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Best pre-workout supplements, per a personal trainer

By Published On: June 13, 202411.6 min readViews: 1360 Comments on Best pre-workout supplements, per a personal trainer

Going for the gains this summer? It doesn’t come without a price.

If you’re currently on your get-fit-quick gym journey, you’ve probably already realized it’s harder than it looks. To build muscle, you’ll need to commit to a routine, up your protein intake, lift heavier, and get in some cardio. Perhaps, your goals are less aesthetic, and you’re simply hoping to get outside and move around more, go for a run, or take that pilates class you keep pushing back.

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Whether you’re training for a triathlon or trying to energize for that 5-K you sort of regret signing up for, you’ll want to consider one thing — incorporating a pre-workout supplement. But, what exactly is a pre-workout powder, you ask? Nowadays, increasingly popular formulas like Ryse, C4, and Amino Lean seem to be in every gym-fluencers bag, which begs the question of whether they should be in yours too. The Post consulted Michael Vouvounas, Personal Training Lead at Life Time Fitness in New York City, for the down-low on these supplements.

“A pre-workout is designed to enhance athletic performance, increase energy levels, and improve focus during exercise sessions,” explained Vouvounas. “It usually contains a combination of ingredients such as caffeine, amino acids, creatine, and vitamins to provide an energy boost before your workout.”

Vouvounas has provided more guidance for anyone looking to find the best pre-workout supplement below. Jump below for more information regarding using pre-workouts, as well as some tricks for avoiding side effects.

Amazon
Pros:
  • The potent formula peeks performance
  • Transparent labeling
  • Variety of flavors to choose from
  • No artificial dyes
Cons:
  • Some reviewers mention it could be more difficult to dissolve

Caffeine: 200 mg

Citrulline malate: 4 grams

Servings: 30

Vouvounas had little to critique about Bucked Up, which is among the most popular blends for pumping and lifting. The formula contains a large down of citrulline malate among other boosters for a strong, lasting spurt of energy. “Bucked Up stands out for its transparent labeling and 200 mg of caffeine for enhanced performance and endurance. A big plus is the variety of flavors and the absence of artificial dyes,” shared Vouvounas.



Best pre-workout supplements, per a personal trainer
Amazon
Pros:
  • High caffeine and citrulline malate for peek performance
  • Adds coconut water powder for extra hydration
Cons:
  • Some artificial sweeteners and flavoring are added

Caffeine: 200 mg

Citrulline malate: 4.5 grams

Servings: 30

Ryse combines all the necessary elements of a solid pre-workout (caffeine and citrulline malate), but it’s also loaded with coconut water powder for added hydration. “it offers a blend of performance-enhancing ingredients, including 6 grams of citrulline malate and 200 mg of caffeine, which are good for maximizing pump and energy levels,” noted Vouvounas. “Including coconut water powder for hydration is a plus, but the artificial flavors and sweeteners may deter some users.”



A white container with a pink label
Amazon
Pros:
  • Zero-sugar, vegan-friendly, and gluten-free
  • Combines with essential amino acids
Cons:
  • Less caffeine than some other pre-workouts (better for a lighter boost)

Caffeine: 125 mg

Citrulline malate: N/A

Servings: 30

There’s plenty Vouvounas likes about Amino Lean. However, he’s advised it’s best for those looking for lighter energy boosts. “I like that Amino Lean combines essential amino acids with natural caffeine and green tea extract, ” shared Vouvounas. “However, the proprietary blend makes it tough to know the exact dosage of each ingredient. With 125 mg of caffeine per serving, it’s a good (not great) energy boost. It’s good enough to be endorsed by Alix Earle.”



A yellow container filled with grapes
Amazon
Pros:
  • Variety of flavors
  • Solid amount of caffeine for energy
  • Supplemented with vitamins C, B, B6, and B12
Cons:
  • It could cause some tingles or jittering (per reviews)

Caffeine: 150 mg

Citrulline malate: 6 grams

Servings: 30

Vouvounas has used C4 and says it works great for many people, but there are a few considerations to note. “C4 is a popular choice known for its wide range of flavors and being available everywhere,” he shared. “With 150 mg of caffeine per serving, it provides a solid energy boost suitable for most users. However, the proprietary blend raises concerns about ingredient transparency. Also, some may find the beta-alanine tingling sensation uncomfortable.” Vouvounas hasn’t had a problem with tingling.



