The best pre-workout supplement has a mix of clinically proven ingredients: creatine and beta-alanine to super-charge anaerobic strength, plus caffeine and citrulline to improve endurance. It also skips junk ingredients like artificial colors and sweeteners. While no pill or powder is going to beat a healthy diet and good night’s sleep, the best pre-workout supplement will safely and conveniently give you that extra boost.

Editor's Note
  • March 15, 2018 - For this update, we re-evaluated all 318 of our contenders, looking for updated formulas and new players. In addition, we consulted new experts to gain more context about the pre-workout supplement space. All three of our top picks still hold up, so we’ve expanded our reviews of them, as well as our methodology.
  • January 23, 2018 - We’ve updated this review to include updated research about potentially harmful substances, as well as a clearer methodology. While we’re still confident in our top picks, keep an eye out for further testing in the months to come.

The Best Pre-Workout Supplement

Gnarly Nutrition Gnarly Pump is our top pick for a safe, natural pre-workout supplement for athletes at all levels. While there’s no single pre-workout supplement that features every energy booster, muscle builder, and focus sharpener out there, Gnarly Pump’s powder offers the most potent combination of clinically proven ingredients in one package. With creatine for enhancing muscle mass, citrulline and arginine for stimulating nitric oxide production, and naturally derived caffeine for that extra kick of energy, it’s a well-rounded supplement that’s ultra transparent about every ingredient it contains.

If getting ripped isn’t your main concern when working out, Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer is a great option for low-intensity workouts like yoga and Pilates. It skips out on the creatine and amino that help build muscle in strength workouts — instead, it delivers a good combination of natural boosters like green tea, which a recent Penn State study suggests may enhance the effects of exercise, and yerba mate, which has been shown to enhance fat metabolism during light and moderate exercise without negatively affecting performance. It also contains a higher amount of carbohydrates than our other picks, making it more effective for endurance workouts.

For those who get enough caffeine in the rest of their day — or just don’t react well to the stimulant — S.A.N. CM2 Supreme is a caffeine-free supplement that’s great at building lean muscle without an unwanted energy boost. It has arginine to get the blood flowing to your muscles, creatine to build lean muscle mass, and the amino acid beta-alinine, which increases endurance during high-intensity strength workouts. We did prefer Gnarly Pump’s mixable powder to CM2 Supreme’s six-tablet servings, but it ultimately wasn’t a dealbreaker for those who are sensitive to stimulants.

Our Picks for the Best Pre-Workout Supplement

Best For
Strength Workouts
Gnarly Pump
Gnarly Nutrition
A balanced formula for building muscle from a company that values transparency and education.

Yes, we love the name, but there’s a whole lot more to love about a clean, all-natural supplement that focuses on the ingredients that work and kicks all the other garbage to the curb. Gnarly Pump ($45) contains no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners and no proprietary blends that make you guess the dose you’re taking.

More important, however, is what it does contain. Many of the experts we talked to recommend a supplement with nitric oxide boosters, which help to dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to key muscles. Gnarly Pump contains two such boosters in arginine (5,000 mg) and citrulline (1,000 mg), plus 5,000 mg of creatine to help build lean muscle. In keeping with Gnarly’s focus on all-natural ingredients, the supplement also contains 60 mg of green tea extract, a natural source of caffeine that may help to boost energy levels without leading to a case of the jitters.

Gnarly for Pre-Workout Supplements

Gnarly’s entire philosophy revolves around transparency in their products and educating consumers about what they should put in their bodies — no false promise of instant six packs. All of their products are free of GMOs, hormones, and artificial sweeteners, a commitment that we only saw matched by Vega. The company even runs a blog that’s frequently updated with helpful articles on how to avoid overtraining, what to eat before a marathon, and how to fill your diet with more veggies. We’ll be honest, we got pretty immune to the sports nutrition marketing hype throughout our search. But Gnarly managed to break through that fatigue with genuinely inspiring articles about living a life of wellness. We highly recommend checking it out.

Choose between two flavors of powder, Crankin’ Cranberry and Orange Mango, both of which are naturally sweetened with plant-derived stevia extract.

Best For
Endurance Workouts
Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer
Vega
Vega uses all-natural energy boosters and extra carbs in lieu of muscle builders, making it perfect for endurance training.

Many people think they’re not a “serious” enough athlete to take a pre-workout supplement, but not every product caters to bodybuilders and marathoners. Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer ($40) is specifically formulated for lower-intensity workouts like yoga, Pilates, and light jogs around the neighborhood.

Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer doesn’t have muscle-builders like creatine and beta-alanine, because that’s not what it’s designed for. Instead, it has 16 grams of carbohydrates per serving — compared to four grams for Gnarly Pump and zero for S.A.N. — making it an excellent choice for workouts that require more sustained, if less taxing, effort. Experts recommend extra carbohydrates for endurance workouts because carbs delay fatigue and optimize muscle function.

Vega also offers a variety of natural boosters like green tea and yerba mate, a mild stimulant that may even help with fat metabolism. If you tend to work out at a slower or more deliberate pace, this could very well be the supplement to give you that extra bit of energy and focus without making you feel too jittery for a calmer workout like yoga. Vega includes several ingredients that promote overall gut health like ginseng, turmeric, and ginger. While they’re not proven to directly impact exercise performance, their benefits carry over well beyond the gym.

