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What Is the Best Pre-Workout for My Goals?

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Pre-workout supplements supercharge workouts, provide unrelenting stamina and forge athlete-like focus and resilience. But which is the best pre-workout for your goals? In this guide we take a look…

You want every single workout to count.

You want to feel the power of bar-bending strength, effortless endurance and the unnerved calm of a sniper scoping down a target.

The problem is that fatigue, tiredness and exhaustion can often ruin your efforts. You try your best to fight through it, but sometimes your gym sessions just fall flat.

No energy, no motivation and no return.

We’ve got the cure though.

In this detailed guide we go head first into the science of pre-workout supplements, exploring why you should use one and which is best for your goals.

It’s time to change the way you work out forever…


The Science of Pre-Workout Supplements

If you aren’t already taking a pre-workout, you’re missing out. These powerful, explosive products supercharge your workouts and add firepower to strength, stamina and force output.

You’re here because you want to get the most from your training.

You want to feel the pump as you smash out rep after rep without fatigue. You want to experience pure strength as you blast through set after set, and sprint after sprint. Who can blame you; you want results to match your efforts…

And that’s what pre-workout supplements offer.

Exhaustive research; unbelievable results

Pre-workout supplements are science-led, research-based products, designed specifically to boost physical and cognitive performance.

They won’t take you from young pretender to world champion, but what they do offer is enhanced sports performance, raising you to the upper echelons of your genetic ability.

Expert scientists, PhDs, sport scientists and nutritionists have spent hundreds of hours, researching and testing the very best performance-enhancing nutrients. If you’re into track running, distance swimming, weightlifting or bodybuilding, you need the right levels of energy, at the right time.

Much like protein powders, testosterone boosters or multi-vitamins, pre-workout supplements are designed for one specific purpose – better performance. Whether that’s on the court, gym floor or field.

Using the power of natural compounds, pre-workouts offer ‘performance fuel’ to everyone – no matter what your goal.


Pre-workout-science

When and Why You Should Use a Pre-Workout: The Benefits

If you’re new to pre-workouts you need to understand the benefits.

Pre-workout supplements are as versatile as they are effective.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an elite endurance athlete, competitive weightlifter or a weekend warrior wanting to get the best from your workouts, pre-workouts are guaranteed to give you maximum bang-for-your-buck.

Here are just some of the benefits they provide:

  • Increased strength, rate of force production and power
  • Ramp up stamina, endurance and time-to-fatigue
  • Increased metabolism and fat loss
  • Optimized focus, drive and resilience
  • Boost exercise tolerance – even at super-high intensity
  • Optimal energy and mood

One of the largest, most comprehensive scientific resources – The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition – said this about multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements:

“It appears that multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements have promise as an ergogenic aid for active individuals” [1]


Best Pre Workout Ingredients: Make It Count

It all comes down to pre-workout firepower. Some nutrients will blow the roof off your gym sessions; others will leave you deflated and out of pocket. It’s all about choosing the very best.

A product is only as good as its ingredients.

If you want premium, you’ve got to go with the nutrients that fuel your body effectively.

Make the right choice and you’ll go from a standing start to full acceleration in no time at all. Depending on your fitness goals, you need to focus your attention on specific ingredients. Pre-workouts often contain a mix of various nutrients, each with its own benefits – hitting your body from all angles and leaving no stone unturned in your quest for a leaner, stronger body.

Here are the best pre-workout ingredients to look out for:

Caffeine

A stimulant compound that boosts energy, cognition and all-round exercise performance

Caffeine pre-workout ingredient

If there’s one ingredient you need in your pre-workout its caffeine.

Not only is it one of the most reliable, performance-enhancing supplements out there, it optimizes both body and mind – perfect for developing solid gym routines or an optimal competitive edge.

Caffeine is found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa and a range of other plant-based foods. Its main action is to stimulate the release of epinephrine from your adrenal glands. It also inhibits the production of adenosine – a neurotransmitter that normally promotes calm, relaxation and sleepiness.

Switch adenosine off and it’s like engaging your muscles for war. Your body is flooded with energy – blood flow rises, heart rate goes up, eyes dilate and focus increases.

You’re ready.

Caffeine has been shown to push the boundaries of physical performance.

One study found that 1-3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight was able to increase 1-RM on the bench press and squat [2]. And a similar amount was seen to ramp up endurance – significantly improving time to exhaustion during tough running testing [3].


L-theanine

This tea leaf extract channels energy to where you need it most. No loss of focus and no post-workout energy crashes. 

