It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if you don’t fuel yourself properly before a challenging workout, you’ll feel less energised, weaker and will fatigue faster than normal. But what exactly is the best thing to fuel your body with? You could choose a healthy snack such as a banana or boiled egg or perhaps a cup of coffee or green tea could do the trick. But what about a pre-workout supplement?
Designed to boost your energy and enhance physical performance, pre-workout supplements are typically powdered substances that you mix into water, shake and then drink around 30 minutes before exercising. Pre-workout supplements typically contain a blend of ingredients such as caffeine, amino acids, creatine, beta-alanine, BCAAs and nitric oxide agents, which can help improve energy levels, increase endurance and stamina, and safeguard lean muscle during exercise.
Not totally convinced? Well, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), combining pre-workout with HIIT workouts gave some great results. It found there were significant increases in VO2 max (which describes the way in which the lungs, muscles and heart most efficiently and effectively use oxygen while you workout), as well as training volume and lean body mass. It also helped speed up the rate at which moderately-trained recreational athletes lost body fat.
Like most supplements, the scientific research on pre-workout is mixed, and the evidence supporting their effectiveness varies depending on the specific ingredients and, of course, the individual taking them. Research shows that caffeine, for example, can enhance athletic performance and improve endurance, while beta-alanine, has been shown to improve muscle endurance and delay fatigue.
We recommend always looking at the ingredients label of pre-workout supplements to double check they contain ingredients with solid scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness. And, of course, always choose pre-workout from a reputable brand that follows strict quality control standards.
How we tested
We tried the following pre-workout supplements roughly half an hour before hitting the gym, to amp us up ahead of our workouts. We tested most of them by adding around 10g (two teaspoons) to 300-400ml of cold water – marking each of them on ingredients, taste, texture, affordability and effectiveness.
Of course, pre-workout formulas aren’t for everyone. If you don’t usually have caffeine in your diet, we’d recommend choosing a caffeine-free supplement, or at least considering the time of day that you take it (otherwise, it may well disrupt your ability to fall asleep).
As with all dietary supplements, the best pre-workout supplement for you will depend on your individual needs and goals, as well as any underlying health conditions or medication you may be taking. If you’re unsure, it’s always worth asking your GP or reaching out to a dietician.
The best pre-workout supplements for 2023 are: