Best Pre-Workout For Bodybuilders
Motivating yourself is hard. When you wake up tired and sore and don’t want to get out of bed, going to the gym becomes a monumental challenge. The ability to force yourself to show up every day is what makes us athletes.
Fortunately, there are things we can do to stack the odds in our favor, to give us an edge. This is why supplements were born to allow us to reach our full potential.
One supplement which has managed to become a staple in the bodybuilding industry is pre-workouts, a powdery drink designed to give you a range of different benefits depending on the brand. The biggest benefit associated with pre-workouts is an energy boost.
In this article, we are going to dive deep into what makes a powerful pre-workout, what to look for in terms of ingredients, and which product we think is currently the best on the market.
What Are Pre-Workout Supplements?
If you are a little bit out of the loop, and you are sat there wondering, ‘what the hell is a pre-workout supplement?’, don’t worry, we have you covered.
Pre-workouts are used to boost your performance in the gym. They usually come in a powdered form that you add to a bottle of water.
There is no real definition of what really defines a pre-workout. Almost every nutrition brand on the planet has its own products, often a range of them.
If you ask most gym-goers who use a pre-workout supplement, they will most likely tell you that their pre-workout gives them an insane boost of energy and motivation and allows them to lift heavier for more reps.
This is usually due to a mix of ingredients.
Firstly, you normally have some type of stimulant. The most common stimulant we see used is Caffeine. This gets rid of fatigue and provides a nice energy boost as well as laser focus.
A good stimulant tends to be the core of most pre-workout supplements with a supporting cast of varying ingredients.
These ingredients are designed to aid you in other departments. From nitric oxide boosters that stop you from being fatigued to pump boosting catalysts that leave your muscles rock hard. We will go into these ingredients in more detail later.
Why Do People Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?
As we have already discussed, the best pre-workout supplements will give you an energy boost. This has a two-pronged effect.
The first effect is to motivate you. When you are stuck on the couch, trying to motivate yourself to go to the gym, taking a pre-workout supplement is a good cue to get going, especially as you will not want to sit around at home stimmed up afterward.
The second, more important effect of pre-workouts is to give you incredible focus and energy in the gym, wiping out any of the usual brain fog we have from our day to day lives. This means we can turn up 100% ready every single time.
With the right ingredients, you can also hack your body to work harder, allowing you to get more from your workouts.
The Best Pre-Workouts
Here are our reviews of the best pre-workout supplements on the market.
#1 Stage Ready by National Bodybuilding Co. Pre-Workout
Number one on our list, and our favorite overall, is Stage Ready, a natural pre-workout from National Bodybuilding Co. This pre-workout supplement has won the 2020 Supplement Award, and we can easily see why.
This formula consists of ingredients that massively increase Nitric Oxide levels and blood flow. This means bigger, meaner pumps and a bigger meaner you. You also get an optimized effect on your ATP production, and nootropics designed to keep your focus laser-sharp and your energy levels high throughout the day.
The powder is nice and soluble, and the taste is pretty good too, and within 25 minutes of drinking Stage Ready, we were definitely ready for the gym.
The stimulants are dosed perfectly to give you a huge rush of energy that stays at a consistent level throughout your training session. It also helps that your muscles are insanely pumped during every single rep.
This is one of those pre-workouts that leave you feeling satisfied after a workout without ruining the rest of your day or evening.
The ingredient list seems perfectly balanced, too, with the right attention to detail. Everything is dosed to the right level, and the ingredients synergize perfectly. It contains premium ingredients such as citrulline malate, beta-alanine, and VASO6.
We love the guys over at National Bodybuilding Co; their products are taking the world by storm, and their new-age approach to their ingredients are really beginning to pay off.
This is our favorite pre-workout right now.
#2 Rari Nutrition – Infinity
Made by RARI Nutrition, our second product is an exceptional pre-workout supplement for the price. It isn’t as effective as our number one product, but it definitely has its own positives and negatives that will make it attractive to a number of readers.
One thing that has made it really popular is the simplistic ingredient list. Infinity only has 6 ingredients inside.
With 175mg caffeine as the main stimulant, you get a great boost to energy levels and focus. Next, you get our favorite nitric oxide boosters: citrulline and beta-alanine.
