Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 13, 2021

After your typical post-workout recovery shake, the number one product all of us here at Total Shape recommend to clients is pre-workout supplements.

If you value your time at the gym, then getting the most out of every single trip should be top of your list.

You can quickly notice that you can lift more, do more reps, and feel less tired halfway through your routine.

But in a market with so many crappy products, it's best to choose carefully. So, we set out to try out dozens of products and have them analyzed by our dietitian.

Here are the results.

Our Top Pre-Workout Supplements (2021)

1 - 4 Gauge (Editor's Choice)

4 Gauge

At the top of our list of pre-workouts is a product that our entire team agrees on.

I must say, I love the marketing that went into 4 Gauge. I was a bit hesitant, though, because more often than not, these aggressive marketing tactics indicate that a bit is lacking in what is delivered.

But surely not with 4 Gauge. As far as pre-workouts go, this one has been specifically designed for endurance at the gym. Some users have also reported that it's a excellent pre workout for running.

Athletes have commented in many reviews that the creatine helps with providing more strength and performance under strenuous activities [2].

Pros
  • 150 mg of caffeine can increase mental endurance
  • Can boost athletic performance through creatine
  • No artificial sweeteners or preservatives
  • Doesn't use sugar or refined carbs for artificial performance boost
Cons
  • Some more flavor options would be great to avoid getting bored of it

What's also commendable is that you won't get any refined or empty carbs on this one. Thus, users experience no blood sugar spikes. While it mixes easily and tastes quite nice, a few extra flavors would be a bonus; personally, I tend to get bored of the same flavors, you can click here for our full review.

2 - Performance Lab Sport Pre Workout

Performance Lab Sport Pre Workout Product Thermogenic PreWorkout

Performance Lab claims to have selected scientifically chosen ingredients like creatine and L-citrulline, which can help you power up your fitness and exercise routines [1].

Many bodybuilders that I work with have noted that it gives them a lot better pumps during weight training as well.

Pros
  • Combination of creatine and L-citrulline can raise available energy in muscles
  • Bodybuilders can gain from raised nitric oxide for better pumps
  • Used by many athletes daily without adverse effects
  • Caffeine-free and vegan-friendly ingredients
Cons
  • Taking 4 capsules in one go before exercise is not as convenient as a shake

For those that are sensitive to stimulants, having caffeine-free products like this is ideal. But keep in mind that you'll have to swallow 4 to 6 capsules to get the full dose.

3 - Transparent Labs PreSeries Bulk Pre Workout

Transparent labs thumb

If you're a coffee drinker and stimulants don't bother you, then a good dose of caffeine can make quite a difference to your mental performance and motivation.

What a lot of users highlight about PreSeries Bulk is that you get a good dose of BCAAs and beta-alanine in each serving. These protein types play a role in reducing premature fatigue, as well as speeding up muscle recovery.

Pros
  • Contains a lot of caffeine for effective motivation
  • With 4 g of BCAAs, it can help combat fatigue and muscle soreness
  • Has 4 g of beta alanine that can increase endurance and performance
  • Available in a good selection of flavors
Cons
  • Not the cheapest option but it does deliver

Of all the products we tested, this one does come out as the most expensive one. But the choice of amino acids and performance nutrition has delivered a large number of positive reviews.

4 - Nitrosurge

Nitrosurge Pre Workout Product

If you're specifically after effectively maximizing your muscle pumps, then Nitrosurge may well be your best choice out of all the pre-workouts. With 3 g of the amino acid L-citrulline, studies have shown that it can increase blood flow to your muscles [3].

It also comes with a strong dose of caffeine, so make sure you avoid coffee around the same time as that could cause some jitters.

Pros
  • With no added sugar or carbs, it won't mess with your diet efforts
  • Claims to raise nitric oxide levels, so you get better pumps
  • Strong stimulant effect from 180 mg of caffeine per serving
  • Suitable for vegans with a plant-based formula
Cons
  • Doesn't contain creatine but still increases endurance

The one thing I was missing on the ingredients label was some added creatine. Despite this, many reviews still say that it provided an excellent strength and performance boost in all types of sports.

