Pre-workout gives you the energy and focus to power through the toughest workouts, but unfortunately there are a lot of bad supplements out there. We did the work to test dozens of brands and narrow down the best here.
It’s easy to focus first and foremost on optimizing mental performance when you think of the world of biohacking. Nootropics and cognitive boosters tend to take the forefront when it comes to “biohacking supplements”.
And don’t get me wrong, we love those too.
But we also believe that physical health and performance plays just as much of a role in your well-being as mental performance, which means optimizing it is just as important as well.
To take it one step further, a big part of optimizing physical health is getting the most out of your exercise time – the better your workouts are the more calories you burn, the more strength you build, and the stronger your cardiovascular system gets.
You get the point.
A great way to maximize your exercise output is with pre-workout supplements, which aim to give you an energy boost to get you to the gym as well as added benefits in the form of increased endurance, higher power output, and tunnel vision focus to power through even the longest workouts.
Now, I know this isn’t a revolutionary insight: pre-workouts have been around forever and chances are you’ve tried some (or a lot) with varying degrees of success.
The problem with most modern pre-workouts is that they’re typically loaded with caffeine and other stimulants but offer few ingredients that actually do anything else.
They’ll give you that jittery energy rush and maybe some Beta Alanine tingles to make you feel like it’s “kicked in”, but ultimately they don’t do much to actually help you get more out of your workouts.
What’s more, a lot of pre’s that used to be good have changed their formulas after gaining popularity and now just trade off their reputation for sales (looking at you, C4).
That or they’ve been banned because some idiot with a heart condition took four scoops, washed it down with a Monster, and then had a heart attack. And people blamed it on the product (rip original Jack3d).
That being said, there are still some pre-workout formulas on the market that not only offer the stimulant kick you’ve come to know and love but also have scientifically proven ingredients that further boost your performance.
We’ve compiled our top-3 favorite pre-workouts in the list below, complete with detailed breakdowns of their ingredients and why we support them.
Great Jitter-Free Energy
Creatine & NO Boosters
Top 3 Best Pre-Workout Brands of 2021
Best Overall – Gorilla Mode
- 9,000mg PURE L-Citruline for a massive boost to Nitric Oxide for increased pumps, endurance, & reduced DOMS
- Full serving (5 grams) high-quality creatine
- Non-jittery stimulant boost for energy
- High-dose nootropics for tunnel vision focus
Serving Size: 1 scoop
Price Per Serving: $1.25
Shoutout to Derek from MorePlatesMoreDates.com & his company Gorilla Mind for making one of the best pre-workout formulations that we’ve ever used or seen on the market. If you’ve read our favorite nootropics post you’ll know that we’re big fans of the company’s nootropic Gorilla Mind Smooth as well, and their pre-workout Gorilla Mode actually has a lot of the same ingredients.
While most pre’s rely on borderline dangerous doses of caffeine and other stimulants, Gorilla Mode offers an effective dose of caffeine paired with nitric oxide boosters, creatine, and nootropic cognitive enhancers to offer a fully rounded energy boost combined with real performance enhancement.
As a disclaimer (or more accurately, a non-disclaimer) we have no direct affiliation with Gorilla Mind or any of the manufacturers of their products. We just use them and love them.
Here’s a breakdown of the ingredients and their purposes:
Nitric Oxide Boosting –
- 9 grams (not milligrams) of pure L-Citruline – This is a considerable dose of nitric-oxide boosting L-Citruline, made even more impressive by the fact that it’s not overly inflated through the use of malic acid like in the case of most supplements. L-Citruline is arguably the most effective nitric oxide booster and this dose causes a huge spike in production, leading to increased blood flow to muscles, increased endurance, and reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
- 1,000mg Agmatine Sulfate – Agmatine has been shown to induce NO production via the same process as arginine, but does it far more effectively. This further increases blood flow to muscles leading to increased performance.
Strength & Power Boost –
- 5 grams Creatine Monohydrate – Chances are you’re familiar with creatine as it’s the best-studied performance supplement on the market, and also one of the most effective for enhancing performance (outside of exogenous hormones and prescription drugs). Supplementing with creatine has been proven time and again to improve strength, power output, and muscle size. Creatine’s effect on strength is facilitated by increasing the body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which is then used during high intensity exercise to produce ATP for energy.