This product is also a really good option for those that are either following a plant-based or a ketogenic based diet and is even gluten-free and free from artificial flavors, colors, and dyes.
Infinity is one of the most highly rated pre-workout supplements on Amazon for a good reason.
With beta-alanine, citrulline malate, caffeine, and the other supporting ingredients, you get a nice well rounded, if a little boring, pre-workout that does what it says on the tin.
#3 Transparent Labs BULK
For those that want a pure and clean energy boost, one that makes you feel powerful and focused, BULK is the pre-workout for you. Transparent Labs have an incredible formula, full of clinically backed ingredients.
The taste isn’t great, but we can forgive that. The price is also pretty high, but we can forgive that too. We really love taking BULK. Unlike lots of the best pre-workout supplements that are currently available, this isn’t a front-loaded energy boost.
This is a well-designed slow-release product, one that seems to really kick in when you need it. We found that we gained more energy the further into our workout we got.
This is one of the best pre-workout supplements for those that really like to get geeky with their pre-workouts. Whilst it doesn’t have the raw energy appeal of Stage Ready, and whilst it has a price-tag nearly double that of Infinity, we still really like it. It is the perfect companion for those that work-out before bed.
#4 Legion Nutrition – Pulse
Finally, we have Pulse, a simple yet incredibly strong pre-workout from Legion Nutrition. This is a pre-workout powder designed to kick your ass when you need it too.
With 350mg of caffeine anhydrous in each scoop, be prepared to hold on with this one. The stimulant effect comes on and hits like a train.
Next, you get 8 grams of L-citrulline per serving and a healthy injection of beta-alanine. This means you get huge pumps and recovery levels skyrocket.
Besides that, Pulse doesn’t have any fancy ingredients or new proprietary blends.
Pulse is a work-horse, with a huge serving of 3 ingredients that we deem to be absolutely essential. It is one of the pre-workouts that demands a hard, sweaty workout.
A History the Best Pre Workouts
Let’s look at a quick history of the best pre-workouts. Back in 1982, a man called Dan Duchaine was the first to formulate a pre-workout product.
This happened in Venice, California, a place well known for its bodybuilding heritage.
The original pre-workouts in those days contained an insanely powerful but dangerous stimulant known as Ephedra, which is similar to Adrenaline in composition.
Ephedra was known to cause high blood pressure and heart attacks, which ultimately led to it being banned as an approved ingredient.
A few years later, a chemist named Patrick Arnold created a pre-workout powder that would go on to take the world by storm. His pre-workout formula, Jack3d, contained a new ingredient, DMAA.
DMAA was one of the best pre-workout ingredients ever made, and this led Jack3d to become one of the most notorious pre-workouts in the bodybuilding world.
Unfortunately, DMAA also caused shortness of breath and an increased risk of a heart attack, and this meant DMAA was banned as an ingredient back in 2012.
Since then, the pre-workout industry has become immensely saturated, with thousands of products being created every single year, with a range of new ingredients manufacturers hope will elevate theirs above the rest.
Why Most Pre-Workout Supplements Are Garbage
With the rise in popularity of pre-workout supplements over the past 10 years, the market is now full of new products.
Some companies developing pre-workouts are just out to make a quick buck, and their products mirror this. Here are some of the critical mistakes they make, either on purpose or accidentally:
The best pre-workout supplements should contain effective ingredients that have been well studied and researched. Including expensive ingredients that boast big claims that haven’t been proven is a common issue.
Sometimes the ingredients used in pre-workout powder are all well researched and well studied. They simply don’t come in the correct dosages. Nobody wants to fork out their hard-earned dollar for a pre-workout product that doesn’t perform.
Not Enough Stimulants
If the stimulants in your pre-workout supplements are weak, then they may not have the desired effect on your motivation and energy.
Too Many Stimulants
If there are too many stimulants, dosed in the wrong way, the effects of your pre-workout can be nasty. For those that work out early in the morning, you might suffer for the rest for the day when you crash. For those that work out at night, you may not be able to sleep. Either way, balancing stimulants in pre-workouts is vital.
As a product that you could potentially take as often as you workout, it needs to taste good. It is surprising to us that many of the pre-workouts we review taste pretty terrible.
