Best Natural Pre-Workout Supplements Review

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Last Updated: Jun 11, 2020

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Pre-workout supplements can boost your athletic performance and endurance during intense workouts. Unfortunately, the sports nutrition and supplement markets are flooded with cheap, unhealthy and ineffective products, and many consumers lack the expertise necessary to differentiate between junk and supplements that actually work.

For this review, I analyzed and tested the best natural pre-workout supplements that contain only ingredients that have been scientifically proven to work.

Additionally, I’ve restricted this list to only supplements that have zero carbs per serving. So, if you’re following a ketogenic diet, know that none of these pre-workout products will kick you out of ketosis.

To learn more about individual pre-workout ingredients and their effectiveness, check out this article, in which I answer the following questions:

  • Do pre-workout supplements work, and are they safe?
  • What is the role of amino acids (and specifically branched-chain amino acids) in pre-workout drinks?
  • Who benefits from pre-workout supplements?

Pre-workout Supplement Benefits

Best Natural Pre-workout Supplements Review
Some of the pre-workouts I’ve tested for this review

Pre-workout supplements are products you can take prior to high-intensity workouts. If selected and used properly, they can help you to:

  • Increase your exercise performance, endurance, strength and power.
  • Improve your strength and help you build lean muscle mass.
  • Heighten your alertness, mental focus and overall cognitive function.
  • Reduce muscle fatigue and lactic acid build up.
  • Improve blood flow.
  • Speed up muscle recovery.

Key Ingredients of Pre-Workout Powders

The benefits of pre-workout powder (and other pre-workout supplement formats) stem from a few naturally-occurring ingredients. According to scientific research, the most effective ones are:

  • Amino acids
  • Caffeine
  • Creatine

To learn more about these (and other) components and how they work, check out my ingredient analysis.

As part of my research, I tested what I consider the best natural pre workout products from brands that I trust. The order below is alphabetical and doesn’t reflect a rating or personal preference.

Pre-workout supplements are essential for CrossFit to improve an athlete’s energy levels and to boost mental focus before a tough workout. However, most of the over the counter pre-workout supplements today are built for an athlete that is searching a “pump.” That “pump” is not a good thing for an athlete participating in CrossFit. You don’t want your muscle to have more blood flow than necessary as any athlete can attest to who has felt their forearms or lower back blow up due to blood flow during a workout. Try to stick to pre-workout supplements that are designed for the application or sport you are taking part in.

Justin Tway, Owner of CrossFit Alpharetta

Note that the type of exercise you do may influence what kind of pre-workout supplement is best for you. For example, I prefer a product with a lower amount of caffeine — or no caffeine at all — for metabolic conditioning to keep my heart rate in check.

If I do strength exercises, such as weightlifting, I may opt for a pre-workout drink with more caffeine.

Best Unflavored Pre-workout

Unflavored Pre-workoutRating
Do Vitamins PurePump★★★★★
Naked Nutrition Naked Energy★★★★★
Strong Man Supps Pure Power★★★★☆

Do Vitamins – PurePump

Do Vitamins - PurePump
Do Vitamins – PurePump: powder for pre workout drinks.
Pros
  • Complete amino acid profile
  • Branded ingredients
  • No “extra” ingredients
Cons
  • Contains only 1 gram of creatine

Do Vitamins’ PurePump pre-workout nutrition powder delivers an excellent mix of the most promising ingredients in a workout supplement, including beta-alanine, citrulline malate, and caffeine.

Ingredient quality is a big deal, and so we use branded ingredients when we can. Branded ingredients come with clinical trial data that prove what they do; our 3rd party testing proves that what’s in there is in there, in the amounts we tell you.

Do Vitamins

What I like about Do Vitamins is that they use almost exclusively brand-name ingredients. Despite that, PurePump is the least expensive product I tested. The only negative mark I can assign to PurePump comes from the modest amount of creatine it contains. I would have liked to see 3 to 5 grams, instead of only 1 gram.

PurePump Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
Beta-alanine (CarnoSyn)2g
L-citrulline malate (Kyowa Hakko)2g
L-arginine (AjiPure)500mg
L-carnitine l-tartrate (Carnipure)500mg
L-leucine (AjiPure)500mg
L-isoleucine (AjiPure)250mg
L-valine (AjiPure)250mg
Caffeine (from green tea extract)200mg
Creatine monohydrate (Creapure)1g
Alpha lipoic acid (Alipure)100mg

PurePump does not contain any other ingredients, and is also:

  • Certified vegan
  • Certified paleo friendly
  • Non-GMO
  • KETO certified
  • Gluten free
  • Third-party tested and verified
  • Made in the U.S. with natural ingredients from the U.S., Europe, Japan and China (green tea only)

How Does PurePump Taste?

