The 60-minutes before your workout is crucial. Get the right pre-workout nutrition, and you'll maximise your strength, focus and endurance. Get it wrong, and your workout could be ruined before you've even started.
That's why pre-workouts are amongst the fastest-growing category of supplements. Everyone from marathon runners to bodybuilders are waking up to the fact that a high-quality PWO can consistently trigger those "in the zone" workouts and help you smash through plateaus.
Choosing the best preworkout supplement isn't easy though - even with thousands of reviews available. New types of workout enhancers are entering the market all the time, and many of them are not worth the money (to put it mildly). Most claim to be the "strongest" or "most effective" - but what does that really mean? And which are truly the best?
To help you get the best pre-workout for your goals - and avoid wasting money - we've put together a list of the top supps on the market. These products help you get in the zone before a workout, while enhancing your strength, endurance and muscle growth.
What Makes a Top-Rated PWO?
If you're on this page, you already know the right pre-workout can have a dramatic effect on your weight lifting and cardio - so we won't bore you with the details. You can check out our "What is a Pre-Workout" page for everything related to the ingredients and science behind supplements.
But what we will say is that there are (broadly) four things you should be getting from a pre-workout drink, shake, shots, pill or powder:
- Improved power and strength
- Optimised muscle growth
- Enhanced energy and focus
- Improved endurance
While the ingredients may vary, each of our top-rated PWOs enhances all four of these areas. We also look for the healthiest pre-workouts that minimise side effects while maximising performance.
We've excluded any workout enhancer that contains DMAA, as it's now illegal in the US. While we know some people want this ingredient, the potentially severe side effects (rapid heartbeat, depression, mood swings, high blood pressure, strokes...we can go on) mean we can't recommend it. Our ratings and rankings also take into consideration other potential side effects.
5 Best Pre-Workout Supplements for Power, Muscle Growth, Focus and Endurance
We've spent countless days researching the best pre-workouts to save you time and money. The supplements listed below are the top products when it comes to nutrition profile, safety, quality and value for money. We've also reviewed each product and the rankings are listed in order of quality (starting from the best).
Note: For more information about each product, we also provide in-depth reviews and comparisons of pre workout supplements.
1. 4Gauge Explosive
The 4Gauge shotgun-style bottle proclaims "load up your guns" - and we think that's an accurate description of this pre-workout! This is the best PWO we've found and comes with pretty much everything you need for an insane pump and effective workout.
What makes 4 Gauge pre workout stand-out from the rest though?
Firstly, it's great at boosting strength, power, energy levels and focus, all without the nasty side-effects associated with other pre-workouts. It doesn't contain any artificial ingredients, including sweeteners. It also only contains 5 calories per serving.
We like the combination of caffeine and L-Theanine in 4Gauge. This supplement stack boosts focus, mental performance and energy. Best of all, L-Theanine means you get the energy-boosting benefits of caffeine without shaking or loss of coordination, which is why this combination is a popular entry-level nootropic.
When it comes to strength, 4Gauge has a number of high-quality ingredients, such as Creatine, L-Carnitine and even Red Beet Extract. These provide an outstanding pump while minimising muscle soreness and helping you develop a ripped body. It's also a great choice for bodybuilding as it stimulates muscle growth.
4Gauge has an impressive ingredient list, especially as it's 100% natural (unlike top sellers such as Cellucor C4 Original). Most importantly, the ingredient label is transparent - there are no hidden or proprietary ingredients. 4 Gauge also lists the exact quantities of each component.
Some of the most interesting ingredients include:
- L-Citrulline for Muscle Pumps and Reduced Soreness (6000mg per serving). Citrulline Malate is a vasodilator that delivers "kick ass" muscle pumps. You'll notice your arms and veins getting a bigger pump with every set, and you won't suffer from as much soreness. 4Gauge has included the full recommendation of 6000mg in each serving, which has been shown to increase post-workout growth hormone by up to 66.8%.
- Caffeine and L-Theanine Stack for More Energy, Focus and Stamina. L-Theanine is a type of amino acid found in green tea. On its own, it helps subtly increase calmness and focus. Combined with caffeine, however, and you get power, energy and focus without the unwanted jitters and problems with concentration. The controlled dose also makes it much more effective than coffee.
- Beta Vulgaris (Red Beet Extract). Red Beet is a nitric oxide booster. It enhances sporting performance, allows you to train for longer and improves flood flow.
- Other Ingredients. 4Gauge also includes creatine monohydrate, rhodiola rosea, coconut water and Acetyl-L-Carnitine. These combine to enhance performance, boost focus, prevent muscle damage and even lower blood pressure.