L-theanine-tea-leaves

L-theanine is an amino acid found in the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant and some types of mushrooms. As a naturally-occurring compound, L-theanine increases the release of GABA – a neurochemical known to inhibit epinephrine release and promote calm.

Why would this be on the list of best pre-workout for your goals?

Smart caffeine!

L-theanine is often combined with caffeine to form what the industry calls smart caffeine – the perfect blend of energy and focus.

Have you ever had a double espresso and felt wired, agitated and irritable? If you have, you know that it’s hard to concentrate. You feel full of energy but can’t use it properly. It’s frustrating and unproductive.

L-theanine has been shown in the research to boost cognition by:

  • Reducing mental fatigue
  • Enhancing agility, reaction time and task-specific speed
  • Stops caffeine crashes

A study published in Nutritional Neuroscience found that when caffeine was combined with L-theanine, performance and mood were significantly improved [4].

And another reported a reduction in both psychological and physiological anxiety during stressful tasks – perfect if you’re in the last mile of a hard run or blasting through set after set in the weights room [5].


Creatine

A natural compound formed during the metabolism of protein and used as fuel during high-intensity exercise.

Creatine-Monohydrate-Powder

During intense exercise, your body strives to generate as much energy as possible to fuel your cells. This comes from a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Creatine is made naturally by your body and around 95% of it is stored inside muscle cells as phosphocreatine. It acts as a substrate, allowing to make maximum ATP during hard exercise.

As the most researched sports supplement on the planet, creatine has been shown to provide several performance and health benefits. Not only does it protect against neurological disease [6], it also boosts muscle mass, strength and athletic performance.

According to the ISSN…

“Studies provide a large body of evidence that creatine can not only improve exercise performance, but can play a role in preventing and/or reducing the severity of injury, enhancing rehabilitation from injuries, and helping athletes tolerate heavy training loads” [7].


L-citrulline malate

Enhances nutrient delivery and provides intense, skin-splitting pumps.

Citrulline malate pre-workout

L-citrulline malate is an amino acid you find in watermelon, squash and pumpkin. However, it’s difficult to get the recommended pre-workout dose of 6,000-8,000 mg from food alone.

When you ingest L-citrulline malate, it converts to another amino acid called L-arginine in your kidneys. Once converted, L-arginine triggers the release of nitric oxide – a compound used by blood vessels to trigger dilation.

Okay, why’s this important?

When nitric oxide levels are elevated, your blood vessels widen, leading to an increase in blood flow, bathing your working muscles in energy, oxygen and nutrients.

In other words, L-citrulline works to feed your muscles fuel during exercise.

The natural vasodilative power of citrulline can benefit performance in several ways.

Firstly, research shows that the increase in red blood cells helps to decrease the build-up of ammonia – a by-product that inhibits muscle contraction [8]. Less ammonia means more reps, more sets and more gains.

Secondly, citrulline pre-workout can boost muscle mass too by increasing protein synthesis [9]. The increase in nitric oxide acts as a trigger for an important mediator of muscle growth called mToR – elevate this and watch your muscles swell in size.

And last but by no means least… L-citrulline malate offers absolutely insane muscle pumps – and there’s nothing better than a muscle pump that blows up your physique. You feel strong, lean and imposing. Perfect time for a quick changing room selfie!


Red beet

Superhero stamina and unrelenting endurance with the power of inorganic nitrates.

Red beet

Red beets are like nature’s multivitamins. High in vitamins and a great source of magnesium, this earthy root vegetable contains plenty of fiber and a range of health-promoting antioxidants.

Betanin and vulgaxanthin are two of the most abundant phytochemicals in red beet. They’ve been shown to improve systemic inflammation and reduce the symptoms of hypertension and diabetes as well as arthritis and liver disease.

Red beet is coolest kid on the block right now in the science. Elite athletes around the world use it boost sports endurance performance – with great results.

Beets are high in inorganic nitrates. When ingested, they covert to nitric oxide in the blood. It’s this effect that leads to a significant decrease in oxygen consumption at high intensity. In other words, relative ‘energy cost’ goes down when training hard [10].

Not only that, red beet supplementation also boosts training economy. Even during maximum intensity cycling sprints, the deep purple vegetable extract will significantly increase power output as well as overall race time [11].


Rhodiola rosea

Reduce fatigue, enhance stamina and avoid burnout with this golden root plant.