A white container with a yellow label
Amazon
Pros:
  • Vegan-friendly
  • Reviewers suggest this provides steady energy without a crash
  • Full disclosure on the label
Cons:
  • Limited flavors (though the sour patch variety is unique)
  • Strong flavor

Caffeine: 200 mg

Citrulline malate: 4 grams

Servings: 30

Vouvounas pointed out that this 200 mg powder could be a bit of a splurge, but it’s got quite a few factors that make it worth the buy. “Ghost stands out for its flavors and ingredient transparency,” shared Vouvounas. “With 4 grams of  L-citrulline and 200 mg of caffeine per serving, it delivers a good pump and high energy. However, the higher price point and limited availability of certain flavors may be drawbacks for some users.” Reviewers suggest this formula provides steady energy, without the crash associated with some other formulas.



A plastic container with a label
Amazon
Pros:
  • Fun flavors like shaved ice, mimosa, and blue slushy
  • Transparent ingredients
Cons:
  • Naturally and artificially flavored

Caffeine: 200

Citrulline malate: N/A

Servings: 30

Vouvounas suggests the Alani Nu Pre-workout for anyone with a pickier palette. The creative range of sugar-free flavors, like Hawaiian Shaved Ice, Witch’s Brew, and Mimosa are a huge draw for someone with a sweet tooth (who is still trying to avoid real sugar.) With 200 mg of caffeine, you should also expect a solid energy boost. The transparent labeling notes that the formula uses both “natural and artificial” flavors, which could be a drawback for someone with a cleaner diet.



A white container with a blue label and blueberries
Amazon
Pros:
  • No artificial ingredients or fillers
  • Blends easily into liquid (per reviews)
  • Trusted by athletes
Cons:
  • Some people mentioned getting nauseous when using more than directed

Caffeine: 200 mg

Citrulline malate: 4 grams

Servings: 30

Raw’s Essential pre-workout is adequate for people of any physique level, though it’s trusted (and loved) by many hardcore athletes. “This is named after and endorsed by professional bodybuilder Chris Bumstead, which should add credibility to the product and suggest it’s made with the needs of serious athletes,” shared Vouvounas. “200 mg of caffeine means it will give you the energy you need to get through a heavy lifting session.”



A black plastic container with a yellow label
Amazon
Pros:
  • Lack of creatine could help ease stomach problems
  • Mixes well into liquid (per reviews)
Cons:
  • Only two flavors
  • The amount of caffeine could be too strong for some users

Caffeine: 350 mg

Citrulline malate: 10 grams

Servings: 30

Vouvounas has recommended Gorilla Mode for anyone who can tolerate it. The super strong formula would be ideal for hardcore gym rats. “Using L citrulline and having 350 mg of caffeine per serving for maximum pump and energy. However, 350 grams of caffeine may be way too intense for some users,” he warned. “The lack of flavor options and higher price points could be drawbacks for some. But if you can handle that caffeine and want intense energy for a workout, this would be for you.”



A black container with a red lid and fruit on it
Amazon
Pros:
  • No artificial colors or flavors
  • Wide variety of flavors to choose from
Cons:
  • Formula be too intense for some with the high caffeine dose

Caffeine: 250 mg

Citrulline malate: 6 grams

Servings: 30

If you have a hard time finding a flavor you like, you may as well start with Total War. It carries dozens of choices, so you find your perfect fit. But, Vouvounas has suggested it’s got a few more great qualities. “Total War offers a solid blend of performance-enhancing ingredients, including six grams of citrulline malate and 250 mg of caffeine per serving. The variety of flavors and the absence of artificial colors and flavors are also positive. However, the beta-alanine tingling sensation and the high dose of caffeine could make some users nervous.”


More gym supplements we recommend


A group of bottles with labels
Amazon

Another great pre-workout trick is to stock up on the electrolytes. These tablets can be popped into any drink for a delightfully fizzy flavor, while also enhancing your workout and helping you stay hydrated — especially important with all that water you’ll be sweating away. The formula uses no artificial flavors, instead, it’s sweetened with high-quality Stevia. Plus, it’s keto-friendly. 



