Best Pre Workout Supplements Tested & Reviewed

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Finding the energy to push yourself through a challenging workout can be difficult early in the morning or after a long day’s work. That is why many heavy lifters and high-intensity athletes turn to pre-workout supplements to get them pumped for some tough sets. These supplements have been changing in recent years with the banning of some of the amphetamine-like stimulants. The current market offers much safer options that still provide a significant energy boost and some additional supplements that aim to improve endurance, focus and muscle performance.

Caffeine content is typically the main draw of these supplements. Particularly for the coffee-averse who are trying to kick-start their day. Studies have found that consuming 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight improves athletic performance. Beta-alanine is also found in almost all of these blends and has been shown to reduce acid buildup in muscles. Creatine is another common component that has been linked to improved cellular respiration and draws fluid into the muscle to reduce muscle cramps and a chance of injury. However, creatine and beta alanine must both be dosed regularly to see these effects.

These pre-workout supplements will not magically make you a better athlete. However, many individuals do find some benefit to consuming these drinks prior to exercise

Last Updated: April 30, 2018
By Richard Haberkost:

An impressive list of comparatively well-researched supplements which means you get the best choices. Keep returning as we are regularly updating and expanding to maintain top selections. Read our criteria for reviewing to get a clear p[icture for what to expect from supplements. The FAQs section gives good advice in response to questions.

Athlean-RX X-CITE
  • Athlean-RX X-CITE
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Good taste
  • Price: See Here
Vintage Blast
  • Vintage Blast
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Good energy boost
  • Price: See Here
DO Vitamins Pure Pump
  • DO Vitamins Pure Pump
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Paleo & Vegan
  • Price: See Here

10 Best Pre Workout Supplements

 

1. Athlean-RX X-CITE

Very highly rated by users. This supplement provides a significant energy boost with no jitters, tingles or crash. Testing by Labdoor showed no controversial additives or impurities and it has a better taste than the all-natural brands.
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Taste:
This powder does have some flavoring and sweeteners to improve the taste. Most users agree that it is a bit too sweet, but most find adding a bit more water is an easy solution.

Boost:
This supplement provides users with a significant energy boost without creating a tingling sensation or causing a crash later on.

Added Benefits:
Citrulline Malate increases blood flow. Creatine HCL plays a role in cell metabolism and muscle recovery. L-tyrosine may improve neurological function and cognitive focus. Betaine and choline bitartrate both work to increase betaine concentration in the cells which can improve cell hydration. Taurine is an amino acid that can be depleted through exercise.

Label Accuracy:
Beta alanine content was fairly accurate when tested by labdoor, however, caffeine content was about 23% higher during testing than the label claim.

Safety:
With caffeine content even higher than the labeled amount, 2 scoops of this formula will exceed the daily recommended caffeine limit. This is worth consideration, particularly when you are combining with other caffeinated beverages. This product is flavored and sweetened but does not contain any ingredients on Labdoor’s watch list.

Value:
Price per serving is on the more expensive end of pre workout supplements.
Pros
  • Good taste
  • No controversial fillers or additives
  • Energy boost with no tingling sensation
Cons
  • Not the best label accuracy
  • More expensive

2. Vintage Blast

This product provides a balanced boost through your workout with a little bit of the tingling sensation that many gym rats love. In addition to caffeine and beta-alanine, this supplement has arginine and acetyl tyrosine to improve blood flow and neurological performance. Third party testing showed some variance in label accuracy but it does not contain any harmful additives.
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Taste:
The flavor is sour and sweet Most people prefer this to unflavored brands but some find a bit overpowering.

Boost:
This pre-workout supplement provides a balanced boost with a recognizable tingling sensation within 5 minutes of drinking it. Most users love the steady amount of energy provided with no sugar crash following it.

Added Benefits:
In addition to caffeine and beta alanine, this product contains acetyl tyrosine to maintain neurological performance and arginine. While the research is still out on efficacy of arginine supplementation, it may increase blood flow, mitochondrial respiration and platelet function.

