Last updated: October 27, 2020

How we pick our products

18Products analyzed

29Hours invested

18Studies researched

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Nothing is more frustrating than starting a new sport and feeling that our performance simply isn’t good enough. Be patient! Everyone needs some time to adjust before they feel comfortable in the gym, on the court, or on the field. And what if we told you that a supplement could help you through those challenging times?

Pre-workout or pre-training products are incredibly popular in the field of sports nutrition. These supplements can boost your endurance, increase your strength, and even facilitate fat loss. Are you eager to learn more about them? Then keep reading our guide!

Key Facts

  • Pre-workout supplements combine different ingredients to increase your overall physical performance.
  • You must take these products responsibly, avoiding prohibited and hazardous components.
  • There are various criteria that you should consider before making your purchase, such as the presence of allergens and dangerous substances, or the suitability of the product with your diet. We will discuss these aspects in the final section of our article.

Our Selection: The Best Pre-Workout Supplements on the U.S. Market

We know just how tough picking a new dietary product can be, which is why we have selected the most popular pre-workout supplements currently available out there. All of them contain safe, high-quality ingredients that will help you work toward your fitness goals!

Best Gluten-Free Pre-Workout Supplement

This is by far one of the most popular pre-workout products on the market, and it’s easy to see why. Made right here in the United States, it contains a variety of ingredients that will give you the boost you need during your training sessions.

All of its components are non-GMO and vegetarian-friendly, too!

Best Value-For-Money Pre-Workout Supplement

Optimum Nutrition is a top-quality supplement brand, and this product contains caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, and different vitamins your body needs.

It comes in several delicious flavors for you to choose from. If you’re a professional athlete, you’ll be glad to know that this supplement is tested for banned substances.

Best Vegan Pre-Workout Supplement

 

If you’re on a vegan diet and looking for a potent product to boost your energy levels before training, RARI Nutrition’s Infinity powder is an excellent option. This gluten-free pre-workout supplement is made in the U.S. and doesn’t contain creatine.

Instead, its 100% natural clinically-dosed ingredients include beta-alanine and L-citrulline malate, among others.

Best Pre-Workout Supplement by Cellulor

Texas-based manufacturer Cellucor is a powerhouse in the supplement industry, and the C4 Original pre-workout powder has made thousands of users happy over the years.

Available in funky, delicious flavors, it will give you a power boost while keeping it calorie-free. If you want to know what greatness tastes like, it might just be fruit punch!

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Pre-Workout Supplements

These specialized preparations combine various ingredients to help  improve athletic performance. Taken before physical activity, they may contribute to developing aerobic capacity and keeping fatigue at bay. Knowing how to pick quality products is essential for your health, which is why we have answered the most common questions regarding pre-workout supplements in the section below.

Couple running

Pre-workout supplements contain a combination of ingredients that act synergistically.
(Source: Bogicevic: 52575127/ 123rf.com)

What are pre-workout supplements exactly?

These athlete-oriented food preparations combine various ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, and different types of amino acids to improve physical performance. As their name indicates, you should take them before your training (1).

According to some experts, their different performance-enhancing ingredients can have a synergistic effect. They base themselves on the belief that the combination of caffeine and taurine, for instance, would be more effective than taking these products separately. So, what are the main ingredients of pre-workout supplements?

Generally speaking, they contain stimulating agents (such as caffeine), vasodilators (nitric oxide), and amino acids. We have described these agents and their primary purpose in the following table (1, 2, 3, 4, 5):

Ingredient Type Purpose
Folic acid (vitamin B9) Vitamin Fatigue resistance

Energy metabolism

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) Amino acids Muscle synthesis

Reduction of post-training muscle damage

Arginine and citrulline Amino acids Nitric oxide synthesis

Increased blood flow

Improved physical performance

Increased resistance to fatigue

Beta-alanine Amino acid Carnosine synthesis (antioxidant)

Enhanced muscle performance

Betaine/trimethylglycine (TMG) Amino acid derivative Enhanced endurance

Muscle growth

Caffeine Stimulant Enhanced physical performance

Increased endurance

Choline Vitamin derivative Resistance to fatigue

Increased focus

Creatine Amino acid Increase in physical performance

Adaptation to exercise

Glucuronolactone Carbohydrate Energy intake
Guarana Stimulant Increased physical performance

Increased resistance

L-Carnitine Amino acid derivative Resistance to fatigue

Fat consumption

L-Tyrosine Amino acid Resistance to fatigue

Increased focus

Niacin (vitamin B3) Vitamin Energy production

Muscle development

Taurine Amino acid derivative Enhanced endurance

Antioxidant

Vitamin B6 Vitamin Muscle synthesis

Energy metabolism

Vitamin B12 Vitamin Resistance to fatigue

Energy metabolism

How can my training benefit from pre-workout supplements?

