There are a few pre-workout victuals you can take to give you the energy you need, to improve strength and stamina, and to help you to power through to the last set. I personally favour a strong black coffee and a scoop of whey and creatine mixed in fruit juice. Other people have their own recipes and rituals. However, you can never quite beat a good pre-workout supplement.
They will generally contain some form of caffeine, and will often give you some added goodies like BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids), taurine, or creatine. Some will go even further left-field with compounds like green tea extract, ginger, guarana and so on.
All of it will be designed to give you a massive energy boost and to improve performance once you get there.
However, in a crowded market, and with so much advice going, how do you choose the best pre-workout supplement? It can be tough figuring it out.
We’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting for you (literally – I took a load of different pre-workouts and lifted some heavy things to see which ones deserved a place on this list!).
Our Top Pre-Workout Supplements
The following pre-workout supplements are some of the best you can find. They will all do what you need them to do – take them fifteen to thirty minutes before you train, and you will experience a fantastic energy burst, heightened focus, more vascularity, and increases to strength and endurance.
However, they are also something a little bit special. Some have unique formulae, chock-full of added vitamins and compounds to bring about the best results possible. Some are high-quality products blending the best of the best. Some simply do a really good job at a really good price.
Either way, they are all worth looking in to if you need a bit of pepping up for your training.
I’ve always been a bit of a Blackwolf fan. They’ve been around for a little while now and their products have been consistently impressive. It was no surprise to me, therefore, when I gave their pre-workouts a go and found them to be incredibly good.
Their pre-workout is a bit of a relaunch, and comes in three excellent flavours. I was particularly pleased to see that one of these options is caffeine free. I love caffeine – I drink coffee throughout the day and will generally plump for a caffeinated pre-workout. However, it isn’t always appropriate. I’ve been caught out more than once taking pre-workouts for an evening session, only to lie in bed afterwards wide awake with my mind racing – there is a time and a place for everything, and caffeine free pre-workouts can give you the evening pump and boost you need without overdoing it.
Blackwolf is a little pricey. However, I generally don’t mind this in a pre-workout supplement. If you’re taking creatine and whey, you will need daily doses, and will need to resupply fairly regularly. I never recommend people take pre-supplements more than once or so per week, and only for the big sessions, so as to not get too used to them and spoil their efficacy. They are a supplement meant to last a long time, so it’s wise to invest.
The price also reflects the fantastic quality and variety of the ingredients included in Blackwolf’s formula. You get 11 key ingredients in each serving, all of them in place to boost your physical and mental performance.
In each 18.5g serving, you will get 6000mg of L-Citrulline Malate (which is a healthy serving, coming in at around twice what many other supplements offer), 3200mg of Beta-Alanine, 200mg of caffeine in the caffeinated options, 1000mg of L-Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate, among other things.
I can safely say that Blackwolf is one of the heaviest hitters on this list. It gave me amongst the best benefits, leading to a series of incredibly challenging workouts that I sailed through. My compound lifts all increased, I felt more energetic going into them, and I experienced none of the side effects that lesser brands can often elicit.
4Gauge Pre Workout
Let’s look at another option from the more premium end of this list – 4Gauge’s Pre-Workout is one of the purest, most potent mixes money can buy.
4Gauge themselves are a very decent company – I really respect them a great deal. They are one of the most transparent supplement companies I’ve ever come across. In an industry historically marred by obliqueness and territorial, proprietary practices, this is truly refreshing.
They don’t use any proprietary blends at all, in fact. Generally, if a brand calls their blend ‘proprietary’, it means they don’t want you to know what exactly goes into it, in what amounts. 4Gauge are very clear with their ingredients lists.
Their pre-workout is also a potent list. Everything is thoroughly backed by science, and I found them to work tremendously. They seemed ably to promote harder training with good quality, crash-free recovery afterwards.
Each serving gives you 150mg of caffeine, which is low until you consider what else goes into it. A slew of natural ingredients, like 300mg of red beet and 100mg of Rhodiola Rosea combined with some more standard ingredients like 1000mg of creatine, 6000mg of l-citrulline and 500mg of l-carnadine keep you fully energised and fatigue free, whilst 200mg of l-theanine gives you crystal clear focus on your training.
They also give you 300mg of coconut water powder in each serving, which will provide vital electrolytes to help you ward off dehydration. As a heavy sweater, this is a constant issue for me. Generally, I mix my pre-workouts with separate electrolytes. There was no need to at all with 4Gauge, killing two birds with one stone.
The feeling you get from 4Gauge is fantastic. You are energetic without being jittery, focussed without tunnel vision, able to push yourself hard whilst staying completely safe.
