Ever need that kick up the butt to get you intensely focused and energized for that upcoming heavy squat session? The pre-workout supplement industry has you covered. I’ve tried many different pre-workouts and intensively researched the best ingredients that make a good pre-workout. In fact, I used to experiment and make my own like a chemist in a white coat.
There are many things I look for in a good pre-workout. The main ones are the active ingredients and their doses. Based on these criteria, I’ve found the best pre-workout for beginners is the Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train.
I’ll explain exactly why with a full scientific breakdown of the supplement below!
Best Pre-Workout For Beginners
Best Natural Pre-Workout For Beginners
Best Pre-Workout For Beginner Women
Best Pre-Workout For Beginners
Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train
Very rarely will you find a pre-workout supplement that is adequately dosed. I was surprised to learn this new pre-workout from Crazy Nutrition called Intensive Pre-Train does this. Let’s run through the list of the main ingredients, so you know exactly what you're getting.
Citrulline Malate 2:1
Let’s start from the top. L-Citrulline in most pre-workouts are only dosed between 3-6 g or less. Crazy Nutrition's Intensive Pre-Train is dosed at 7 g, potentially enough to gain acute benefits in lifting performance . So how does L-Citrulline work?
If you remember the NO Explode pre-workout supplement, the idea was to increase nitric oxide in the body, improving muscular endurance, fatigue resistance, and recovery after exercise by dilating the blood vessels to increase blood flow .
Further, nitric oxide may reduce the need for oxygen and ATP during exercise while improving the efficiency of the aerobic powerhouse to produce ATP. Supplement companies like NO Explode tried to enhance nitric oxide production by using L-Arginine as their main ingredient, which is converted into nitric oxide.
However, the evidence doesn't support the claim that L-Arginine increases nitric oxide activity due to poor absorption in the gut. This is why L-Citrulline is such a powerful ingredient. L-Citrulline is a precursor to L-Arginine and solves the absorption problem by converting it to L-Arginine in the kidneys. This elevates L-Arginine concentration, which converts to nitric oxide, giving the above benefits.
You might be wondering; the ingredients say Citrulline Malate 2:1, not L-Citrulline. Interestingly, Malate works synergistically with Citrulline and may increase ATP production and reduce lactic acid prolonging fatigue. Perfect for those looking to get those extra reps on the bench press.
In fact, taking 8 g of Citrulline Malate 60 minutes before exercise increases repetitions to failure in both the upper and lower body, reduces muscular soreness 24 and 48 hours after, and improves maximal grip strength .
For those interested in endurance, when supplementing with 6g of Citrulline Malate a day over seven days, the time to exhaustion increases during moderate-intensity cycling . Doses as low as 2.4g a day for seven days have improved time to completion and power output during 4km of cycling.
Additionally, feelings of muscle fatigue were improved after exercise compared to placebo . If you want to bump the 7 g dose to the 8 g dose as per the research, you can have your Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train pre-workout with a side of fresh watermelon or watermelon juice. It turns out; watermelon is a natural source of L-Citrulline with 0.7 to 3.6 mg per gram of fresh weight.
Next, we have Beta-Alanine. Taking Beta-Alanine with Citrulline Malate is like adding fuel to the fire. You know that tingling feeling you get after taking a pre-workout? That is the Beta-Alanine. Regarding the dose, when looking for an acute performance effect, 30 mg per kilogram of body weight 60 minutes before training is what to aim for.
This pre-workout is perfectly dosed for you if you are 84 kg or less. You'll still benefit from Beta-Alanine if you are heavier and take this pre-workout. But how does it work? Beta-alanine increases carnosine levels, which acts as a buffer removing hydrogen ions accumulated in the muscle as a by-product of high-intensity exercise.
These hydrogen ions are highly acidic, reducing the pH of the muscle (remember your pH scale? 1 is highly acidic, 7 is neutral, 14 is highly alkaline or basic). This reduction in pH negatively affects the muscles' ability to contract, causing fatigue.
By buffering these hydrogen ions, the pH of the muscle remains neutral for longer, increasing the time to fatigue. We see this in practice with research showing Beta-Alanine extending high-intensity exercise duration in the 1-4 minute range [4,5]. Meaning you can sustain exercise longer that is so intense you can only hold that intensity for 1-4 minutes.
