In recent years, it seems that more people have become aware of their overall health and wellness. More and more people are joining gyms to get in shape. Also, they are adopting healthy lifestyle habits that include using fitness/dietary supplements to improve their mental and physical health. One of the most common supplements that people are reaching for is a pre-workout supplement- referred to as “pre-workout” for short.
This is great. We encourage people to take steps to improve themselves. However, the issue is that most of the time, people don’t know a lot about these supplements and there are so many options available, it can be hard to find the best one. Many times, people end up blindly choosing a product from the shelf of their local health food store or supermarket. You don’t have to do that though! We’ve done the research for you! In this article, we’re going to give you some information about pre-workouts so that you can make an informed decision when you go shopping for yourself.
Here are some of the topics we will be covering in this article:
- Pre-workout: what exactly is it?
- Who should be using a pre-workout?
- What are the benefits and risks of pre-workouts?
- What are the most common ingredients in pre-workout?
After we’ve educated you a bit on pre-workouts, we will be reviewing what we feel are the top 5 best pre-workouts on the market. Then, we’ll close by answering a few of the most frequently asked questions about pre-workouts. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll be ready to purchase your pre-workout and get started on your new healthy lifestyle.
Pre-Workout: What Exactly is it?
A pre-workout is a dietary/fitness supplement that is made of a combination of ingredients. The purpose of this supplement is to improve energy levels and ultimately, your overall athletic performance. Most of these are available as powders to be mixed in with your favorite beverage. You can find them flavored or unflavored. You can add the unflavored version to your favorite beverage, including protein shakes, and consume about 20 to 30 minutes prior to your workout. Experts say you can consume it up to 45 minutes prior, but anything beyond that, you risk the effects wearing off before your workout is complete. If you prefer to consume it closer to your workout, don’t go any closer than 15 minutes prior- otherwise, it may not have time to take effect before you get started. You have to find your happy medium.
Who Should Be Using a Pre-Workout?
If you’re like most people, when you think about a pre-workout, you likely think of serious athletes, bodybuilders, and weightlifters. While this is true, these people do use pre-workouts to improve endurance, increase muscle development and energy, and decrease recovery time- other people can use these supplements as well. Pre-workouts are made for absolutely anyone that wants to increase the effectiveness of their workouts. Below are just a few of the athletes that would benefit from adding a pre-workout to their regimen:
- Athletes/weekend warriors
- Anyone wanting to increase the effectiveness of their workouts
- Anyone wanting to increase intensity of workouts
- Anyone wanting to increase length of workouts
- Anyone interested in burning fat and losing weight
As you can see, anyone can benefit from using a pre-workout. That being said, if your only goal is to workout to stay in shape, you may be able to achieve that without a pre-workout. However, it’s important to note that you won’t achieve your goals as quickly without a pre-workout as you would with one.
Benefits & Risks of Using a Pre-Workout
When it comes to using a pre-workout, you should be aware that there are lots of benefits. However, as with anything else, there are also several risks that you’ll want to be aware of. Below, we’ll explore some of these.
According to the experts, there are several benefits associated with a pre-workout, including the following:
- A pre-workout increases muscle mass
- A pre-workout improves and speeds up post-workout recovery
- A pre-workout makes you stronger
- A pre-workout increases endurance
- A pre-workout improves motivation for HIIT workouts
- A pre-workout increases energy
Of course, this is just a few of the most common benefits associated with pre-workouts. Research is ongoing and there may be more benefits that make themselves known.
If you’re new to the world of pre-workouts, it’s a good idea to look at both sides. After all, you want to make an informed decision. Some of the most common risks associated with pre-workouts include anxiety, bloating/digestive upset, and headaches. We’ll look closer at these below:
As you will find out later, one of the most common ingredients in pre-workouts is caffeine. This is the ingredient that is responsible for the burst of energy to get through your workout. Research has proven time and time again that caffeine decreases fatigue and increases energy levels. While this is great- the issue is that caffeine causes some people to feel jittery. It can increase your heart rate, cause you to feel sleepy but restless, increases anxiety, and can even trigger headaches and/or nausea- more on both of these later.
Two common issues associated with pre-workouts are bloating and/or digestive upset. The bloating is likely due to the creatine. According to the experts, creatine can increase HIIT capacity and lean body mass- but at the same time, it is known to cause water retention, which leads to bloating and other digestive issues.
Digestive issues may also be due to the following ingredients:
There is another potential cause for digestive upset. Many people believe that using less liquid and creating a more concentrated drink makes it work better. However, the truth is, the directions are there for a reason. That is the mixture that has proven to be effective. In most cases, a more concentrated dose will actually cause diarrhea- which is bad when you’re trying to work out.