I love it.
MyProtein The Pre-Workout
The Pre-Workout by MyProtein isn’t as budget as you might imagine, giving who is selling it. It’s not ridiculous, and in fact offers great value for money, but it’s not as bargain-basement as MyProtein’s brand usually signifies.
It’s pretty impressive, actually, with a lovely balance of caffeine, creatine and essential vitamins and minerals to boost your energy in the gym and allow for a far more efficient, well-rounded recovery after training.
You get 30 servings per tub, which should last you a good few months. Each serving gives you 175mg of caffeine, 2000mg of creatine, 3000mg of L-citrulline malate, 1000mg of leucine, and a slew of vitamins including Vitamins C, B6, and B12, as well as Folic Acid, Thiamine and Niacin.
Some of the caffeine content is from natural guarana extract, which seems to give a far more even, sustained energy increase than the hard kick you might get from other sources.
All of this comes together nicely. Take it a half hour before you hit your first set and experience a lovely, slow high that will carry you through your session with added oomph. In fact, I was finding my usual weights at any given RPE too easy – the rate of perceived exertion dropped. This meant I could throw on an extra 5-10kg per lift, which felt lovely. It’s always nice to see supplements working in real time!
The blend is spot on, the price is reasonable, and the Blue Raspberry flavour is particularly nice. Thumbs up all round.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard
Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Whey Protein is one of the most popular fitness supplements in the world. There is a good reason for this – though there isn’t too much gimmick to set it apart from its competition, it is nonetheless very good quality and consistent.
Have Optimum Nutrition managed to pull off the same trick with their pre-workout supplements? Given the resources at their disposal, they absolutely should have. Their brand has a good reputation, built on credibility and reliability.
Their rigorous testing procedures means that everything is pure, with little possibility of any banned boosters getting in there – which is good for health enthusiasts and professional athletes alike. It also means that each tub is the same, with the same levels of everything, perfectly balanced.
Each pack gives you 30 11g portions, which is decent enough and should last you a good few months. Each portion delivers at least your RDA of vitamins D, B1, B6 and B12, niacin and folic acid. You shouldn’t need to take too much else in conjunction with it.
In terms of active ingredients – the ones that actually get you pumped for your workout – you get 1.5g of citrulline, 1.5g of beta alanine, 3.4g of creatine, 175mg of caffeine and 375g of l-carnitine, alongside a good dose of amino acids.
These all work together incredibly nicely to give you a long-lasting boost. Take it half an hour before you begin training and you should have energy to spare even after the most gruelling of sessions. It was hard to figure out what the amino acid content was, so I stacked it with a scoop of BCAAs post-workout for good measure.
Applied Nutrition ABE
Applied Nutrition’s ABE is another powerful tool for bringing about an increase in physical performance. I actually found it to be particularly good going into high intensity work like HIIT and boxing, as it seemed to reduce fatigue particularly well, though it also works very well for heavier, slower work like compound weight training.
It contains a stellar profile of vitamins and supplements. Its main active ingredients are: creatine monohydrate, which will lead to greater contractile strength and stamina; citrulline malate, which supports nitric oxide production and contributes to normal red blood cell formation; and theacrine, a nootropic which closely mimics the effects of caffeine.
It also contains vitamins B3 and B12, which help to reduce tiredness, give energy, and boost brain function.
These are all compounded by the further inclusion of Beta-Alanine, Taurine, and Caffeine Anhydrous.
You really do get a long lasting kick as all of these active ingredients wake up your body and take it to the next level.
The main thing I like about ABE and Applied Nutrition overall is their methodology. They are ‘Applied Nutrition’ – they apply their work and put their money where their mouths are. ABE is tested for athletes, by athletes, and each batch is tested to the highest standard.
Cellucor have made something of a splash in the US with their C4 pre-workout supplement, one of the consistently best-selling pre-workouts on the market. Luckily, it’s now come to the UK.
You get a good degree of variety with C4. There are a full 8 flavours to choose from – I went for Orange Burst, and found it incredibly refreshing and eminently palatable. If the other seven flavours are of the same calibre, there will be very few disappointed customers.
Vitamins added include B6, B12, C, and folic acid, which will all aid in sustaining peak athletic performance whilst keeping you in robust general health.
Then there are the active ingredients. Each serving gives you a fairly standard 150mg of caffeine for a good kick, 1.5g of creatine for improved muscular strength and endurance, 1g of arginine for improved vascularity (and pump!), 1.6g of carnosyn beta-alanine, a patented ingredient geared towards endurance in strength training, and 200mg of l-tyrosine.
