Reviews Of The Best Preworkout Supplements For Men
First things first: Supplements are for supplementing. Seems pretty obvious, right? But I knew a guy who based his training around his pre- and post-workout shake. Don’t be that guy!
Pre-workout mixes won’t turn you into Mr. Olympia or Dmitri Klokov. Hard work, on the other hand, will fast track you to glory. Supplements are not a magic potion.
When I was younger, workout supplements always reminded me of Popeye opening a can of spinach. It would be nice if they worked like that!
However, pre-workout supplements can be very useful and will give you an edge.
Using nutritional technology to give you an advantage is a clever thing to do. But it pays to be clever about choosing the right nutritional products.
The ingredients of most pre-workout formulas, such as creatine, nitric oxide, antioxidants, anhydrous caffeine, and theanine, help your body prepare for and deal with intense exercise.
When deciding on which pre workout supplement to take you absolutely must choose quality over price, every time.
This is such an important part of supplementing, and it can be tempting to cut corners, but you’re often either hurting your body or flushing money down the toilet by getting the cheap supplements, many of which use poor ingredients.
I will discuss which workout supplements give you the best bang for your buck, but remember this: quality in, quality out.
Do you really want to be ingesting chemicals that might harm your body?
Low-quality nutrition is one of the main causes of poor performance in the gym. Not only should your regular meals fuel your workouts and help you grow, your supplements should do so as well.
Rating The Top 4 Most Effective Pre Workout Supplements For Men
What Are The Benefits Of Taking A Pre-Workout Supplement
The benefits of a preworkout supplement are many, which is why they’re so popular, and why we’ve dedicated so much research to this topic.
Help increase volume and intensity of workouts
Amino acids such as Beta-alanine, neurotransmitters such as L-arginine, and other commonly taken substances such as caffeine help boost intensity. Increased blood circulation and a reduction in muscle fatigue levels help power you through workouts that are longer and tougher.
Promote fat loss
Many supplements contain guarana and caffeine, which are both stimulants, known to help with reducing fat levels in the body through a thermogenic effect.
Guarana also decreases appetite. This may or may not be part of your overall plans.
Hard gainers might want to stay away from products containing guarana.
If you’re packing a few extra pounds you might find the effects useful.
Reduce cell damage
Pre-workout supplements help your body recover after working out. The antioxidants in the formula are designed to combat the damaging effects of high-intensity exercise.
If you’re training properly, the fibers in your muscles will experience microscopic tears and antioxidant damage. This is normal. When building strength and size in the gym your body breaks down muscle tissue to make stronger. Muscles that are put through intense exercise will, with proper recovery and nutrition, grow stronger than before.
During physical exercise, the body produces what’s known as Reactive Oxygen Species. Intense exercise can increase the production to a level where ROS causes oxidative damage and the loss of structure of neutrons (neurodegeneration).
According to studies by the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, the best way to combat oxidative stress from exercise is to consume antioxidants in the form of fresh fruits, vegetables, and the good quality, natural foods. The study found that although supplementation of antioxidants does produce positive effects there is no conclusive evidence that it improves upon the antioxidant abilities of real food. However, as many people do not get their 5-a-day quota of fruits and vegetables it is worth adding antioxidants with your pre-workout.
There is (so far) no evidence to suggest that using pre-workout supplementation will have a negative effect.
One thing is certain, however. Over-supplementation of antioxidants is bad.
The New York Times explains why high doses of antioxidants can actually be harmful to your progress.
If you find a pre-workout supplement that packs huge amounts of antioxidants I’d recommend skipping that product and looking elsewhere. Always try to go for moderation. A notable exception would be your workout motivation levels. In that case, moderation is for losers!
Improved reaction time
In this study by the Journal of Advanced Student Science, the testers found that reaction times of athletes were reduced during and following exercise.
Another study by the Nutrition & Metabolism Lab in London found that some pre-workout supplements containing caffeine, B-vitamins, creatine, BCAAs, and beta-alanine improve reaction time, and also delay the onset of fatigue.
If you are involved in any sports that require sharp reflexes, or explosive power, then supplementing is recommended. But choose wisely and make sure that you are consuming the correct quantities of important materials.
Pre workouts can kick the energy systems in your body into motion. But there’s also the placebo effect. Which in this case actually helps.