- No Artificial Sweeteners. The majority of pre-workouts are made with sucralose. This is a type of artificial sweetener that makes the supplement more palatable - but not everyone wants to drink chemicals before each workout. The good news is that 4 Gauge uses only natural sweeteners.
A notable absence from this list is Beta Alanine. Most supplements have it, but 4 Gauge doesn't. While Beta-Alanine is known to promote power and strength, it can also cause an uncomfortable tingling sensation (which is probably why 4 Gauge hasn't included it).
Note: All the ingredients in 4Gauge are produced in cGMP and FDA certified facilities.
Summary: 4Gauge is an excellent pre-workout supplement. It provides a smooth energy boost without the jittery feeling, post-workout crash and loss of coordination associated with cheaper PWOs. The combination of L-Citrulline and Beta Vulgaris also helps you push through plateaus, lift heavier and get a bigger pump. It's expensive, but these benefits - along with the all-natural ingredient list - mean it's our top recommendation.
2. PreSeries BULK (Best For Muscle Mass)
If you're after big gains and serious muscle mass, the PreSeries BULK pre-workout is the best option.
It provides an impressive boost in energy, along with big pumps and a noticeable gain in strength. Like 4 Gauge, it includes a caffeine/L-Theanine stack for clean focus, along with an excellent pump matrix and ingredients that help with endurance.
Unlike 4 Gauge, it also includes Beta-Alanine. This amino acid forms carnosine, which allows muscles to contract more strongly, so it can improve strength.
The downside to Beta-Alanine is that it can also cause the annoying (but usually harmless) side effect of tingling in the lips and other areas of skin. For gaining maximum muscle mass it's a great ingredient to have though.
BULK has an impressive list of ingredients. Every ingredient is backed by scientific research, and it doesn't contain coloring dyes or unneeded filler ingredients.
We like that the label is fully transparent about what's included in the PWO, including specific amounts and ratios. Here's a breakdown of the most important ingredients:
- Citrulline Malate (6000mg). Citrulline improves strength, raises nitric oxide levels and enhances the use of BCAAs. Like 4Gauge, BULK has the full recommended dosage of 6000mg per serving.
- Beta-Alanine (4000mg). BULK includes a relatively high dosage of beta-alanine. This delays fatigue, promotes healthy protein formation and increases lean muscle mass. It has the side effect of triggering a tingling sensation though.
- BCAA 2:1:1 (4000mg). PreSeries BULK includes the BCAAs leucine, isoleucine and valine in a 2:1:1 ratio. These amino acids can significantly increase workout strength, prevent muscle wastage, increase metabolism and improve energy levels.
- Taurine (1300mg). Taurine is another amino acid that is "used" by beta-alanine, so it's important to supplement both to avoid deficiency. It can also reduce muscle soreness.
- Caffeine + L-Theanine (180mg + 360mg). BULK has caffeine and L-Theanine in a 1:2 ratio. This helps provide a clean energy boost without a post-workout crash. It may also help you lose weight.
- Testosterone Support Complex. A combination of vitamins such as Vitamin D3, Boron and Zinc help maintain testosterone levels which is vital during a bulk phase.
- Other Ingredients. Pre-Series Bulk also includes Choline Bitartrate, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (which increases focus and endurance), Betaine (which may stimulate muscle growth and increase HGH and IGF-1), Mucuna Pruriens, L-Norvaline, BioPerine, Synephrine and Hordenine.
As you can tell from the ingredient list, BULK is designed specifically to increase muscle mass. While it still has plenty of ingredients to help with energy, focus and pump, it's the #1 pre-workout for building serious lean muscle.
Something to note is that BULK doesn't include creatine. This is an essential pre-workout ingredient for bodybuilding or strength training, but some people like to take it separately. If you want creatine in your pre-workout, go for 4 Gauge instead.
Summary: If your goal is lean muscle mass, and you don't mind the tingling associated with beta-alanine, the PreSeries BULK is an outstanding pre-workout. Be aware that you'll need to supplement creatine separately, but it's still one of our top recommendations.
3. Jym Supplement Science Pre JYM
Another excellent pre-workout that doesn't hide behind proprietary blends is Pre JYM. It doesn't quite beat 4Gauge for all-round excellence or PreSeries BULK for building muscle mass, but still has almost everything you could want from a pre-workout supplement.
Developed by Jim Stoppani, the Pre JYM supplement contains 13 ingredients. Each ingredient has been selected based on scientific research, along with Jim's professional experience and study. We're impressed by how well the ingredients complement one another to create a clean, energy boosting supplement.