A group of bottles of water
Amazon

Get the lift you need. Fifty calories, zero sugar, 10 grams of whey protein, B vitamins, plenty of electrolytes, and no chalky texture. It almost seems impossible that these drinks satisfy all these requirements simultaneously, but they do. You can enjoy a PWR drink before or after a workout to amplify energy, stay fueled, and curb cravings. The variety pack is stocked with refreshing, punchy flavors like Lemon Lime and Orange Mango.



A group of boxes of candy
Aloha

Say Aloha to your new favorite protein bars. These delicious bites are high in protein and low in sugar. It’s tricky for paleo-friendly people to find an adequate supply of protein — Aloha fits the bill. They’re packed with 14 grams of plant-based protein per serving at just over 200 calories. Plus, the variety pack comes with a sampling of decadent flavors like Chocolate Mint, Double Fudge Brownie, and Coconut Chocolate.



box of energy gels
Amazon

Searching for an organic source of energy? Honey Stinger has your back. This smooth gel pack is loaded with none but honey — a simple ingredient that is easy to digest and absorbs fast to help elevate your performance without a typical sugar crash. The formula comes in easy-access, portable bags so you can get your shot of energy while you’re on the go. Athletes swear by it, and so does the Post Wanted team.



A black container with a black lid and white text
Amazon

Skip the drinks and goos altogether and go for a simple tablet. This fast-acting, mess-free option is great to keep on hand when needed. Having your caffeine in tablet form also allows easy dosage control — two chews for a pick-me-up, four for an energy boost, or six for a major pre-workout punch. I’m a huge fan of the Pomberry flavor, but I’ve heard they’re all pretty tasty and easy to digest.


FAQs

The Post spoke with Michael Vouvounas, Personal Training Lead at Life Time fitness to answer a few more questions about Pre-workout supplements.

Who should use a pre-workout?

“People generally use a Pre-workout to increase their workout intensity, endurance, and overall performance. They can be particularly beneficial for individuals who engage in high-intensity, heavy-weight training or longer exercise sessions and need that extra push,” Vouvounas explained.

How often should you use a pre-workout?

Vouvounas’ advice is to save the pre-workout for days when you absolutely “need it” and don’t rely on using it every day.

What ingredients do you typically look for in a pre-workout supplement?

Vouvounas has outlined six key ingredients to look for in a pre-workout supplement.

Caffeine: Provides a quick energy boost and enhances focus.

Beta-alanine: Helps buffer lactic acid buildup in muscles, delaying fatigue.

Creatine: Supports ATP production for increased strength and power output.

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): Aid in muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness.

Nitric oxide precursors (e.g., citrulline malate): Improve blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles.

Vitamins and minerals: Support overall health and energy metabolism.

Are there any potential side-effects of taking a pre-workout? Anything you can do to prevent those side effects?

The majority of available pre-workout supplements are safe for healthy adults. However, Vouvounas has outlined a few side effects that could occur when using pre-workouts, including jitters or nervousness from caffeine content, digestive issues that could cause diarrhea, or an increase in heart rate or blood pressure, especially from people with cardiovascular conditions. It’s important to consult a physician if side effects persist.

How can you minimize the side effects of a pre-workout?

“Start with a lower dose to build up a tolerance,” suggested Vouvounas. “Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after workouts. Try to minimize caffeine intake from other sources like coffee. Choose products with transparent labeling and avoid proprietary blends.”

At what time should you take a pre-workout? Right before a workout?

According to Vouvounas, the best time to take a pre-workout supplement depends on individual preferences, tolerance to stimulants, and the time of day.

“For most, it takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes before their workout to allow time for it to take effect. However, I prefer to take it about 15 minutes before my workout and finish it at the beginning of my workout to make sure I still feel the energy until the end of my workout,” explained Vouvounas.

He added that if he working out at night versus the morning, he would take the supplement an hour before to make sure it doesn’t affect sleep.

Any other considerations to make while using a pre-workout?

Vouvounas pointed out that most of these brands are pretty similar — they have at least 125g of caffeine and beta-alanine, then some type of proprietary blend. To keep feeling the effect, you’ll need to change up your formula.

“I have taken most of these pre-workouts and eventually your body builds up a tolerance, so if you want to continue feeling an energy boost it’s optimal to switch brands a few times a year. Right now my brand of choice is Life Time Pre Workout,” said Vouvounas.


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