Taking a supplement before working out is simply the first step towards completing your workout routine. The first step is often the hardest, especially when the couch is calling you after a long day at work. Kick off your workout with focus and motivation!
So the ultimate goal of pre workout supplements is to improve your performance. Whether you want to destroy your back squat PR, build muscle, or recover faster, there is a pre-workout product that will help.
4 Of The Best Pre Workout Supplements A Man Can Buy
#1. Optimum Nutrition Platinum, PRE- (EDITOR’S CHOICE)
Optimum Nutrition Platinum is a caffeinated energy and performance support supplement that eschews sugar and carbs.
I went for the raspberry lemonade flavor in this test as curiosity got the better of me. How does raspberry lemonade taste in a rehydrated powdered product? Pretty average actually. It’s not bad, but it’s not competing with Gatorade.
With 400mg of caffeine (in two scoops) this isn’t a product that light sleepers or highly anxious personalities should take in the evening. 400mg is the equivalent of 4 regular cups of coffee! I recommend starting with half a scoop and only using this formula early in the day. If you don’t experience adverse symptoms such as jitters or sleeplessness, increase the dosage.
Monitor your stomach’s reaction to this pre-workout powder also. The mixture of caffeine, red pepper, and fruit & veg juice extract can cause sensitive tummies to complain.
Platinum PRE- contains L-Citrulline, Beta Alanine, DMAE Bitartate, Phytoblend, Caffeine, and red pepper extract. Other ingredients include the usual suspects: citric acid, lecithin, natural and artificial flavors, etc.
In case you didn’t know, L-Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid. There are 11 non-essential amino acids and each one can made in the human body (and this is why they are called non-essential). By contrast, the 9 essential amino acids must be ingested, through food or drinks, to promote healthy body function.
So why do we take supplements containing non-essential amino acids anyway?
When you take L-Citruline, the body converts it into L-Arginine, a conditional amino acid. We only need the conditional type when we’re sick or stressed. Training puts the body under stress, and can lower your defences so having a bit of extra help in fighting illnesses is welcomed.
L-Citrulline also converts to nitric oxide, which is great for relaxing the arteries, allowing blood to flow easier.
And there’s another reason for getting some L-Citrulline in your body, fellas. Sufferers of erectile dysfunction can experience a reduction in symptoms when taking the amino acid.
L-Arginine also helps your body produce growth hormone, the essential ingredient for maintaining weight, looking young, and of course, building muscle.
Back to the Platinum PRE-. There are three choices of flavor: Fruit Punch, Raspberry Lemonade, and Twisted Apple. The taste has a slight spicy kick to it. Personally, I prefer something quite plain and mildly sweet before a workout. You might love it but Platinum PRE- is definitely an acquired taste.
The powder mixes well and doesn’t clump like some products do. The taste, as I’ve already mentioned, might take a bit of getting used to but the texture is perfectly fine. No problems there.
The Platinum PRE- is an effective product. I’m not sure if it’s purely the caffeine or the fact that blood is flowing more freely but I definitely feel primed for a workout after taking even half a scoop.
This is probably the best pre workout for pump. My veins and muscles were more pronounced during and for a while after working out. I’m not sure if this was because I worked harder or because the ingredients affected my body. Either way, something happened I was happy with the results. For pure motivation, Platinum PRE- works.
What We Liked
- No creatine. I’m not saying that creatine is bad, but it’s not for everyone. Most people will be just fine taking a creatine product, and most people probably should since it’s such a cheap and proven way to build muscle. Anyway, it’s good to have a product that produces a ‘creatine-like’ effect without the (minimal risk of) downsides. You can always take creatine with the mix if you feel the need, to make an even more intense formula.
- The peppery taste, although I’m not a fan, is from the red pepper extract (trademarked as Capsimax). This provides a thermogenic effect. My body temperature rose noticeably and had the effect of making me feel prepped for workout. It also made my veins stand out. I still warm up though. Never skip a warmup, folks, even if it’s hot or you’re already feeling pumped!
- Platinum PRE is free of a lot of the junk that many supplement manufacturers include in their products. The label is easy to read and there is a definite emphasis on quality ingredients. 10 out of 10 for that.