PurePump doesn’t have flavoring because there is no way to flavor a pre-workout purely, according to our standards.

Do Vitamins

Since PurePump doesn’t contain any sweeteners, it tastes slightly bitter. However, you don’t have to mix PurePump with 30 ounces of water. Think of it as a shot instead of a drink, and the taste won’t be an issue.

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Naked Nutrition – Naked Energy

Naked Nutrition - Naked Energy
Naked Nutrition – Naked Energy Pure Pre-Workout Formula.
Pros
  • Potent amino acid profile
  • Uses branded ingredients
  • No “extra” ingredients
Cons
  • Contains only 1 gram of creatine

As the name implies, Naked Nutrition offers a product without many bells or whistles. Instead, you get a reliable pre-workout supplement that contains the essentials, including 2 grams of beta-alanine and 200 milligrams of caffeine. I just wish Naked Nutrition would have added more creatine to its formula, as that’s important for muscle growth.

Naked Energy Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
Beta-alanine (CarnoSyn)2g
L-arginine (AjiPure)1g
Caffeine from green coffee bean extract200mg
Creatine monohydrate1g

Naked Nutrition uses high-quality amino acids from CarnoSyn (beta-alanine) and AjiPure (L-arginine) in its Naked Energy supplement to ensure their effectiveness.

Naked Energy does not contain any other ingredients, and is also:

  • Made in the U.S.
  • Vegan-friendly
  • Non-GMO
  • Third-party tested for heavy metals

How Does Naked Energy Taste?

Naked Energy doesn’t contain any sweeteners or other ingredients that try to mask the taste of the acids. As a result, the powder tastes a little bitter. Personally, I don’t mind the taste.

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Best Flavored Pre-workout

Flavored Pre-workoutRating
Ascent Pre-Workout★★★★☆
Iron Brothers Natural★★★★☆
Old School Labs Vintage Blast★★★★☆

Ascent – Pre-Workout

Ascent - Pre-Workout
Ascent – Pre-Workout Formula.
Pros
  • Complete amino acid profile (whey)
  • Contains fruit extract as a sweetener
  • 2.5 grams of leucine (BCAA)
Cons
  • Likely contains only a small amount of beta-alanine
  • Does not contain creatine
  • Contains traces of lactose (due to the whey)

Ascent Protein just recently launched a line of natural pre workout supplements. Prior to the release of this product, the company focused solely on protein powders. But considering that one of the primary ingredients in most pre-workout supplements is amino acids (the building blocks of protein), it makes sense to also have a pre-workout product in the lineup.

What I like about Ascent’s natural pre workout mix is that it contains whey protein, which means a complete amino acid profile. Unfortunately, Ascent doesn’t spell out how much of that is beta-alanine, which is arguably the most important amino acid for a pre-workout supplement.

But considering that the pre-workout mix only has 4 grams of protein, I suspect the amount of beta-alanine is likely less than 1 gram.

Instead, Ascent Pre-Workout has 2.5 grams of leucine, the primary branched-chain amino acid (BCAA). But according to my research, leucine has fewer studies that back up its performance-enhancing characteristics than beta-alanine.

Ascent’s pre-workout product comes in two flavors:

  • Watermelon
  • Raspberry Lemonade

Both flavors share the same ingredients, except for the natural flavors.

Ascent Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
Whey protein isolate4g
Leucine2.5g
Coffee fruit extract150mg

I’m still waiting for more information on the exact amino acid profile from Ascent, and I will update the above table once I have it. What I don’t understand is why Ascent opted to put vitamin D2 in the product, instead of the more valuable (for the body) vitamin D3.

Ascent Pre-Workout is also certified gluten-free and informed sport approved.

How Does Ascent Taste?

Ascent makes clever use of monk fruit extract, instead of using stevia as a sweetener. As a result, if you mix the Ascent product into a pre-workout drink, you won’t have the bitter taste of unsweetened products.

Instead, you can choose from a sweet (Watermelon) or tarty flavor (Raspberry Lemonade). I like the fact that Ascent offers two different tastes, but I wish they had an unflavored version, too.

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Iron Brothers – Natural

Iron Brothers - Relentless
Iron Brothers – Natural: Strawberry Kiwi.
Pros
  • Staged formula
  • Good amino acid profile
  • Uses some branded ingredients
Cons
  • Contains only 1.6 grams of beta-alanine
  • Does not contain creatine

What I like about Natural is the staged release of its contents ⁠— especially when it comes to the caffeine. That prevents a crash after the stimulants have worn off… and I feel less of an urge to pee. While Iron Brothers’ product has a decent amino acid profile, it’s a little light on beta-alanine and lacks creatine.