Label Accuracy:
This product was given a score of 85 when tested by labdoor. Labdoor reports caffeine, beta-alanine and arginine differed from the label claim by over 10% while acetyl tyrosine was fairly accurate.

Safety:
Testing by Labdoor revealed 220 mg of caffeine per serving, meaning 2 scoops of this supplement would put you 40 mg over the daily recommended limit. However, it tested very well on purity standards and is free from any controversial additives.

Value:
The price per serving is more expensive than many others but many find the significant boost and reputable brand making paying extra well worth it.
Pros
  • Acetyl Tyrosine improves neurological performance
  • Arginine may increase blood flow
  • No controversial additives
  • Sweet and sour taste
  • Significant energy boost
Cons
  • More expensive

3. DO Vitamins Pure Pump

DO Vitamins totes itself as “the clean energy drink” and independent testing by multiple third parties seem to agree. Without artificial flavors or sweeteners this is certainly not the best tasting option but it provides steady energy for your workout with no crash.
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Taste:
Void of any artificial flavorings or sweeteners, the consensus among users it that this clean product tastes pretty bad. Without any additives to mask the taste, many users combine this with juice or just add a small amount of liquid to take it like a shot. Despite the bad taste, this is still a highly regarded product for those seeking transparency in their supplements.

Boost:
Unlike many energy drinks, this formula provides a steady boost rather than a sharp, jittery peak. Most users prefer this feeling of consistency and do notice a crash as they do with other drinks.

Added Benefits:
This simple and clean formula features caffeine, niacin and beta-alanine.

Label Accuracy:
Labdoor testing showed caffeine and beta alanine content were just slightly below the label claim at 200 mg and 2000 mg respectively.

Safety:
This clean formula is very safe to use and has been tested by multiple third parties. It received top marks from Labdoor for safety and purity meaning there are no flagged ingredients. Like most of these supplements, the caffeine in 2 scoops will exceed the daily recommended dose of 400 mg but not by much.

Value:
Price per serving is mid range when compared to others on this list.
Pros
  • No artificial dyes, flavors or sweeteners
  • Certified paleo and vegan
  • Steady energy boost
Cons
  • Bad taste

4. Legion Pulse

4. Legion Pulse
This pre-workout supplement is highly rated by users and third party testers. It provides a significant boost in energy without causing jitteriness and features some additional supplements to aid performance and muscle growth. It is also free from artificial dyes and ingredients that have potential to be detrimental.
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Taste:
Taste does not seem to be the main selling point of this supplement. Most reviewers find it to be okay but not great. It is sweetened using only natural sweeteners so people accustomed to artificial sweeteners tend to find the flavor a bit lacking. Available in 5 flavors: grape, green apple, watermelon, fruit punch and blue raspberry.

Boost:
Most users agree 2 scoops gives a significant boost of energy and a bit of a tingling sensation without making them feel anxious or overwhelmed.

Added Benefits:
In addition to caffeine and beta-alanine that is common to most pre-workout supplements, this formula also provides citrulline malate, ornithine, betaine, and theanine. All of these ingredients aim to improve performance, aid muscle growth and increase alertness. According to the company, the benefits of all ingredients are backed by and dosed based on peer-reviewed studies.

Label Accuracy:
Legion pulse held up well to testing by Labdoor. The sugar content per serving is very low and caffeine and beta-alanine content were just slightly below the label claim at 330 mg and 4800 mg respectively.

Safety:
This supplement is free of controversial artificial sweeteners and dyes. Testing by Labdoor showed heavy metal levels well below the daily limit. Overall, this is a pretty safe and natural bet compared to many supplements on the market. The only questionable risk is that 2 servings of this powder will exceed the daily recommended limit of caffeine.