What We Didn’t Like
- The taste. The Platinum PRE is never going to be a universally liked product simply because it tastes odd to a lot of people. Pepper or spice are not a good choices for workout-related drinks.
- 8.45 oz Container contains 30 servings
- 1 scoop per serving (though you can take 2 servings at once if you need to)
- $1.00 – $1.25 per serving
>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<
#2. Cellucor C4 Pre Workout
The C4s tagline is “explosive energy” and the manufacturer claims that it promotes muscle pumps. Say what? Yes, they actually say this.
C4 stands for fourth generation. Cellular 4th Generation. It’s a popular product that has had many iterations (at least four). Fans of Cellucor stand by the products the company produces.
If you like a wide range of flavors, the C4 aims to please. You have a choice of Strawberry Margarita, Icy Blue Razz, Fruit Punch, Orange Dreamsicle, Watermelon, Pink Lemonade. Who doesn’t like at least one of those? We recommend mixing and experimenting. If you like the C4 buy two tubs and make your own flavors!
Cellucor recommends that you take 1-2 scoops around 30 minutes before training for achieving the best results. The secret ingredient is something called TeaCor which not only provides instant energy but long-lasting energy also. Well, that’s what it says on the tub, anyway.
Many nutritional product manufacturers develop their own names for common chemical compounds so I investigated further with the hope of finding out what exactly TeaCor was. I don’t know about you but I need to know what I’m putting in my body.
TeaCor is basically Tetramethyluric Acid. According to examine.com, an authority on supplement ingredients, Tetramethyluric Acid, also known as theacrine, is similar to caffeine. There isn’t a huge amount of research on the topic available so let’s just call it a caffeine-like stimulant.
C4 comes packed with enough Vitamin C to last you a week. Unfortunately, Vitamin C isn’t stored in the body (but luckily, it’s not toxic in high doses) so the body will simply eliminate the excess. Excess Vitamin C can cause some speeding up in the bowel area so be careful with the dosage, especially if you’re also taking a multivitamin or additional vitamin C.
Apart from TeaCor the magic ingredients are Beta Alanine, Creatine Nitrate, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, and Caffeine.
Note: TeaCor and Caffeine are very similar compounds so don’t binge before bed.
C4 contains 1.6g Beta Alanine per serving. A study by the International Journal of sports medicine shows that supplementing with beta-alanine can significantly improve muscle endurance when weight training. The study concludes that most of the benefits of Beta-Alanine are experienced by experienced athletes only. Weekend warriors might not get the quick fix they want.
Cellucor recommends one scoop as a standard serving. The recommended servings label also warns people against exceeding two scoops a day.
What We Liked
- Wide range of flavors
- High levels of antioxidants
What We Didn’t Like
- Insane amounts of certain vitamins (and stimulants), and not enough of some things like creatine to really make a difference. This doesn’t really convince us that you’re getting the best bang for your buck
- 6.3 oz container contains 30 servings
- 1 Scoop per serving (which gives half the standard dose of beta alanine)
- $0.90 – $1.10 per serving
>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<
#3. Legion Pulse Pre Workout Supplement
The Legion Pulse Pre Workout contains Citrulline, just like the Platinum PRE-, so similar effects can be expected.
Legion Athletic (the manufacturer) call this an NO2 (Nitrogen Oxide) Booster. Beta Alanine, the amino acid present in almost all pre-workout supplements, comes in a ‘healthy’ 4.8g (0.16 of an ounce). That’s more than the standard dose.
The company also claims that the Pulse Pre Workout is an all-natural product. No weird chemicals that might cause jitters. But be aware that there are 350mg of caffeine per serving. And you probably know about the effects of the equivalent of taking 3 and a half cups of coffee. Moderation is the key here. Motivation is good but the jitters are not usually considered good for motivation.
The powder also contains L-Theanine, which is a Nitrous Oxide booster and cognitive booster. Nitrous oxide has benefits for the cardiovascular system as it expands the blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow. And this results in more power and endurance, and a better pump.
I’m not usually one to talk about the flavor of supplements as I believe that if I find a good product, I will just chug it down and ignore the taste. Broccoli isn’t tasty but it’s good for you, and I eat that!
