine citric acid). That’s an extreme dose of caffeine higher than any other supplement on our list.
Making Mr. Hyde NitroX even more powerful is the “Intensity Matrix”, which consists of 500mg of choline bitartrate, 50mg of theanine, and 3mg of Yohimbe bark extract, among other ingredients. We appreciate that Mr. Hyde has transparently listed all ingredient dosages in the formula: nothing is hidden behind a proprietary label.
NitroX is very well-rated and priced at around $30 for 30 servings from Amazon.
Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Energy & Focus
Garden of Life has carved a niche in the supplement space for its organic, plant-based formulas. The company’s pre-workout is similar to other formulas, giving you powerful plant-based energy at a reasonable price. Every 30 scoops (30 serving) of this supplement contains 12g of an organic antioxidant energy blend (cane sugar, baobab fruit, coffeeberry, whole coffee fruit extract, and organic amla berry), and 1g of an organic nitric oxide blend (organic spinach, organic beet, and organic kale).
You won’t find caffeine, amino, or other stimulants in Energy & Focus. It’s just a bunch of organic fruit and vegetable extracts crammed together. You’ll get a sustained, natural boost of energy without flooding your body with caffeine. You won’t get the power of some of the more intense pre-workouts on this list, but you’ll get a decent amount of energy in each 14g scoop.
Atomic Rhino Smelling Salts
Looking for a unique pre-workout that doesn’t come in capsules, powders, or pills? Consider giving Atomic Rhino Smelling Salts a try. Smelling salts are a preferred pre-game boost for athletes, although some ordinary people have started using them as well.
As with other smelling salts, Atomic Rhino creates pure ammonia. Open the bottle, add water to the cotton ball and shake, then take a whiff and give yourself a boost as needed. Atomic Rhino claims the smelling salts were designed with professional athletes in mind, particularly those in high-intensity, short-burst sports like hockey and football.
Redcon1 Total War
Redcon1 Total War is a pre-workout powder available in a unique, sour gummy flavor. Each serving contains an incredible 350mg of caffeine, which means you get the equivalent of four cups of coffee with each serving. Other crucial ingredients include citrulline malate, beta-alanine, and taurine. There are also unique formulas like “Cocophenols”, “Infinergy”, and “AMPiblast”, all of which are registered trademark formulas with various herbal extracts and compounds.
Priced at $30 for 30 servings, Redcon1 Total War has similar pricing to most other supplements on our list, given the higher dosages. Oh, and the digital camo packaging around the top is pretty cool.
G Fuel Energy Formula
G Fuel Energy Formula is an energy powder that’s all-natural and sugar-free. Each serving comes with 650mg of antioxidants from 19 different fruits. Blue Ice is the most popular flavor, although Fazeberry and Tropical Rain are also popular.
There’s also 2g of an “Energy Complex” (including 150mg of caffeine), 1,200mg of a “Focus Complex” (including L-tyrosine and choline bitartrate), and 164mg of an antioxidant complex (including pineapple fruit powder and pomegranate powder). There are dozens of ingredients that should impact your physical and mental performance in different ways. It’s like a pre-workout, herbal formula, and nootropic rolled into one.
HumanN SuperBeets is described as a “circulation superfood”. It’s made from concentrated beet crystals and available in a tasty black cherry flavor. Each one teaspoon (5g) serving consists of beetroot powder as the only active ingredient.
Beets, as we’ll discuss below, are high-powered vasodilators that raise nitric oxide production in the body. They’ll widen your blood vessels. Some people use them in conjunction with a traditional pre-workout ingredient, like caffeine, while others use beets on their own as a natural pre-workout. This pre-workout won’t supercharge you as much as some of the caffeinated pre-workouts at the top of this list, but it should provide a great natural surge of energy.
N.O.-XPLODE, like Cellucor C4, has traditionally been one of the most popular and best-selling pre-workouts on the market. Priced at $40 for 60 servings, the supplement claims to support explosive energy, focus, endurance, strength, and power.
N.O.-XPLODE achieves these benefits using ingredients like creatine (5.1g of a creatine blend in total), DMAE, L-citrulline, and beta-alanine. There’s also 275mg of caffeine in each serving. Overall, N.O.-XPLODE has one of the longest ingredients lists on these rankings. If you’re unsure what you want in a pre-workout but want to try everything and see what sticks, then N.O.-XPLODE may be the right choice for you. It’s been mostly the same formula since launching in 2004.
MusclePharm Assault Pre-Workout
MusclePharm Assault Pre-Workout is another well-known pre-workout supplement. Each scoop gives you a strong dose of vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 along with caffeine anhydrous, creatine, L-glycine, acetyl-l-carnitine, and more. It’s a high-powered pre-workout formula with all of the aminos, caffeine, and vitamins you would expect to see.
Many people also appreciate the fact that MusclePharm Assault has zero carbs and zero calories (it uses sucrose, natural flavors, and artificial flavors for taste). Assault is available for just $18 for 30 servings from Amazon.
The Genius Brand is carving a niche for itself as “supplements for smart people”. While other supplements have loud, flashy marketing catered towards fitness-minded people, The Genius Brand emphasizes high-quality ingredients in discreet, casual packaging catered to people who think they’re smart.
Marketing aside, Genius Pre is the company’s pre-workout supplement. Priced at $38 for 20 servings, it’s one of the most expensive options on this list, which is why it’s close to the bottom: we don’t mind the high price point, but it seems unnecessarily expensive compared to other similarly-dosed options on this list. Fortunately, the ingredients are very good, offering strong doses of the right ingredients. There’s 6g of L-citrulline malate, for example, along with 2g of beta-alanine, 2g of betaine anhydrous, and 1g of L-tyrosine, among other ingredients.
