If you workout regularly, you’ve probably been bombarded with a million pre-workout supplement advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. But how do you know which ones are actually good?

In this article we’re going to discuss how to pick a pre-workout supplement that works for your specific goals. So let’s get started.

Are you looking for a stimulant?

The first and most important question to ask when searching for a pre-workout is whether you want it to contain stimulants like caffeine. Most people use pre-workouts for the stimulant effects but it isn’t necessary. And sometimes, like right after your morning coffee, another stimulant might make you feel wired.

Personally, I like to have both a stimulant and stimulant-free pre-workout for different situations. If I’m working out early in the morning or late at night, I use the stim-free preworkout (in the morning, coffee is my stimulant). If I’m working out mid-day, I use a stimulant pre-workout supplement.

Why even use a stimulant? For a number of reasons: it motivates, it creates the perception of energy and drive, and it gets you started (the most important step). For a lot of people, “feeling right” is the most important thing a pre-workout does.

Are You Looking for a Pump?

There’s a lot of overlap between pre-workout and energy drinks. If I had to choose a main difference it’s that pre-workouts usually have significant doses of ingredients that increase blood flow to muscles via nitric oxide (NO). This allows muscles to do more reps, and also causes them to get more engorged as you workout. Many people who workout enjoy this sensation (muscles that are about ready to explode) and see it as a great feedback loop. Studies also suggest that getting a pump normally leads to more hypertrophy and muscle growth.

So what are the ingredients that lead to a better pump? Anything that increases nitric oxide in your body. The most popular ingredient by far is L-Citrulline (often combined with malate to create Citrulline Malate). We recommend a dose of 6-10 grams of L-Citrulline to maximize it’s potential in your body.

Other ingredients that improve pump include beet extract, Nitrosigne and red spinach.

Are You Looking for More Strength?

Strength gains come from progressive overload: putting your muscles under increasingly higher stress, either by increasing resistance or the number of reps you do.

Most people working out eventually hit a strength plateau and it can be frustrating. The good news is that certain ingredients in pre-workouts can help you bust through those plateaus.

For gaining strength, the single most important strength ingredient is Creatine. Creatine improves strenth by increasing ATP energy production. 5-10g of Creatine is the ideal dose. Creatine can be taken at any time, but I find it convenient to take creatine in my preworkout (kill two birds with one stone).

Other strength improving ingredients include: Beta-Alanine, Betaine Anhydrous and yes, Caffeine.

Beta-Alanine improves strength by delaying fatigue and increasing time to exhaustion (TTE) and improving muscle endurance. Betaine Anhydrous improves strength by increasing training volume, leading to greater hypertrophy.

Are You Looking for Focus?

The last topic we’ll discuss in this article is mental focus. For many people, a hurdle to working out is distraction (smartphone anyone?!). Getting your mind focused in today’s world can be hard.

The good news is that there are ingredients that help you get into a more laser focused state of mind. These ingredients include Tyrosine, Taurine, Choline and not surprisingly, Caffeine.

Taurine helps with mental focus by reducing stress and anxiety. Tyrosine helps with focus by supporting adrenaline and dopamine. Choline helps with focus by making sure you have enough acetylcholine and reducing inflammation. Finally, Caffeine supports focus by enhancing alertness.

Formula for Choosing The Best Pre-Workout

Here’s a formula you can use to choose the best pre-workout based on what I think is most important:

Simply evaluate each pre-workout you come across by giving them scores for different ingredients and doses. If you value some things more than others, simply adjust the scores. For example, if you don’t want caffeine, then drop caffeine from the formula.

  • 3 points per 100mg of Caffeine (up to 300mg)   (max 9)
  • 3 points for each gram of L-Citrulline (up to 10 grams)  (max 30)
  • 2 points for each gram of Beta-Alanine (up to 5 grams)   (max 10)
  • 2 points for each gram of Creatine (up to 5 grams)  (max 10)
  • 2 points for each gram of Betaine Anhydrous (up to 5 grams)  (max 10)
  • 6 points for Beet Root Extract or Red Spinach Extract   (max 6)
  • 4 points for B vitamin support   (max 4)
  • 1 point for every 50mg of Sodium (up to 200mg)  (max 4)
  • 1 point for every 50mg of Magnesium (up to 100mg)  (max 2)
  • 1 point for every 50mg of Potassium (up to 100mg) (max 2)
  • 3 points for a mood enhancer like Rhodiola Rodesia (max 3)
  • 4 points for Choline support (Alpha GPC, Choline Bipartate, Citicholine)  (max 4)
  • 1 point per gram of Taurine (up to 3 grams)  (max 3)
  • 1 point per gram of Tyrosine (up to 3 grams)  (max 3)

Total possible points:   100

This is a functional score. Other things that are very subjective but still matter are:

A) Flavor
B) Overall Experience

So after narrowing down your options, you’ll still need to test out the flavors and see if the best products work specifically for you and your body.