These dietary products have an ergogenic (performance-enhancing) effect, depending on their ingredient composition. In the table below, you can learn more about the different clinical trials carried out on pre-workout supplements:

Description Pre-workout ingredients Results
Year: 2018. Double-blind clinical trial (6).

16 women with active lifestyles.

They were administered pre-workout supplements 60 minutes before exercise.

The immediate effect was assessed.

L-Tyrosine

Caffeine

Beta-alanine

Choline bitartrate

L-Glycine

Taurine

L-Carnitine

Betaine

Agmatine sulfate

Berry extracts

Increase in sprint capacity

Improvement in bench press maximum weight

Enhanced resting metabolic rate (calories expended)

Year: 2018. Double-blind clinical trial (7).

23 men with active lifestyles.

They were administered pre-workout supplements 20 minutes before exercise.

The immediate effect was assessed.

L-Citrulline malate

Beta-alanine

BCAAs

Creatine

Caffeine

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B12

Improvement in bench press maximum weight

Increased maximum speed on the bench press

Year: 2015. Double-blind clinical trial (8).

25 men and women with active lifestyles.

They were administered pre-workout supplements 30 minutes before exercise.

The immediate effect was assessed.

Caffeine

Beta-alanine

Arginine nitrate

Niacin

Folic acid

Vitamin B12

Increase in maximum repetitions on the bench press

Improvement in bench press maximum weight

Increase in maximum repetitions on the leg press

Improvement in maximum weight lifted

Year: 2014. Double-blind clinical trial (9).

43 male and female athletes.

They were administered pre-workout supplements 30 minutes before exercise.

The effect was assessed after six weeks of training.

Creatine

Betaine

Citrulline

Caffeine

Dendrobium orchid extract

Enhanced feeling of energy

Increased concentration capacity

Year: 2008. Double-blind clinical trial (10).

38 men and women with sedentary lifestyles.

They were administered pre-workout supplements 15 minutes before exercise.

The effect was assessed after 10 days of training.

Taurine

Guarana extract

Green tea extract

Caffeine

Glucuronolactone

Ginger

Lower body fat mass

Increased resistance to fatigue

The findings of these five studies have given us exciting data regarding pre-workout supplements. If you want to delve deeper into these results, dozens of scientific articles are available to you. You can start by checking the bibliography at the end of this guide to fully understand the potential of these nutritional products (1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 10).

We can share a series of conclusions with you that emerged from the analysis of all this information. In the following paragraphs, we have simplified incredibly complex studies as much as possible. This data is for informational purposes only and should not replace a health professional’s medical opinion (1):

  • Pre-workout supplements tend to use the same ingredients: Most products contain caffeine, beta-alanine, betaine, and taurine. Other popular ingredients include creatine, vitamins, arginine, and BCAAs. Plant extracts, choline, and tyrosine, on the other hand, are rarely used.
  • Pre-workout supplements may improve physical strength: In the long run, taking these supplements could lead to an increase in muscle power (more than four weeks of use). This has been observed during strength training. The use of pre-workout products isn’t linked to a significant increase in the short term.
  • Pre-workout supplements may enhance resistance: Researchers have noticed that their use could improve the number of repetitions made before fatigue kicked in. These results aren’t so evident in the case of aerobic resistance (running), with these improvements only observed in specific trials.
  • Pre-workout supplements may improve body composition: We have also found promising data on the influence of these food supplements on body composition. These products could help to reduce body fat mass in some people while stimulating muscle production if they include BCAAs or other amino acids.
  • Pre-workout supplements would most benefit people with little or no training: The benefits mentioned in the previous paragraphs are significant in people considered to be sedentary or recreationally active (exercising for fun). However, rigorously trained individuals (athletes) experienced much more moderate effects.