There are also nootropic ingredients you don’t find in a typical pre-workout supplement, including Alpha GPC, Huperzia Serrata, and theobromine. Some bodybuilders appreciate these ingredients because it enhances focus, while others find them less useful. Overall, however, Genius Pre is like an amino supplement and nootropic rolled into one.
Bucked Up Woke
Bucked Up Woke comes with a warning label on the front advising users that it’s a “high simulant” product. The formula is flavored with both natural and artificial flavors. You get ingredients that enhance your mental focus, physical energy, endurance, and other aspects.
What’s exactly in Bucked Up Woke? Each 12g scoop includes 6,000mg of citrulline malate, 3,200mg of beta-alanine, 333mg of caffeine anhydrous, and 300mg of theobromine. On the nootropic side of things, there’s also taurine, Alpha GPC, and Huperzine A, among others.
Overall, Bucked Up Woke should work similarly to Genius Pre above; it has ingredients to boost your physical and mental edge. And, with 333mg of caffeine, it’s one of the most high-powered pre-workouts on this list. A single scoop is like taking 4 or 5 cups of coffee.
Nutra Champs Nitric Charge
Nutra Champs makes a popular and well-rated pre-workout formula called Nitric Charge. Priced at $23 for each 120 vegan capsules (30 serving) bottle, Nitric Charge is a caffeine-free pre-workout that gives your body the aminos it needs to widen blood vessels and produce nitric oxide before a workout. There’s 1,200mg of L-arginine HCl, 1,200mg of L-arginine alpha-ketoglutarate, and 1,200mg of L-citrulline malate.
Oddly, Nutra Champs has also added two unusual ingredients: 150mg of pine bark extract and 50mg of grape seed extract. Pine bark extract reportedly raises testosterone, although it’s unclear how much of an effect it will have at this dosage.
Snap Supplements Nitric Oxide Booster
You may not have heard of Snap Supplements, but their Nitric Oxide Booster is one of their bestsellers. It also has an average rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 with 600+ ratings on Amazon.
This formula works in a unique way compared to other supplements on our list: it contains ingredients that can actually raise testosterone and boost libido, for example, including Tribulus Terrestris. One thing we don’t like about this formula is that all ingredients are packaged into a mysterious proprietary blend, making it impossible to see the specific dosage for any individual ingredients. Nevertheless, Snap’s Nitric Oxide Booster remains one of the bestselling formulas on Amazon.
How We Ranked
Pre-workout supplements vary widely in terms of quality and effectiveness. In addition to testing supplements ourselves, our editorial team painstakingly deliberated over every supplement on our list.
Our most important ranking factors included:
First and most importantly, we looked at the ingredients of each pre-workout. Did the supplement use good ingredients from high-quality sources?
Good ingredients are important, but dosage is more important. We wanted supplements that contained strong dosages of the right ingredients. Some lower-quality supplements had dozens of ingredients but at dosages that were unlikely to have an impact.
Many of the pre-workout supplements above contained high doses (150mg to 350mg) of caffeine. We only included supplements that transparently listed their caffeine dosage. We included both caffeinated and non-caffeinated pre-workouts in our rankings.
Price and Value
Pre-workout supplements tend to be affordable. The most expensive supplements on our list came out to around $2 per serving. The cheaper supplements were less than $1 per serving. We featured a range of supplements for all different values, budgets, and price ranges.
Pre-workout supplements are notorious for their proprietary formulas. Many supplements don’t list individual dosages at all. We emphasized supplements with transparent labels and as few proprietary formulas as possible.
Company reputation is important in the supplement space. We presented a mix of supplements from old and new companies. Overall, however, we emphasized high-quality supplements from reputable manufacturers.
Marketing and Claims
Some pre-workout supplements make absurd claims about their effectiveness. Some claim to “increase muscle growth”, for example, despite having no ingredients proven to work like that.
A surprising number of pre-workouts contained natural and artificial flavors. Many also used artificial sweeteners to ensure they had zero calories. Clean ingredients are important to some people but not others, although we still considered it when making our rankings.
Who Should Take a Pre-workout Supplement?
Pre-workout supplements can be taken by anyone wanting to give themselves a (legal) performance boost. Many people take pre-workout supplements before going to the gym, for example.
Bodybuilders can benefit from ingredients that increase your “pump”, like amino acids and nitric oxide-boosters that widen your blood vessels, making it easier to squeeze those last few reps.
You can also take pre-workouts before doing cardio. Some people take thermogenic pre-workouts before intense cardio, for example. Thermogenic ingredients like caffeine make you sweat and enhance fat burning, boosting the benefits of your workout.
Pre-workouts are also popular among amateur and professional athletes. Pre-workout supplements provide a clean boost of energy that can last hours. They can allow you to perform at your peak in any type of athletic event.
Finally, some people take pre-workout supplements for mental performance. The same energy-boosting ingredients that fuel physical performance can also fuel mental performance. Widening your blood vessels and taking caffeine may help you study, finish a paper, perform at work, or engage in other mental activities.
Ultimately, pre-workouts may be able to enhance all types of performance for all types of people.
Benefits of Pre-workout Supplements
Pre-workout supplement manufacturers make huge promises about their benefits. But are any of these benefits proven by science? Or are some of them exaggerated? Let’s take a look.
First, let’s talk about caffeine. Almost every pre-workout supplement above has between 50mg and 400mg of caffeine. There’s approximately 80mg of caffeine in a cup of coffee. Does caffeine really improve workout performance?