The same is true with the ease that you can mix the product. If your pre-workout becomes a pain to mix and won’t dissolve, it’s going to annoy you every single day when you try to mix it.
We like to look at individual ingredients and how much they are worth to us. This allows us to figure out whether the pre-workouts we review are a good deal or not for the price.
Proprietary blends are a way of hiding the ingredient list of a product from the users and competitors. This is a challenging issue. On the one hand, we understand why they do this. On the other, we don’t like putting unknown ingredients into our bodies. If you are going to take a product with a proprietary blend, make sure that you are buying from a trusted brand.
Effective Ingredients in Pre-Workout Powder
There are a huge number of different ingredients that can make… or break a pre-workout formula. Many energy-boosting ingredients will affect people differently. Depending on your individual tastes and preferences, you will want to pick a product that contains the ingredients that suit you.
Here are some of the most popular ingredients found in the best pre-workout supplements around the world.
One of the kings of the pre-workout ingredient world, L-citrulline, is produced naturally inside the body. When you add it as a supplement, it causes your blood vessels to widen. This, in turn, increases the rate at which oxygenated blood can flow around your body. (1)
It is also a very potent nitric oxide booster. Nitric oxide levels in the blood are responsible for relaxing blood vessels via vasodilation. More blood flow, bigger pumps, and more endurance. What’s not to love? (2)
The way that L-citrulline works is due to the effect it has on arginine levels and absorption. In the past, arginine was thought to be the best pre-workout ingredient. It was quickly discovered, however, that arginine absorbs poorly when taken orally.
L-citrulline actually converts to Arginine, but it does so inside your body, meaning you get a much higher absorption rate into the body.
We think this is perhaps one of the best ingredients to include in a pre-workout. If you want a product with a great dosage of L-citrulline malate, the stronger form of L-citrulline, then you should look at the National Bodybuilding Co. Their pre-workout is one of the best on the market.
Next, we have one of the essential amino acids found naturally inside your body, beta-alanine. Beta-alanine is a great pre-workout ingredient. When used correctly, it results in increased blood flow. It will give you a much higher level of resistance to lactic acid buildup and a vastly improved recovery rate. (3, 4)
Beta-alanine is another ingredient that has become massively popular. Recent studies may shine some light on why. In this study, two groups were given a “pre-workout,” with one group being given a placebo. The results were pretty astonishing, with the group who took beta-alanine being able to exercise for 15% longer than those who did not. (5)
There are even studies that confirm that taking beta-alanine leads to an increase in your base ability to create lean muscle mass. (6)
One of the biggest reasons why people turn to pre-workout products is for the insane pump that they can provide.
And when it comes to pumps, there is a new kid on the block, one that is shaking the pre-workout world to its core.
VAS06 is quickly becoming the not so secret weapon for a number of different bodybuilders.
Extracted from green tea, it has an incredibly powerful vasorelaxation effect on your blood vessels whilst simultaneously speeding up your metabolism to new heights. (7)
Whilst the three ingredients above are massively important and will turn your bodies into more efficient exercising machines, when most people think of pre-workout, they think of stimulants.
There are three commonly used high-strength stimulants used in pre-workouts.
The OG stimulant, used for hundreds of years to give people a boost, is caffeine. Found inside lots of naturally occurring places, from coffee to tea, caffeine is the center of many pre-workouts. Almost every pre-workout with a stimulant effect will contain caffeine in some form or another.
Caffeine has the ability to prolong endurance, boost mental clarity, and give you the motivation to turn up to your workout when used in high dosages; however, it can lead to a nasty crash.
Anyone who has experienced the nasty side-effects of an overly stimulated pre-workout supplement will know how important it is to dose your stimulants right.
To combat this, a new popular stimulant being used in modern pre-workouts is theacrine. Found inside the Chinese “Kucha” tea, it boosts both energy and endurance without the nasty crash.
It does this by affecting the dopamine receptors found inside your brain. Theacrine stops your body from re-absorbing the dopamine that it produces. After this happens, your body will start to produce more dopamine in response. (8)
Theacrine is a great ingredient to pair with caffeine in a pre-workout. By using equal amounts of both, you can reduce the amount of caffeine that you need to get the same effect. By taking them together in a stack, you could obtain new levels of focus and motivation during your exercise. (9)
Yohimbe is a strange ingredient. Whilst it does not have an immediate stimulant effect, it does massively potentiate both caffeine and theacrine when taken together.