In any case, you should keep in mind that we are still at an early stage of testing pre-workout supplements. Various aspects of the methodology of these trials could call into question the findings, so stay tuned for more comprehensive studies. In the meantime, remember the following pointers when buying pre-workout supplements (1):

  • Dosage: These products combine different ingredients, the amount of which varied from study to study. This makes it difficult to determine the effective dose for each product and to link the ergogenic effects to specific molecules or blends.
  • Gender: While both male and female volunteers have participated in trials on the effects of pre-workout supplements, we have relatively little information on the influence of biological sex. Certain hormonal factors, such as the use of contraceptive drugs or specific medications, may affect these compounds and their efficacy.
  • Age: Most studies tested the effects of pre-workout supplements on young individuals (18 to 40 years old). Researchers haven’t determined the actions of these products in older people.
  • Overall health: The trials carried out included healthy people. However, the influence of pre-workout supplements on the body of chronically ill individuals isn’t known and may vary significantly from one person to the next.
Healthy foods

Pre-workout supplements have an ergogenic (performance-enhancing) effect that depends on their composition.
(Source: Monticello: 51295806/ 123rf.com)

Are pre-workout supplements safe?

The safety of these products is hotly debated among nutrition experts as they come with some side effects, depending on different factors. The ingredients, the recommended dosage, and the use of by the consumer are all incredibly relevant (1, 2):

  • Stimulating ingredients: Caffeine, guarana, or other stimulants could cause palpitations and tachycardia in sensitive individuals. Besides, you should take pre-workout supplements carefully with caffeine if you drink other stimulant-type drinks (tea, black coffee, or soft drinks). Never exceed 400 milligrams per day (11).
  • Niacin: Vitamin B3, or niacin, is an essential compound for hormone production and metabolic balance. However, excessive consumption can lead to a series of adverse effects ranging from skin reddening to cardiovascular conditions. In that regard, your intake should remain inferior to 35 milligrams (12).
  • Minors: The ingredients of pre-workout supplements have not been shown to be safe in people under the age of 18. This is why children should not consume them.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women: For safety reasons, these women are advised to avoid taking these supplements.
  • Chronic diseases: People living with a disease (especially renal or cardiovascular) may not tolerate the effects of pre-workout supplements. Their benefits do not outweigh the possible risks, so experts do not recommend that these individuals take these products.
  • Medication: Pre-workout supplements may contain a myriad of ingredients capable of interfering with your usual drugs. If you are on medication, consult your doctor before starting supplementation. You should be particularly careful if you are taking antihypertensives, antibiotics, diuretics, antiarrhythmics, antithyroid, anti-epileptic, or lipid-lowering drugs.

A survey conducted in 2019 (2) found that most consumers of pre-workout supplements are satisfied with their purchase. These people would also recommend these products to their friends or family. However, almost half of the survey respondents admitted to suffering from one of the following side effects:

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Reddish skin color after taking the supplement
  • Skin burning or hives
  • Palpitations or tachycardia
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

You can limit these effects by using your pre-workout supplements carefully. Never exceed the recommended daily dose of caffeine or niacin, evaluate potential drug interactions, and avoid any allergens. If your body cannot tolerate these powerful dietary products, remember that your pantry has everything you need to create your own natural pre-workout supplement.

Patrick S. Harty & Hannah A. ZabriskieIn Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

“As with any dietary supplement, the use of multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements (MIPS) carries implications for the athlete, as many formulations may intentionally contain banned substances as ingredients or unintentionally as contaminants. We suggest that athletes thoroughly investigate the ingredients present in a given MIPS prior to consumption.”

Buyer’s Guide

Regardless of how well you use your pre-workout supplement, purchasing a poor-quality product will negatively affect your training or even your overall health. In the section below, we will delve into the main shopping criteria you should keep in mind while picking one of these products:

Nutritional Restrictions

Pre-workout supplements may contain various allergens. The label should clearly state the presence or absence of lactose, soy, fish, eggs, or any other such ingredient. If you are gluten intolerant, you can now find various products suitable for your condition on the market.

Vegan and vegetarian individuals should also stay alert and check the ingredient list to avoid consuming any animal products. You can look for a vegan seal of approval that guarantees that the supplement was tested as vegan-friendly by the relevant authorities.

Woman working out in the gym

Strength exercises such as bench press and leg press were used to evaluate the performance of the pre-workout supplements.
(Source: Kzenon: 37846700/ 123rf.com)

Minimum Effective Dose

One problem that seriously impairs the quality of pre-workout supplements is the effective dosage. Unfortunately, many products include inadequate amounts (too low or too high) of the most important ergogenic elements. In the following table, we have listed the recommended amounts of the most common ingredients (1, 17, 18):

Ingredient Amount per serving 
Caffeine 32-400 mg
Creatine 2-10 g
Beta-alanine 2-5 g
Betaine 3-6 g
Taurine 500-3,000 mg
BCAAs 10-20 g
Niacin 14-16 mg
Arginine 2-30 g

Use with caution and stick to what experts call the minimum effective dose. This concept refers to taking a drug (or a supplement) in the lowest possible amount that will allow you to see positive results. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of side effects.