Value:
This product is on the more expensive end when priced out per serving.
Pros
  • Good purity and safety rating
  • No flagged ingredients
  • Additional supplements to boost performance and muscle growth
  • Significant energy boost
Cons
  • Not very flavorful
  • More expensive

5. Citadel Nutrition Tier 1 Plus

5. Citadel Nutrition Tier 1 Plus
This supplement is very highly rated among users as it packs a lot of caffeine as well as beta alanine, L tyrosine and creatine into just one scoop. The sweet lemonade taste is enjoyable to most and it provides a nice level of energy without jitteriness or anxiety.
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Taste:
This supplement has a lemonade flavoring that most users find enjoyable.

Boost:
The Tier 1 plus formula provides the same amount of energy in 1 scoop that most brands produce in 2. Users note a level boost in energy without jitteriness or anxiety.

Added Benefits:
Caffeine and L-Tyrosine boost energy and mental focus while effective doses of creatine and beta alanine can provide long-term benefit.

Label Accuracy:
Third party testing by Labdoor showed fairly good label accuracy with no measured ingredients exceeding 10% difference from the label claim.

Safety:
It does contain sucralose as an artificial sweetener which is considered to be safe but may trigger migraines in those who already are prone to them. It tested well on product purity, however, with 318 mg of caffeine in each serving, 2 scoops would exceed the recommended limit by over 200 mg.

Value:
Due to the higher caffeine content, 1 scoop of this will go a long way, making it a bit more affordable than some of its competitors.
Pros
  • Good lemonade taste
  • L-tyrosine to improve neurological performance
  • Creatine may provide long term benefit
  • Less expensive
  • Steady energy boost
Cons
  • Sucralose may trigger migraines

6. Naked Energy Pure

6. Naked Energy Pure
Highly rated by users, this supplement is said to be all natural with no artificial flavors, sweeteners or fillers. The company reports third party testing but it has not been tested through Labdoor.
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Taste:
There are no flavorings or sweeteners added to this vegan blend. Most users describe the taste as flavorless with some bitter aftertaste. It certainly is not the best-tasting drink on the market but it is also not the worst.

Boost:
Most users agree this supplement gives a noticeable energy boost without causing jitteriness or anxiety.

Added Benefits:
With only 10 ingredients this supplement includes Beta alanine, Caffeine, Arginine, Creatine, as well as Vitamin C, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12 and Calcium.

Label Accuracy:
This product has not been reviewed by Labdoor.

Safety:
The company reports third party testing has approved this product for purity and safety. It is without any sweeteners or fillers.

Value:
Price per serving is relatively inexpensive.
Pros
  • Vegan
  • Gluten Free
  • Soy Free
  • No artificial flavors, sweeteners or fillers
  • Energy boost without side effects
Cons
  • Bitter taste
  • Not reviewed by Labdoor

7. Sheer Strength Labs

7. Sheer Strength Labs
This is a good tasting product that provides a significant kick and classic tingling sensation within 10 minutes of taking. This product provides a significant pump with safer ingredients and less caffeine content. It does not have the best label accuracy but it tested well for product purity and has no controversial additives.
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Taste:
This supplement tastes a bit sugary but most users enjoy the cotton candy and fruit punch flavors.

Boost:
Within 10 minutes of drinking, this product provides a tingling sensation with a significant kick in energy. Users report no crash or jitters with this supplement.

Added Benefits:
This product has a particularly high L citrulline content which can improve blood flow and improve performance. Additionally it features caffeine, beta alanine, creatine, and Ornithine which has been linked to burning fat and reducing exercise fatigue.

Label Accuracy:
Testing by Labdoor shows this supplement has fairly good label accuracy. The caffeine and creatine content were roughly 5% higher than the label claim while beta alanine was over 12% higher than the claim.

Safety:
This product had very good product purity and no flagged ingredients when it was tested by Labdoor. The caffeine content per serving is much lower than many other brands so you would be less likely to exceed the daily intake limit.

