Unless you know what to look for, there is a high chance that you are going to waste your money on a pre-workout. The majority of the products out there are over-priced, under dosed and way under-performing. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably not into wasting money, which is why I’ve put together this no b-s guide to pre-workout supplements that really work.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why you need a pre-workout.
- What ingredients and dosages REALLY work?
- What are the 5 best pre-workout products on the market right now.
Just Tell Me What Works!
A totally natural, organic pre-workout with scientifically proven ingredients that deliver awesome energy and superior bioavailability.
Staunch Pre Zero Stim
An awesome stimulant free way to boost your training energy, max your strength and increase focus and concentration.
A stimulant free source of natural training energy and strength. It tastes great and works fast!
Perfect Keto Perform
The perfect choice for keto trainers packed with exogenous ketones and MCTs, this pre-workout includes creatine and BCAAs.
Performance Lab Pre
A stim free pre-workout that comes in capsule form. Includes a nitric oxide booster to deliver an awesome training pump; all the energy you need without the jitters!
Why You Need A Pre-Workout Supplement
To allow your body to perform at its best, you have simply got to provide it with the right fuel to do the work. The hour before your training session is the critical period to get the nutrients into your system. The prime requirement is energy. And that means carbohydrates. The carbs that you consume, though, must be those that are able to be used as an immediate fuel source for your workout. To achieve that, you need to plan your carb intake smartly.
Start with a Whole Food Meal
Your first pre workout meal should be consumed about two hours before the workout. Plan to take in approximately half the number of calories that you’ll be burning during the upcoming workout. About 60% of those calories should come from a complex carb, such as oatmeal. These carbs will release energy slowly over the next couple of hours to provide the power base for your workout energy.
About 30 minutes prior to your workout, you should have a second meal. This is where you should be taking a pre-workout stack. This will, in effect, be a shake that contains a number of key components to fuel you through the best training session of your life. It should contain fast digesting, high glycemic index carbohydrates to provide immediate energy release. But that’s just the start. A great pre-workout stack needs to include several other key nutrients.
The Strength & Power Boosters
During your workout, when insulin levels are high, beta alanine rushes into the muscle fiber where it combines with the amino acid histidine to form carnosine. Carnosine helps buffer the acidity level inside muscle fibers so they can contract with more strength for longer periods. Research shows that supplementing with beta-alanine increases muscle strength, power and endurance.
Ideal Dosage – 2-4 g
Betaine is a modified amino acid that is derived from beetroot. Clinical studies have shown that it helps to boost power and strength when resistance training.
Ideal Dosage – 1500-3000 mg
Creatine has been proven in hundreds of studies to improve power and strength when resistance training. It delivers the extra phosphocreatine that your body needs to restore its ATP (adenosine triphosphate) stores. ATP is the body’s main energy source. Yet, after around 10 seconds of intense exercise, your body will exhaust its ATP supplies. Creatine will provide the boost you need to complete those last couple of muscle stimulating reps.
Many guys choose to take their creatine separately from their pre-workout.
Ideal Dosage – 3-5 g
The Energy Boosters
The following are non-stimulant energy boosters. They enhance endurance without stimulating the central nervous system.
The amino acid tyrosine has been clinically proven to increase training endurance without any jittery side effects. It also improves stamina and focus. It is used by the body as a precursor to the key neurotransmitters epinephrine and dopamine.
Ideal Dosage – 1-3 g
The B-Complex vitamins, especially B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cobalamin), are vital for the body’s production of energy. Their main job is to convert food into energy. Other B Complex vitamins to look out for are thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and folate (B9).
Ideal Dosage: B6 – 50-100 mg; B12 – 50-400 mcg (micrograms)
Stimulants will give you a buzz but this will be short lived. Always check off the strength and energy boosting ingredients before looking for stims.
We all know that caffeine is a powerful central nervous system booster. However, the voluminous research done on the world’s most popular stimulant has also been shown to be a powerful strength and muscle builder as well as blunter of muscle pain. Look for the anhydrous form of caffeine which has been shown to be the most effective. Be sure to stay under the maximum recommended dosage to avoid a dramatic energy crash and jittery reaction.
Ideal Dosage – 200-400 mg
Yerba Mate is a plant, the leaves of which contain a blend of xanthine alkaloids which work together to provide an energy kick to ramp up your training intensity. There is no post high crash or jittery reaction with this ingredient. For people who are sensitive to caffeine, this is the way to go.
Ideal Dosage – 500-1000 mg
In order to achieve a pump in the gym you need to boost your nitric oxide (NO) levels. NO is a vasodilator which expands the blood vessels to allow more blood to surge into the muscle.
The body takes citrulline and converts it into arginine. It then becomes nitric oxide. Taking citrulline before arginine will boost the body’s blood levels of arginine. Arginine taken directly will see a lot of it taken up by the intestines.
