During a recent quest to find the best pre-workout supplement for increasing energy, focus, power, and muscle endurance while training, I was shocked to discover that most ingredients in pre-workout supplements are either a) useless, b) in a dose much lower than the evidence shows to be effective, c) not timing-dependent in relation to exercise.
Until the past couple months I had simply been consuming 200mg of caffeine pre-workout. Occasionally I would consume 16mg of ephedrine in addition to the caffeine. Ephedrine is a stimulant and an oral nasal decongestant. I find that it opens my airways and increases my focus while training. Ephedrine is legal here in Canada, but some countries have banned it as a result of a select few athletes who were consuming excessive amounts of it.
The reason I began to consider taking a pre-workout supplement was beta-alanine and the increasing amount of research revealing it’s benefits, such as increased muscle endurance and decrease in muscle fatigue. This translates into more work being done (volume) during your workouts, which is what leads to increases in aesthetic muscle gains.
Beta-Alanine is the ingredient in pre-workout supplements that gives you that tingling sensation on the surface of your skin. Maybe this sensation is why lifters feel that the beta-alanine is doing something for them in that moment while they are training. But after digging through the supplement research I discovered that Beta-Alanine is not timing-dependent. Meaning that no matter what time of day you consume it, you will still experience the same benefits of increased muscle endurance and decreased muscle fatigue.
According to the research, an optimal dose of Beta-Alanine is 2000-5000mg. Yet after reading the labels from many of the top pre-workout supplements I discovered that the most common dose is 1500-1600mg, which falls short of the mark. This means that you would need to purchase more beta-alanine if you wanted to consume the recommended effective dose.
The second most common ingredient in pre-workout supplements is creatine, which includes benefits such as increased power output, increased muscle endurance, and decreased fatigue just to name a few. According to the research, an optimal dose of creatine is approximately 5g. Most of the top pre-workout brands fall well short of this dose. Once again, this is another pre-workout ingredient that you would need to purchase more of if you wanted to consume the recommended effective dose.
Even more important, creatine is also a supplement that is not timing-dependent. So now we have two of the most highly touted ingredients in a pre-workout supplement that don’t really need to be taken pre-workout… and in many cases you need to purchase additional creatine and beta-alanine if you want to hit your recommended effective dose.
The only benefit of including creatine and beta-alanine in a pre-workout supplement is convenience, but only if it includes the effective dose. Tier 1 by Citadel Nutrition is the only pre-workout supplement I came across during this quest, that meets the recommended dose of 5g for creatine monohydrate (creapure), 3.5g of beta-alanine, and 200mg caffeine. It also includes 3g of L-Tyrosine. It’s the ‘cleanest’ looking pre-workout I’ve come across. It’s based on the evidence and doesn’t include useless fillers. By the way, I have no affiliation with Citadel Nutrition, nor have I tried their product. I’m simply going by what I see on the label.
The one ingredient in Tier 1 that I haven’t covered yet is L-Tyrosine. It’s benefits include improved cognition and reduced stress. Doses are typically between 500-2000mg, which can be found in some of the top pre-workout supplements, but still many fall short here. Interesting enough, the studies that show the most promise in reducing stress used doses of 7000-13500mg, which is well beyond the dose included in any pre-workout supplement I’ve come across during this quest. L-Tyrosine is an ingredient that is timing-dependent and makes sense to include it in a pre-workout. It’s recommended to consume L-Tyrosine 30-60 minutes pre-workout.
Citrulline Malate is a supplement I’ve been hearing a lot about lately and it seems to be showing some promise, but I’m not entirely convinced about using it yet, especially when it appears to have similar benefits as creatine and beta-alanine. Again, it’s one of those supplements that helps reduce fatigue, muscle soreness, and helps you train at a greater volume. Citrulline Malate is also timing-dependent, so it makes sense to include it in a pre-workout. According to research, the optimal dose of Citrulline Malate is 6000-8000mg and is recommended to consume 60 minutes pre-workout. Higher doses may cause digestive issues. If this is the case for you, it’s recommended to split the dose and take half 60 minutes prior to training and the other half 30 minutes prior to training. The only pre-workout supplement I’ve come across so far, that meets this criteria is Pre-Jym, which also includes 2000mg of beta-alanine (lower end of the recommended dose), 1500mg of L-Tyrosine, and 2g of creatine (which falls short of the recommended dose). I have no affiliation with Pre-Jym, nor have I tried the product.
Any other pre-workout ingredient on the label that aren’t listed above are either useless or in a lower dose than the evidence deems to be effective.
The Bottom Line On Pre-Workout Supplements
What I’ve come to realize throughout this quest to discover the best pre-workout supplement is that the only ingredient you really benefit from consuming pre-workout is caffeine. The best part… it’s dirt cheap. 100 tablets of 200mg caffeine can typically be purchased for under $5. That’s at least a 3 month supply for most of us if you’re only taking it on training days.
You could argue that L-Tyrosine, in the effective dose would be of value pre-workout as well. The jury still seems to be out on Citrulline Malate, but it may be worth experimenting with if you have some extra dough. It’s the most expensive of all the ingredients listed above.
With all this being said, if the effective dose of beta-alanine and creatine are included in the pre-workout supplement, as is the case with Tier 1 by Citadel Nutrition, it sure makes it a great deal more convenient. You may pay a bit more for the convenience, so it’s up to you to decide if that convenience is worth it.
It Pays To Do Your Research
Taking a little time to do my research into the benefits or lack thereof in regards to the ingredients in pre-workout supplements is going to pay big dividends for me. I know the useless ingredients to avoid, so I don’t waste my money and I know the ingredients that can make the biggest impact on my aesthetic muscle gains.
It’s been an incredible education and I owe it all to the team at Examine.com. Their Supplement Goals Reference guide is PRICELESS and their Stack Guides have been of great value to me. I’ve just begun to dive into their Examine Research Digest and loving it. I’m proud to be affiliated with them and can’t recommend their work enough. They’re the good guys/gals who are looking out for your best interests.
In closing, I hope that sharing my quest for discovering the best pre-workout supplement has been of great value to you. I look forward to hearing your feedback and would love to hear about your experiences with pre-workout supplements as well.
Sculpt a Masterpiece,
PS Here’s a video presentation if you prefer to watch me discus the topic of the best ingredients in pre-workout supplements and their optimal doses…