Rhodiola rosea pre-workout

Rhodiola rosea is a perennial plant native to Europe and some parts of Asia and North America. As an adaptogen herb, rhodiola reduces stress, fatigue and exhaustion and has been used as a traditional medicine for hundreds of years.

If you’re prone to ‘burning out’ during intense workouts, this is the pre-workout supplement you need. It doesn’t seem to be too reliable in untrained people, but if you’re a regular gym-goer, rhodiola will tune up your engine and accelerate you from the blocks at maximum velocity. 

Research shows that rhodiola supplements improve feelings of well-being by reducing symptoms of stress in chronically-stressed athletes [12]. It can also treat anxiety and depression too.

Rhodiola is an effective pre-workout supplement for endurance athletes. Studies have shown that it improves time trial pace in runners as well as time-to-exhaustion [13].

It also enhances focus, cognition and mood too [14].


Acetyl-L-carnitine

Boost exercise performance, fight fatigue and work harder without muscle damage.

Avocado

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an amino acid used to enhance cognitive function, alertness and physical performance.

Found in foods such as avocado, meat, dairy and dark green vegetables, ALCAR can pass though the blood-brain barrier, exerting its effects directly to your central nervous system.

It’s been shown to reduce the symptoms and risk of neurodegenerative disease, boost heart health and improve insulin sensitivity [15, 16].

In terms of performance, ALCAR pre-workouts have been shown to significantly reduce muscle soreness in the days following an intense squat workout [17].

Less soreness means you’re able to recover faster and train harder – perfect if you’re working hard towards a goal.

If you’re training for aesthetics and trying to shred body fat, ALCAR can help. Studies show that in as little as 30 days, a group of 84 volunteers experienced a drop in total fat mass of 3.1 kg [18].

Not only that, they reported a 40% decrease in physical fatigue and a 45% reduction in mental fatigue.


Runner pre-workout


Pre workouts Supplements: Which Ingredients to Avoid

The nutrition industry has designed some brilliant pre-workout supplements… but there are also some unsafe, ineffective ingredients that you need to avoid at all costs.

Even though pre-workout supplements are fast-becoming the go-to for serious athletes, there are still some labs pumping out sub-standard products with an emphasis on profits, not results. Their claims are often over-exaggerated and behind the colorful bottles and aggressive-sounding names, they’re packed full of poor quality nutrients… and false hopes.

In this section we take a look at which pre-workouts you should avoid…

Proprietary blends

Propietary blend

You might have noticed that some pre-workout manufacturers don’t disclose the ingredient dosing in their products. Instead, they hide it behind a brand name concoction such as ‘Alpha-Atomic’ or ‘Napalm-13’.

Under-dosing is a huge issue in the supplements industry.

When you file your pre-workout as a proprietary blend, federal law says you don’t need to disclose the quantity of each ingredients in your pre-workout, only that it’s contained within it.

As an example, let’s say you have a supplement that simply states the word ‘L-citrulline’. For most people, 6,000-8,000 mg is enough. But for all you know, this ‘prop blend’ might only contain 600 mg.

It’s a real risk.

And you’ll never know either.

Chances are, prop blends are under-dosed when it comes to the more expensive ingredients and fillers are then used to pad out its total weight. Such ‘label decoration tactics’ are used more often than they should be.

Always avoid proprietary blends and stick to full-disclosure, trust-worthy manufacturers.

Supra-dosed caffeine

High-caffeine-preworkout

Caffeine is a supercharged, essential pre-workout nutrient…. but only in the right doses.

Most research points to a sweet spot of 1-3 mg per kilogram of body weight – around 150 mg for an average weight man. And if you’ve got a high tolerance to caffeine you can ‘double scoop’ and go with 300 mg – the equivalent of two black coffees.

There are some pre-workout supplements that have completely dismissed the science altogether in favor of a novel ‘wow’ factor.

Some are jammed with 419 mg per single serving. That’s a head-smashing, heart-pounding amount of caffeine… and there’s no way you can channel that amount of stimulant without huge jitters or crashing hard after your workout.

DMAE

Dimethylaminoethonol (DMAE) is used in some low-quality pre-workouts as a supposed cognitive enhancer.

The problem is that it can’t cross the blood-brain barrier like Acetyl-L-carnitine. Without being able to reach your nervous system, DMAE can’t exert any effect.

Classed as a teratogenic, DMAE significantly increases the risk of neural tube defects in unborn children. It disturbs healthy development of your baby as it develops in side you. There’s also evidence that it can cause seizures in epileptic adults – particularly heavy tonic-clonic episodes.

