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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.
creatine monohydrate (Creapure)
Sometimes less is more when it comes to pre-workout supplements.
This mantra is true for Citadel Nutrition’s Tier 1 product, which contains four effective ingredients in their studied doses.
Tier1 contains 200 mg of caffeine per serving.
In addition to using high quality raw ingredients, Citadel Nutrition uses third-part testing by Labdoor to ensure their product contains what’s stated on the label.
Betaine (BetaPower). Derived from beetroot, betaine may improve muscle strength and power, but more research is needed. BetaPower is a highly purified form of betaine (
Inositol-stabilized arginine silicate (Nitrosigine). A patented compound composed of arginine and silicon, Nitrosigine may enhance energy and improve workout recovery (
Theacrine (TeaCrine). Similar in structure to caffeine, theacrine may work synergistically with caffeine to enhance exercise performance. However, one small study found no benefit of theacrine on muscle strength or power (
PreWO by Dymatize was designed to maximize energy, strength, and intensity in the gym.
Each two-scoop serving provides citrulline malate, beta-alanine (CarnoSyn), and N-acetyl L-tyrosine in effective doses.
Additional ingredients found in PreWO include vitamins, such as vitamin C and niacin, that may increase the production of nitric oxide and enhance its absorption, allowing for increased blood flow and oxygen delivery to exercising muscles (
PreWO is third-party tested by Informed Choice for banned substances.
NutraBio’s PRE product has been on the market since 2002.
Since then, NutraBio has made continuous improvements to the formula to make it one of the most impressive pre-workout products today.
In addition to containing an effective dose of beta-alanine, creatine, and citrulline, PRE provides several other ingredients that can help increase muscle gain by enhancing the quality and intensity of your workouts.
PRE also contains several ingredients purported to enhance focus and delay fatigue with exercise, such as choline bitartrate (VitaCholine) and huperzine A.
However, research on these ingredients for the purpose of muscle gain remains limited.
Similarly to Outlift by Nutrex Research, PRE contains a hefty dose of caffeine at 350 mg per scoop.
It also provides a patented form of L-theanine called TheaPure.
L-theanine is a natural component of green tea that helps promote relaxation without causing drowsiness (
When combined with caffeine, L-theanine may help reduce the side effects of too much caffeine, such as anxiety or nervousness, while enhancing focus and alertness (
NutraBio ensures the quality of their supplements through third-party lab testing. You can view the third-party lab test results for any NutraBio supplement using its checkmysupps.com website.
Here are some of the nootropics Genius Pre contains:
Alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (A-GPC). A-GPC may improve the mind-muscle connection, allowing for gains in muscle strength (
Alpha-hydroxyisocaproic acid (HICA). HICA may decrease muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle gain, but more research is needed (
Ancient peat and apple fruit extract (ElevATP). This patented ingredient may fuel energy levels, allowing for increased muscle strength and power (
Rhodiola rosea. Also known as golden root extract, Rhodiola rosea may decrease fatigue with exercise (
Genius Pre by the Genius Brand is a nootropic pre-workout.
Nootropics refer to compounds or supplements that can boost mental performance, the most widely consumed being caffeine.
Genius Pre is caffeine-free but contains theobromine, a compound that exerts stimulating effects similar to those of caffeine.
The product contains an effective dose of citrulline malate for increased blood flow.
Genius Pre is third-party tested for quality and purity by Labdoor.
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.
NutraBio’s PRE Stim-Free product contains the same beneficial ingredients in the same doses as the PRE product minus the caffeine and L-theanine.
These ingredients include beta-alanine (CarnoSyn), creatine monohydrate, betaine, and L-citrulline, among others.
As noted above, NutraBio ensures the quality of their supplements through third-party lab testing. You can view the third-party lab test results for any NutraBio supplement using the company’s checkmysupps.com website.
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.
HumanN Beetelite is unique in that it contains concentrated beet crystals.
Beets are high in dietary nitrates, which help increase nitric oxide production in your body (
Multiple studies have shown that beetroot — due to its high nitrate content — can enhance exercise performance by delaying fatigue and improving oxygen delivery to muscles (
Each serving of Beetelite is equivalent to six beets.
Because the product contains beetroot, some may find the taste earthy.
In either case, Beetelite is tested by Informed-Sport to ensure it contains no banned substances.
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.