Vega for Pre-Workout Supplements

We were also extremely impressed with the overall quality of Vega’s ingredients. Labdoor, an independent company that tests health supplements for safety and efficacy, gave Vega an 85 out of 100 for ingredient safety (compared to an average of 58). Aside from its stellar safety score, Vega is also one of the only supplements we saw that is certified both vegan and gluten-free.

Best
Caffeine-Free Supplement
S.A.N. CM2 Supreme
S.A.N. Nutrition
For people with caffeine sensitivities, S.A.N. delivers a comparable strength-boosting formula as Gnarly Pump without the extra energy.

Everyone responds to caffeine a little differently. If you know you’re sensitive to it or if you’re already exceeding the recommended amount in your normal diet, S.A.N. CM2 Supreme is totally caffeine-free. It still has all the lean muscle-building ingredients we loved in Gnarly Pump, just without the additional energy booster. Without any caffeine, you’ll also lose some of the sharpened focus that is a big appeal of other pre-workout supplements, but it had everything else we were looking for.

This supplement comes with arginine (2,000 mg), a nitric oxide booster that promotes blood flow to your muscles, and creatine (1,000 mg), one of the most proven lean muscle builders around. While the doses of these ingredients are less than what you get with Gnarly, this is both a pre- and post-workout supplement, so you’re really getting double those amounts. S.A.N. CM2 Supreme also has one productive ingredient that we missed in Gnarly Pump: beta-alanine, a nonessential amino acid that’s been shown to increase exercise capacity during short, high-intensity workouts.

The only thing we weren’t crazy about was the form: Instead of a mixable powder, CM2 Supreme comes in tablet form. S.A.N. recommends six tablets per serving, so you could end up swallowing as many as 12 pills per day if you take them before and after your workouts. We found the supplements that mixed into a drink to be much, well, easier to swallow, particularly if you’re taking your supplements on the go.

CM2 for Pre-workout Supplements

It is slightly cheaper than Gnarly — 40 servings at $41.94 compared to 30 at $38.95 — but the lower levels of creatine and arginine make this difference pretty negligible.

Tips for Staying Safe with Your Pre-Workout Supplement

Never experiment with a new supplement on race day.

Supplements affect different people differently, so it’s never a good idea to test one out on the day of a race or competition. Give yourself a few weeks to ease yourself into a new supplement and gauge how your body reacts to it. When it comes to the big day, the fewer surprises, the better.

Supplement your supplements with plenty of water.

As far as your body is concerned, the most essential pre-workout supplement is water. “Being dehydrated by two percent can have a massive effect on exercise performance,” claims Mawer. Cells don’t function right when they’re dehydrated, and many athletes looking for meaningful gains should start by adding an extra glass of water to their pre-workout routine. This is especially important for those who take supplements with caffeine, as caffeine can pull water from cells when taken in large doses.

Misconceptions About Pre-Workout Supplements

Creatine isn’t dangerous, despite its reputation.

Despite its status as one of the most effective and well-researched supplements for building lean muscle mass, creatine is often looked upon with suspicion. That’s ironic, explains Rudy Mawer, an elite sports nutritionist and researcher who has worked with everyone from NBA players to Olympic gold medalists. “Creatine is actually safer than anything out there. It’s one of the safest supplements we’ve done studies on.”

Mawer has dedicated numerous articles to debunking the myths that creatine causes cramping (it may actually reduce cramps), fat increases (studies show it only affects lean body mass), and kidney problems (a long-term study revealed no negative side effects). Still, the stigma persists. “My parents were athletes and they still thought that I was going on dangerous stuff when I started taking creatine as a kid, and they’ve been in sports their whole life,” he says. “It’s just a matter of education, I think.”

That being said, creatine's energy-boosting properties may be better suited to strength workouts than endurance — those bursts of energy don't necessarily benefit drawn-out workouts like yoga. It's also not totally necessary to take creatine immediately before your workout. Levinson says, “I don’t think it needs to be taken as a pre-workout supplement. As long as it’s taken throughout the course of the day consistently over a period of time, it’ll still have the same benefits.”

The best pre-workout supplement for women is no different than that for men.

While necessary ingredients won’t change, experts recommended that women keep a closer eye on dosage when looking for a pre-workout supplement. Spano says, “Women will need to carefully look at the amounts of each ingredient because of smaller body size. There are some ingredients that they may need in smaller amounts, particularly stimulants.” All of our top picks contain safe dosages, but if you’re still concerned, you might consider reducing the serving sizes.

There’s also some stigma around women taking muscle-building substances like creatine, but all the research has concluded that it’s just as beneficial for women as men. One study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported, “Men and women experience similar improvements in exercise performance following creatine supplementation, but women show a lesser increase in lean body mass.”

Our Pre-Workout Supplement Review: Summed Up

Pre-Workout Supplement
The Best...
Gnarly Pump
For Strength Workouts
Vega Sport Sugar-Free Energizer
For Endurance Workouts
S.A.N. CM2 Supreme
Caffeine-Free Supplement