Your Definitive Guide to Choosing the Best Pre-Workout
by Dr. Nina Cherie Franklin
If you're a regular gym goer or in tune with the latest fitness trends, chances are you've heard of pre-workout supplements. Also known simply as "pre-workout" or "PWO", these supplements have become wildly popular among serious athletes and exercise enthusiasts. Some take PWOs to boost energy levels, increase stamina, and improve mental focus during workouts. Others use them to optimize strength training and enhance endurance performance.
Here you'll learn about the whats, whys, and hows of PWOs. Whether you're a weightlifter or runner, competitive athlete or weekend warrior, there's a pre-workout that'll best fit your needs.
What Is a 'Pre-Workout'?
'Pre-workout' is essentially an umbrella term referring to any supplement formulated to help make your workouts more efficient and effective. Commonly found in the form of powder, PWOs generally contain specially tailored combinations of staple ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids and nitric oxide boosters, each of which are known to enhance energy levels and various aspects of exercise performance (1,2).
Some research suggests that strategically combining these staple ingredients inherently strengthens their individual effects in ways that further enhance their energizing power and performance-enhancing potential (3,4). The highest quality PWOs deliver different combinations of these ingredients at various doses in order to best suit different exercise and performance goals.
Should You Take a Pre-Workout?
If you're looking to build muscle and strength, increase your stamina and endurance, or maintain high energy and focus during workouts, you can certainly benefit from taking a pre-workout. In conjunction with an appropriate exercise program and a nutritionally adequate diet, consuming the right pre-workout formula can help you increase your training volume, intensity, and workout time.
In addition to an abundance of anecdotal evidence, a steadily growing body of research has demonstrated beneficial effects of PWOs on muscle mass and strength, power and endurance (2, 5). They can also provide a boost in your metabolism during exercise sessions (6).
From the standpoint of weight training, the proven effects of PWOs equate to more exercises, sets and reps, which can ultimately lead to larger gains in muscle size and strength. For more cardio-focused workouts like running, cycling or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), this means an increased ability to push through fatigue allowing you to get more from each session and possibly burn more fat to lose more weight.
How Do You Take a Pre-Workout?
As implied by the term, a "pre-workout" is generally intended to be taken just prior to a workout. Though the particular dose depends on the formula you choose, for maximum effectiveness, it's best to take any pre-workout somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes before you plan on working out. This allows sufficient time for most of the ingredients to enter the bloodstream at levels high enough to actually work. For a standard dose, you can expect the full effects to last from 3 to 6 hours.
Since most PWOs are rich in caffeine you definitely want to consider the timing of your workouts, particularly if you regularly engage in late afternoon or evening workouts. If this is the case, consider taking a pre-workout that's caffeine-free or stimulant-free, as any presence of caffeine could influence your ability to get quality sleep.
Can You Take a Pre-Workout Every Day?
When taken within recommended dosage guidelines, there are no known side effects associated with every day consumption of PWOs among athletes and physically active individuals. Still, this isn't necessarily a good practice, largely due to the presence of caffeine in most formulas. Truth is, you can become addicted to caffeine. This increases your risk of becoming more tolerant to its effects. When this occurs, you'll need more and more of it.
It's also important to note that every day consumption of PWOs (or their staple ingredients) may present problems for individuals predisposed to certain illnesses so it's very important to check with a knowledgeable healthcare provider or dietitian before even attempting to start a daily regimen (2).
Can You Take a Pre-Workout Without Working Out?
Many athletes and exercise enthusiasts simply can't go without their pre-workout, often taking it on days they don't work out. There are even some 'non-exercisers' who swear by PWOs, despite the fact that they don't work out at all. While taking pre-workout in the absence of working out isn't necessarily deemed 'harmful', it's important to understand that PWOs are most beneficial for individuals who are regularly active and most effective on workout days.
What is the Best All-Around Pre-Workout for 2019?
Most PWOs have specially tailored formulas that enhance exercise performance for a variety of activities—Whether heavy lifting, marathon running, or highly intense cross-training. When it comes to the best all-around pre-workout, Wild Thing by Assault Labs is one that definitely fits the bill, which is why it's a must try for 2019. Its most active ingredient is citrulline malate, an amino acid and nitric oxide booster known to enhance blood flow in ways that fight fatigue, improve endurance in all types of activities, and reduce recovery time.
Notably, Wild Thing also contains stimulant ingredients like caffeine and synephrine, but the dosages aren't overly high, making it a good solution for people who might not consume stimulants on a regular basis. Reviewers who've used Wild Thing have given the product praise for the great burst of energy, focus and good pump it supplies during workouts.
What is the Best Pre-Workout for Women?
A substantial body of evidence suggests that consumption of pre-workout can positively influence energy, concentration and mood, muscular endurance, and even resting metabolic rate among exercising women (6). While different manufacturers tend to take slightly different approaches when formulating PWOs aimed at women Wild Thing by Assault Labs is still a top choice!