It can also cause:

  • Depression, anxiety, confusion and irritability
  • Muscle tension, aches and pains
  • High blood pressure and headaches

It’s unsafe, stay clear.

You can read more about unsafe and ineffective ingredients here in our article called pre workout ingredients to avoid.


Male athlete posing in front of camera

FAQs

Chances are you have a specific question about pre-workout supplements. Here are the most common…

What’s the best pre workout for weight loss?

  • Caffeine
  • Creatine
  • ALCAR

Although a weight cut comes down to a sustained calorie deficit, there are some pre-workout ingredients that help you on your way.

Caffeine helps you work harder in the gym without fatigue, and creatine helps you maintain muscle mass (and therefore metabolic rate) when food intake is low. ALCAR helps to speed up fat loss too, so should be in your weight loss stack as well.

Is there a pre workout for women?

  • Lower dose caffeine

Women don’t need a specific pre-workout, and most aimed at females are just the same as more traditional products with more feminine-looking containers.

One big thing for females is caffeine tolerance, which tends to be lower than in men. Go for a pre-workout with no more than 150 mg per scoop – you can always add more if you need to.

Can you recommend a best pre workout for pump?

  • L-citrulline malate
  • Red beet

Plain and simple. You need L-citrulline malate and red beet combined as it’ll leave you shredded to the bone and vascular like a road map.

What’s the best pre workout meal for muscle gain?

  • Caffeine
  • Creatine
  • L-citrulline malate

The key to muscle gain is regular strength training, a high protein diet and a pre-workout that not only helps you work out hard, but also supports protein synthesis and recovery.

Is there a best pre workout for energy?

  • L-theanine
  • Caffeine

A smart caffeine combination not only gives you the energy jolt of a high-voltage battery, it channels that energy right into your workout, with no leak.


Blonde-haired female athlete performing a double bicep cable curl


Conclusion

The best pre-workouts offer more than just an energy boost. They turn up the dial on performance and help you channel your motivation to where it’s needed most.

If you’re a serious athlete or even someone who just enjoys a tough workout, these are the supplements you need.


References

[1] Harty, PS et al. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief reviewJISSN. 2018; 15: 41
[2] Del Coso, J Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9(1):21
[3] Bell DG. Effect of repeated caffeine ingestion on repeated exhaustive exercise endurance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003; 35(8): 1348-54
[4] Owen, GN et al. The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and moodNutr Neurosci. 2008; 11(4): 193-8
[5] Kimura, K et al. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responsesBiol Psych. 2007; 74(1): 39-45
[6] Matthews, RT et al. Creatine and cyclocreatine attenuate MPTP neurotoxicity. Exp Neurol. 1999; 157(1): 142-9
[7] Kreider, RB et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicineISSN. 2017; 14: 18
[8] Gorostiaga, EM et al. Blood ammonia and lactate as markers of muscle metabolites during leg press exerciseJ Strength Cond Res. 2014; 28(10): 2775-85
[9] Jourdan, M et al. Citrulline stimulates muscle protein synthesis in the post-absorptive state in healthy people fed a low-protein diet – A pilot study. Clin Nutr. 2015; 34(3): 449-56
[10] Larsen, FJ et al. Effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen cost during exercise. Acta Physiol. 2007; 191(1): 59-66
[11] Lansley, KE et al. Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011; 43(6): 1125-31
[12] Edwards, D et al. Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract in subjects with life-stress symptoms–results of an open-label study. Phytother Res. 2012; 26(8): 1220-5
[13] De Bock, K et al. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004; 14(3): 298-307
[14] Cropley, M et al. The Effects of Rhodiola rosea L. Extract on Anxiety, Stress, Cognition and Other Mood Symptoms. Phytother Res. 2015; 29(12): 1934-9
[15] ruggenenti, P et al. Ameliorating hypertension and insulin resistance in subjects at increased cardiovascular risk: effects of acetyl-L-carnitine therapyHypertension. 2009; 54(3): 567-74
[16] Malaguarnema, M et al. L-carnitine supplementation to diet: a new tool in treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis–a randomized and controlled clinical trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010; 105(6): 1338-45
[17] Spiering, BA et al. Effects of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation on muscle oxygenation responses to resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2008; 22(4): 1130-5
[18] Pistone, G et al. Levocarnitine administration in elderly subjects with rapid muscle fatigue: effect on body composition, lipid profile and fatigue. Drugs Aging. 2003; 20(10): 761-7

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