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Do I Need to Take a Pre-Workout Supplement?

Two athletes in a photo behind two bottle of pre-workout
Legion Athletics/Garden of Life/Evlution

If you’re joining a gym or starting an exercise program, you’re probably wondering if you need to take a pre-workout. These supplements have been hailed by gym rats everywhere as the best way to power through tough workouts, but are they really necessary?

The short answer is it really depends on the individual. Here’s everything you need to know about pre-workouts, along with some of our top suggestions.

What Is a Pre-Workout?

A man taking a drink after a workout at the gym.

A pre-workout is a supplement that increases your energy levels and athletic performance. They usually come in powder form, although you can also find them in tablets, beverages, and food.

Pre-workouts usually contain several ingredients, but some products can have dozens of supplements in the same package. Some of the most common ingredients you’ll see include caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine.

Caffeine, of course, boosts energy levels and can make you feel more motivated to work out. Creatine is an amino acid that increases muscle endurance and can help you complete more reps of an exercise.

Beta-alanine is another amino acid believed to support muscle endurance, although current science suggests it can take weeks to build up a supply in your body large enough to notice any serious results.

Other ingredients in pre-workouts that might be helpful include nitric oxide precursors, like L-citrulline and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Both of these have been shown to potentially improve athletic performance, although more evidence is necessary for experts to determine their effectiveness.

Of all the pre-workout ingredients, caffeine and creatine have been studied the most extensively. Both are considered safe and effective in small doses, although caffeine can be habit-forming.

Do Pre-Workouts Have Side Effects?

A man with a headache at the gym.

All supplements have potential side effects, but those you might experience when taking a pre-workout will depend largely on the ingredients in the product you choose. Caffeine, for example, can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, and headaches.

Some other common side effects of pre-workouts include nausea, digestive issues, increased heart rate, and tingling in your hands and feet. Of course, these will be unique to each person, as everyone has a different tolerance level for the most common pre-workout ingredients.

This is why when trying a pre-workout for the first time, it’s a good idea to choose a product that has a short ingredient list and clearly states how much of each is contained in each serving. Many contain “proprietary blends,” which means it’s unclear how much of each ingredient you’ll be ingesting.

Once you’ve determined your tolerance level for various ingredients and confirmed that you don’t experience any adverse side effects, you can introduce new products to your exercise routine.

It’s also important to note that pre-workouts, like many supplements, aren’t regulated by the FDA. The safest pre-workout products are tested by third-party organizations, like the NSF or Informed Choice.

Warning: It’s always best to speak to a physician before taking any supplements, especially if you have allergies, or any underlying health conditions or concerns.

Is a Pre-Workout Necessary?

Taking a pre-workout isn’t a requirement for exercising or working out. Many people, including professional athletes, don’t use them. However, they can be useful for those who could use an extra boost of energy.

They can also be helpful for serious athletes or weightlifters who are trying to increase muscle mass and want to power through a few extra reps during each set.

If you’re hesitant about taking a pre-workout supplement but still need an energy boost when exercising, there are alternatives. For example, a small snack containing carbohydrates will quickly break down and give you extra energy. A banana, some oatmeal, or a smoothie are all good options.

Don’t want to eat before working out? No problem! Just drink a cup of coffee or green tea for a quick energy boost.

If you do decide to try a pre-workout supplement, you’ll quickly discover that there are hundreds of products out there. We’ve selected some options to help you choose the best product based on your level of fitness, exercise goals, and more.

Best for Beginners: Alani Nu Pre-Workout

Several white, pink, and blue containers of pre-workout
Alani Nu

In addition to tasting really good, the Alani Nu Pre-Workout has a short list of ingredients and no proprietary blends. This means you’ll know exactly how much of each ingredient you’re ingesting. It’s a great option for beginners or people who are hesitant to buy a maxed-out product.

This pre-workout has also been tested for banned substances and manufactured in a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) compliant facility, so you can feel good about what’s inside. Although it’s marketed to women, this product is also effective for men.