Ideal Dosage – 3-6 g
Arginine converts directly to nitric oxide in the bloodstream. To get as much arginine as possible to do that, look for such alternatives to l–arginine as arginine-AKG or arginine-HCL.
Ideal Dosage – 3-5 g
The Top 5 Pre-Workouts of 2020 in Depth
Best Overall Pre-Workout
Naked Energy by Naked Nutrition is a completely natural, organically sourced pre-workout that focuses on ten clinically proven ingredients. The organic origins of the ingredients heighten the bioavailability so that more of the dosage actually gets into your muscle cells. There are no sweeteners, added flavors or colorings in this product. That’s great news for your body, but no so good for your taste buds. True, the taste is not that great but if you buy a pre-workout because it tastes good, you’re missing the point!
Naked Energy mixes well and produces a clump free end drink.
When it comes to the ingredient profile of Naked Energy, you get a number of the ideal compounds that we outlined above. These include:
- Beta Alanine
- B-Complex Vitamins
In addition, you get calcium and Vitamin C to boost the energy producing effect of this supplement. Each of these ingredients are clinically dosed to allow them to work to their maximum effect.
We’ve rated Naked Energy as our #1 pre-workout because it combines a clinical dosage of the 5 best ingredients for power, pump, energy and central nervous system stimulation to produce a powerful workout effect without any jittery side effects. It’s completely natural and organic. If you want a sweet taste, go for one of the many flavor-filled alternatives, but if you want real results go get yourself some Naked Energy.
Best Stim Free Pre-Workout
Staunch Pre-Zero Stim is a completely stimulant free pre workout. It is designed for those who are either negatively reactive to stimulants or who want a workout boost without having their central nervous system affected. It is made up of three blends, emphasizing strength and power, focus and energy and achieving a pump effect.
In order to provide you with more strength in the gym, Pre-Zero Stim gives you a 7.6 g blend of citrulline malate, nitrosigine, agmatine sulfate and L-norvaline. While not at as effective as arginine, the latter three ingredients have some clinical backing and, when combined with citrulline malate will boost nitric oxide levels.
Pre-Zero Stim’s power booster is betaine, our top recommended ingredient for this purpose. The stim-free energy boosters are L-Carnitine Tartrate, Acetyl L-Carnitine & N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, Gamma Butyrobetaine Ethyl Ester HCl, and ThermoDiamine.
This is an effective pre-workout on all fronts. It will enhance your strength, pump and training energy. Be aware, though, that it does not include creatine, so you’ll want to supplement it separately. It mixes well and tastes great, though this is thanks to some artificial flavorings.
Best for Focus
Ladder pre-workout comes from the company that was launched by a number of high-profile sports figures, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lebron James. This is a stimulant free product designed to deliver a pure energy and strength boost without the crash that often follows. To achieve that goal, it provides you with:
- Beta-alanine – 3g
- Creatine – 5g
- Theanine – 250mg
- Caffeine – 98mg
All of these ingredients are part of our recommended list above apart from theanine. This compound is an amino acid that is derived from tea leaves. It has been shown to positively affect brain wave activity to improve focus and concentration, especially when combined with caffeine.
When it comes to caffeine, you only get 98mg, which is not a lot, being less than half of what you would normally expect in a pre-workout. This is a little low for our liking, and will not have much of an effect on your central nervous system. There is a greater emphasis on focus than on stimulation.
Ladder pre-workout is completely naturally flavored. It is one of the best tasting natural products we have come across. Every Ladder product is also NSF certified, guaranteeing that there are no banned substances in them.
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Best for Keto
Perfect Keto Perform is designed specifically for the workout requirements of followers of the keto diet. As such, it is extremely low in carbohydrate content. It also contains exogenous ketones and medium chain triglycerides to enhance the conversion of stored body fat to energy during your workout. In addition to these keto specific ingredients, you also get the following four recommended pre-workout ingredients:
A final ingredient is Branch Chain Amino Acids to fuel the muscle building effects of the compound. This combination works effectively without either producing a jittery effect or throwing you out of ketosis.
Best Capsule Form
Performance Lab Pre is a stimulant-free pre- workout which is provided in capsule form. This makes it quite unique in the pre-workout market. It also makes it more a convenient product to take on the go, such as in the gym locker room. The ingredient profile includes the recommended ingredients caffeine, citrulline, beta-alanine along with several others that are clinically attested to.
Performance Lab Pre is a fast absorbing product that produces a noticeable effect in terms of boosting training energy, focus and strength. It is also exceptionally good value for money.
A quality pre-workout, taken 30 minutes before you head to the gym, will allow you to train harder for longer. When assessing a pre-workout, rather than being swayed by the marketing hype, go directly to the ingredient list and check it off against the essential list and dosages we’ve provided here. Ideally, it should contain at least four of those ingredients. Remember, though, that a pre-workout is not a magic bullet. It is a supplement to proper nutrition and intense, focused training. Get those elements on point, and your pre-workout will provide that extra edge to fuel a killer workout.