“Natural” Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
Beta-alanine (CarnoSyn)1.6g
L-citrulline malate2g
Betaine anhydrous1.25g
L-carnitine l-tartrate750mg
Taurine1g
Agmatine sulfate500mg
N-acetyl tyrosine750mg
Caffeine anhydrous100mg
Micro-encapsulated caffeine100mg
Theacrine (TeaCrine)60mg
Piperine (BioPerine)5mg

The stage one ingredients deliver pump, boost energy levels, and include:

Stage 1 IngredientsPurpose
L-citrullineReduces fatigue and improves blood flow
Beta-alanineIncreases performance
BetaineProtects the heart
TaurineReduces cramping
Agmatine sulfateDulls pain and increases pump
Caffeine anhydrousStimulant

The stage two ingredients include:

Stage 2 IngredientsPurpose
L-carnitine l-tartrateFat burner (for energy)
Micro-encapsulated caffeineStimulant

Stage three ingredients help you maintain your focus, provide extended energy, and include:

Stage 3 IngredientsPurpose
N-acetyl l-tyrosineReduces stress
TheacrineStimulant

The product is also:

  • Certified vegan
  • Non-GMO
  • Gluten free
  • GMP certified
  • Made in the U.S.

How Does “Natural” Taste?

Despite the usually harsh-tasting TeaCrine, I feel like Natural tastes less bitter than some of the other products I tried.

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Old School Labs – Vintage Blast

Old School Labs - Vintage Blast
Old School Labs – Vintage Blast
Pros
  • Two-stage formula
  • Decent amino acid profile
  • Best taste among reviewed supplements
Cons
  • High price
  • Does not contain creatine
  • Contains only 1.6 grams of beta-alanine

Vintage Blast is a great-tasting pre-workout supplement with premium ingredients that it delivers in two stages. While its amino acid profile is nothing to be embarrassed by, it is a little light on beta-alanine and doesn’t have any creatine at all (which is not ideal if you’re looking to build muscle mass). What I do like about Vintage Blast is its staged delivery ⁠— especially the caffeine.

Few companies can say that they hand-pick each of their ingredients, carefully and patiently waiting for that ingredient’s prime season of maximum potency; harvesting and processing each ingredient carefully to ensure that only the most premium and bio-available ingredients make the cut into their products.

Old School Labs

Vintage Blast Ingredients

Vintage Blast doesn’t deliver all its ingredients at once. The two-stage formula ensures a steadier delivery rate, which works against dependency and helps you power through your workout session and/or competitive events from start to finish.

Key IngredientsAmount
Beta-alanine1g
L-citrulline malate5g
L-arginine AKG1g
L-carnitine tartrate250mg
N-acetyl l-tyrosine250mg
D-aspartic acid2g
Caffeine anhydrous150mg
Micro-encapsulated caffeine100mg

The stage one ingredients help to give you a physical and mental boost to start your workout strong, and include:

Stage 1 IngredientsPurpose
L-citrulline malateReduces fatigue and improves blood flow
Beta-alanineIncreases performance
L-arginine AKGNitric oxide (NO) booster
L-carnitine tartrateFat burner (for energy)
Caffeine anhydrousStimulant

The stage two ingredients help to alleviate stress and increase alertness levels, and include:

Stage 2 IngredientsPurpose
N-acetyl l-tyrosineReduces stress
D-aspartic acidIncreases testosterone
Micro-encapsulated caffeineStimulant

One thing I noticed with Vintage Blast is that I had less of an urge to pee. I assume that’s because the two-stage formula doesn’t deliver all the caffeine at once. Vintage Blast is also:

  • Vegetarian-friendly
  • Non-GMO
  • Gluten free
  • No artificial substances
  • CGMP certified
  • Third-party tested
  • Manufactured in the U.S.

How Does Vintage Blast Taste?

Vintage Blast has the best-tasting product in the mix, due to the stevia and natural pineapple juice powder.

If you’d like to try Vintage Blast, use discount code MIKE12OSL and get 12% off your entire order!