This fatigue-reducing effect of Beta-Alanine combined with Citrulline Malate means you'll be able to grind out more reps at the end of your set. Resulting in more volume and greater tension leading to more significant muscle growth.
Betaine is an interesting pre-workout ingredient that has slowly made its way into the supplement market. The research behind this ingredient isn’t so strong. Still, it has been suggested that betaine may potentially increase the anabolic environment after exercise by reducing the involvement of the AMPK pathway .
Put very simply, think of the AMPK pathway as the endurance adaptation pathway. It turns off the muscle building pathway known as the mTOR pathway when switched on. Since betaine reduces the AMPK pathway, you may increase the duration of an anabolic environment.
A second study suggests that a sports drink plus betaine in a fasted state increased the number of reps performed on the bench press by 6.5%, reducing the increase in lactate (and, therefore, hydrogen ions) .
Both of these studies used two doses of 1.25 g, totaling 2.5 g. This is all we have currently with performance improvements, and the current research is not conclusive.
It seems the minimum effective dose starts at 1 g and ranges up to 6 g. Hence, the 1.8 g dose within the Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train is potentially enough to provide a benefit. Taurine and caffeine are next on the list, which you'll often find in energy drinks.
Why am I talking about these together? Because they have an interesting synergetic effect. Caffeine is a powerful supplement that improves power and sprint performance by 6.5% and increases the number of reps performed when lifting by 9.4% .
But it also has a positive effect on endurance performance with 2.22% improvements in time trial performance and 2.9% in power output compared to a placebo . The dose of caffeine ranges from 3-6 mg per kilogram of body weight with performance enhancements at all doses within this range.
That means, for a 100 kg person, you should take 300-600 mg. This is a massive dose of caffeine. It may seem that the Crazy Nutrition pre-workout is slightly underdosed in this category. But we can’t forget about taurine.
Turns out, taking taurine (dose anywhere between 71-3105 mg) reduces the need for high amounts of caffeine. Only 40-325 mg of caffeine is needed instead. A study found that performance increased with the increasing dose of taurine regardless of the caffeine dose .
These are what I would consider the main active ingredients of the Intensive Pre-Train pre-workout that meet the required dosing requirements. Considering how well it is formulated, it is priced very well. If you take a subscription plan, you save $8 on every order if you train up to 5 days per week.
That is $41.99 instead of $59.99 every month. Considering Jacked Factory pre-workout is $25 and severely underdosed makes Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train great.
They now have two flavors so you're not stuck with the same taste each month. Fruit punch and blue raspberry. Both flavors taste amazing so you can't go wrong with either of them!
Best Natural Pre-Workout For Beginners
Paleo Pro Power Coffee
Maybe you don't want so many sweeteners and coloring. You’re after the most natural pre-workout you can put in your body. It isn't easy to find outside of a typical coffee. But Paleo Pro has concocted a great pre-workout that uses coffee as its main active ingredient. That is why I've dubbed it the best organic pre-workout. Here's the whole ingredients list:
That’s it! You won't find a pre-workout supplement with fewer ingredients than this. Interestingly, the Paleo Pro Power Coffee may have unique benefits that other pre-workout products cannot give. That is collagen protein.
Collagen protein was a cheap protein filler but has become a boutique protein commodity. It has shown some exciting performance benefits too.
For example, taking 20 g of collagen with 50 mg of vitamin C 60 minutes before heavy strength and power training enhances eccentric force and rate of force development (produce force quickly) .
While there isn’t 20 g of collagen in a serving, you could top this up with another collagen supplement. However, the collagen present in the Paleo Pro Power Coffee is enough to potentially reduce knee pain from standing and walking .
It is suggested this is due to the increase in collagen synthesis, which is the creation of new collagen fibers within the tendon. Dr. Keith Barr is the leading researcher in this area and has stated that taking collagen before exercise enhances the remodeling of the tendon, which helps to fix chronic tendon pain.
After collagen, there is coffee, with the active ingredient being caffeine, discussed above. The amount of caffeine is slightly lower than Intensive Pre-Train at 150 mg per serving. This is more than enough to create an ergogenic effect for those who aren't habitual caffeine drinkers.
