Best Pre-Workout Supplements for Beginners
What Are Pre-Workout Supplements
Pre-Workout Supplements are becoming increasingly popular in the weight lifting and bodybuilding world.
Essentially they combine popular supplements into a stack of supplements that will increase energy (caffeine), help to build muscle (BCAA's and other amino acids) and provide sustained power (Beta Alanine, Creatine, caffeine).
Generally speaking there are two types of pre-workout supplements, pre-workout supplements that contains Creatine and pre-workout supplements that do not contain Creatine.
Now you may be wondering, if you’re a beginner to pre-workouts or supplements in general should you take Creatine?
That’s largely up for debate, but one thing that should be mentioned is Creatine is one of the few supplements on the market that has undergone extensive enough testing that we can positively link to exercise performance.
Creatine has been shown to improve strength. It has been shown to increase anaerobic performance on short duration exercises. It has been shown to positively impact lean muscle mass. There is evidence that it helps endurance athletes. (Source)
And this isn’t cherry picking information, that one study draws data from dozens of other studies and if you take the time to do the research you’ll find plenty more papers which have come to same conclusion.
So, back to the question. Should you pick a pre-workout supplement with Creatine?
I believe so. If you’re going to use a pre-workout supplement which may include dozens of supplements, many of which are proprietary blends (you have no idea what the actual dose of each ingredient is) it only makes sense that you’d want Creatine to be part of that supplementation.
What Other Ingredients Are Common In Pre-Workout Supplements
Caffeine is found in the majority of pre-workout supplements. This is one you want to be careful of, if you’re working out at night you could be inadvertently ruining your sleep because you’re hyped up on the caffeine found in your pre-workout.
And it’s worth mentioning; it’s not a little bit of caffeine. Typically pre-workout supplements will have 200-300mg of caffeine, which basically means you’re pounding back a 16oz coffee* or a caffeine pill and a half.
That’s not a minor amount of caffeine.
This is by design; plenty of people who use pre-workouts will note that they were buzzing after consuming a pre-workout supplement. And lots of weight lifters won’t feel like they’re ready to go without it.
Again, most pre-workout supplements have caffeine but there are brands which purposely have created caffeine free formulas.
Essential & Non-Essential Amino Acids (BCAA’s, Beta-Alanine, Citrulline, L-Carnitine, Betaine, Glutamine)
Fifteen years ago you’d consume your protein powder and be on your way. Now, you can purchase specific amino acids and those specific amino acids are in pre-workout supplements.
For example, the three Branch Chain Amino Acid’s leucine, isoleucine and valine have become an increasingly popular because they account for such a high percentage of muscle protein.
They are vital to repairing and growing muscles.
Beta-Alanine is a more common amino acid (in this case non-essential) to find in pre-workout supplements. It’s primary role is to keep the pH levels in your body at ideal levels. It increases the amount of work you can perform, particularly intense work.
For this reason, I think Beta-Alanine is an excellent ingredient to look for in a pre-workout supplement.
You might also find Citrulline, L-Carnitine, Glutamine and Betaine in your pre-workout.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is a form of vitamin B3. Among other things, It helps breakdown carbs into fuel. You can quickly understand why you’d find Niacin in pre-workout supplements.
Ashwagandha (pronounced ash·wa·gan·da) is a herb that you’ll commonly find in pre-workout supplements. Like the majority of herbs you either believe in them or you don’t. There is going to be a lot of contradicting evidence but one of its reported benefits is to increase energy levels.
You’re probably starting to see the trend. Pre-workouts are designed to keep you at an elevated level of performance for a longer period of time.
There are dozens of other ingredients that you’ll find in pre-workout supplements I just touched on the most predominate ones.
These are all supplements,which you can acquire individually, but it’s handy to have them wrapped up in a nice tidy stack ready for you to consume before throwing weight around.
Pre-Workout Proprietary Blends
I touched on it earlier, but many pre-workout supplements (including some of the most popular brands) contain proprietary blends. Now I’m not against keeping trade secrets, secret, but one thing I’ve learned is the labeling is hardly ever 100% accurate and so lumping ingredients together and stating that there is 3g of “Muscle Matrix” makes me question if this is really to protect their proprietary formula.
And it should put you on alert.
If companies struggle to correctly label supplements when they’re stating the quantities of each ingredient how can we blindly trust that they’re creating a great pre-workout supplement?
How Much Pre-Workout Supplement Should A Beginner Use?
Generally speaking, you should always follow the guidelines that the specific companies layout for you. That being said, you might want to consider halving the initial dosage if you’re brand new to pre-workout supplements.
The only downside to this is you won’t receive the full benefit of taking the supplement. Of course once your body has adjusted to consuming a pre-workout supplement you can up the dosage to the full dosage.
It should also be noted that taking more than the recommended dosage is downright stupid and even dangerous.
Just because you’re not tingling doesn’t mean you’re not receiving the benefit of any given pre-workout supplement. This is seriously some users requirements for a pre-workout supplement, does it leave me feeling wired.
When Is the Best Time for a Beginner to Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?
In my opinion Creatine is the most important part of the pre-workout supplement. Surprisingly, there isn't a ton of research on the best time to take Creatine. Some research suggests 30 minutes before your workout is ideal.
This is pretty close to ideal for caffeine as well. 99% of caffeine will be metabolized within 45 minutes of taking it. From there, you got anywhere from 4 to 6 hours before the effects of the caffeine will wear off.