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Rari Nutrition – Infinity

Rari Nutrition - Infinity Blue Raspberry
Rari Nutrition – Infinity: Blue Raspberry Pre-Workout Supplement.
Pros
  • High concentration of citrulline malate (3 grams)
  • Contains piperine to improve absorption
Cons
  • Contains only 1.6 grams of beta-alanine
  • Does not contain creatine
  • Only available with stevia

Rari Nutrition’s Infinity offers a reasonable mix of natural ingredients, including 3 grams of citrulline malate and 175 milligrams of caffeine. It also has piperine to improve the absorption rate of its components. The only downsides of Infinity are the small amount of beta-alanine it contains and its lack of creatine, as those two substances are helpful in building lean muscle.

Our objective in creating Infinity was to develop a pre-workout [supplement] that provided not only a great energy matrix but also a great pump complex while delivering vital elements to the working muscles. Most pre-workout [supplements] on the market are usually underdosed especially in the nitric oxide formulations, and we wanted to make a clinically dosed pre-workout while keeping everything 100% natural.

Rari Nutrition

Infinity Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
N-acetyl l-tyrosine220mg
L-citrulline malate3g
Beta-alanine1.6g
Agmatine sulfate750mg
Caffeine anhydrous175mg
Piperine (BioPerine)2.5g

Rari Nutrition uses BioPerine (a well-known brand of piperine). The product is also:

  • GMP Certified
  • Non-GMO
  • Gluten free
  • Made in the U.S.

Taste

Infinity has a sweeter taste compared to some of the other products I tested. That’s because the product contains the natural sweetener stevia extract. I tried the Blue Raspberry flavor, but it also comes in Sour Gummy Worm and Strawberry Lemonade.

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Strong Man Supps – Pure Power

Strong Man Supps - Pure Power
Strong Man Supps – Pure Power Unflavored Pre-Workout Mix.
Pros
  • High concentration of naturally-occurring stimulants
  • Contains 2 grams of beta-alanine
  • Includes 5 grams of creatine
Cons
  • The amount of caffeine may be too much for some athletes
  • Unbranded ingredients

Strong Man Supps developed a natural pre-workout supplement that is explicitly targeted at competitive weightlifters and powerlifting athletes. Dr. Ray Hope, an Australian National Champion powerlifter (and pound-for-pound Australia’s strongest man) supports and guides the company.

Strong Man Supps’ product, Pure Power, is one of the most potent natural pre-workout supplements on the market.

What I like about Pure Power is its focus on scientifically-supported ingredients, including beta-alanine, creatine and caffeine.

I tried Pure Power over the last few weeks, prior to my early-morning CrossFit workouts, and I can confirm that it wipes off the last signs of “pillow face.” In other words, it contains a potent mix of naturally-occurring stimulants, which can be an advantage for weightlifting types of exercises (which are part of most CrossFit workouts and high-intensity interval training sessions).

Plus, the high caffeine content makes your heart beat faster, which could encourage fat loss. But if you’re sensitive to caffeine ⁠— or to stimulants in general ⁠— you may want to reduce the amount of Pure Power you take before metabolic conditioning (met-con) workouts.

Otherwise, your heart rate may go up too far and you won’t recover during those short breaks that are common in met-con workouts. I would also discourage you from using any other stimulants together with Pure Power ⁠— especially those with caffeine content (even if that’s just a cup of coffee).

Pure Power is available in two versions:

  • Unflavored
  • Raspberry Limeade

Pure Power Ingredients

Both the flavored and unflavored versions of Pure Power have the following ingredients in common:

Key IngredientsAmount
Beta alanine2g
Green tea leaf extract300mg
Guarana seed extract300mg
Creatine monohydrate5g
Asian ginseng root extract1g
Sour cherry fruit extract480mg
Gingko leaf extract300mg
Rhodiola rosea root extract220mg

The flavored version has the following additional ingredients:

  • Stevia leaf extract (sweetener)
  • Pineapple fruit powder (flavor)
  • Citric acid (flavor)
  • Grape fruit powder (flavor)

Strong Man Supps manufactures Pure Power in a GMP certified facility in the United States.

How Does Pure Power Taste?

The unflavored version of Pure Power tastes pretty harsh, but no worse than some of the other unflavored supplements in this review.

I don’t mind that taste. But if you do, you can just mix it with a bit of your favorite fruit juice. Alternatively, you can opt for the flavored version of Pure Power, which tastes good but uses stevia as a sweetener.

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Best Keto Pre-Workout

Keto Pre-WorkoutRating
Perfect Keto Perform★★★★★

Perfect Keto – Perform

Perfect Keto - Perform Keto Sports Drink
Perfect Keto – Perform Keto sports drink.
Pros
  • High in electrolytes
  • Contains MCT and BHB
  • Good amounts of amino acids and creatine
  • Less caffeine than other pre-workouts
Cons
  • Has calories and breaks your fast
  • Price

Perfect Keto’s Perform – Keto sports drink is geared towards athletes who follow a ketogenic diet.