When it was first released, the Pre JYM was one of the few pre-workouts to be completely transparent in its ingredient list and doses. It was also amongst the first to include proper doses of its most important ingredients, including 6000mg of Citrulline (most competitors provided severely underdosed supplements).
The pre-workout market has moved on since then - but Pre JYM remains one of the best.
One complaint we have is that it only contains 2000mg of beta-alanine. This is half the PreSeries BULK. If you're going to include beta-alanine in a workout and potentially trigger the unpleasant tingling side effects, you may as well include enough to get the full benefit.
It also doesn't come with L-Theanine. We're big fans of the combination of caffeine and L-Theanine, as it provides a focus and energy boost without jitters.
Other than that, the Pre JYM has a strong pump matrix, provides an excellent endurance boost and is available from stores such as GNC.
- BCAA 2:1:1 (6000mg). BCAAs stimulate muscle growth, so it's an important ingredient in pre-workout supplements. Pre GYM has a generous 6000mg of BCAAs with the optimal ratio.
- Citrulline Malate (6000mg). The recommended dose of citrulline for full benefit is 6000mg, and Pre JYM matches 4Gauge and BULK in this regard. Citrulline increases nitric oxide levels, boosts energy and may even allow you to complete extra reps.
- Creatine (2000mg). Unlike PreSeries Bulk, Pre JYM includes creatine hydrochloride. This can lead to gains in muscle strength along with stimulating muscle growth.
- Beta Alanine (2000mg). The Pre JYM contains around half the beta-alanine per serving of the PreSeries BULK. While it still increases power, strength and endurance, the higher dose of the BULK is the main reason we recommend it over the Pre JYM.
- Beta Vulgaris (500mg). Like 4Gauge, Beta Vulgaris is included in Pre JYM. It can improve blood flow in muscles while allowing you to train with more intensity.
- Caffeine (300mg). It includes a large dose of caffeine for extra endurance, energy and focus - but without the L-Theanine to smooth it out.
- Other Ingredients. Along with those listed above, Pre JYM also includes Betaine, Alpha-GPC, N-Acetyl L-Cysteine, Huperzine A, Bioperine, Tyrosine and Taurine.
Summary: The Pre Jym supplement was once the #1 pre-workout on the market - and for good reason. It has an excellent stimulant matrix, is great for boosting workout intensity and helps stimulate muscle growth. We think 4Gauge provides a cleaner energy boost and PreSeries BULK is more effective for muscle mass though, which is why it's only #3 on this list. Click here to read our full Pre Jym review.
4. ALTIUS by Jacked Factory
ALTIUS is a clinically-dosed and highly potent pre-supplement. This means you get a rapid boost to pump, focus, energy and strength without over-supplementation or pointless ingredients.
The first thing that stands out about ALTIUS is the huge L-Citrulline dose. If you're looking for the ultimate pump, this will open up your blood vessels and increase blood flow. It also has a generous amount of creatine to stimulate muscle growth.
Looking at the label, it's also clear that ALTIUS pre workout hasn't included unproven ingredients. The ingredients list is relatively short, but follows scientific evidence rather than junk science.
A bonus is that Jacked Factory hasn't included any artificial dyes or sweeteners in ALTIUS. It's also manufactured in an NSF and cGMP certified facility.
There are a few drawbacks to ALTIUS though. While it can provide powerful pumps, the taste might put people off. It's also only available in one flavour. If you're looking for a clean pre workout with extreme vascularity, however, then it's one to consider.
Something we love about ALTIUS is that there are no proprietary formulas. You know exactly how much of each ingredient you're getting with each serving. It also has heavier doses than many other pre-workout drinks or powders.
- L-Citrulline (8000mg). Altius contains the highest dose per serving of Citrulline of any pre-workout on this list. Citrulline enhances nitric oxide production, which widens blood vessels and provides a huge pump. It also increases your performance while removing lactic acid. If you want an intense pump, Altius is the one to go for.
- Creatine Monohydrate (3000mg). As you probably know, creatine is one of the most effective ingredients for increasing strength and building muscle. The 3g of creatine in Altius is enough to provide up to 15% more power.
- Betaine Anhydrous (2500mg). Betaine can stimulate the growth of lean muscle mass, boost protein synthesis and increase strength. Jacked Factory has included 2.5g of Betaine in ALTIUS, which is 500mg more than Pre JYM.