One more potential risk of using a pre-workout is headaches. Most experts agree that citrulline is the culprit for triggering headaches because this amino acid dilates blood vessels, which increases blood flow, and ultimately muscle size. However, it’s important to note that the citrulline doesn’t discriminate, it dilates all blood vessels, including those to the brain. The extra blood flow causes a pressure change, which triggers the headache. In some cases, people report migraines.
What are the Most Common Ingredients in Pre-Workouts?
When you start shopping for a pre-workout, you will quickly discover that there are lots of different brands and formulas on the market. Some help with weight loss. Some build muscle mass. Some are formulated specifically for women, while others are made for men. Of course, no matter what, there are some common ingredients among most brands. Not all pre-workouts will contain all of these, and the amounts vary from one brand to the next. Below, we’re going to take a closer look at the most common ingredients in pre-workouts.
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, is one of the most common ingredients found in pre-workouts. This is a combination of three amino acids: leucine, valine, and isoleucine. BCAAs reduce protein breakdown and encourage muscles to grow. Ideally, the ratio of the three should be as follows: 2 (leucine):1 (isoleucine):1 (valine). Therefore, if you have 7 grams of leucine, you need to have 3.5 grams each of valine and isoleucine.
Beta-alanine is the second ingredient we’ll investigate. This is an amino acid that combats the burning sensation in your muscles that leads to fatigue during a workout. This burning sensation is caused by lactic acid build-up, which is quite common during HIIT workouts. If you can mitigate the burning, you can increase the length and intensity of your workouts.
Research studies have proven the efficacy of beta-alanine. That being said, there is a potential side effect. The reason we say “potential” is because not everyone will experience it and even if you do, you may not find it unpleasant. Some people experience a tingly sensation due to the beta-alanine. You can be sure that it is 100% harmless- but some people do find it so uncomfortable they can’t complete their workout.
Caffeine is included in most pre-workouts on the market. This is the ingredient that is responsible for giving you energy and keeping you focused. There is some research indicating that some of the other benefits of caffeine include mental alertness, improved memory, improved workout performance, and is also believed to burn body fat.
At this point, it’s important to note that there are two common forms of caffeine found in pre-workout formulas:
- Anhydrous caffeine: all water has been removed, so it’s under 0.5% water by weight. Therefore, it is an ultra-concentrated version of caffeine, which is necessary for pre-workouts. Plus, since it’s so cheap to produce, that savings can be passed on to the end product.
- Dicaffeine malate: this is also known as Infinergy and is made when two caffeine molecules are bonded with one malic acid molecule. This is easier on your digestive system, but still gives you the same energy-boosting effects
Some pre-workouts use a natural form of caffeine, but most people say that it’s not as effective as these two.
Creatine is a chemical that your body naturally produces and stores in your skeletal muscles. It is also found in dietary sources, including seafood, poultry, and red meat. It is stored in your muscles as phosphocreatine and is used in the production of ATP, which is an energy molecule used by your muscles to carry out intense workouts. In addition to being part of a pre-workout supplement, it is also sold as a standalone supplement.
As mentioned, it is naturally produced in your body, and it also can be found in foods- but this isn’t enough to level up your workout performance. You need a supplement for that. Creatine supplementation increases your body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which means that strength and muscle mass are increased- along with improving recovery time and overall athletic performance.
L-citrulline, as we mentioned, is often included in pre-workouts. The reason for this is because it dilates blood vessels, which improves blood flow. When blood flow is improved, blood pressure is reduced. Therefore, more oxygen and nutrients can get to your muscles- which makes your workout so much more efficient and effective.
Experts say that we need at least 1,000 to 2,000 IU of Vitamin D every day. This will help us see improvements in recovery time, cardio fitness, muscle strength, and more. Of course, one of the best ways to get Vitamin D is to soak it up from the sun. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible- you may live somewhere that it rains a lot and there’s not much sun or you may work a lot and not have time to get out in the sun very often. In fact, most people are deficient in Vitamin D levels. This is why it’s a good idea to make it part of your diet or supplement regimen.
Another mineral that most people are deficient in is magnesium. This ingredient is included in many pre-workouts. On average, you need about 200 to 400 milligrams of magnesium per day. This mineral impacts a variety of bodily functions, including muscle contractions, muscle growth, and so much more.
The final common ingredient we’ll look at is beetroot. According to experts, you need about 500 milligrams of beetroot to improve muscle pumps and endurance. If you are participating in strength training workouts, you know that muscle pump is a major part of that.