But the flavors of Legion’s pulse won’t win any taste awards. The company has gone for more natural ingredients, including the ingredients that enhance the flavor, which is awesome for ingestion, but not so great for tasting. But the taste is still a little…artificial? I know that’s strange, but this is not one that I would savour before my workout.
We really like Legion’s stuff, as they only use clinical doses of each ingredient, and back it up with published research. So you know that each ingredient in here is in here for a reason, backed up by science, and is in a large enough dose to be effective.
That’s like the basic intelligence I want from my supplement company. Personally I like to be able to read about the ingredients in the studies, and see that yes, each ingredient will benefit me, particularly at a certain dosage. For that, I really like to use Legion’s stuff.
What We Liked
- Great value
- Clean ingredients, at the right dosage
- Natural flavourings
What We Didn’t Like
- The flavor. None of the flavors will have you singing the product’s praises. In fact, most of them will probably make you wince a little. Find the one that is most palatable.
- 18.4 oz contain contains 21 servings
- 2 scoops per serving (which gives a full standard dose of beta alanine)
- $1.65 – $2.00 per serving
>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<
#4. GENIUS Pre Workout
This is one for the caffeine-sensitive people in the audience. I like this product as it contains the good stuff like Beta Alanine, Citrulline, and Taurine but gives you the option to include stimulants if you prefer. Obviously, this adds an extra cost dimension. So the Genius Pre Workout is not an all-in-one supplement for those that require the usual caffeine kick.
Genius Pre does, however, contain a substance called Theobromine, which contains some of caffeine’s benefits without the surge of energy (and crash afterwards). But studies of its effect as a mood and performance enhancer are inconclusive. It’s a perfectly safe substance to use though so it’s worth experimenting with.
The company pushes the notion that the product is completely natural, and free of proprietary ingredients. The powder is sweetened with stevia. Stevia in its natural form is perfectly safe but people with sensitive stomachs should test out powdered stevia on its own and monitor for any adverse effects and adjust accordingly.
I feel that Genius Pre is effective in terms of motivation and endurance. The bonus is that there’s no crash afterwards. I particularly like the fact that I can arrive at the gym without feeling like a caged animal.
Of course, some people might like this feeling.
And it can really help you work hard.
But if you prefer your moods, motivation and energy levels to peak gently then try Genius Pre with maybe a caffeine pill. If you can handle bigger swings in energy and motivation levels then one of the other products in this review might be more your thing.
Nootropics, also called smart drugs, have become very popular in the last few years. The idea that a pill can enhance your brain’s functions is compelling. The Genius Pre Workout formula is branded as a Nootropic-based product for performance enhancement. That’s a big selling point but is it just marketing?
Many studies show evidence of BCAAs effecting neurotransmitters negatively. That is to say that BCAAs and dopamine don’t mix well.
Therefore, many experts recommend taking L-tyrosine (a nootropic) with supplements containing BCAAs. Genius Pre contains both.
What We Liked
- Caffeine free.
- Contains L-Tyrosine
What We Didn’t Like
- Minimal boost to energy levels. Not a pre workout for anyone with motivation issues.
- 12.5 oz container contains 20 servings
- 2 Scoops per serving (which gives a full standard dose of beta alanine)
- $1.95 – $2.10 per serving
>> Click Here To Learn More And See Prices <<
What To Look For In A Pre Workout Supplement
Most preworkout supplements feature some or all of the following ingredients:
- BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids). Simply put, they help prevent muscle breakdown
- Creatine. Used by the body to make creatine phosphate, which is used as energy in muscles
- Caffeine. The most consumed drug in the world
- B Vitamins. There are 8 of these (from 1 to 12, skipping a few in between) potent nutrients that help convert food into fuel
Watch out for ingredients listings that contain ‘proprietary blends’.
Generally speaking (and I hate to generalize) there’s nothing wrong with proprietary blends. Manufacturers like to keep their ‘secret formulas’, well, secret.
But unscrupulous companies add low quality ingredients to their products and disguise the fact by using the words ‘proprietary’ to describe the ingredients.
I like to know what I’m consuming. If you are risk-averse, or have any special dietary issues, allergies, or food intolerances, it might be better to stick with products that display every ingredient on the nutritional label. At least then you can see if the product is safe to consume.