Would it be a little bit more ideal if you took the caffeine 45 minutes to an hour before you worked out? Sure, but one of the primary purpose of using supplements is for convenience. It’s convenient that a pre-workout supplement contains, amino acids, Creatine and caffeine.
You certainly could build your own stack but odds are the large supplement companies have a better idea of what that stack should look like than the average consumer. So it’s probably a good trade-off.
The Top 5 Pre-Workout Supplements for Beginners
So which critical elements make a pre-workout supplement ideal for a beginner?
In my opinion the inclusion of Creatine and Beta-Alanine is important. Transparency on the label is important. A reasonable level of caffeine. And lastly price is important.
Beta Alanine: 3.2g
Price Per Serving: $1
Additional Pre-Workout Ingredients: L-Tyrosine
You probably were expecting a bigger name brand than Citadel Nutrition. Truthfully, I hadn’t heard of Citadel Nutrition until I came across their pre-workout supplements.
Their blend contains 5g of Creatine, 3.2g of Beta-Alanine and 300mg of caffeine.
It’s also $1 per serving which is cheaper than a number of the big brands on the market and you can actually view their lab test. Not only is their label transparent they’ve gone and verified it with a third party lab.
The other thing, which I'm big on is how simple their product is. They haven’t included every popular amino acid or added natural energy boosters or thermogenics.
Citadel Nutrition Tier 1+ is my top pre-workout supplement because it's label is transparent, it contains the ingredients I want and it's reasonably priced. If you consider how much Creatine and Beta Alanine it contains it's actually competitive with some of the bigger name brands on the market.
Price Per Serving: ~ $1.1
Additional Pre-Workout Ingredients: L-Citrulline, L-Ornithine HCl and Beet Root Extract
Like Citadel, Sheer Strength Pre-Workout has a pretty straight forward label: L-Citrulline, Beta Alanine, L-Ornithine HCl, Creatine, Stevia and Beet Root Extract
Compared to some of the other pre-workouts it’s got a modest amount of creatine and caffeine which makes it a great supplement to start with if you’re a beginner. It’s also nice that the label isn’t full of marketing hype and gimmicks.
Overall it’s more expensive than some of the other big brands on this list. It's also worth noting the small dosage size (0.75g of Creatine, 2g of Beta-Alanine, 125mg of Caffeine) makes it even more expensive.
Again a terrific, clean product for beginners but it does cost over a $1 per serving.
Sheer Strength advertises a jitter free formula, which makes sense given the lack of caffeine and other stimulants in the product.
Overall this product is clean, transparent and has all the necessary ingredients you’d expect to find in a pre-workout without the added hype.
Price Per Serving: $1
Additional Pre-Workout Ingredients: Vitamin D, Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Astragalus, notoginseng, L-Citrulline, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine
I’m a big fan of ON products. They’re cheap, they’re accurately labeled and they usually taste pretty good.
Best of all? It’s relatively transparent.
Aside from Citadel, ON Gold Standard has the highest levels of Creatine per serving which is a plus. It also has the lowest levels of caffeine (150mg) which in my opinion is a plus.
Their own proprietary blend is a Astragalus and Ginseng which are both root extracts. Truthfully, I really don’t care what the dosage of Astragalus and Ginseng are. They’re both immune system boosters and can help reduce inflammation which is great but I’m not really sure what they’re doing in a pre-workout.
So aside from not knowing the exact details of their top secret AstraGin (there name not mine) blend is, we’re given all the quantities which is a huge plus.
It’s about $1 per serving which isn’t the cheapest but it’s reasonable.
Price Per Serving: $0.66
Additional Pre-Workout Ingredients: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Betaine, Taurine, L-Glycine, Acetyl-L-Carnitine
If you’re not interested in a simple recipe containing the bare minimum you might want to look into Muscle Pharm’s pre-workout supplement; Assault.
Like so many in the market, they do make use of a proprietary blend which is a strike against this product.
However, it does contain Creatine and Beta-Alanine. It’s also only 200mg of caffeine, which is the dose I prefer before a workout.
This blend contains an impressive amount of supplements and vitamins.
It’s one of the most popular brands market in part because their marketing department does a nice job but also because the product is insanely cheap.
$0.6 cents per serving is the norm for Assault.
Price Per Serving: $1
Additional Pre-Workout Ingredients: L-Citrulline, L-Arginine, Agmatine Sulfate, Betain, D-Aspartic Acid, Guarana Extract 12%,, BCAA 2:1:1 (Leucine, Isoleucine, Valine), L-Histidine, L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, L-Lysine, L-Methionine, L-Phenylaline, L-Threonine, L-Tyroptophan, L-Valine, L-Arginine, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B, Niacin, Patothenic Acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, D-Biotin, Folic Acid, Choline, Chromium, Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium
Aside from the comical name “MyProtein Mypre Pre-Workout” this product is solid. Like Muscle Pharm MyProtein insists on keeping their users in the dark when it comes to the exact blend of amino acids and the levels of caffeine.
This is a great example of why I hate the proprietary blend, if not for third party testing I would never know that one serving contains ~225mg of caffeine because there label says it contains 550mg of caffeine split up into caffeine and guarana extract.
Ironically, the 550mg of caffeine actually turned me off of this product initially. 550mg of caffeine is an absurd amount. 225mg is perfect.
The other boxes it checks as well, Creatine, Beta-Alanine and reasonably priced at ~ $1 per serving.
The one downside is it’s hard to find anywhere but MyProtein’s website. And while they have free shipping, you need to spend $70 to qualify. In this day and age to not offer free shipping on all products is criminal.
*This depends on the cup of coffee