One 1995 study showed that taking caffeine before a workout can help burn more fat. Caffeine increased energy expenditure by up to 11%, helping burn extra calories and encourage greater weight loss. In other words, your cardio workouts can be up to 11% more effective when taking a pre-workout supplement.
Caffeine can also boost adrenaline production, helping your body break down fat cells more quickly. Because of this effect and others, caffeine can help burn body fat more quickly. In fact, this study from 2004 showed that caffeine can directly increase fat burning by up to 29%.
It’s not just about fat burning; pre-workout caffeine also has a proven ability to improve athletic performance. Multiple studies, including this study and this one, showed that caffeine can enhance performance by 11% to 12%, on average, compared to a placebo.
This study, meanwhile, showed that caffeine increases epinephrine (adrenaline) levels in the blood, which can also improve performance. You know how your body has a ‘fight or flight’ response to certain stimuli? Adrenaline is a big part of that response. It enhances your body’s ability to make decisions more quickly, which can significantly impact your physical and mental performance.
Many of the best pre-workout supplements use creatine. Creatine has been extensively studied over the years, and many amateur and professional athletes use creatine to enhance performance in various ways. Your body uses creatine to create energy. Your body will use its creatine-phosphate pathway to provide extreme levels of energy (ATP) for brief periods of time (1 or 2 seconds).
One study published in the Journal of Sports Nutrition in 1995 showed that time-to-failure during exercise performance increased dramatically when participants took a creatine supplement instead of a placebo.
That same study showed that pre-workouts containing creatine could significantly improve muscle growth and size. Creatine increases muscle growth because it needs to be stored in your muscles with adequate amounts of water. This means your muscles draw more fluids, giving them greater size due to water mass. This can enhance bodybuilding performance and maximize gains.
You’ll also see an amino called citrulline (or L-citrulline) in many of the supplements above. That’s because L-citrulline is a vasodilator. It widens your blood vessels, enhancing your performance from beginning to the end of your workout and increasing your time to failure. This study reinforced the ability of L-citrulline to boost performance throughout a workout, and many other studies have replicated those results.
By increasing blood flow to muscles and tissues, L-citrulline can increase the speed of muscle recovery and exercise. That means you get better performance during your workout and more efficient recovery after a workout. This study reinforced the idea that taking citrulline before a workout can reduce fatigue.
Many of the aminos in pre-workout supplements are categorized as branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). Extensive research has shown that BCAAs can improve athletic performance in various ways.
This study from 1997, for example, showed that BCAAs reduced fatigue by 15%, on average, in participants compared to a placebo. A similar study from 2011 showed that BCAAs increased resistance to fatigue by 17% and enhanced lipid oxidation (fat burning).
BCAAs don’t just help before a workout; they can also help after a workout. This study from 2013, for example, showed that BCAAs can increase recovery after a workout. BCAAs boost post-workout recovery by lowering levels of certain enzymes involved in muscle damage. As a result, people taking BCAAs in the study experienced 33% less muscle soreness than a placebo group.
Betaine can also fall into this category. In this study from 2011, betaine pre-workout supplements were shown to improve endurance and strength while protecting cells from exercise-induced swelling damage.
L-ornithine falls into a similar category. Taking L-ornithine before a workout may promote lipid oxidation, making it easier for your body to convert fat into energy (instead of using carbohydrates). This effect was observed in this study from 2008, and researchers found that L-ornithine reduced fatigue and promoted fat burning.
Beta-alanine has also been shown to speed up muscle growth. Beta-alanine works by regulating the amount of carnosine in the muscles. Carnosine is linked to acidity levels. In this 2015 study, beta-alanine was shown to build more muscle in less time compared to participants taking a placebo.
L-tyrosine is another popular amino. Certain studies have shown that L-tyrosine can help your body maintain levels of essential neurotransmitters like dopamine and adrenaline. Your body uses these neurotransmitters during a workout. Because of this effect, many people use L-tyrosine supplements to protect the body against stressful situations, including a workout.
L-arginine is one final amino worth mentioning. L-arginine has a proven ability to improve blood flow. The amino acid helps make protein. It also becomes the gas nitric oxide (NO) within your body, helping your blood vessels relax so more oxygen-rich, nutrient-rich blood can circulate.
Some pre-workout supplements targeted towards men contain ingredients that may raise testosterone. One of the supplements listed above contains D-aspartic acid (DAA), while another contains Tribulus Terrestris. DAA works by increasing your body’s natural levels of follicle-stimulating hormones and luteinizing hormone, upregulating testosterone production in the body. In other words, DAA kick starts your body’s natural ability to produce testosterone.
Tribulus Terrestris is an herbal extract with similar results. This 90-day study on Tribulus Terrestris, for example, showed that men were able to raise testosterone levels by 16% and reverse erectile dysfunction by taking a Tribulus Terrestris supplement.
One thing that’s important to remember when using testosterone boosters is that the benefits rarely apply to men who already have normal or high levels of testosterone. Unless you’re using anabolic steroids, it’s unlikely you will be able to raise testosterone past a certain point using herbal extracts and compounds.
A small number of pre-workout supplements contain unique herbal extracts like yohimbine and taurine.
Yohimbine, which is a chemical from an African plant, enhances blood flow and boosts energy. This 2006 study also linked yohimbine to increased fat loss, which is why yohimbine can be found in many diet pills sold online today.
Taurine, meanwhile, has been shown to improve exercise performance when taken before a workout. This 2004 study showed that taurine supplements protect muscle cells against oxidative stress in humans, improving exercise performance and reducing recovery times. This study on human cyclists indicated similar benefits, showing that taurine effectively worked by removing waste products created in muscle cells during exercise. Another study in 2013 replicated the effects, linking taurine to reduced muscle damage and soreness from exercise, while this study from 2010 showed that 1.66g of taurine supplementation improved fat burning by 16% in athletes. In other words, taurine has a proven ability to improve performance during and after a workout.