While on keto, your body uses ketone bodies (which are obtained from dietary fat) for energy, rather than glucose. One common side effect of keto diets is lower electrolyte levels, which you need to replenish by eating more salt and other minerals.

That’s why Perfect Keto’s pre-workout contains extra sodium, calcium and magnesium, as well as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and a blend of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) — a ketone body. The latter provides extra energy to fuel workouts.

Besides the keto-specific ingredients, this keto sports drink also offers the right amount of classic amino acids and lower amounts of caffeine than some other similar options.

The only disadvantage of Perfect Keto’s pre-workout is that it has calories, due to the MCTs and BHB blend. That means you can’t have it while fasting (without breaking your fast).

Perform Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
Calcium460mg
Magnesium250mg
Sodium500mg
MCT4.5g
Creatine monohydrate2g
BCAA2g
Beta-alanine1.5g
L-citrulline500mg
Natural caffeine (VegiSurge)50mg
BHB blend7.7g

How Does “Perform” Taste?

Perform contains a natural lemon flavor and stevia to sweeten it. I like the taste and I’m sure you’ll find the citrus/stevia combination delicious, too!

Check Price*

Make sure to use Perfect Keto discount code MK15 to get 15% off your order.

Best Pre-Workout Without Caffeine

Pre-Workout Without CaffeineRating
Genius PRE★★★★★
Ketōnd ketōstax Strength & Endurance Blend★★★★★

Genius – PRE

Genius Pre Workout Powder
Genius Pre Workout Powder.
Pros
  • Caffeine-free
  • Potent blend of amino acids
  • Contains natural nootropics
  • Uses branded and clinically-tested ingredients
Cons
  • Doesn’t contain creatine

Genius PRE is unique because it takes both mind and body into account. That’s a smart strategy because workout performance is as much a mental issue as a physiological one.

As a result, PRE contains not only a potent mix of amino acids, but also a clinically-proven blend of ingredients that can help unlock the power of your mind.

PRE Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
CarnoSyn beta-alanine2g
Citrulline malate 2:16g
Betaine anhydrous2g
L-tyrosine1g
L-arginine1g
Taurine1g
AlphaSize (an advanced choline compound that enhances brain metabolism)600mg
A-hydroxyisocaproic acid (a metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine)500mg
ElevATP (increases levels of endogenous ATP)150mg
Rhodiola rosea root100mg
Theobromine (a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant)30mg
AstraGin (promotes absorption, microbiota population and immune functions)25mg
Huperzia serrata (nootropic)10mg

What I really like about PRE is that it improves cognitive function without the use of strong stimulants, such as caffeine.

Instead, it contains an advanced choline compound that enhances brain metabolism, as well as huperzia serrata — a natural nootropic (a cognitive enhancer) often used in Chinese medicine.

How Does PRE Taste?

PRE is available as Grape Limeade or Sour Apple, and both taste delicious.

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Ketōnd – Ketōstax

Ketōnd - Ketōstax Strength & Endurance
Ketōnd – Ketōstax Strength & Endurance pre-workout nutrition formula.
Pros
  • Potent amino acid profile
  • 5 grams of creatine
  • No “extra” ingredients
  • Available with or without exogenous ketone bodies
  • Available with or without caffeine
Cons
  • Only available in vanilla flavor

Ketōstax Strength & Endurance is currently my favorite formula for pre-workout drinks because it contains plenty of key amino acids and creatine but no stimulants.

To me, the lack of caffeine is an advantage because I’m trying to keep my heart rate low during CrossFit workouts. The good news is that ketōstax is also available as a metabolic accelerator formula that contains caffeine and other stimulants (which can be helpful if your goal is fat loss).

Ketōstax Ingredients

Key IngredientsAmount
Creatine monohydrate5g
Citrulline malate 2:13g
L-leucine3g
Beta alanine2g

How Does Ketōstax Taste?

Ketōstax is delicious, despite its subtle vanilla flavor! Personally, I don’t mind vanilla… but I wouldn’t be upset if they introduced a chocolate flavor.

Check Price*

Make sure to use Ketōnd discount code MK15 to get 15% off your order.

Download Comparison Table

So which of these is the best pre workout choice? Well, that depends on your specific goals and preferences. To make the choice easier, I created a reference table as shown below.

Given the size of the table and the available screen space, especially on mobile devices, I decided to create a more detailed PDF that you can request via email using the form below.

Pre workout supplements comparison table

What Is the Best Pre Workout Supplement?