Hazardous Substances

This is probably the most controversial aspect of pre-workout supplements. The vast majority of products marketed online or in stores contain ingredients that are legal for sale to the public in the United States. However, you may come across items of unknown origin that include one or more components considered dangerous or illegal.

These potent substances have many potentially very serious (sometimes fatal) side effects. This is why experts urge users to stay away from them. Many of these compounds are considered to be stimulants or fat burners. In any case, the threat they can pose to your health is far greater than their benefits. They include (1, 2, 18):

Ingredient Used as Risks
Amphetamine derivatives Stimulant Cardiac arrhythmias

Heart failure

Heart attack

Nervousness

Insomnia

Mental disorders

Mood swings

Gastrointestinal disorders

Loss of appetite

Yohimbine Stimulant

Fat burner

Palpitations

Elevation of blood pressure

Drug interactions

Dizziness

Synephrine Stimulant

Fat burner

Palpitations

Headache

Excessive sweating

Anxiety

Elevation of blood pressure

Heart arrhythmias

Cardiac failure

Heart attack

Ephedra/ephedrine Stimulant

Fat burner

Psychiatric disorders

Heart attack

Sibutramine Satiety Heart attack

Stroke

Summary

If you find your first days at the gym almost impossible to handle, pre-workout supplements are excellent to give you that much-needed boost. These dietary products have proven to be useful in reducing fatigue and improving the performance of under-trained people.

However, you have to use them carefully. Excessive use of pre-workout supplements, especially those containing caffeine, could lead to unwanted side effects. Stick to safe ingredients and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and you will notice the difference in your athletic performance!

Did you find our guide on pre-workout supplements helpful? Feel free to leave us a comment below, and don’t forget to share this article on your social media!

(Featured Image Source: Jirkaejc: 48676085/ 123rf.com)

References (18)

1. Harty PS, Zabriskie HA, Erickson JL, Molling PE, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review [Internet]. Vol. 15, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition; 2018 [cited 2020 Feb 26]. p. 41.
Source

2. Jagim AR, Camic CL, Harty PS. Common habits, adverse events, and opinions regarding pre-workout supplement use among regular consumers. Nutrients. 2019 Apr 1;11(4).
Source

3. Citrulline Benefits, Foods, Supplements and Side Effects - Dr. Axe [Internet]. [cited 2019 Oct 20].
Source

4. Rasmussen CJ. Nutritional supplements for endurance athletes. In: Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercise. Humana Press; 2008. p. 369–407.
Source

5. H. Stipanuk M, A. Caudill M. Biochemical, physiological, and molecular aspects of human nutrition. 3rd edition. Elsevier; 2013. 948 p.
Source

6. Cameron M, Camic CL, Doberstein S, Erickson JL, Jagim AR. The acute effects of a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement on resting energy expenditure and exercise performance in recreationally active females. J Int Soc Sports Nutr [Internet]. 2018 Dec 5 [cited 2020 Mar 1];15(1):1. Disponible en: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0206-7
Source

7. Lane MT, Byrd MT. Effects of pre-workout supplements on power maintenance in lower body and upper body tasks. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol [Internet]. 2018 Feb 1 [cited 2020 Mar 1];3(1):11.
Source

8. Collins PB, Earnest CP, Dalton RL, Sowinski RJ, Grubic TJ, Favot CJ, et al. Short-term effects of a ready-to-drink pre-workout beverage on exercise performance and recovery. Nutrients [Internet]. 2017 Aug 1 [cited 2020 Mar 1];9(8).
Source

9. William Kedia A, Hofheins JE, Habowski SM, Ferrando AA, David Gothard M, Lopez HL. Effects of a pre-workout supplement on lean mass, muscular performance, subjective workout experience and biomarkers of safety. Int J Med Sci [Internet]. 2013 Dec 26 [cited 2020 Mar 1];11(2):116–26.
Source

10. Stout JR, Moon JR, Tobkin SE, Lockwood CM, Smith AE, Graef JL, et al. Pre-workout consumption of Celsius® enhances the benefits of chronic exercise on body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness. J Int Soc Sports Nutr [Internet]. 2008 Sep 17 [cited 2020 Mar 1];5(S1):P8.
Source