It’s not all about physical performance. Some of the pre-workout supplements above also contain L-theanine and similar mental performance boosters.
L-theanine enhances focus. The most popular nootropic stack in the world is caffeine and L-theanine. Multiple studies have shown that this combination of ingredients (found naturally in certain types of tea) can enhance mood, focus, and attention. Pre-workout supplements use L-theanine to improve your focus during a workout. It can also nullify the unwanted side effects of caffeine, like the jitters and anxiety.
There are also a handful of pre-workouts with CDP choline. This 2012 study showed that CDP choline supplementation could improve attention and focus, which is why many people take supplements that contain CDP choline.
Finally, let’s talk about beets and beetroot extract. It’s one of the most proven vasodilators available in the natural world, which means it widens your blood vessels. Beets work because they have high levels of the compounds your body needs to produce nitric oxide. A single dose of the beet-based pre-workouts above can lower blood pressure and improve athletic performance, among other benefits. These effects are so significant, that beets are found in many male enhancement supplements.
This study, for example, showed that beetroot can improve athletic performance and raise energy levels compared to a placebo. This study, meanwhile, showed that beetroot also lowers blood pressure. Whether enhancing sexual performance or athletic performance, beets seem to have a proven ability to boost bodily function.
Side Effects of Pre-workout Supplements
Pre-workout supplements can cause significant side effects. Many pre-workouts have high levels of stimulants like caffeine. If you are not accustomed to caffeine, then you may experience jitters, anxiety, and other side effects from an average pre-workout. Even those who are accustomed to taking caffeine may experience these side effects with some of the higher-powered formulas.
A typical cup of coffee contains around 80mg of caffeine. The formulas above contain 150mg to 400mg of caffeine per serving. When you drink a cup of coffee, your body has time to process the caffeine over time. You don’t usually chug or slam a cup of coffee. When you take a pre-workout, you might drink it in just a few minutes. That’s a lot of caffeine for anybody to handle.
As described in this study, too much caffeine combined with other stimulants and exercise can increase the risk of a dangerously high heart rate, overexertion, or injury. Other studies have connected caffeine to insomnia, headaches, nervousness, dizziness, anxiety, irritability, rapid heartbeat, excessive urination, and sleep disturbances.
Caffeine also dehydrates the body, which is why supplementing with caffeine can significantly raise blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues. You may not want to take caffeine on days that you perform intense cardio. At the very least, you’ll want to drink lots of water. If you are new to caffeine or pre-workouts, then it’s best to take half a serving or even a quarter of a serving before you begin.
It’s also important to be careful of low-quality pre-workouts. As this study indicated, some pre-workout supplements do not provide any benefits whatsoever. You’re paying a lot of money for a supplement that unnecessarily raises your heart rate and blood pressure.
These dangerous side effects are particularly common in pre-workouts with proprietary formulas on the label. As seen in this study, proprietary formulas often allow companies to sneak unlabeled ingredients into the mix. Some of the unlabeled ingredients found in formulas have included pre-hormones, amphetamines, and other chemicals.
The FDA has filed charges against pre-workout manufacturers in the past. The most notable case involved USP Labs, best-known for making Jack3d and OxyElite Pro. These supplements were linked to acute liver toxicity and multiple deaths and were later pulled from shelves.
Beta-alanine may temporarily irritate the skin. At the right dosage, beta-alanine simply causes tingling and itchiness of the skin in some people. This is harmless in most people and should subside within an hour.
L-arginine, meanwhile, has been linked to gastrointestinal issues at high doses. When taken orally at these high doses (far beyond the 6g used in the pre-workout supplements above), L-arginine can lead to abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, gout, allergies, asthma, and low blood pressure.
It’s also important to remember that pre-workouts are best taken in the morning. When taken later in the day, they can lead to severe sleep problems. If you’re the type of person who works out at night, for example, then taking a pre-workout with 300mg of caffeine late at night might cause you to stay awake for hours.
Overusing pre-workouts can also lead to high blood pressure. If you already have blood pressure issues, or if you’re at a higher risk of cardiovascular issues, then the stimulants in pre-workouts can enhance the risk.
As with any supplements, we recommend checking with your doctor before taking a pre-workout supplement.
Recommended Dosage of Pre-workout Supplements
Generally, it’s best to follow the recommended dosage of pre-workout supplements. If you aren’t accustomed to caffeine, or if it’s a powerful pre-workout supplement, you should start with a half dose or quarter dose, then raise your dose as needed to get the desired effects.
Creatine, meanwhile, seems to work best at around 5g per day. However, it’s rare to find a pre-workout supplement with that much creatine per serving.
The recommended dose of caffeine, meanwhile, is around 200mg, or roughly two cups’ worth of coffee. Many of the pre-workout supplements above contain well over that amount, all the way up to 300mg or 350mg.
The ideal dose of BCAAs is around 10g before a workout and 10g after a workout.
Citrulline, meanwhile, can be taken in doses up to 8g per day to enhance sports performance.
L-theanine is typically used at a ratio of 1:2 or 1:1 with caffeine for optimal effects. At this dosage range, L-theanine has been shown to nullify some of the unwanted side effects of caffeine while also enhancing mental performance on its own.
- Betaine has an optimal dose of 1.25 to 2.5g.
- L-tyrosine is typically taken in doses of 500 to 2,000mg.
- L-ornithine has an optimal dose of around 2 to 3g per day.