There may not be a “best pre workout supplement,” because every athlete is different and has their own preferences. Plus, as you can tell from the table above, many of the best natural pre workout options are quite similar in composition.

Based on the research I conducted, you can’t go wrong with any of the products in this review. In the end, it boils down to your taste preferences, the type of exercise you do, and your overall lifestyle.

Considering my requirements and dietary lifestyle, I usually go with Ketōnd. When I need a product with caffeine, I choose Do Vitamins or Naked Nutrition.

Before discovering Ketōnd, if I wanted a stimulant free supplementation for high-intensity workouts, I mixed my own pre-workout shake using creatine powder and beta alanine. See below for dosage recommendations.

How to Make a Pre-Workout Drink at Home

Naked Nutrition - Creatine Monohydrate
Key Ingredient: creatine monohydrate.

Making a pre-workout shake, smoothie or drink at home is merely a matter of sourcing the individual ingredients you would like and mixing them. If you’re not sure where to start or what ingredients to pick, here are my two recommendations for pre-workout drinks. Caffeine is optional with both.

Basic Preworkout Drink

IngredientsCost Per Serving
Creatine monohydrate* 5g$0.09
Beta-alanine powder* 3g$0.58
Citrulline powder* 3g$0.08
Caffeine powder* 200mg$0.01
Total$0.76

Complete Pre-Workout Drink

Do Vitamins BCAA Powder
Do Vitamins’ BCAA Powder.
IngredientsCost Per Serving
BCAA powder* 5g$1.00
Creatine monohydrate* 5g$0.09
Beta-alanine powder* 3g$0.58
Citrulline powder* 3g$0.08
Arginine powder* 2.6g$0.10
Caffeine powder* 200mg$0.01
Total$1.86

Note: The cost per serving is an estimate based on the price of the product divided by the number of servings it contains if you use the amount in the table above. For some products, I chose a larger container size to lower the price per serving.

Pros and Cons of a Home-Made Pre-Workout Supplement

Pros
  • Full control over ingredients
  • Ability to tweak the potency of stimulants
  • It’s fun to make your own
  • Potentially less expensive
Cons
  • You have to do some research about the ingredients
  • Using branded ingredients may wipe out potential savings
  • It’s extra work

The advantage of making a pre-workout drink is that you control the amount of each element.

For example, all the pre-workout supplements I tested contained caffeine. As such, I can’t take them when I work out in the evening, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to sleep. (And as regular readers of this blog know, I protect my sleep like my life depends on it.)

Being able to skip or (at least) reduce the amount of caffeine in my pre-workout drink is a huge advantage for me.

Pre-Workout Ingredients To Avoid

Extra Ingredients of Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
Additional ingredients of Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy.

Most pre-workout supplements have, to varying degrees, at least a couple of extra ingredients that I don’t particularly care for, including:

  • Artificial flavors and/or artificial colors
  • Sucralose (an artificial sweetener)
  • Acesulfame-potassium (another artificial sweetener)
  • Maltodextrin (sugar ⁠— note that the carbs will kick you out of ketosis)
  • Gums (xantham gum, etc.)

Additionally, some of the products don’t declare in detail how much of each ingredient they contain. For example, the label of Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy shows a 5-gram amino blend, without spelling out how much of each amino acid it contains.

Ingredients of Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
Ingredients of Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy.

Inspecting and carefully reading the labels of the products we buy is part of the routine we established when we started with the paleo diet a few years ago.

As a result, I not only look at the “active ingredients” list, but I also pay special attention to the “extra ingredients” on supplement labels.

Artificial Flavors and Artificial Colors

While artificial flavors and colors may be harmless, it’s a sign that the manufacturer didn’t care about using exclusively natural ingredients, which are usually more expensive.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have long been thought of as safe for human consumption because they don’t cause an insulin response or increase blood glucose levels.

However, a recent study (full PDF abstract) has shown that the use of sweeteners, such as Sucralose or acesulfame-potassium, may change how the body reacts to glucose (for example, after eating carbohydrates).

In layman’s terms, if you consume a lot of sweeteners, your body may get used to the fact that “sweet” doesn’t mean it needs to release insulin. So, when you eat carbohydrates and your body converts them into glucose, it may respond inappropriately by not releasing enough insulin.

That can increase the risk of developing Type-2 diabetes. As a result, I recommend staying away from artificial sweeteners and any products that contain them.

Sugars

⁠I think that, no matter your particular dietary persuasion, we can all agree that added sugars (like maltodextrin) are bad for your health

Unhealthy Pre-Workout Powders

The supplement industry is highly unregulated. That means manufacturers can claim pretty much anything they want to claim regarding the benefits of their products and their ingredients.