Finally, beetroot powder rounds out the active ingredients. Beetroots are a natural nitrate source that converts to nitric oxide (similar to how L-Citrulline works). So, you’re getting all of the same benefits regarding increasing endurance, time to fatigue, and potentially better pumps through vasodilation (expanding of blood vessels).
If you don't like coffee, you will not like the taste of this pre-workout. I'm not too fond of coffee, and I can't drink the Paleo Pro Power Coffee on its own. However, I mix it with a protein smoothie containing milk, a banana, berries, protein powder, and oats. This hides the taste enough while getting the benefits of the supplement.
One serving is only 50 calories with 5 g of carbohydrates coming from beetroot and 6 g of protein from the collagen.
Best Pre-Workout For Beginner Women
Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy
Beginner women have a tough time getting started on their fitness journeys. They have so many companies and products pitching female versions of supplements that are exactly the same as their usual supplement line.
The only difference is the pink packaging. In my experience, the Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train and Paleo Pro Power Coffee are excellent for beginner women. But the Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy has an advantage for women.
That is the lower caffeine dose. As women are generally lighter than men, the amount of caffeine required is also less. Add the fact that it's loaded with taurine; the performance-enhancing benefits are increased.
Amino Energy also has Beta-Alanine to help you push those few extra reps at the end of your working set.
While the tub says you can take up to three servings, you only need to take one serving to gain the performance benefits. One significant advantage is the wide range of flavors. And you’d be surprised to find that pretty much all of the flavors taste great even if they don’t sound great.
For example, the flavor is cranberry lemonade in the picture I've posted. To me, that sounds disgusting. But surprisingly, the taste is very nice. It mixes well, and the tubs are large, so the pre-workout lasts much longer than the other products above.
Other Beginner Pre-Workouts Worth Mentioning
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout
I’ve added Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Pre-Workout to the list because of its popularity. And I say it’s a great pre-workout for beginners because it’s essentially an energy drink in a cost-effective powder form.
Everything except caffeine is heavily underdosed, so don't expect any of the benefits of the best beginner pre-workout at the beginning of the article. However, the Gold Standard Pre-Workout is a good choice if you are looking for a pick-me-up like an energy drink or coffee.
One gripe I do have is the addition of creatine monohydrate. While the dose is adequate, you don’t want creatine in your pre-workout as you’re probably not taking it every day. Further, there is no acute benefit to taking creatine before a workout.
Therefore, it's cheaper to buy creatine separately to take every day. Unfortunately, by adding creatine monohydrate to the Optimum Nutrition Pre-Workout, they've had to underdose every other efficacious ingredient leaving you with a caffeine-only supplement.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, you can use half a serving and get approximately 80 mg of caffeine, similar to a coffee. Otherwise, 175 mg of caffeine per serving is a great starting dose for someone new to pre-workout.
Beginner Pre-Workouts To Avoid
C4 Sport Pre-Workout
C4 Pre-Workout from Cellucor is one of the most popular pre-workout supplement brands. However, you should avoid the C4 sport pre-workout for a couple of reasons:
There are no secret ingredients or formulations within the supplement industry. So, hiding doses behind a proprietary blend isn't to "protect" their formulation. It's to hide the quantity from you, the consumer.
It allows the company to list an ingredient that may be efficacious at a specific dose but save money by not having to dose it correctly. One way to estimate the dose is by the order the ingredients are listed.
They are always listed in order of weight from highest to lowest. If I were to estimate, I'd say there is approximately 3 – 3.5 g of creatine and 1 – 1.5 g of beta-alanine. In their second blend, I’d estimate around 900 mg of taurine.
The issue is that creatine shouldn't be in a pre-workout as there is no acute performance-enhancing benefit. Further, adding creatine must reduce the quantity of other ingredients to keep the serving size small. Beta-alanine needs to be dosed much higher for an acute benefit but is better taken chronically.
Essentially, the two main ingredients in this pre-workout need to be taken daily at higher doses to improve strength and endurance. This pre-workout will only give you mental and performance benefits from caffeine and taurine, which you can get from an energy drink or a coffee.
Pre-Kaged Sport Pre-Workout
Kaged has quickly become a popular supplement brand. Their marketing drills down to specific populations, as you may see with their Pre-Kaged Elite and Sport products. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the pre-workouts any better.