5 - C4 Original by Cellucor

Cellucor C4 Original Product

If you've been around sports nutrition long enough, you have most likely come across Cellucor in one form or another. What I like about it is that you get a boost from stimulants, but the 150 mg of caffeine is not too overpowering to cause jitters.

A lot of athletes say that it's effective enough to power up your fitness routine by providing some extra strength. There is a stronger version of it available, but you don't always need the maximum dose of active ingredients to see some benefits.

Pros
  • Provides a notable increase in energy levels
  • A balanced amount of ingredients including beta alanine and modest caffeine content
  • Good discounts available with subscription options
  • An impressive selection of tasty flavors
Cons
  • Some people found the consistency a bit chalky

One thing I would agree with some reviews is that it doesn't mix all that easy with water in a shaker.

6 - Pre-Kaged Pre Workout Primer

Pre-Kaged Pre Workout Primer Product

Here is another one of the pre-workouts that I saw recommended in a few bodybuilding forums that I regularly check. A lot of people said that it was pretty effective for weight training where you want to achieve maximum pumps.

It also provides a nice boost of protein that can help you prepare for the recovery phase. Essentially, you can have enough protein in your system to make sure your muscles can immediately start the recovery process.

Pros
  • Many users highlight the better pumps they get
  • Good selection of amino acids to increase muscle power and recovery
  • Very low calorie so it won't mess with your diet
  • Third-party tested for banned substances
Cons
  • The flavors are a bit sweet tasting so you may want to add more water

Quite a few people mentioned that the sweeteners used mean that you may want to water it down just a little to reduce the sugary effects.

7 - EVL ENGN

EVL ENGN Shred

One thing that stood out for us with this ENGN product was that quite a few people commented on how fast it seemed that the active ingredients were absorbed. I've seen people take it as short as 10 minutes before their warmup routine.

With my favorite ingredient, creatine, included, it can make quite a difference when it comes to providing benefits like strength and endurance.

Check out our full ENGN Shred review.

Pros
  • Not be overly reliant on stimulants
  • Fast-acting
  • A good dose of beta alanine and creatine for better exercise performance
  • You won't get bored of the flavor options too quickly
Cons
  • Some of the nutrition facts are hidden behind a proprietary blend

I personally like that you have a load of flavors to choose from as I often get bored with the same products.

One thing I need to mention, though, is that some of the amounts of ingredients are kept a secret, which can make stacking a bit more difficult.

8 - Optimum Nutrition Essential Amino Energy

Optimum Nutrition Essential Amino Energy Product

The main goal that Optimum Nutrition had was to stand out from other pre-workouts by keeping it really simple. Essentially, you get some targeted protein to help with muscle power and endurance and very little else.

They don't even go overboard when it comes to caffeine. Overall, you won't have to worry about messing with your diet due to the low-calorie content.

Pros
  • Focuses on providing amino acids with no fillers or additives
  • Modest 100 mg of caffeine won't make you too jittery
  • Low in calories so it won't mess up your diet
Cons
  • The company hides behind a proprietary blend
  • Contains artificial flavors and some of them are a bit fake

However, it's not all good news. Some of the details on the active ingredients list are hidden behind proprietary information. And there are also some artificial flavors and sweeteners added in as well.

9 - Pre JYM Pre Workout Powder

Pre JYM Pre Workout Powder Product

I know a good few athletes who need a maximum dose of stimulants to power through their exercise routines, but you're not going to down a few cups of coffee to do that. Pre JYM has solved this with a pretty impressive 300 mg of caffeine.

This is not going to be a solution for everyone, but if you don't suffer from jitters, then this might be one of the pre-workouts you need to try out.

Pros
  • Protein sources provide a boost in essential amino acids
  • Good selection of flavors
  • A strong dose of stimulants with 300 mg of caffeine
  • Added black pepper to help with absorption
Cons
  • Has some artificial flavors and sweeteners
  • Also contains sugar, which can impact specific diets

One thing to keep in mind is that from a content perspective, it's not all good news. You have to account for some added sugar as well as artificial flavors, which a lot of people try to avoid these days.

10 - Battle Ready Fuel Pre Workout

Battle Ready Fuel Pre Workout Product

Another very well marketed brand is Battle Ready Fuels, and they have managed to gain quite some following in the sports and fitness supplements industry. Many bodybuilders I work with make sure they add this to their stacks on their high-intensity days.