If you combine a lack of regulation and oversight with high profit margins, you end up with a lot of cheaply-made products that contain ingredients that are often of low quality and ineffective. That’s why you have to be careful when buying supplements.

Avoid products with proprietary blends and other components that manufacturers cannot back up with scientific evidence of their effectiveness.

Now, let’s look at some of the most popular pre-workout supplements you can find on Amazon, and why you should stay away from them.

Cellucor C4

Cellucor C4
Cellucor C4.
Good
  • 1.6 grams of beta-alanine
  • 1 gram of creatine
  • 1 gram of arginine
Bad
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Artificial flavors and colors

BSN Endorush Energy & Performance

BSN Endorush Energy & Performance
BSN Endorush Energy & Performance.
Good
  • 1.6 grams of beta-alanine
  • 4 grams of creatine
  • 1.5 grams of arginine
  • 1.5 grams of citrulline
Bad
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Artificial flavors and colors

Six Star Explosion

Six Star Explosion
Six Star Explosion.
Good
  • 1.5 grams of beta-alanine
  • 1.5 grams of creatine
  • 1.1 grams of arginine
Bad
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Sugar
  • Artificial flavors and colors
  • Obscure blends

Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy

Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy.
Bad
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Artificial flavors and colors
  • Gums
  • Obscure blends

Frequently Asked Questions

When should you take your pre workout?

Most natural pre-workout formulas come in powders that you can mix with a few ounces of water and drink 15-30 minutes before a workout. That’s a good rule of thumb based on the most common ingredients of pre-workout drinks.

There are some ingredients that you could take up to an hour before workout, but I would not worry about that too much. Plus, it’s often hard to time when the most intensive part of your workout will happen.

At my box, we usually warm up for 15 minutes, then work on strength exercises before starting the Workout of the Day (WOD). As a result, I drink my pre-workout right before I leave home ⁠— and I live about five minutes away from my box.

What are the best pre-workout meals?

People spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the “best” pre-workout meals are, depending on their fitness goals and type of exercise activity. But to be honest, I don’t pay very much attention to what I eat before a workout. That’s because I consume a healthy, nutrient-dense diet that gives my body everything it needs to thrive.

As a result, I don’t feel the need to pick a specific protein to consume prior to lifting weights (for example). I’m confident that my body already has what it needs to promote muscle growth ⁠— especially if I supplement with one of the high-quality products listed above.

What is your favorite pre-workout snack?

Most of the time, I don’t feel the need to eat anything before my workout. But if I am feeling a little bit hungry, I have a couple of go-to options for a pre-workout snack. I might opt for a keto meal replacement shake, reducing the amount I consume so as to get just enough fuel to satisfy my hunger (but not more). Or I might opt for an organic, pasture-raised meat snack from Wild Zora (read my review here), as I almost always have a few in my backpack.

Can I use energy drinks instead of a pre-workout powder?

I suppose you could, but you don’t want to. Energy drinks are usually filled with crappy (artificial) ingredients that won’t help you during exercise. The only potentially useful element they contain is caffeine.

If you drink a cup of coffee, you get the same effect ⁠— plus all the other micronutrients real coffee provides.

Are high caffeine products better?

Not necessarily. It depends on what type of exercise you’re doing! While a little caffeine can help you for endurance work, consume too much of it and your heart rate can get out of control.

For CrossFit or other high-intensity interval training programs, I recommend no more than 200mg. On most days, I use Ketōnd’s ketostax* because it doesn’t have any stimulants at all.

Why are natural workout supplements, without artificial ingredients, better?

Beyond sleep and regular exercise, food has a significant impact on our health and well-being. From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies aren’t used to many of the processed foods we eat today. That triggers inflammation, which, in the long run, causes metabolic diseases.

As a result, I recommend staying away from any products that contain artificial and other highly-processed substances. And whenever possible, opt for foods and products containing organic ingredients.

Why should you avoid popular pre-workout powders, such as Cellucor C4, BSN Endorush, Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy, Six Star Explosion, or Kaged Muscle?

You should stay away from those products because they contain unhealthy and inflammatory ingredients that won’t improve your athletic performance but will increase your risk of developing a chronic disease.

Is C4 pre workout good?

In my (perhaps not so) humble opinion, C4 is a crap product with low-quality and inflammatory ingredients — even if exceptional athletes like Mat Fraser and Brooke Wells endorse it.

