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Pre-workout supplements are a popular option for those looking to gain muscle.
Designed to be consumed 15–45 minutes before your workout, pre-workout supplements commonly contain stimulating ingredients like caffeine and others that allow you to work out harder and longer (
However, many pre-workout supplements contain ingredients that haven’t been shown to be effective for muscle gain — or not effective enough to have any benefit (
Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates supplements differently than medicines, and that the long-term effects of pre-workout supplements remain unknown.
Pre-workout products were included in this list based on these criteria:
- whether it contains effective ingredients in adequate doses
- whether it has been third-party tested
- whether it lists the ingredients and their doses (no proprietary blends)
Here are the 10 best pre-workout supplements.
Most pre-workout supplements contain stimulants like caffeine that are responsible for their immediate effects.
You can often buy them in a variety of flavors depending on your preference.
Citrulline malate. Citrulline enhances the production of nitric oxide, a potent molecule that increases blood flow to exercising muscles (
Beta-alanine (CarnoSyn). Beta-alanine delays fatigue with exercise. CarnoSyn is a patented, pure form of beta-alanine (
Creatine (Creapure). Creatine enhances muscle strength, power, and growth. Creapure is a patented form of creatine produced in accordance with strong quality and purity standards (
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). The BCAAs — L-leucine, L-valine, and L-isoleucine — help promote muscle recovery and growth (
Caffeine. Known for its stimulating effects, caffeine allows you to work out more intensely so you can lift heavier weights or perform more repetitions (
Outlift by Nutrex Research has a lot to offer in one scoop. For enhanced focused, Outlift contains the ingredient, N-acetyl L-tyrosine (NALT) (
The product also contains black pepper fruit extract, which may enhance the absorption of its other ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine (
Containing 350 mg of caffeine, which is equivalent to about 3.5 standard cups of coffee, Outlift is not for people who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine or pregnant women (
Outlift is tested for a broad range of substances that are banned in sports by the third-party organization Informed Choice.
Rari Nutrition’s Infinity contains an effective dose of citrulline malate and beta-alanine per two scoops.
The pre-workout supplement also offers a high dose of caffeine, tyrosine, and agmatine for increased energy and focus.
Infinity does not contain creatine and is tested for quality by third-party laboratories, but Rari Nutrition does not specify which ones.
Pulse by Legion contains an effective dose of L-citrulline and beta-alanine (CarnoSyn) in each scoop.
It also contains 350 mg of both caffeine and L-theanine for increased energy and enhanced focus.
For increased strength and power, Legion contains betaine and A-GPC.
Legion utilizes third-party testing by Labdoor to assure quality and purity.
Whether you’re sensitive to the effects of caffeine or prefer to work out at night and don’t want to be kept awake by a stimulant-packed pre-workout, there are plenty of quality stimulant-free options to choose from.
Transparent Labs’ Stim-Free Pre-Workout supplement contains a full dose of citrulline malate, beta-alanine, and betaine (BetaPure).
The product also contains ingredients for focus and nitric oxide production, such as choline bitartrate, N-acetyl L-tyrosine, and L-norvaline.
L-norvaline is related to the BCAA valine and inhibits the breakdown of nitric oxide (
Stim-Free Pre-Workout is third-party tested by Analytical Resource Laboratories for quality assurance.
Choosing a high quality pre-workout supplement that’s worth your money can be challenging.
Here are a few things to look for when choosing a pre-workout supplement:
- Third-party testing. Look for stamps on the product from third-party organizations like Informed Choice or NSF. These organizations test products for quality and substances prohibited in sports.
- High quality ingredients. Patented ingredients like Creapure and CarnoSyn are high quality, pure forms of supplement ingredients. They’re also often backed by clinical research.
- Avoid propriety blends. A proprietary blend is a specific mixture of ingredients in a product. The issue is you don’t know how much of each ingredient the product contains.
Also, keep your preferences in mind when choosing a pre-workout supplement.
Many pre-workout products use artificial flavors and colorings.
Thus, if you’re trying to avoid or limit your intake of these artificial ingredients, look for pre-workout products that use natural sweeteners and colors by reading the product label.
Some of the products on this list, such as the Genius Brand’s Genius Pre and Rari Nutrition’s Infinity, are free of artificial flavors, colors, or dyes. You can also purchase natural options of others, such as Outlift and NutraBio’s Pre.
Assessing your tolerance for pre-workout supplements is also important, as they can cause stomach upset in some people.
That said, it may be best to start with half a serving to assess your tolerance before consuming the full dose.
Additionally, keep in mind that most of the immediate effects of pre-workout products come from their content of stimulants like caffeine or nitric oxide boosters like citrulline.
The muscle-gaining effects of these ingredients are only realized when you have consumed them for several weeks.
In either case, pre-workout supplements are of little benefit if you’re not maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep.
Therefore, make sure these things are in check before spending money on a pre-workout supplement.
Pre-workout supplements contain a host of ingredients that can help you gain muscle by allowing you to work out harder for longer.
You should choose a pre-workout supplement that’s third-party tested, contains patented ingredients, and does not use propriety blends on their labels.
The above list is a great starting point to help you find the right product.