It comes with some added whey protein so that your body has some nutrition ready for the recovery phase. You also get some vitamins and minerals that your muscles will need for a healthy and fast recovery.

Pros
  • It can aid in better strength and endurance during heavy weight training
  • Added whey protein helps to protect muscle mass
  • Contains added vitamins to support overall health and muscle recovery
  • Mixes easily with water for a quick pre-workout drink
Cons
  • Rather high caffeine dose of 250 mg

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you will get quite a high dose of caffeine, which is equivalent to about 2 to 3 cups of coffee. Make sure you avoid taking it later in the evening.

What Ingredients Should You Look Out For?

Different Ingredients of Pre-Workout

You could probably argue with personal trainers and dietitians for the rest of eternity, but here in our team, we were able to agree on 4 critical ingredients to look out for.

Creatine

While your body can produce this amino acid, you won't always have the optimum amount readily available. With even a small boost before you hit the gym, you can enjoy effects that can improve your muscle performance [4].

Recommended post: Creatine: When and how much to take?

In its various forms, which over the years have become more and more advanced, creatine has been recognized by the scientific community and the hard training athlete as a product that delivers on its promise of improved strength and enhanced muscle size.

- David Robson, Personal Trainer

Caffeine

Half the battle with high intensity and endurance training is staying focused and motivated. Caffeine can provide that boost, and even a relatively small amount of 150 mg per serving can be enough to stay sharp.

L-Citrulline

My bodybuilder clients are always looking for pre-workouts to get better pumps, and the only way to achieve that is through increased blood flow. Supplements that contain L-citrulline have been clinically studied and shown to achieve just that [5].

Arginine

This amino acid has also been shown to increase blood flow and can help with sports performance [6]. It's not as common in sports supplements but can make a difference that is worth trying out.

What Is the Difference Between Stim Pre vs. Stim-Free Pre-Workouts?

The main difference between stim pre-workouts and stim-free pre-workouts is the use of stimulants like caffeine. In some cases, the dose in these products can be equivalent to 3 cups of coffee all in one go.

If you're sensitive to caffeine or simply not a heavy coffee drinker, then this may not be the best idea. Also, keep in mind that you might struggle to get a healthy night's sleep, which will slow down your recovery phase.

When Should You Take Your Pre-Workout Supplement?

You should aim to take your pre-workout supplements about 20 minutes before you start your warmup routine. The effects of these products usually take about 20 to 30 minutes to start working, so you may need to experiment a bit.

Is It Okay To Take Pre-workout Supplements On An Empty Stomach?

Yes, it is generally okay to take pre-workout supplements on an empty stomach. But if you haven't tried a particular product before, then it may be best to at least have a small snack prior.

I often see people drinking their pre-workout as they're walking into the gym. Most of the active ingredients in your pre-workout drink take 30-60 minutes to reach peak levels in your blood. If you wait until you reach the gym to take it, you'll be well into your second or third exercise before the full effects kick in.

- Krissy Kendall, Ph.D

How Do I Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?

Scoop of Pre-Workout Supplement

You generally take a pre-workout supplement as a powder mixed into a sports drink. This is very similar to a regular protein shake, but you might also find popular products that come in capsule form.

The advantage with a powder is that it gives you the flexibility to mix it with food or stack it with other protein products that you might be relying on.

I personally wasn't a huge fan of capsules. These days, however, I find them a lot more convenient as I don't have to carry pouches or containers of different powders.

Can You Stack A Pre-Workout With Other Supplements?

Yes, you absolutely can stack pre-workouts with other supplements, and many performance athletes very much rely on carefully planned stacks.

The best thing might be to speak with a nutritionist to make sure you strike the right balance.

Also, keep in mind that different pre-workouts and other protein products contain caffeine. This means you could quickly end up with an unhealthy dose that can make you jittery and pretty much sleepless.

Recommended post: Which are the best post workout drinks?

What Side Effects Should You Expect?

Pre-workouts generally have very few side effects associated with them, which is why they have become so popular in all types of sports. From a health perspective, the most common negative effect is overstimulation from caffeine, which can leave you staring at the ceiling all night.