I seriously doubt they’re actually using C4 — they just endorse it for financial reasons. When I pointed that out to Mat Fraser on Instagram, he blocked me. So, I guess I was right…

What are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)?

BCAAs are a group of amino acids that include leucine, valine and isoleucine. Out of those three, leucine has shown to be the most beneficial to improve exercise performance.

Will pre workout supplements make it harder to sleep?

If the pre workout supplement contains caffeine or other stimulants, it may impact your sleep. That’s why I recommend going with a stimulant-free option if your workout is in the afternoon.

Can you become addicted to pre workout?

Caffeine and other stimulants are habit-forming. So in a way, you can become “addicted.” There is also a mental component of feeling that you need a pre-workout supplement, or you won’t perform well.

Keep in mind that no product ⁠— not even the best pre workout drink in the world ⁠— can significantly impact your physical performance. So don’t feel like you won’t perform if you didn’t take any workout supplements before hitting the gym.

How long does it take for preworkout to wear off?

Every ingredient in pre workouts gets metabolized at a different rate. That rate differs between individuals. As a rule of thumb, you can expect most of the effects to wear off within an hour or two.

Is it bad to drink a pre workout and not work out?

No, but it won’t help you either — except that you might be more alert if the supplement you took contains stimulants.

Should you be doing fasted cardio?

I intermittently fast almost every day and I often work out in the morning, before my fast has ended. I really like the feeling of lightness in my stomach. Many professional athletes, such as former CrossFit champion Jason Khalipa, do it too (as I recently learned from a podcast he was on).

What should I drink during and after a workout?

To learn more about workout hydration, check out this article I wrote on the subject. In that article, you’ll also find good options for post-workout recovery.

Can pre-workouts help with weight loss?

Pre-workout supplements can certainly assist with any weight loss goals you might have. However, more important are a healthy diet, enough quality sleep and a continued exercise regimen.

One of the healthiest ways to achieve long-lasting, sustainable weight loss is by adopting a nutrient-dense low-carb diet. I adhere to the ketogenic paleo diet, and I’d start there if you’re looking to shed pounds.

What is beta-alanine?

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that produces carnosine, which is stored in the skeletal muscles. Carnosine helps prevent lactic acid from building up in your muscles, which can reduce soreness, speed up recovery time, and generally improve your overall workout results (especially when it comes to strength training).

What are non-essential amino acids?

A non-essential amino acid is one that the body can synthesize instead of having to get it from the food you eat. Each of the following is a non-essential amino acid:

⁠— alanine
⁠— arginine
⁠— asparagine
⁠— aspartic acid
⁠— cysteine
⁠— glutamic acid
⁠— glutamine
⁠— glycine
⁠— proline
⁠— serine
⁠— tyrosine

Are there other popular pre-workout products you didn’t mention here, and what do you think about them?

There are dozens, if not hundreds. Some of the products I’m most frequently asked about are Vega Sport Preworkout, Red Leaf Preworkout, and Fitmass Ignite, which also offers a line of pre-workout supplements for women. I have not tried or researched these products, but the analysis I offer above should give you a framework for determining their quality and potential effectiveness.

Best Natural Pre-Workout Supplements

Workout Supplements - Everything You Need to Know!
Click on the image to watch the video on YouTube.

Before I started writing this article, I knew very little about pre-workout supplements (or most other types of supplements, for that matter). But I can say that I have learned a lot about the effects of individual ingredients and why they make sense in performance boosting supplements.

I have also confirmed what should have been clear from the beginning: supplements are only effective if you work hard and push your body to its limit. Also, you get what you pay for. Cheap products usually contain cheap and often ineffective ingredients.

Now that I know what I know, I will stick to natural pre-workout supplements as part of my CrossFit routine and avoid any products with artificial ingredients.

Last but not least, keep in mind that workout supplements, as the name implies, supplement your diet. As such, they are no replacement for bad dietary habits!

If you’re a manufacturer of natural workout supplement and think your product should be listed here, please drop me a note.

6 thoughts on “Best Natural Pre-Workout Supplements Review”

  1. Hey, thanks for all of the info! I have a question…will using Vintage Blast during my morning workout break my fast? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Henry,

      From a practical perspective, non-caloric pre-workouts don’t break your fast. Of course, purists who only drink water and nothing else during periods of fasting, might have a different opinion. But that’s more of an ideological than metabolically issue :)

      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  2. Good article Michael. I would like to know how effective you thought each pre-workout was for crossfit style training. You might also want to look at Pure Power from Strong Man Supps. It has only recently been released and was specifically designed for strength and power athletes like crossfit, powerlifting, and weightlifting. I’ll send you a email.

    Reply

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