It’s a potent brew. Not only is it tasty and palatable, but it really kicks you up a notch in the gym. I would generally go for more creatine, and a good dose of BCAAs is always nice, but I added these both in easily enough. The kick from the combined caffeine, arginine and beta-alanine was impressive – without a heart-thumping level of caffeine, there was no crash and burn afterwards, but it was still more than enough to carry me through even the toughest of workouts with energy to spare.
Grenade 50 Calibre
Grenade are another well-known brand, famous for their explosive branding and potently mixed formulae.
Their 50 Calibre pre-workout supplement fits this mould to a tee. It will give you a massive burst of energy for your workout, keep you training for longer, and will deliver much increased vascularity as you work (leading to a much better pump throughout).
It is blended from over 20 independently tested, lab quality ingredients, all present in incredibly potent doses, including patented MDS anti-catabolic support. They allow Grenade to boast, with some justification, that 50 Calibre doesn’t simply get you amped for a workout, but it also aids in increasing strength, muscle building, anabolic hormone levels and blood flow.
Each serving gives you 2.75g of protein and 2.5g of carbs, of which 0.7g are sugar. It gives you 5,370mg of Grenade they call the 50 Calibre Power Deliver System (I don’t know what this is, but it seems to work really well) alongside a good dose of creatine monohydrate; 1,520mg of beta alanine; 1,500mg each of citrulline malate and arginine; 500mg of taurine; 250mg of American ginseng; 100mg of their NutriPump formula; 125mg of l-tyrosine; and a good 2:1:1 mix of 400mg of BCAAs.
All of this shows. You get an explosive workout from it – it can’t be helped, with all of that going in. The taurine will give you plenty of energy and focus, aided by the ginseng, citrulline malate and arginine, whilst the BCAAs will help you to recover well after every training session.
I personally really like the Berry Blast flavour – it’s refreshing and perky – though the Ultimate Orange is also delicious.
Iron Labs AC8
Iron Labs maintain a top-quality roster of fitness supplements – they are some of the best in the world. In a back catalogue crowded with good products, their AC8 Extreme pre-workout supplement stands out as amongst the top. It does an incredibly good job of getting you energised for your workout, will keep you going throughout rigorous training, and comes in as one of the more budget-friendly options on this list.
Each serving gives you an impressive 200mg of caffeine, 1.5g of creatine monohydrate, 1.25g of dextrose monohydrate (which both sweetens the flavour and gives you a quick pick-me-up), a gram each of beta-alanine, l-taurine and l-glutamine, and 0.75g of citrulline malate and vitamin B12 to offset the symptoms of fatigue. They also include glutamine, which helps your muscles to recover. This is, of course, very welcome – I ended up working so hard on AC8 that I needed it!
You can choose from between four flavours. I got hold of the Tropical Blast flavour, which I really enjoyed. It had a pleasant, not overly sweet taste that was refreshing and crisp – exactly what you want to perk you up for a good workout.
Even just a single scoop will give you a hell of a protein hit – something like the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee. I was alert and good to go, fully focussed and able to lift well, but without any giddiness or hot sweats (other than those caused by the training itself!).
All in all, it’s a great companion to a good workout, and it’s affordable on most budgets.
Maximuscle’s pre-workout supplement is another that relies on hefty doses of caffeine to do the heavy lifting, which I really like. You get 200mg per serving. It’s pretty simple and it works a treat – you will get a very good buzz on it, complete with greatly improved focus and a lot more energy.
However, they don’t leave it there, of course. Each serving delivers 5g of creatine monohydrate, 3g of citrulline malate, 3g arginine and 1.6mg beta alanine, which will all go together well to drastically increase energy levels and high-powered, explosive, athletic performance. Taurine caps it off with an increase to energy, especially energy perception, and focus.
They also give a guarantee that there are no artificial colours or flavourings, and that it is sugar free, which I really like – fine, we are talking about loading up on chemicals, but let’s not be silly about it! You get a choice between several different fruity flavours, which all taste really nice and are all quite refreshing.
There’s not too much else to say about it, really. It’s a simple, fun, very effective pre-workout supplement that does its job incredibly well and doesn’t cost the Earth.
There we have it. Many of these products are much the same – similar DNA runs through them all, and they all share the same basic concepts. Use caffeine or something similar (though not in all cases) to add a burst of energy; use taurine or something similar to improve focus; use creatine for added strength and endurance, alongside various other compounds to make vascularity and recovery that much better.
However, everything in this list does all of the above exceedingly well. Any one of them will give you a fantastic workout, no matter the price range you’re looking in.