By increasing your body heat through thermogenesis, it can give you a sizable energy boost. Be warned, though; there can be unwanted side-effects if you take too much. These can include raised heart-rates and blood pressure. (10)
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most studied ingredients in the supplement market.
When you exercise, your body makes lots of ATP, something that is a key energy source for your body. To make more ATP, your body needs to use the creatine found naturally inside your body.
Common Disproved Ingredients in Pre-Workout Supplements
The supplement industry is full of false claims and products that have no reliable research behind them. These are some of the ones found in pre-workouts that you should be wary of:
Glutamine is one of the extremely important chain amino acids that the body produces. Unfortunately, most people get more than enough from their diet.
This means that supplementing glutamine is nearly useless except for those that have a major deficiency.
Arginine used to be one of the most popular pre-workout ingredients in the world.
It was quickly discovered, however, that arginine doesn’t absorb very efficiently, and it was quickly replaced with L-citrulline in most products.
Dangerous or Banned Ingredients
The ingredients above may be disproven, but they are not inherently dangerous. Some products that have been used over the years have now been found to be outright dangerous and have since been banned.
The most common ingredient, one found in hundreds of pre-workouts, is DMAA. This now-banned stimulant gives you an inhuman surge of energy and motivation, but it comes at a cost.
DMAA has been proven to skyrocket blood pressure and can even cause cardiovascular problems over time. These findings are what led to it being banned as a pre-workout supplement.
Another ingredient with a similar history is Synephrine, a fat-burning chemical used by athletes and bodybuilders.
Whilst these ingredients are banned and outright dangerous, it is worth noting that consuming too much caffeine can have a similar effect.
You should always make sure you manage your caffeine consumption responsibly. If you do not, you may suffer both short and long term side-effects.
You may find it hard to sleep or work, depending on the time of day you workout.
In the long run, you could suffer from anxiety and heart problems if you are not careful.
How To Fix Poor Energy Levels and Fatigue
If you feel like you need your pre-workout more than you should, there may be an underlying problem with either your diet or your lifestyle.
Whilst pre-workout supplements are an amazing tool. They should be used to enhance your lifestyle, not overcome poor sleep, bad diet, and detrimental lifestyle.
Remember, supplements are just that, a supplement. They should be taken to supplement your life. Before taking pre-workout and any other supplements, work on your diet and sleep patterns first.
If you feel like you are really struggling with your energy levels, here are some things you can do.
Natural Foods That Boost Energy
The first thing to look at if you suffer from low energy levels in your diet. Our bodies are incredibly effective energy-burning machines. When fueled right, they can do incredible things. When fueled wrong, the sputter, and cough, leaving you feeling tired and lethargic.
Once you take over your diet, one piece of the puzzle will slot into place, and you will begin to have the energy to spare.
Fatty fish should make an appearance in every athlete’s diet. Not only are fish like Salmon and Tuna highly potent protein sources, but they also have a high level of B vitamins and fatty acids.
Salmon has been proven to reduce inflammation; this not only speeds up your recovery; it also lowers fatigue levels. (11)
Grass-fed meat and poultry contain numerous vitamins and minerals not found inside store-bought meat. They also have a whole lot less of the ingredients we don’t want to see, like pesticides and hormones.
Fat has been vilified in modern times, but healthy fats are actually essential to our health. By eating some fatty high-quality grass-fed meat such as steak and chicken, you will have a lot more fuel in the tank when it comes to working out.
Sweet potatoes are one of our favorite energy sources. They are packed to the brim with nutritious vitamins and minerals. They are also made up of complex carbohydrates, which fuel your workouts to the max. They are also delicious.
Quinoa has taken the world by storm. Sold in every health store from here to the moon, quinoa has a high protein count, a complex carbohydrate composition, and has a very low glycemic index. This means that the carbs found in quinoa, release slowly and at a sustained rate, making quinoa one of the best pre-workout foods. (12)
Leafy Green Vegetables
Green veg is the original superfood. One serving of green leafy veg can contain iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. as well as folic acid, fiber, and antioxidants.