- Taurine doses range from 500mg to 2,000mg per day.
Most of the ingredients above work best when taken 30 minutes before exercise, on average. However, your body’s response time can vary widely based on what you last ate.
Pre-Workout Supplement Alternatives and Meals
Despite the effectiveness and the extensive research behind pre-workout supplements, some consumers prefer to improve their exercise routines using natural alternatives. Luckily, we've compiled some of the best advice for consumers looking to maximize their gains without the use of pre-workout supplements.
Pre-Workout Meal Tips and Tricks
This section will outline some of the basic requirements for any pre-workout meals. Typically, consumers can prepare for a successful workout by loading their pre-workout meals with a number of ingredients that satisfy a few basic requirements. This section is not a comprehensive guide; nutritional needs can vary, and consumers should consult their nutritionist or healthcare provider to determine what their body needs.
In order to give a workout your all, you need glycogen. Glycogen is your body’s source of energy that is stored in the liver and muscles. Carbs work fast, and give you immediate energy upon consuming them. For an intense workout, is it recommended that you eat no more than 50 carbs but no less than 25 carbs.
The length of the workout matters as well. If you will be working out for less than an hour, it is suggested you eat even less carbs. It has also been suggested that carbs work better pre-cardio and protein pre-strength training. But a mixture of both is ideal.
If you’re a body-builder, you may want to eat 50 grams of carbs an hour or two before working out, but if you’re only trying to lose weight, you may want to eat only 25 grams of carbs.
Any of the recipes here will work for anyone, but for optimum results, you want to determine the best time and amount of carbs to eat pre-workout.
Protein is the most important nutrient for working out. Studies show that consuming protein pre-workout enhances muscle growth substantially. About 20 grams of protein is normally ideal for an hour long high-intensity workout. When you eat protein before working out, your muscles will feel better, heal better, and perform better.
Protein is less picky and much slower than carbs, so there is less of a difference between the amount you eat and when you eat it. Body-builders and those who want to lose fat eat close to the same amount. There is also little difference in when you eat them. Three hours before or half an hour before, the amount varies ever so slightly.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I’m trying to burn fat, not consume it. But we’re not talking about saturated fats found in potato chips and pizza, but rather healthy omega-3 fats. This means eating five grams of healthy fats before workouts can add a healthy balance to your meal. It can also keep your blood sugar and hormone levels in check. Fats are an important part of any diet, even healthy ones!
You can get the needed healthy fats from:
- Chia seeds
- Soy beans
All of these foods are high in Omega-3s. The healthiest fat you can get! Crazy how you can feel good about eating fat, right?
in general, one should not eat directly before working out. Depending on the person, the meal should be eaten anywhere form 15 minutes to three hours before exercising. After you find your best time to eat in order to maximize performance, then you need to know what to eat.
Here are a few quick ideas:
- Oatmeal with whey protein
- Four egg whites (with two yolks if you are not on a low-fat diet) with veggies and half a grapefruit
- Whole wheat turkey wrap and choice of low-glycemic fruit
- 6oz of grilled chicken breast and half a medium sweet potato
Those are quick and easy snack recipes that should be perfect for your pre-workout. The closer to the workout it is, the less you will eat, as well as the more you will focus on the fast-acting carbs. For even more detailed recipes, keep reading for an abundance of tasty shakes, small snacks, five-minute meals, and luxury treats you can eat pre-workout!
Many men and women prefer a quick protein-filled drink before exercising, and that’s okay. When you think of a protein shake, you may envision of a bland, vanilla concoction with a distasteful aftertaste. But it doesn’t have to be that way! There are plenty of tasty shake recipes that you are sure to love. Check out these amazing shakes!
The citrusy goodness of a fresh orange smoothie is hard to beat. This one is for those orange lovers out there! (1)
- 1 Orange (medium)
- Frozen banana (medium)
- ¼ c almond milk (or orange juice for extra orange flavor)
- 10 large ice cubes
- 10 gram scoop of whey (vanilla or plain)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Optional: sweetener (stevia or honey)
All you have to do is peel the orange, blend, and enjoy!
Almond Coconut Mocha
Just the sound of this one can make your mouth water! Like something you could get from Starbucks on a hot summer day while you’re out shopping with your friends. The serving suggestion is one-quarter to one-half of the batch. That means this one is great for sharing with your workout buddy! (2)
- 1 c Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
- 1 c cold coffee
- 1 tsp. coconut extract
- 1 c ice
- 2 scoops of protein powder (vanilla or your pick)
- 1 tsp. instant coffee granules
- 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
- ⅔ c shredded coconut (sweetened if you don’t mind the sugar)
- 2 tbsp. sugar (or sugar substitute such as stevia or honey)
Again, blend and drink! Add low-fat whipped creamed for an extra fancy treat!
Simple Berry Smoothie
A nice berry smoothie is always a strong choice for a meal before working out. Not everyone likes berries, but those who do, really do! Plus, berries are chock full of antioxidants and are often considered the healthiest fruit in the world!
- 1 c Greek Yogurt
- 1 c blueberries
- 1 c strawberries
- 3 tsp. chia seeds
- Orange Juice to taste
Simply mix and enjoy! You can even add banana if you prefer!
Easy Protein Snacks
These are for people who like small “meal-like” snacks that aren’t too heavy but can really satisfy your pre-workout craving. They are also great for those with a weak stomach who don’t like eating before working out, but feel the need to. Because sometimes protein shakes or heavy meals are just too much!
PB and Apple Bites
Almost everyone likes peanut butter, but you’re always told it’s off limits. Until now! Quick, easy, salty, crunchy, fruity! What more could you ask for?