But, it's not that uncommon to suffer from an upset stomach and nausea if you take huge doses, especially when you haven't eaten much food.

Aim to start with a smaller dose and take it after a snack, just to make sure your digestive system gets used to it.

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FAQs

Are pre-workout supplements safe?

Yes, pre-workout supplements are safe to take, but you want to make sure you don't take them in a higher than the recommended dose. This can lead to cramping and nausea, which won't help at the gym.

Is pre workout bad for kidneys?

No, generally speaking, pre-workout is not bad for your kidneys. However, if you consistently take large doses that include caffeine and creatine, then you can start to become dehydrated, which can lead to kidney problems. It's always advisable to hydrate as much as you can to avoid dehydration.

How long do pre-workouts last?

Some of the effects of pre-workouts can last for up to 5 hours. However, the peak performance boost that you get will usually last for about 60 to 90 minutes.

Do pre-workout supplements make you gain weight?

No, pre-workout supplements don't make you gain weight, and will usually help you to achieve the exact opposite. By allowing you to work out harder and for longer, you can burn more calories and lose some extra pounds.

Which Pre-Workout Supplement Should You Choose?

Fortunately, our entire team was able to agree on this, and we all voted for 4 Gauge as the best product available right now.

The quality is excellent, and while it doesn't contain any stimulants, you can get those by stacking some other products. The creatine is also a great help in providing you with more strength and energy to perform strenuous activities.

We've all seen great results from personal testing and with clients, so make sure you give it a try for yourself. And once you've seen some of the results, make sure you report back to us on one of our social media pages.

4 Gauge

4 Gauge

Our #1 Recommendation

  • 150 mg of caffeine can increase mental endurance
  • Can boost athletic performance through creatine
  • No artificial sweeteners or preservatives
  • Doesn't use sugar or refined carbs for artificial performance boost
  • Get the BEST PRICE until the end of April
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About the author

  • I really like this stuff! To be honest it is my first. I was hesitant about taking this because I’m not a pill person but hey there’s a bikini with my name on it that I will be in!! I am losing and shedding those extra curves on these! I don’t have any issues with side effects, my cravings at night are not as intense as prior to taking this pill and I sleep a whole lot better than ever! Thank you Isaac for the thoughts.

  • After a few days of using this product, I can say that it works pretty well! If it were not for the accidental access to your blog, Isaac, I wouldn’t have known about these products. To put things in perspective, I haven’t been having as many cravings, whereas I constantly have something in my mouth before. And I can have something small in the morning like a small bowl of fruit or two hard boiled eggs and feel completely satisfied for hours! I sleep so well with this stuff also. I have a crazy schedule and stress eating is so damn real for me, but this has truly helped and I am so thankful for that!

  • I’ve probably use this product for about 8wks now after having introduced to it in Isaac’s post. And I am pretty much done with my 1st bottle. I have noticed some changes in my weight. And let’s be honest, I could be more active and gym involved and actually could have lost some more! But “stay at home dad” you know how that goes in this society. I have lost about 5 pounds and honestly I take 1 pill at night or sometimes 2. I’m not really sure on the directions because it says 1 thing on the bottle and another on here. I don’t notice any changes in my sleep. I do have a bad case of insomnia so I just take a melatonin along with it. The pills aren’t too big and easy to swallow. Glad to discover this!

  • So it has been a while now after purchasing this with the blessing of Isaac’s words and this is what I experienced so far. I sleep like a baby and wake up refreshed not sluggish. Take 1 hour before I want to fall asleep. I have experienced weight loss, but I am following a nutrition plan to couple this with and start out walking 4 miles every morning during weekdays, combined with a complete exercise gears. After work out and by the end of day I have not noticed I walked 8000-10000 steps! I have lung complications and a mild case of asthma. So I need to take inhaled steroids. I have tried everything and had considered surgery. These were my last ditch efforts as I could never lose more than 5 pounds total which would go up and down and fluctuate so bad. I have tried other ways to reduce my extra curves and you name it, even a medical weight loss plan. All super strict following and exercising. Nothing more than 5 pounds either way. I am not a doctor, but this definitely works for my body! Love this product and am reordering once I am out of stock. Will continue with the combo till I hit my goal!! Hope to keep you posted.