After seeing a superstar composition list like that, I’m sure you will be getting your daily serving of vegetables from now on.
Natural Ways to Boost Performance and Energy
There are things you can do to improve your overall energy levels throughout the day. This will, in turn, have an impact on your gym performance. When you feel your best, you are better able to perform, recover, and improve.
Countless studies have shown the importance of sleep, and yet many athletes neglect its importance. Sleeping gives your body a chance to repair and rest, and if you are not getting a sufficient amount of sleep, then your athletic performance will suffer.
According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation decreases glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for energy, causing fatigue, poor focus, and slower recovery.
Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. You may believe that you can survive on less. However, the number of people who can perform to the best of their ability without sufficient sleep is an extremely small minority.
Furthermore, if you stay up all night on the weekend, then you build up a sleep debt, which takes time to recover from. Therefore, if you really want to be at the top of your game, then you need to ensure regular, high-quality, and sufficient sleep.
Too much caffeine negatively affects the amount of energy you have. While a lot of caffeine may give you an initial boost of energy, too much can cause a subsequent crash, which can leave you feeling low later in the day. Too much caffeine can also impact the quality of your sleep.
When choosing a pre-workout product, you should avoid those that rely on a high-dose of caffeine. Instead, choose a product with an optimal dose and other effective ingredients.
Many of us fail to drink enough water during the day. The clearest sign that you’re hydrated is transparent yellow or pale urine. If your urine is dark yellow, then you need to drink more water.
Water keeps a steady flow of nutrients to your cells, boosting energy levels.
Water helps keep up a steady flow of nutrients into your cells, which gives you steady energy levels. Studies have shown that when your cell membrane is dehydrated it becomes less permeable, affecting both your physical and mental performance and making you feel fatigued. (13)
Meditation is a powerful tool that can help to increase your focus, improve your energy, and reduce anxiety. It is becoming increasingly important in a world that is filled with constant stimulation.
Countless high-performers in every field recommended meditation, including athletes such as LeBron James, Derek Jeter, and entrepreneurs such as Joe Rogan and Jeff Weiner.
When the Seattle Seahawks won the 2014 Super Bowl, they put their success partially down to practicing mediation. Head coach Paul Carroll hired a sports psychologists to teach mindfulness and meditation so they could be “in the zone” and perform their best.
Natural Ways to Boost Performance and Energy in the Gym
Here are our top tips to keep you motivated once you get in the gym.
Train to The Right Music
Listening to music while experiencing is a proven way to boost your workout performance and duration. (14)
Music can boost your mood, inspire bursts of energy, dampen perceptions of pain and fatigue, and improve performance and endurance. But the type of music you listen to matters. High-tempo music, about 170 heartbeats per minute, has been shown to reduce perceived effort and boost cardiovascular benefits more than lower tempos. (14)
Build your own playlist based on the beats-per-minute. Here are a few up-tempo songs to get you started:
- Eminem, Lose Yourself (171 BPM)
- Taylor Swift, Untouchable (200 BPM)
- Beyonce, Naughty Girl (199 BPM)
- Jay-Z, Empire State of Mind (173 BPM)
Keep a Journal
Keep a journal detailing your activity so that you can keep striving to improve your personal best. Some people prefer to set goals; however, a best-selling book, Atomic Habits, has suggested that goal-setting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Anyone who has tried to change their behavior has tried to set goals. But the problem with goals is that they limit us. When we do not hit a goal we become de-motivated, and when we do hit it, we stop working so hard. Instead, try focusing on continuous improvement by using a journal, taking pictures of yourself, and continuing to challenge yourself.
Have a Training Partner
Training with someone can do wonders for motivation and helps to keep you accountable; that is why personal trainers can be so effective. If you are unable to work out with anyone in person, then find someone you can talk to virtually about your workouts and eating habits. Finding people who are on a similar journey to you can be a great asset, whether it be in person, in Facebook groups, or over the phone.
Take a Pre-Workout
One of the most effective things you can do to boost your energy and motivation in the gym is to take a high-quality pre-workout.
Our number one pick is National Bodybuilding Co. Stage Ready Pre-Workout.
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