Value:
The price per serving size is on the lower end of average when compared to others on the market.
Pros
  • Good taste
  • Good product purity
  • No flagged ingredients
  • Energy boost with less caffeine
  • Fat burning Orinthine
  • L Citrulline to improve blood flow
Cons
  • Flavoring may be overly sweet for some
  • Paresthesias
  • May not be strong enough for regular pre-workout users

8. Evlution Nutrition ENGN

8. Evlution Nutrition ENGN
Evlution provides a powerful energy boost that is well received by heavy lifters and high intensity athletes. The taste is good but the label does not describe the amounts of each ingredient. Third party testing was fairly good but this product does contain sucralose and blue dye 1 which are currently being studied for health risks.
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Taste:
Most users enjoy the 6 flavor options with blue raspberry seeming to be the most popular. Although it is sweeter than some options, people do not seem to find it overly sugary.

Boost:
This supplement provides an intense pump with no crash.

Added Benefits:
In addition to caffeine and beta alanine, this product contains L tyrosine which may improve neurological performance and creatine which improves muscle performance. Additionally, the producer lists Huperzine A, Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine, Infinergy (Ionically bonded molecules of caffeine and malic acid), Choline Bitartrate, Agmatine Sulfate, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6.

Label Accuracy:
This product does not list the content of all ingredients such as caffeine and L-tyrosine. The ingredients it does list were found to be 6 to 12% different from the label claim.

Safety:
This supplement has been tested by labdoor for product purity. It does have sucralose as an artificial sweetener which may trigger in migraines in individuals who are predisposed to them. It also has some Blue No 1. Which has been linked to allergies and hypersensitivities.

Value:
The price per serving is relatively low compared to others on the market.
Pros
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Good taste
  • Additional supplements to boost performance such as creatine and L tyrosine
  • Vitamin complex includes Niacin, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B6
Cons
  • Contains Sucralose and Blue No. 1
  • Ingredients amounts not listed on label

9. Optimum Nutrition Platinum

9. Optimum Nutrition Platinum
This pre workout supplement provides a milder energy boost and has a more sweetened and fruity taste than the more natural competitors. The addition of chili powder extract increases metabolism and gives this supplement a spicy kick.
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Taste:
This powder mixes well without leaving behind a gritty residue. Most people agree the flavor is sweet and fruity with a surprising spicy kick from metabolism-boosting cayenne pepper. It is available in 3 flavors: raspberry lemonade, twisted apple and fruit punch.

Boost:
This gives a mild boost without making users jittery or causing a post-workout crash.

Added Benefits:
In addition to the standard caffeine and beta alanine, this formula contains citrulline to increase blood flow as well as chili powder extract to boost metabolism.

Label Accuracy:
Highly rated on Labdoor for label accuracy with slightly higher caffeine content and slightly lower beta alanine of 217 mg and 1591 mg respectively.

Safety:
This product is rated as very safe by Labdoor, with no heavy metals exceeding the daily intake limit. Every ingredient has been approved for use by the FDA but there is some controversy surrounding two of them. Acesulfame Potassium is an artificial sweetener that is currently being tested for effects on cognitive function, prenatal development and carcinogenicity. Sucralose has not been shown to have an effect in these areas but it may trigger migraines in individuals who already suffer from them.

Value:
Price per serving is mid range.
Pros
  • Fruity taste
  • Milder boost
  • Chili powder extract boosts metabolism
  • Citrulline
  • Vitamin C
Cons
  • Tingly, spicy aftertaste
  • Contains Ace K and Sucralose
  • More expensive

10. Red Leaf

10. Red Leaf
Pleasant cranberry lime flavor with green tea and cranberry extract for added energy and antioxidants. With about a quarter of the caffeine, this is a great option for those seeking a small boost before a workout. It will not give the same intense pump typical to many other pre-workout supplements.
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Taste:
Pleasant lime cranberry flavor that is not overly sweet and generally well received.

Boost:
This product has less caffeine than most so it provides a much milder boost in energy than some of the other supplements.