The ingredients of your ideal pre-workout depend on a number of factors:
- Your weight & body fat percentage, age, and general level of health
- Your goals
- Your training time
Overweight guys should stay clear of supplements containing high-levels of sugar in any form. And that includes fructose, glucose, maltose, and lactose. That’s not an exhaustive list either. The food industry has created lots of crafty names to hide the word ‘sugar’ in our foods. Make sure you can recognize them all.
Eating lots of carbohydrate pre-workout is usually not recommended. The body absorbs carbs more easily immediately after working out. Low-carb pre-workouts will be a much more sensible option for most people.
Number two on the list above might be the most important here. Many people take supplements without having clear goals. If you only want to run a full 10k next year and you are competent athlete already, supplementation will not have a huge effect on the outcome.
If you have no goals whatsoever then please do not waste your money on pre- or post-workout products. Would you spend a fortune on racetrack tires for a Toyota Prius that you’ll never run over 60mph? Probably not.
It’s pointless spending money on these products when you are not that concerned about improving your own performance. Spend that money on a motivational coach or a personal trainer.
If you train in the evening watch out for the high levels of caffeine, guarana, or teacrine present in some supplements. Caffeine has a half-life of 8 hours so even early morning exercisers might feel the need to throw weights around even when they should be sleeping.
For the average guy who wants to train hard, get motivated, and put on some muscle, I’d recommend a product with moderate levels of caffeine. Beta-alanine is a great addition to any preworkout shake if you are a serious athlete or gym-goer.
1. I can workout for longer when using supplements. Should I just keep going?
Longer doesn’t always mean better (in most things in life, guys). For most non-professional athletes, going over the 60-minute mark often results in some cannibalization of the muscles.
Preworkout supplements increase the amount of time you can workout and improve recovery times. However, there is no magic formula.
If you consistently train until you can’t carry yourself out of the gym you are, no doubt, helping contribute to muscle loss at the same time as getting those gains.
Don’t overdo it!
Remember that supplements also exist to aid with recovery and we all know that recovery is just as important as training, if not more. Quality sleep and recovery will help build muscle and strength. Recovery starts the second you finish your workout.
2. When do I take my pre-workout supplement?
On first looks, it might seem like the very name of the product answers this question. But there are optimal times for taking supplements. Both pre and post workout. There’s no point buying an expensive product and then wasting money because you don’t know how to maximize its potential.
When to take the supplement depends on the time of day you exercise, how the supplement is delivered (pill, powder), and whether you combine it with another product.
Certain chemicals that make up preworkout formulas can be taken any time throughout the day. Consistency is often the key. Combining these substances pre-workout gives a more pronounced effect than when taking them at other times.
20-30 minutes is usually the correct time to take a preworkout shake. Just enough time to digest it but not so long that the effect wears off.
If you train late at night and your favorite pre-workout contains caffeine or guarana you might want to try training earlier in the day, or switch to a caffeine-free version like the GENIUS product we mentioned above. Sleep is so important to growth and recovery and caffeine is detrimental to sleep. Don’t mix the two if you have trouble sleeping after taking stimulants.
In general, protein, BCAAs, and creatine would be the most beneficial elements of a pre-workout shake or pills. You could add in caffeinated elements also if that suits your training times and your ability to process stimulants.
3. Is it safe to take pre-workout supplements?
Most supplements aimed at the gym/training community have not been FDA approved. This just means that there hasn’t been a comprehensive study of the product by the government. That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe or unapproved.
Millions of new products hit the shelves every year and most are not FDA approved. There simply aren’t the resources to test every new product. The best way to be sure of a product is to do your research and use your judgement. Follow trusted sources, such as this one, to find out exactly what you are buying into when choosing a supplement.
Individual requirements will also come into play. This goes for supplements as well as nutrition. People that are very sensitive to caffeine or other compounds in ingredients found in pre-workout products should consult with their doctor first. Most doctors are not experts on nutrition for training but they will understand your particular case and advise on any ingredients that might cause you problems.
4. Who should not use supplementation?
If you have a history of heart issues then I recommend talking to your doctor or a cardiologist. Do not, under any circumstances, ingest more than the recommended dosage of pre-workout. Doing so could cause irregularities in your heartbeat. Some pre-workout drinks contain similar substances found in energy drinks. These can be deadly for people with heart problems.