The combined presence of beta-alanine and citrulline malate in Wild Thing is especially beneficial for enhancing endurance and exercise performance. For women, this can provide a significant metabolic edge while heightening fat burning during just about any athletic or recreational activity. Check out the Top 10 Pre-Workout Supplements for 2019 for other possible pre-workout options for women.
What is the Best Pre-Workout for Men?
Studies have shown that regular intake of high-quality PWOs in conjunction with structured weight training promotes significant gains in lean mass among men (1). Notably, blends containing both creatine and beta-alanine are associated with the greatest improvements in muscle size and strength, which also supports favorable changes in body composition (7)
With a well-rounded ingredient selection that includes beta-alanine and creatine, Wild Thing by Assault Labs is definitely one of the best pre-workout formulas for men looking to increase gains. The presence of citrulline malate in Wild Thing further promotes muscle gain by helping reduce exercise fatigue and increase time-to-exhaustion during lifts.
Check out the Top 10 Pre-Workout Supplements for 2019 for other possible pre-workout options for men.
What is the Best Pre-Workout for Pump and Vascularity?
In order to bring on the muscle pump and vascularity, any pre-workout you choose should give your nitric oxide levels a good boost. Naturally produced in the body, nitric oxide plays a critical role in increasing the flow of blood to working muscles. Increased blood flow can ultimately lead to greater vascularity and a better pump. If you're looking for a pre-workout that'll help you achieve these effects, MesoMorph by Aps Nutrition is definitely a worth considering.
As one of the most popular PWOs on the market, it has an impressive ingredient selection that includes the nitric oxide booster citrulline malate. It also contains creatine along with the clinically studied and proven dose of beta alanine, which collectively support increased muscle gain. Reviewers who've used MesoMorph have praised this product for delivering excellent 'pump' and focused energy during workouts.
What is the Strongest Pre-Workout?
If you're on the lookout for more of an intense, high-stimulant (STIM) pre-workout that's strong, long-lasting and delivers an extraordinary level of energy during activities ranging from weight training and power sports to high-intensity exercise and endurance training, Seismic Surge by Hard Rock Supplements is certainly a top-choice.
FOR ADVANCED SUPPLEMENT USERS ONLY, this STIM pre-workout houses a powerful cocktail of known stimulants that collectively support increased energy, focus, and endurance. As stated by the many positive reviews of users, Seismic Surge provides a substantial energy boost and massive stamina while keeping you 'hyper-focused' without hardly any 'crash'.
As with most dietary supplements, PWOs are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they're certainly not all created equal. It's always important to carefully review the ingredients list and 'fine print' of any supplement you choose to ensure you're getting a formulation that best suits your lifestyle. While PWOs aren't generally associated with serious adverse effects, most contain stimulants, which can be habit forming.
Reported side effects associated with pre-workout formulas have included insomnia, diarrhea, irritability, headaches, dehydration, headaches, tingly sensations, and increased blood pressure. As mentioned earlier, regular consumption of PWOs (or their staple ingredients) may present problems for individuals predisposed to certain illnesses so it's very important to check with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to ensure you're healthy enough to use them.
- Ormsbee MJ, Thomas DD, Mandler WK, Ward EG, Kinsey AW, Panton LB, Scheett TP, Hooshmand S, Simonavice E, Kim J. The effects of pre- and post-exercise consumption of multi-ingredient performance supplements on cardiovascular health and body fat in trained men after six weeks of resistance training: a stratified, randomized, double-blind study. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2013; 10:39.
- Harty PS, Zabriskie HA, Erickson JL, Molling PE, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018; 8;15(1):41.
- Smith AE, Fukuda DH, Kendall KL, Stout JR. The effects of a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids during three weeks of high-intensity exercise on aerobic and anaerobic performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7:10.
- Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. 2007; 32:467–477.
- Martinez N, Campbell B, Franek M, Buchanan L, Colquhoun R. The effect of acute pre-workout supplementation on power and strength performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016; 13:29.
- Cameron M, Camic CL, Doberstein S, Erickson JL, and Andrew RJ. The acute effects of a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement on resting energy expenditure and exercise performance in recreationally active females. Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018; 15:1.
- Hoffman J, Ratamess N, Kang J, Mangine G, Faigenbaum A, Stout J. Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006; 16:430-446.
Dr. Nina Cherie Franklin is a healthy lifestyle consultant and coach, speaker, writer and commentator who's been in the industry for over 20 years. Holding multiple degrees and certifications in exercise science, nutrition and rehabilitation, she's worn professional hats in commercial fitness and corporate wellness, academia, medicine, nonprofit sectors, and the blogosphere.
Website & Blog: http://ninacheriefranklin.com/