- 1 medium sliced apple
- 2 tbs. peanut butter (or almond butter)
- ¼ c raisins
- 1 tsp. chia seeds
Lay out each apple slice, spread on PB, top with raisins, and sprinkle on the ch-ch-ch-chia seeds. Cuter than a kindergarten lunch!
Spicy Avo-Egg Toast
If you like something light, yet still want a full meal, this is perfect. You can whip it up in a jiffy, but it tastes like you really put in the effort. This toast is the perfect balance of light and filling.
- 1 piece of 100% whole wheat, whole grain bread
- Half of a medium avocado
- 1 hard-boiled egg
- Red chili flakes
- Black pepper
Toast the bread, slice the egg, slice the avocado, and sprinkle to taste!
You could probably go to the fridge and find the ingredients to make this one right now. This one is so quick and easy you’ll never stop making it!
- Four slices of turkey lunch meat
- Half an avocado
- A few slices of bell peppers (optional)
- Sour cream
Lay out avocado slices on turkey, dollop sour cream on top, add peppers, and roll them up! Enjoy!
Extra Effort Meals and Snacks
If you’re willing to go that extra mile, you can cook up some meals that will be ready for your workout ahead of time. They won’t take more than 15 minutes, but if you do take that extra time, you can create a few go-to snacks that will make you feel like you ordered in especially for yourself at a generous price.
These things are addictive, so beware of the peanut butter here. Like Reese’s PB on steroids, this will curb your craving.
- 1/2 c peanut butter or almond butter
- 1/4 c coconut palm syrup (or honey)
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/3 c whey protein
- 1/3 c flaxseed
- 1/3 c unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 c rolled oats
- 1 tbsp. mini chocolate chips
- 1 tbsp. chia seeds
Combine peanut butter, syrup and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients. Mix very, very well. Form into balls (about 12). Store in fridge for up to a week!
Apricot Energy Bars
Granola bars are good, but they are way too overdone. It’s time for a change! Everyone loves a good bar, and these apricot almond ones are an excellent choice. (6)
- 1 c raw almonds
- 1 c dried apricots
- 1 c pitted dates
- 1/3 c unsweetened shredded coconut
- 3 tbsp. Flaxseed
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
First, process the whole almonds until well ground, but not meal. Add remaining ingredients and process until everything starts to stick together.
Place mixture into a baking dish (9×13) and press down to reach every corner. Place in fridge to set at least 20 minutes. Cut bars into strips and serve. Keep leftovers in refrigerator.
This one is awesome for those who want the heartiest light meal they can find. No need to sacrifice calories for taste. Omelets are great hearty meals that satisfy almost anyone. (7)
- About 5oz of bacon (turkey bacon for low-fat)
- 4 eggs (remove yolks for low-fat)
- 4 egg whites
- 4oz broccoli (chopped)
- 5oz shredded cheese
- 1/4 c milk
- 3 tbsps. Sour cream
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1 chili (for an extra bite)
- 1/2 pepper (red)
- A few parsley sprigs
Preheat the oven at 350F. Beat eggs for 30 seconds, add whites if you haven’t already. Add half of the cheese, milk, sour cream, salt, pepper, and chili.
Cook bacon in skillet, adding peppers and broccoli when almost done.
Add the egg mixture to bacon. Cook for 3 min, stirring occasionally. When half done, transfer to baking dish. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Wait until the omelet is cool to the touch and then enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions About Pre-workout Supplements
Pre-workout supplements are highly variable, meaning that consumers likely have a number of questions about both the product category and the specific supplements dominating the space in 2020. This section will answer some of the most commonly asked questions about pre-workout supplements.
Q: What is a pre-workout supplement?
A: A pre-workout supplement is any food, beverage, or supplement designed to be taken before exercise. Typically, these supplements are packed with proteins and carbohydrates, two substances which have been known to help consumers get the most out of their workouts and weight loss efforts.
Q: When should you take pre-workout supplements?
A: Most pre-workouts are meant to be taken 15 to 45 minutes before the start of your workout. However, time can vary based on the type of supplement and whether or not you’ve recently eaten.
Q: Are pre-workout supplements safe?
A: Most pre-workout supplements are safe for healthy adults to take in appropriate doses. However, some pre-workout supplements contain excessive stimulants (like caffeine) that could cause serious side effects. For the best results, carefully evaluate the ingredients of any pre-workout supplement and speak with your physician before beginning any new regimen.
Q: Are pre-workout supplements effective?
A: Most pre-workouts contain ingredients that have been extensively studied and proven to work as advertised. As with any type of supplement, there are good and bad pre-workouts. Effective supplements for pre-workouts exist, but effectiveness almost always depends on the quality and composition of key ingredients.
Q: Do all pre-workouts contain caffeine?
A: Many pre-workouts contain caffeine and other stimulants. There are also many pre-workout supplements that contain zero caffeine and zero stimulants. For consumers with sensitivity to caffeine, including mothers who are pregnant or nursing, it may be best to find pre-workout supplements with little or no caffeine.
Q: What’s in a preworkout supplement?
A: Pre-workout supplement ingredients vary widely. The most common pre-workout ingredients, however, include caffeine, beta-alanine, and creatine.
Q: How much pre-workout should you take?
A: Generally, it’s best to follow the recommended pre-workout dosage on the supplement label. Dosages depend heavily on the type and brand of pre-workout supplement, so consumers should always carefully evaluate the use instructions before taking any pre-workout.
Q: What is nitric oxide?
A: Nitric oxide, or NO, is a molecule associated with vasodilation (i.e. wider blood vessels). Certain pre-workout ingredients may raise nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream, widening your blood vessels and enhancing your 'pump'.