Best for Beginners

Alani Nu Pre-Workout Supplement Powder

You'll know exactly what you're getting with this transparent, tasty product.

Best for Muscle Growth: ATHLEAN-RX X-Cite Pre-Workout

Four black and green, orange, and blue containers of pre-workout

Hundreds of the positive reviews for ATHLEAN-RX X-Cite Pre-Workout rave about how it doesn’t cause side effects, like nausea, jitters, or post-workout crashes. Without those, you can focus on powering through a few extra reps during each workout.

This brand uses thoroughly research ingredients that have been shown to improve athletic performance and lead to muscle growth. It also contains a clear ingredients list with no proprietary blends.

Best for Runners: Legion Pulse Pre-Workout Supplement

A smiling man and a black and pink container of pre-workout
Legion Athletics

Runners and cardio buffs don’t necessarily need muscle-enhancing ingredients, like creatine, in their pre-workout supplements. This is why Legion’s Pulse Pre-Workout Supplement is a good choice. It doesn’t contain any creatine, but does provide a hefty dose of caffeine for extra energy.

This product also contains sodium and potassium, which can prevent muscle cramps during and/or after a long run. It also comes with a guarantee that if you don’t love the product, you can get your money back. It’s ideal for runners, joggers, hikers, and anyone else who does endurance-based exercises.

Best for Runners

Legion Pulse Pre Workout Supplement

Keep going and going and going with this endurance-boosting product.

Best for Vegans: Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Energy

Two silver bottles of pre-workout on a gray background
Garden of Life

The fitness industry isn’t the best at catering to vegans, so vegan-friendly pre-workouts are a bit limited. We like Garden of Life’s Sport Organic Plant-Based Energy because it’s made from plant-based ingredients and is certified by the USDA as organic. It’s also gluten-, dairy-, and soy-free.

This powder also includes organic vegetables, like kale, spinach, and beets, to give you a natural boost of long-lasting energy. But the cherry on top is it’s sugar-free and won’t spike your blood sugar, like some other pre-workout products.

Best for Vegans

Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Energy + Focus Pre-Workout Powder

Get an all-natural boost with this plant-based product.

Best Caffeine-Free Option: The Genius Brand Pre-Workout Powder

A woman does gymnastics and an orange and white container of pre-workout
The Genius Brand

While caffeine offers a powerful energy boost, it comes with negative side effects for some people. If you don’t like the racing heart, jitteriness, and anxiety that accompanies caffeine, but still want to improve your athletic performance, there are caffeine-free options.

The Genius Brand Powder is one of the top-rated pre-workouts on Amazon, and it also happens to be caffeine-free. With ingredients like taurine and l-citrulline, you can improve your muscle endurance and recovery without caffeine. This product is also third-party tested for purity and potency.

Best Caffeine-Free Option

The Genius Brand Pre-Workout Powder

Skip the jitters during your workout.

Tastiest: Evlution Nutrition ENGN Pre-Workout

An athlete stands with her hands on her hips and a blue and black container of pre-workout

If you’ve never used a pre-workout before, one of the first (and worst) surprises you’ll get is the taste. Due to ingredients like caffeine, creatine, and BCAAs, these supplements often have a bitter, metallic flavor that’s not too different from battery acid.

While flavor most likely isn’t your only criteria when selecting a pre-workout, you definitely want a product you won’t have to force down every morning.

Evlution’s Nutrition ENGN Pre-Workouts are known for their tasty flavors, which can be a real rarity. They’re also excellent for energy boosts and muscle endurance throughout your workouts.


Evlution Nutrition ENGN Pre-Workout

A pre-workout that actually tastes good.

Pre-workout supplements can help boost your athletic performance or maximize your workouts, but they aren’t for everyone. Whether you’re heading back to the gym after a long break or starting an exercise program for the first time, one of these supplements could be helpful.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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