Pre-Kaged Sport is a glorified energy drink. I don't have anything against energy drinks and can make decent pre-workouts if all you want is caffeine. But pre-workouts are marketed as superior supplements for performance. Or, in this case, for competitive athletes.
The issues start with the main ingredient in the sports performance matrix. 3.5 g of L-citrulline is no way near close to an efficacious dose. For performance-enhancing benefits, you need 6-8 g in a single dose approximately 60 minutes before training .
Beta-alanine is also underdosed with 1.6 g per serving. Within the literature, we see doses ranging from 2.4 – 6.4 g per day . But it’s not the acute dose that matters. It’s the chronic intake of beta-alanine.
For a 2.85% improvement in endurance performance, you need 179 g of beta-alanine consumed spread over 3- 10 weeks . This will be difficult to hit with such a low dose within the pre-workout.
The dose of betaine may be efficacious since doses above 1 g may be the minimum required dose. Besides that, there's not much else in this pre-workout besides caffeine and taurine. While L-tyrosine is listed under the energy & focus matrix, you typically need at least 50 mg/kg of bodyweight to see any cognitive benefits .
What Makes A Good Pre-Workout For Beginners?
Ingredients Are Dosed Properly
The biggest problem with pre-workout supplements is the corners many companies cut. Supplement companies will often underdose ingredients to still use the ingredient for marketing while propping up their bottom line.
Always look at the nutrition label to decipher whether the ingredients will have the desired effect or if they are there for filler.
Caffeine Dosed Moderately
Some pre-workout supplements have ridiculous doses of caffeine. Some people are so wired today that they need a considerable kick to have any ergogenic effect. As a beginner, a moderately dosed caffeine pre-workout is what you need so you don't become accustomed to mega caffeine doses.
Addition Of Taurine
The addition of taurine reduces the dose needed of caffeine while providing performance-enhancing benefits. Not all pre-workouts have taurine, which is fine, but those that do are great for anyone that is caffeine sensitive.
Beginners Frequently Asked Questions
Should A Beginner Take Pre-Workout?
As a beginner, taking a pre-workout should be well down your priority list. Consistency in the gym or with your cardio, regularly eating with enough daily protein, and sleeping well need to be made habits before worrying about the supplements you take.
Once you've created these habits and want to give yourself a more significant boost, then you can worry about pre-workouts and other supplements.
When Should You Take Pre-Workout?
Pre-workouts can be taken anywhere from 30-60 minutes before you train. This will be your individual preference. However, pre-workouts generally kick in between 60-120 minutes after ingestion and last for approximately 6 hours.
How Do You Know Which Pre-Workout To Take?
Any of the pre-workouts that I have listed above are great to take. The main things you want to look for are the active ingredients. Caffeine, citrulline malate, beta-alanine, taurine, and L-theanine.
These are the most proven active ingredients to provide performance benefits. The next thing to look for is the dose. Many companies will underdose their supplements for more profits. The supplements I've listed in this article are dosed right, so you can't go wrong with those.
Is It Ok To Drink Pre-Workout Every Day?
Ideally, you only drink pre-workout before your workout. That is what it has been designed for. Because caffeine doses are generally high in pre-workout supplements, it’s best to avoid drinking them every day.
Is Pre-Workout Bad For You?
Pre-workout isn’t inherently bad for you. The poison is in the dose, as the saying goes. However, be careful with pre-workout supplements containing banned substances like the original Jacked 3D.
Is It Better To Sip Or Chug Pre-Workout?
I prefer to sip mine. Others like to chug their pre-workout. There's no right or wrong way to do it. You could argue by chugging; you get all the active ingredients into your system faster. Either way, I've found both methods of drinking pre-workout to work great.
Do Pre-Workouts Burn Fat?
Pre-workouts don't directly burn fat. Burning fat is a function of being in a caloric deficit in the long term, which means consuming less energy than you are using. Pre-workouts can potentially help you to expend more energy by performing more reps, going longer in your cardio, or letting you train for longer.
This helps create a negative energy balance, so you lose body fat as a function of losing weight due to insufficient energy from food.
You can't go wrong with any of the pre-workouts on this list. However, the Crazy Nutrition Intensive Pre-Train is what I would consider the best pre-workout for beginners. Its superior number of active ingredients that are appropriately dosed will have you performing more reps at heavier loads in the gym.
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