  • I’ve only been on these 4 days. It took me a while to purchase as I was having doubts, until I stumbled upon Isaac’s post. I’m not sure about losing weight yet but I have noticed that I’m not bloated in the morning and my stomach has been flatter. It’s not like a diuretic or anything. I’m not sure how it works. My sleep! However, it has never been this way ever since I can remember. It has been amazing! I have so much trouble sleeping in past. I would sometimes take up sleeping pills at night to help me sleep but to no avail. But even then I would wake up 2 or 3 hours later. With this, I take it and I am passed out ALL night! Like magic! I do not wake up groggy either as I did with my previous pills. They are easy to swallow, and have no taste. I am now a fan of your for sure! Hope to learn more from you Isaac.

  • First, I would like to say thank you Isaac for taking the effort in sharing your thoughts. Okay. This product works great. But first, let’s be honest with ourselves guys, there is NO such thing as MAGIC PILLS. Nothing will work for you if you don’t make a slight lifestyle adjustment. That’s the reality. I have been taking these pills for the last 3 months and I definitely love it. It started a little slow, because it takes time for your body to adjust, but ever since my sleep has been amazing. To make things a whole lot better, I have lost 10 pounds! I cannot believe it. It has helped me with my sleep quality, bloating, gas problems and has erased my constipation issues. I haven’t experienced any negative side effects per se so I hope you guys have not as well. I suggest that you eat a light dinner early and take the pill about an hour before bed. Be patient and watch the magic unfold. To better sleep for us!

  • A little background about myself, I am a heavy eater at night because I work a graveyard shift. That is not helping my weight loss journey at all that I could only have so much self-discipline. Before, I was starving come late nights and I would cave on my way home. Junk food is all that’s open that late so I would cave and go to sleep with a fat burger in my gut when I went to bed. I decided to give this a try since it had great words from you Sir Isaac. By the way, the first night I took it, it was a wonderful surprise. I haven’t had success with these types of pills before! Well, I took it the break before I left and I was NOT hungry and because I didn’t feel starved half to death. I was able to drive right past jack in the box and go straight home crawled in bed and had no issue falling asleep like I normally do! Holy! I feel like this is going to be the extra push I need to stick to my diet plan. Even when I woke up 6 hours after falling asleep, I still wasn’t hungry even though I’d normally want to rummage through my food for a snack. The desire just wasn’t there anymore and it was a really nice feeling. I am going to report back in the future to see if it added an extra boost in reducing these unwanted fat because it certainly helps everywhere else. It’s the first pill that seems to do just as I want it. Thank you.

  • I have only used this product twice when I first read it here in Isaac’s, but they don’t stink like most pills. It’s also a 2-month supply. I have noticed my late night snacking has decreased. I usually take a prescription sleep aid that I will be taking with it tonight. I was hoping I would be able to substitute the product for my prescription. I will have to find out if it does help me in this matter. With all the positive thoughts from you Sir Robertson, I am excited about the results.

  • I have been using these pills for about a month now since I found it out here, and I have to say I have never been satisfied with the results before from using a product! Due to my work schedule, I have to do my strenuous physical activities in the evening, which would often “work me up” and make it hard for me to go to bed. These pills help me relax and help me sleep better; not to mention, the extra boost to my metabolism does help. Since I have started using these pills in early this year, along with making sure to eat my veggies every day and exercise moderately, I have lost almost 15 pounds. Will definitely be buying these again once I ran out of stocks. Keep informing us Isaac.

  • I have been a loyal reader of Sir Isaac and whenever I want to go through a change in my life, I often seek his posts for advice. Now, I bought this product because again, I want to change my life. Before, I was unable to fall asleep and stay asleep, lose weight and feel rested. After taking this product the first night, it didn’t make me feel tired. So I thought it’s not going to work, but the next thing I know, my alarm was going off. I actually slept the entire night! Amazing!! I don’t wake up feeling groggy or tired like other products I have used before! No restlessness and I’m sleeping every night like a baby! This will now be a part of my night regime from now on. I will be getting this again soon. I am still your fan Isaac. Thanks!

  • This is very helpful post. I visit this website for any kind weight loss tips. I really appreciate the products that they recommend. You are doing very good job.