Q: What do pre-workout supplements do?
A: Most pre-workout supplements boost your physical and mental energy. Some pre-workouts enhance your 'pump'. Others contain ingredients to improve focus, mood, and overall well being. The effects of pre-workouts vary widely.
Q: What’s a good amount of caffeine in a pre-workout?
A: Caffeine dosages vary widely between pre-workout supplements. A cup of coffee contains 80mg to 120mg of caffeine, and most pre-workouts have a similar dose per serving. However, there are plenty of high-powered pre-workout formulas that contain 200mg or 300mg of caffeine per serving.
Q: What are the side effects of pre-workout supplements?
A: The side effects of pre-workout supplements vary. Some of the most noticeable side effects are related to caffeine: you might feel jittery or anxious after taking too much caffeine, for example. Some people also complain about an itchy sensation after taking beta-alanine, another common pre-workout supplement ingredient.
Q: What are BCAAs?
A: BCAAs are branched chain amino acids. Many pre-workout supplements contain BCAAs. There are three important BCAA molecules, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAAs have muscle building effects, and research has shown that BCAAs can improve athletic performance and recovery.
Q: Who are pre-workout supplements for?
A: Pre-workout supplements are for anyone seeking to improve performance during a workout. Some people take pre-workout supplements before an athletic event – like a big game. Others take it before they go to the gym, do cardio, or engage in other physical activity. Some people take pre-workout supplements to give them an edge at school or in competitive workplaces.
Q: What makes a pre-workout supplements different than coffee or energy drinks?
A: Some people take coffee or energy drinks before a workout to boost their energy. These are basic types of pre-workout beverages. Both drinks contain caffeine, and energy drinks contain B-vitamins. A pre-workout supplement typically contains other useful ingredients – like creatine and BCAAs. However, coffee and energy drinks are a good way to dip your toe into the preworkout space.
Q: How long do pre-workout supplement effects last?
A: Pre-workout supplement effects can last anywhere from 2 hours to 10 hours, depending on your sensitivity to ingredients like caffeine. Most pre-workout supplements are designed to peak during the middle of your workout.
Q: What are the best pre-workout ingredients?
A: The best pre-workout ingredients will vary depending on what you’re trying to get out of your supplement. Popular pre-workout supplement ingredients include caffeine, beta-alanine, arginine alpha-ketoglutarate, N-acetyl-l-tyrosine, and creatine.
Q: What is C4?
A: Supplement company Cellucor makes a pre-workout supplement called C4. That supplement has been America’s best-selling pre-workout product for many years. There are multiple versions of C4, including C4 Sport, C4 Original, C4 Ripped, and C4 Extreme Energy.
Q: Will pre-workout supplements affect your sleep?
A: Pre-workout supplements containing high levels of caffeine and other stimulants could disrupt your sleep. If you are concerned about your sleep, you should avoid taking stimulant pre-workout supplements in the afternoon or evening.
Q: What’s in a stimulant-free pre-workout supplement?
A: Stimulant-free pre-workout supplements contain BCAAs, essential amino acids, creatine, and other ingredients that enhance the effectiveness of a workout without relying on stimulants. These supplements are ideal for consumers with sensitivities to caffeine, including those who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant.
Q: How do you take a pre-workout supplement?
A: Most pre-workout supplements are mixed with water, juice, a shake, or the beverage of your choice. You drink the beverage before your workout. However, specific dosages depend heavily on the type and brand of pre-workout supplement.
Q: What’s the difference between a pre-workout and post-workout supplement?
A: Pre-workouts energize you before a workout, letting you stay strong and focused from the beginning to end of your workout. Post-workout supplements emphasize recovery and contain ingredients your body needs to repair its muscles – like protein.
Q: What’s an intra-workout supplement?
A: Intra-workout supplements are designed to be taken during the middle of your workout. They typically contain a mix of pre-workout and post-workout ingredients, helping you stay energized while also helping your body recover.
Q: Are pre-workout supplements only for bodybuilders?
A: Nope. Pre-workout supplements may have originally become popular among bodybuilders and high-intensity athletes, but now people of all backgrounds use pre-workout supplements – from cardio queens to weekend warriors to athletes.
Q: What is citrulline?
A: Citrulline is an amino acid produced naturally in your body. Many pre-workouts contain citrulline because it increases blood flow to body tissues. Citrulline is particularly popular among endurance athletes, and the ingredient has been shown to significantly improve athletic performance.
Q: What is sodium bicarbonate?
A: Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is found in some pre-workout supplements. The formula fights against acid buildup in the body, which is particularly important for endurance athletes like cyclists.
Q: What is nitrate?
A: Nitrate is a molecule found in vegetables like spinach, turnips, and beetroot. Your body also produces small amounts of nitrate. Nitrate is converted into a molecule called nitric oxide in the body, and nitric oxide can increase blood flow. By maximizing nitrate, consumers can maximize their workout effectiveness by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the various parts of the bodies.
Q: Can you make your own pre-workout supplement at home?
A: Sure. You make your own pre-workout when you brew a cup of coffee. Some people combine caffeine and a BCAA supplement to make their own pre-workout supplement. Generally, however, it’s recommended that you buy formulated pre-workout supplements from trusted brands.
Q: Do you need to take a pre-workout?
A: You don’t need to take a pre-workout or any supplement. Many consumers workout regularly and effectively without the use of any kind of pre-workout, so users can easily get by without using one. However, pre-workout supplements can effectively maximize results, so consumers might want to consider using one once they hit a plateau in their progress.
Q: What does creatine do in pre-workouts?