Some of the other ingredients commonly included in a pre-workout formula include:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Amino acids
Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list. Chances are you will come across ingredients on a label that are not included here. Also, as we briefly mentioned, the formula of a pre-workout will vary based on the particular brand and the goals of the pre-workout. There are no industry rules/regulations that dictate what must be included and how much.
For example, we mentioned artificial sweeteners as an ingredient. Not all of the pre-workouts include an artificial sweetener. Those that do have added it to increase flavor. However, there are some people who are worried about the ramifications that artificial sweeteners have on overall health. This is understandable and there are many people that do avoid those supplements with this ingredient. Others don’t have any issues at all with them, so they may like them better. It’s all a matter of preference.
When you are looking for the best pre-workout, it’s important to pay attention to whether or not the supplement has been third-party tested for potency, quality, and purity. If they have been, they will usually have a stamp from NSF International or USP. The FDA does not treat supplements as medications- but as foods. Which means it’s a lot easier for companies to be dishonest on their labels. You may be getting something that has been banned or possibly inordinate amounts of the active ingredients, which can be harmful.
Top 5 Best Pre-Workouts for Men & Women
The first thing you need to know when it comes to looking for a good pre-workout is that you will be encountering a wide variety of options and may start to feel a bit anxious and overwhelmed. However, there’s nothing to worry about- that is why we are here. We’ve done the legwork for you and narrowed it down to what we feel are the to 5 best pre-workouts for men and women available on today’s market. We hope that we will be able to help you make your decision.
If you’ve been in or around the health and fitness industry, you know that XWERKS is a well-established and respected brand. Their pre-workout, Ignite, follows right along with their stellar reputation. This formula promises to give you a laser-like focus that you can count on. It has been formulated to optimize performance. This pre-workout is so amazing that there are several publications that have named it as top pre-workout on the market.
This product contains a balanced blend of ingredients that increase energy, focus, and stamina. This means that the intensity and length of your workouts are greatly enhanced. XWERKS, unlike many of the manufacturers in the industry, does not believe in using proprietary blends. They believe in being 100% honest about what they include in their formula, as well as how much. Therefore, you can be sure that each and every ingredient in the formula is listed on the label. There is nothing hidden.
The ingredients included in Ignite have been clinically proven to make sure that you get the most from your workout. According to the website, Ignite will provide users with steady, refreshing, long-lasting energy, while many of the other supplements will flood the body with stimulants- which does give an energy surge- but then, shortly after, you crash and burn. XWERKS has also included nootropics in their formula.
Following are some of the most important ingredients found in this formula:
- Rhodiola rosea
- Vitamin B6 and B12
- CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine
As mentioned, the energy blend in Ignite provides you with long-lasting, steady energy while the nootropics boost your brain, keeping you focused, and the endurance blend will increase the length of your workouts, help you do more reps, and then help you recover faster than with some of the other options on the market.
XWERKS has been around for some time and have established themselves as a trustworthy brand that does not bring BS products to the market. Some of their products include creatine, protein powder, and more. As mentioned, the ingredients in Ignite are backed by science. This pre-workout is perfect for anyone that wants to achieve real, measurable results and level up their training. You can find Ignite in four delicious flavors:
- Blue raspberry
- Green apple
Cellucor C4 Pre-Workout
Next on our list of best pre-workouts is Cellucor Pre-Workout. This product is actually available in two versions: original and extreme. We’ll look at each of them separately:
If you have been in or around the fitness industry for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of C4 by Cellucor. This is considered the first mass produced pre-workout. You may have even used it- or you at least know someone that has used it. Many times, when someone says “pre-workout”, this is the first thing that people think of. This product has been around for over a decade, making it one of the most established brands on the market. Each serving of C4 Original by Cellucor contains:
- CarnoSyn beta-alanine
These four ingredients are clinically proven and offered at optimum dosages to improve your workout from a variety of angles. You can find Cellucor C4 Original in a few flavors:
- Fruit Punch
- Cherry Limeade
- Orange Burst
- Icy Blue Razz
Cellucor C4 Extreme is a lot like the C4 Original- only better. There is zero calories and zero sugars in C4 Extreme, so you don’t have to worry about ruining your macronutrient balance or your weight loss efforts. The primary ingredients in C4 Extreme are the same as those in C4 Original, only in higher dosages- sometimes up to 25% more.
The primary reason that Cellucor made our list is because they use the best ingredients possible in their pre-workouts. This version is offered in the following flavors:
- Sour Batch Bros
- Fruit Punch
- Icy Blue Razz
Once again, keep in mind that Cellucor is one of the oldest and most well-respected manufacturers in the pre-workout supplement arena.
Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train
Crazy Nutrition is also a well-known name in the dietary/fitness supplement industry and has a pretty good reputation. Intensive Pre-Train, their pre-workout formula, supports their reputation by reducing feelings of fatigue and giving you long-lasting energy, supporting your HIIT workouts, and much more.
This formula contains some of the same ingredients as the others on our list, but also includes two unique ones: EnXtra, a caffeine booster, and KSM-66, an ashwagandha extract.
According to their website, anyone that wants to improve their overall focus and increase their energy needs to add this pre-workout to their daily regimen. Not only will Intensive Pre-Train help to reduce fatigue, it will help you improve your workouts as it provides a wide variety of other benefits. One of the things that makes them different is that they offer two containers for the same price you’d pay for one with a competitor.
Transparent Labs Pre-Workout
Just like the others on our list, Transparent Labs is also fairly well-known and respected in the fitness industry. They are known for the wide variety of supplements they offer that are formulated to target a wide variety of fitness goals. At this time, Transparent Labs offers several different pre-workouts. Some improve energy levels, while others help users bulk up or even lose weight. Then, there are some that are stim-free, and others contain stimulants.
Here are the five pre-workouts you’ll find from Transparent Labs:
- Preseries Stim-Booster
- Preseries Lean Pre-workout
- Preseries Bulk Pre-workout
- Preseries Pump
- Preseries Stim-free
As you can tell from their various formulations, Transparent Labs is different than the rest. They don’t use an all-in-one approach to their pre-workouts. Instead, they have targeted formulas to meet a variety of goals. This lineup of pre-workout supplements is one of the best you will find.
Pre Lab Pro
Pre Lab Pro is available in one flavor only: natural berry. According to the manufacturer, this pre-workout offers several avenues of support for your workouts. Their website promises to increase endurance and speed, while also improving your stamina and strength. In addition, it offers benefits for recovery, cardio, and anabolism.
The best part is, Pre Lab Pro is a bit different because there are some unique ingredients you won’t find in other pre-workouts, including those that support homeostasis and also some that have a nootropic effect. This pre-workout is a favorite because the ingredients and dosages have been proven to be some of the most effective. Some key ingredients include:
- Natural caffeine
- Setria performance blend
How We Chose Top 5 Best Pre-Workouts
We did a lot of research on a lot of different pre-workouts to create our list of the top 5 best pre-workouts. Here are the criteria we used:
- Value: does the price reflect the value offered by the product?
- Customer Service: does the company stand behind their products?
- Transparency: is the company honest and lists all the ingredients in their product on the label or do they hide behind a “proprietary blend”?
- Taste: how does it taste? Is the flavor good? Does it have a smooth texture?
FAQs about Pre-Workouts
Now that we’ve explored more about pre-workouts and offered our reviews on the top 5 best pre-workouts on the market, we’re going to take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions:
What is a pre-workout?
A pre-workout is a dietary/fitness supplement that should be taken prior to a workout to improve athletic performance and help you get the most from your workout.
Are pre-workouts a necessity?
This is a little harder to answer because the answer actually depends on the meaning of “necessity”. If your only goal is to get in shape and you don’t want to shatter records or push your limits, you may not need a pre-workout. You can probably achieve your goals with diet and workout alone. On the other hand, if you desire to push yourself farther than ever before and to shatter your “personal best” records in the gym, you may want to consider using a pre-workout. They can also be helpful on those days when you just can’t muster up the motivation to get out of bed and get to the gym.
Are they safe?
Overall, pre-workouts have been deemed safe. However, this could change based on the ingredients used. The biggest issue is stimulants. Most of the time, it’s caffeine- which is safe. On the other hand, some use synephrine or bitter orange peel in their formulas. You should avoid these, as they can be dangerous.
When should you take a pre-workout?
Most of the pre-workouts on the market will specify the ideal window to take them prior to working out. However, if not, a good rule is at least 15 minutes, but no more than 45 minutes prior to your workout.
In recent years, people have become increasingly concerned about their overall health and well-being. They are beginning to adopt healthy habits that include workouts and taking supplements. Since so many have heard of the many benefits offered by pre-workouts, they are turning to them to improve their performance and push past their limits. Unfortunately, many are reaching blindly. They don’t know what they are looking for, so they end up getting a product that they may not be able to trust.
That is where we come in. We’ve taken the time to explain the basics about pre-workouts, including the most common (and effective) ingredients to look for and some of the benefits and risks. Hopefully, we’ve been able to help you make your decision and get you started on your journey to improve yourself in ways you never knew possible.