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 best pre-workout supplements we reviewed to help you maximize your time at the gym.
Our Top Pre-Workout Supplements (2021)
1 - 4 Gauge (Editor's Choice)
First on our list of pre-workout pump supplements is a product that is the top pick of our entire team.
I must say, I love the marketing that went into 4 Gauge Pre-Workout. 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-workout supplements go, this one has been specifically designed for endurance at the gym. Some users have also reported that it's an excellent pump supplement that can improve performance when running, among other benefits.
Athletes have commented in many reviews that the creatine helps with providing more strength and performance under strenuous activities .
- 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
- 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 this pre-workout 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 4Gauge Pre-Workout review.
2 - Performance Lab Sport Pre-Workout
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 .
Many bodybuilders that I work with have noted that it gives them a lot better pumps during weight training as well.
- 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
- 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 of this pre-workout to get the full dose.
3 - Transparent Labs PreSeries Bulk Pre-Workout
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 Pre-Workout 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.
- 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
- Not the cheapest option but it does deliver
Of all the pre-workout supplements 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.
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4 - Nitrosurge Pre-Workout
If you're specifically after effectively maximizing your muscle pumps, then Nitrosurge may well be your top choice out of all the best pre-workout supplements on this list.
With 3 g of the amino acid L-citrulline, studies have shown that it can increase blood flow to your muscles .
It also comes with a strong dose of caffeine and L-theanine, so make sure you avoid coffee around the same time as that could cause some jitters.
- 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
- Doesn't contain creatine but still increases endurance
The one thing I was missing on the ingredients label was some creatine. Despite this, many reviews still say that this pre-workout provided an excellent strength and performance boost in all types of sports.
5 - C4 Original by Cellucor
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 this pre-workout is that you get an energy boost from stimulants. With 150 mg of caffeine, it 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.
- 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
- 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 Premium Pre-Workout
Here is another one of the pre-workout supplements 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.
- 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
- The flavors are a bit sweet tasting so you may want to add more water
Quite a few people mentioned that with the sweeteners used, you may want to water it down just a little to reduce the sugary effects.
7 - EVL ENGN Shred Pre-Workout
One thing that stood out for us with this ENGN pre-workout was that quite a few people commented on how fast the absorption of the active ingredients seemed. 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.
- Not overly reliant on stimulants
- A good dose of beta alanine and creatine for better exercise performance
- You won't get bored of the flavor options too quickly
- 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 taste.
One thing I need to mention, though, is that most of the amounts of ingredients are kept a secret in a proprietary blend, which can make stacking a bit more difficult.
8 - Optimum Nutrition Essential Amino Energy
The main goal that Optimum Nutrition had was to stand out from other pre-workout supplements 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.
- Focuses on providing amino acids with no fillers or additives
- A modest 100 mg of caffeine won't make you too jittery
- Low in calories so it won't mess up your diet
- 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, colors, and sweeteners added in as well.
9 - Pre JYM Pre-Workout Powder
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 take fewer cups of coffee to do that. Pre JYM has solved this with a pretty impressive 300 mg of caffeine.
This pump supplement 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.
- 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
- 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
Another very well marketed brand is Battle Ready Fuel, 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.
- 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
- 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?
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 in pre-workout supplements.
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 .
The best creatine supplement we've found is from a brand called Transparent Labs.
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
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.
The best caffeine supplement we've found is from a brand called Nutricost.
My bodybuilder clients are always looking for pre-workouts to get better muscle pumps, and the only way to achieve that is through increased blood flow. Supplements that contain L-citrulline malate have been clinically studied and proven that it does indeed enhance blood flow .
The best L-Citrulline Malate is from a brand called BulkSupplements.
This amino acid has also been shown to increase blood flow and can help with sports performance . It's not as common in pre-workout supplements, but can make a difference that is worth trying out.
The best Arginine supplement we've found is from a brand called Nutricost.
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?
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.
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.
Are pre-workout supplements safe?
Yes, pre-workout supplements are safe to take, but you want to make sure you don't take them higher than the recommended dose. This can lead to cramping and nausea, which won't help at the gym.
Is a 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 pre-workout supplement available right now.
While it's practically a stim-free pre workout supplement, you can get the desired effect by stacking other pump pre-workout supplements. Aside from its pump ingredients, 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 see results such as increase muscle growth, improve blood flow, etc., do make sure you report back to us on one of our social media pages.