Added Benefits:
This product contains 40-50mg of caffeine which is quite a bit less than the 2.5 mg/ kg of body weight (around 170mg caffeine for a 150 lb individual) recommended for effectiveness during exercise. It does feature an effective dose of beta alanine and arginine which is currently being studied as a vasodilator to improve performance.

Label Accuracy:
Testing by lab door showed pretty poor label accuracy with caffeine, beta alanine and arginine exceeding label claims by 47%, 20% and 29% respectively.

Safety:
With lower caffeine content, this is the safest option for staying under the daily recommended caffeine limit. It tested well for product purity and does not contain any controversial fillers or additives.

Value:
Price per serving is relatively inexpensive.
Pros
  • Good for those seeking less caffeine
  • Includes Arginine which may improve blood flow
  • Good cranberry lime flavor
  • No controversial additives
  • Relatively inexpensive
Cons
  • Poor label accuracy
  • No intense pump

 

The Metrics We Used to Find the Best Pre-Workout Supplements

Taste

Flavor and texture do not always weigh too heavily on intense athletes considering a pre-workout supplement. The raw ingredients do not have a pleasant natural flavor but many individuals prefer the bad taste of questionable additives and flavorings. With products that range from all-natural to super-sweet blue raspberry, there is something for everyone. These products can be pricey and are most effective when used regularly, so, it is no use purchasing one that you cannot tolerate the taste of.

Boost

Most people seeking a pre-workout supplement are seeking a significant “pump” or boost in energy to get them through their workout. We looked for products that will provide this desired boost while limiting some of the common side effects of having too much caffeine, such as jitteriness, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Separate from the caffeine, beta alanine, which is the other main component in any pre-workout, may cause paresthesias, or “pins and needles” sensation. Many users accustomed to pre-workout supplements love this tingling as it helps them to feel something is working. For others, the feeling can be uncomfortable and they prefer supplements with a less intense sensation.

Added Benefits

All supplements on this list contain caffeine and beta alanine to some degree. However, many contain additional supplements and vitamins that claim to boost performance. Testing through Labdoor revealed that many of these additional supplements have not been studied thoroughly enough to determine an effective dose. Those that do have a recommended effective dose are often not represented highly enough in these supplements. Labdoor found that nearly all of the supplements tested had at least one active ingredient that fell below the effective dose. While these facts are somewhat disappointing, these supplements may still be beneficial when complemented by a healthy diet.  

Label Accuracy

Supplements are not regulated in the same way that drugs or even food are. Companies are not required to reveal how much of any supplement is in each product and sometimes when they do put an amount on the label, it does not accurately reflect the real amount of the product. By creating “proprietary blends of ingredients” they are able to protect their recipe and exact contents of the product as a company secret. The best supplements are the ones that do tell you what is in them and have been tested by an independent third party to confirm the accuracy. Labdoor releases its test results so we looked for products that had been tested by them and had reliable label amounts. The one caveat to these reviews is that companies may change their formulas, so the product you are getting may not be the same exact blend that was tested by Labdoor.

Safety

Again, as supplements are not highly regulated, it is easy for companies to add controversial or even dangerous additives and fillers without revealing them to buyers. It is often best to pay a little bit more for a reliable company and to seek blends that have undergone unbiased third party testing. All products tested by a laboratory were reviewed for purity by testing for 4 heavy metals: lead, arsenic, cadmium, and arsenic. Additionally, lab door checks for ingredients that have been flagged as controversial. Many of these ingredients are considered safe by the FDA but are still undergoing testing for potentially harmful effects.

In addition to these additives, the active ingredients in these supplements may carry risks of their own. Unless you have a preexisting condition, having too much caffeine will not likely cause any health problems but it is likely to cause adverse side effects. Moderate levels of caffeine have been shown to improve athletic performance. However, once you reach a recommended amount, there is very little return for increasing the caffeine content. Consuming too much caffeine may cause side effects such as jitteriness that may actually detract from your workout. Many supplements do have unnecessarily high levels of caffeine but even the highest doses should not be dangerous when taken properly. That being said, if you are already drinking multiple cups of coffee or soda a day, you may want to opt for a supplement with relatively lower levels.