A: Creatine is found in many pre-workout supplements. Creatine helps muscles make and circulate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a compound that releases energy used for muscle contractions. Typically, ATP Supplies a high level of energy to your muscles – although only in short bursts. Creatine plays a key role in making ATP, which can boost energy production during exercise and enhance athletic performance.
Q: What’s inside a pre-workout supplement?
A: The pre-workout supplements above contain dozens of unique ingredients. The most common ingredients, however, include amino acids and BCAAs, caffeine, and creatine. Users who are sensitive to caffeine should try to find pre-workout supplements without this ingredient.
Q: How do pre-workout supplements work?
A: Pre-workout supplements enhance physical and mental performance in various ways. Many of them boost energy levels using stimulants like caffeine. Others increase endurance by widening your blood vessels using ingredients like BCAAs.
Q: What is pump and why is it important?
A: Many pre-workouts talk about “maximizing pumps” or “getting intense pumps”. This is just a fancy way of talking about your muscular energy during a workout. A pre-workout that enhances your pump might make it easier to pound out the last few reps of a set, for example.
Q: Which pre-workout ingredients are the strongest?
A: Typically, a combination of caffeine and amino acids is the strongest combo for a pre-workout. However, strength can vary widely between supplements, and we recommend experimenting until you find one that’s right for you.
Q: What pre-workout supplements are natural?
A: Many pre-workout supplements claim to contain only natural ingredients. If you’re looking for the most natural pre-workout boost possible, however, then you may want to check out beet extract. HumanN BeetElite, for example, contains the equivalent of six beets in each serving. Beets have a proven ability to raise nitric oxide (NO) levels in the body, giving you a boost of energy without negative side effects.
Q: How do pre-workout supplements enhance focus?
A: Many pre-workout supplements contain the same ingredients you’d find in traditional nootropics, including guarana, caffeine, theanine, and herbal extracts. Some people find these ingredients enhance focus, making it easier to complete a workout without distraction.
Q: Is caffeine bad for you?
A: Caffeine is (literally) lethal when taken in a high enough dose. Even the most high-powered pre-workout supplements on this list have a dose significantly lower than that amount. However, pairing caffeine with physical activity is always risky especially for those with cardiovascular issues. Generally, you should have no issue with caffeine when following the recommended dose. However, we recommend talking to your doctor before taking any pre-workout.
Q: What should you mix my pre-workout with?
A: If you’re using a pre-workout powder, you generally mix the powder with water. However, some mix it with juice, shakes, smoothies, and other beverages. For full usage and mixing instructions, consult the product website for your specific pre-workout supplement.
Q: Can pre-workouts cause kidney failure?
A: Certain pre-workout ingredients like caffeine and creatine are diuretics, which is why taking too much pre-workout formula can lead to dehydration, kidney problems, and high blood pressure. However, kidney failure from pre-workouts is very uncommon.
Q: Are BCAA supplements considered pre-workout supplements?
A: Anything can be considered a pre-workout supplement, from a cup of black coffee to a scoop of Cellucor C4. Many people take BCAA supplements before and/or after a workout, and you can certainly consider BCAA supplements to be pre-workouts.
Q: Do pre-workout supplements damage the liver?
A: Pre-workout supplements can cause liver damage in rare cases. However, when used in the recommended dosage, it’s rare for pre-workout supplements to impact the liver. Consumers with existing liver damage should speak with their physician before beginning the use of any pre-workout supplement.
Q: Can pre-workout supplements help you lose weight?
A: Many of the ingredients in pre-workout supplements are linked to higher rates of fat burning, including yohimbine and caffeine. These ingredients have been proven to increase your body’s ability to burn fat. Many people take pre-workout supplements specifically for weight loss.
Q: Can you take a pre-workout supplement before cardio?
A: If you have no cardiovascular issues, then you should have no problem taking a pre-workout supplement before cardio. However, if you do have cardiovascular issues, then taking a pre-workout supplement before intense cardio may be a bad idea.
Q: Can you take a pre-workout on an empty stomach?
A: Taking a pre-workout supplement on an empty stomach will likely enhance the effects and reduce the absorption time. Taking a pre-workout supplement on a full stomach will increase the length of time required to feel the effects.
Q: Are pre-workout supplements legal?
A: Pre-workout supplements are legal. However, regulatory agencies have previously cracked down on certain pre-workout supplements or fat burners, like epinephrine-containing supplements or Jack3d, because they contained dangerous ingredients.
Q: Can you take a pre-workout supplement at night?
A: If you’re sensitive to caffeine and want a good night's sleep, then it’s not a good idea to take a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine at night. Ultimately, users should make their own decision regarding how to use pre-workout supplements. Our recommendation? Speak with your physician and try to only take pre-workout supplements before vigorous exercise.
Q: Do all pre-workout supplements contain caffeine?
A: Nope. You can find plenty of pre-workouts that boost energy without relying on stimulants like caffeine. Even taking a scoop of beet extract, for example, can significantly boost energy in a caffeine-like way.
Q: Should you feel itchy or tingly when taking a pre-workout?
A: Getting an itchy or tingly feeling after taking a pre-workout can be linked to a variety of effects. Sometimes, it’s linked to high caffeine content. In other cases, the itchiness is linked to beta alanine. At certain doses and with certain people, beta-alanine can cause a tingling sensation on the skin.
Pre-workout supplements energize a workout, improving your physical and mental performance in multiple ways. Some flood your body with ridiculous levels of caffeine. Others boost your body with amino acids or herbal extracts. While many consumers effectively exercise and lose weight without the use of pre-workout supplements, these supplements can be incredibly helpful to maximize workout efficiency and boost weight loss results.
As always, consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any supplement usage.