11. Caffeine Uses, Effects & Safety Information - Drugs.com [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Source

12. Niacin — Health Professional Fact Sheet [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Source

13. Locke A, Schneiderhan J, Zick SM. Diets for Health: Goals and Guidelines. Am Fam Physician [Internet]. 2018 Jun 1 [cited 2020 Mar 2];97(11):721–8.
Source

14. Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-exercise nutrition: The role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performance [Internet]. Vol. 6, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2014 [cited 2020 Mar 1]. p. 1782–808.
Source

15. Slow-release carbs list [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Source

16. Glycemic Index [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Source

17. Niacin: Drug Uses, Dosage & Side Effects - Drugs.com [Internet]. [cited 2019 Dec 24].
Source

18. Drugs.com | Prescription Drug Information, Interactions & Side Effects [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Source

Why you can trust me?

Review article
Harty PS, Zabriskie HA, Erickson JL, Molling PE, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review [Internet]. Vol. 15, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition; 2018 [cited 2020 Feb 26]. p. 41.
Go to source
Review article
Jagim AR, Camic CL, Harty PS. Common habits, adverse events, and opinions regarding pre-workout supplement use among regular consumers. Nutrients. 2019 Apr 1;11(4).
Go to source
Expert website
Citrulline Benefits, Foods, Supplements and Side Effects - Dr. Axe [Internet]. [cited 2019 Oct 20].
Go to source
Review article
Rasmussen CJ. Nutritional supplements for endurance athletes. In: Nutritional Supplements in Sports and Exercise. Humana Press; 2008. p. 369–407.
Go to source
Academic book
H. Stipanuk M, A. Caudill M. Biochemical, physiological, and molecular aspects of human nutrition. 3rd edition. Elsevier; 2013. 948 p.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trial
Cameron M, Camic CL, Doberstein S, Erickson JL, Jagim AR. The acute effects of a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement on resting energy expenditure and exercise performance in recreationally active females. J Int Soc Sports Nutr [Internet]. 2018 Dec 5 [cited 2020 Mar 1];15(1):1. Disponible en: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0206-7
Go to source
Human Clinical Trial
Lane MT, Byrd MT. Effects of pre-workout supplements on power maintenance in lower body and upper body tasks. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol [Internet]. 2018 Feb 1 [cited 2020 Mar 1];3(1):11.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trial
Collins PB, Earnest CP, Dalton RL, Sowinski RJ, Grubic TJ, Favot CJ, et al. Short-term effects of a ready-to-drink pre-workout beverage on exercise performance and recovery. Nutrients [Internet]. 2017 Aug 1 [cited 2020 Mar 1];9(8).
Go to source
Human Clinical Trial
William Kedia A, Hofheins JE, Habowski SM, Ferrando AA, David Gothard M, Lopez HL. Effects of a pre-workout supplement on lean mass, muscular performance, subjective workout experience and biomarkers of safety. Int J Med Sci [Internet]. 2013 Dec 26 [cited 2020 Mar 1];11(2):116–26.
Go to source
Human Clinical Trial
Stout JR, Moon JR, Tobkin SE, Lockwood CM, Smith AE, Graef JL, et al. Pre-workout consumption of Celsius® enhances the benefits of chronic exercise on body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness. J Int Soc Sports Nutr [Internet]. 2008 Sep 17 [cited 2020 Mar 1];5(S1):P8.
Go to source
Official website
Caffeine Uses, Effects & Safety Information - Drugs.com [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Go to source
Official website
Niacin — Health Professional Fact Sheet [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Go to source
Review article
Locke A, Schneiderhan J, Zick SM. Diets for Health: Goals and Guidelines. Am Fam Physician [Internet]. 2018 Jun 1 [cited 2020 Mar 2];97(11):721–8.
Go to source
Review article
Ormsbee MJ, Bach CW, Baur DA. Pre-exercise nutrition: The role of macronutrients, modified starches and supplements on metabolism and endurance performance [Internet]. Vol. 6, Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2014 [cited 2020 Mar 1]. p. 1782–808.
Go to source
Official website
Slow-release carbs list [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Go to source
Official website
Glycemic Index [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Go to source
Official website
Niacin: Drug Uses, Dosage & Side Effects - Drugs.com [Internet]. [cited 2019 Dec 24].
Go to source
Official website
Drugs.com | Prescription Drug Information, Interactions & Side Effects [Internet]. [cited 2020 Mar 2].
Go to source