Value

When considering value, price per serving as compared to other supplements that were included on this list more so than the overall market. It may be possible to find much cheaper options but we looked for reliable brands that had been thoroughly tested for safety.

 

Other Things to Consider

Daily Caffeine Intake

These supplements pack a great deal of caffeine into a single serving. Many of these supplements will set you over the daily recommended caffeine limit of 400 mg with just two scoops. It is important to be aware of other sources of caffeine in your daily life. If you are drinking multiple cups of coffee throughout the day, you may want to choose a supplement with a lower caffeine content to reduce the risk of side effects.

Your Schedule

Consider when you typically workout and when you are planning to take this supplement. Early morning gym-goers may love the intense boost and lasting energy of a high caffeine content. Whereas, those who exercise in the evening may need something with lower caffeine taking these products in the evening may cause sleeplessness.

Pre-existing Conditions and Medications

Caffeine has not been found to be dangerous for healthy individuals. However, people with pre-existing heart conditions and pregnant women should monitor their intake. Additionally, caffeine can interact with medications, so you should check with your doctor and pharmacist about any contraindications.

 

FAQs

Q: When should I take my pre-workout supplement?

A: The directions for each supplement may differ based on brand and formula. However, it is typically recommended to take them about 30 minutes prior to exercise.

Q: Are these supplements safe?

A: All the supplements on this list have been evaluated based on safety. Most formulas do contain very high caffeine levels that may cause you to exceed the recommended daily caffeine limit. Any controversial ingredients found through third party testing have been noted and none of the supplements on this list have been shown to be harmful.

Q: Can taking supplement impact negatively on our natural endurance level?

This question has serious merit depending on how you think about it. Without a doubt, a lot of people when participating in competitive challenging sports turn to supplements for an extra boost of power and this could well be because they have reached or peaked their own personal endurance level. At such times when we feel our energy resources are spent we believe we can counter this by taking supplements and this is true because supplements can give you the energy or endurance to go further and possibly quicker then you would be able to do.

The point to consider is are we creating a dependency on supplements in order to go the distance? Should we instead consider following training routines which will increase our endurance, strength, and speed? The answer seems to be a bit of both, if we increase our personal endurance surly we could still take supplements to get boosts of extra power even if we have a higher strength and endurance.

This means that supplements do have an important role to play, they work, they do boost you when you want that extra power. training to personally increase your own endurance level will, of course, give you more staying power but it does not mean that you cannot turn to supplements when you feel they will be helpful.

Q: Can taking supplements become addictive?

Defining addiction falls into a physical need, a psychological need or both combined in which a person becomes dependent. Caffeine in coffee and tea is known to be highly addictive, white sugar is known to be addictive, smoking is addictive due to nicotine. Some supplements contain caffeine so if you’re drinking a lot of coffee and using caffeine based supplements, the implications are obvious. If you never drink coffee and you use a supplement with caffeine in the ingredients to get a boost of energy you are most certainly going to feel the boost.

However, you’re not entering a demanding sports event every day so you won’t be taking a caffeine based supplement every day, therefore we cannot define this as being addicted. Therefore physical addiction is more unlikely but what about psychological addiction which we feel when we get a physical boost of energy from a supplement?  Science suggests or even claims to have proven that when you do regular challenging exercise your body releases endorphins into your body system and that this creates a pleasurable physical and psychological feeling which can be addictive. Can supplements achieve the same? To date, there is no concrete research regarding this.

Sources

  1. Ghose, Tina, The Truth About Pre-Workout Supplements, Web Article, Dec 15, 2015
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff, Caffeine: How much is too much, Web Article, Mar 08, 2017
  3. Labdoor, Top 10 Pre-Workout Supplements, Website,
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