- Beta Alanine (3200mg). ALTIUS can't match the 4g of beta alanine found in the PreSeries BULK, which is one of the reasons it's only #4 on this list. The 3.2g dose is still enough to enhance endurance and stimulate muscle growth - but be prepared for a tingling sensation.
- Caffeine (325mg). One of the biggest issues we have with ALTIUS is that it has a huge caffeine dose but without any L-Theanine to smooth the effects. There's no doubt it'll give you a massive energy surge, but some people may find it leads to unwanted side effects such as shaking or loss of coordination.
- Other Ingredients. ALTIUS also includes methylcobalamin, which is a form of vitamin B12, and bioperine to help absorption.
- No Artificial Sweeteners. Like 4Gauge, ALTIUS contains no artificial sweeteners or colourings. There are also no proprietary blends.
Summary: When it comes to maximising pump and vascularity, the ALTIUS is one of the best pre workouts in the world (it's #1 on our list of the best pre workouts for pump). Its energy matrix isn't as balanced as other options though - so go for one of the others if you want a smooth focus boost.
5. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard
Gold Standard pre-workout is designed to provide a quick boost in energy, endurance and focus. It doesn't provide the huge pump of 4Gauge or the mass-building properties of PreSeries BULK, but for getting you through a tough workout without the side-effects of more powerful workout amplifiers it's a good option.
Optimum Nutrition is one of the most trusted supplements brands around, and the "Gold Standard" is a high-quality product. It contains important ingredients, such as creatine, caffeine and L-Citrulline, along with a trustworthy ingredient testing process.
Unfortunately, part of the muscle matrix is a proprietary blend, so you don't know exactly what you're getting with each serving. Most of the ingredients list is transparent though.
The doses are also a let down compared to the other pre-workout boosters on this list. It has an excellent dose of creatine, but the Citrulline is under-dosed so you won't get the full benefit. It also doesn't include L-Theanine to smooth the jittery effect of caffeine.
There are six flavours available: fruit punch, green apple, blueberry lemonade, watermelon, strawberry lime and pineapple. Our favourite is pineapple, although you'll want to try a few to see which you prefer.
- Caffeine (175mg). While this amount of caffeine is considerably lower than the amount found in Pre JYM, it's about right for a focus and energy boost without the negative side-effects. L-Theanine isn't include though, so you don't get the smooth focus boost provided by other pre-workouts.
- Beta Alanine (1500mg). Beta Alanine helps improve strength by allowing muscles to contract with more force. Gold Standard's 1500mg dose is lower than some of the pre workouts higher up this list though.
- Creatine Monohydrate (3000mg). Gold Standard has a generous dose of creatine which helps replenish ATP stores for maximum sets and reps.
- L-Citrulline (750mg). L-Citrulline is an important ingredient, but the 750mg dose is much lower than competitors. For comparison, 4 Gauge has 6000mg.
Summary: Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard pre-workout isn't a bad supplement - it's made our top 5 list, after all. It has a generous dose of creatine, includes vitamin D and is tested to avoid banned substances. The relatively low doses in the energy and focus complex, combined with the lack of L-Theanine and small 1.5g dose of citrulline, mean it can't match the others on this list though.
What About for Women?
Most pre-workouts are marketed at men, but that doesn't mean females can't benefit. While the majority of PWOs are suitable for both genders, not all are, so you need to be careful about which you choose. Check out our guide at pre workout for women for more information.
Do All PWOs have Creatine?
No, there are some excellent pre-workouts that don't contain creatine. PreSeries Bulk and Legion Pulse pre workout are good examples. For the best products in this category, check out our list of creatine free pre workouts.
If you're struggling to find the best pre-workouts, you're not alone. With hundreds of pills, shakes and powders available, and endless marketing hype, even experienced athletes can find it hard to pick the right option.
Don't let that put you off though. A pre-workout drink can make the difference between an average workout and one where you smash plateaus and feel 100% focused. And, combined with a high-quality protein (such as whey), a pre-workout will greatly speed up your progress.
The most important thing is to steer clear of pre workouts with dangerous ingredients (such as DMAA). You want a pre workout you can use regularly without big crashes or unwanted side effects. It also needs to be safe for continuous use, which is why a clean ingredient list is something we focus on in a review.
With that in mind, our top recommendation is 4Gauge. It has an excellent energy matrix, including L-Theanine to balance the effects of caffeine. The citrulline provides a huge pump, while the Beta Vulgaris improves endurance. Most importantly, it's a great all-rounder that promotes focus, muscle strength, pump and endurance, without nasty side effects.
Do you have any questions about choosing the best pre workout? Or is there a supplement you would like us to review? You can contact us using the contact page or the comment form below.