Intracellular Muscle Hydration & Pump –
- 3,000mg Glycerol – Glycerol significantly enhances muscle hydration leading to increased performance. Adding Glycerol to water leads to considerably more of it being stored and used in your muscles as opposed to it being flushed out by the kidneys, as can happen when you drink high volumes of water alone.
- 2,500mg Betaine Anhydrous – Betaine acts as a methyl donor and osmolyte in the body, helping to balance fluid levels inside and outside of cells which helps to induce intracellular hyper-hydration. This leads to better pumps, increased overall performance, and also reduces dehydration.
Energy Boost –
- 350mg Caffeine Anhydrous – Probably the most well-known stimulant on the planet, caffeine is nevertheless effective in providing a prolonged energy boost to power through workouts, increasing power output and training volume.
- 350mg N-Phenethyl Dimethylamine Citrate – This compound is used to mimic the actions of adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin and keeps levels elevated throughout the duration of a full workout. In conjunction with the 350mg dose of caffeine, the high dose of N-Phenethyl Dimethylamine Citrate in this formula can significantly increase focus, intensity, energy levels, and overall performance.
- 10mg BioPerine (Black Pepper Fruit Extract) – BioPerine, which is the trademarked version of 95% standardized Piperine or black pepper extract, works to inhibit the breakdown of molecules like caffeine and noradrenaline in the body. By prolonging the breakdown of the cognitive enhancing ingredients in this formula, BioPerine extends how long they work for, and can also significantly increase their bioavailability. Basically, BioPerine makes the stimulants hit harder and last longer.
Cognitive Boosting Nootropics –
- 1,500mg L-Tyrosine – An amazing cognitive enhancing amino acid that acts by balancing neurotransmitter levels in the brain, L-Tyrosine’s primary role is as a precursor to dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. The goal when including it in a pre-workout is to improve mental sharpness, focus, energy levels, and overall mood.
- 500mg Kanna – Not very well-known (yet) but very effective, Kanna has been found to effectively lower stress, elevate mood, and increase focus. It works primarily by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain and it typically used for anti-anxiety and mood-elevating effects.
- 400mcg Huperzine A – This compound works by inhibiting breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is not only a major regulator of cognitive performance, but also is an important neurotransmitter needed for optimal muscular contractions during exercise. Huperzine also has been shown to enhance memory, focus, and overall cognitive function.
We highly recommend people start with one scoop of Gorilla Mode in order to assess their tolerance and see how it affects them.
However, unlike with most supplements where taking two scoops would put you well over the recommended daily intake of caffeine, two scoops of Gorilla Mode is actually the recommended dose that most people work up to. Two scoops offers the adequate 350mg caffeine along with effective levels of the other compounds.
We personally take two scoops about 45 minutes before we plan to start working out. It really kicks in around the hour mark, right around the time we’re finishing up our warmup, and easily lasts through a two hour intense workout session if you need it to.
This is the type of pre-workout that has you doing set after set even when you know you should probably stop or else you won’t be able to walk the next day. The energy and mental focus is just insane.
One thing to note about Gorilla Mode before we move on – it doesn’t mix well. The company doesn’t even try to hide this either, they actually say it right on their product page.
It tastes fine (better than most pre’s actually) but the quantity and variety of ingredients don’t really make for the most mixable formula and if you let it sit for more than a few seconds it will start to sink to the bottom.
But honestly we’re ok with that given how effective it is. Just shake it before every sip and you’ll be fine.
Best Stim-Free – PumpSurge
- Good balance of effective ingredients
- Stimulant free for late-day use
- Strong Nitric Oxide boosting formula
- Powerful nootropics for focus and cognitive boost
Serving Size: 1 scoop
Price Per Serving: $1.45
For those of you who are sensitive to stimulants or prefer to workout later in the day and don’t want to disrupt your sleep, Pump Surge from Jacked Factory is our top choice for a stimulant-free pre-workout.
Pump Surge focuses primarily on the Nitric Oxide boosting and cognitive enhancing ingredients in order to increase performance, and includes a number of the same ingredients (although at lower doses) as Gorilla Mode.
I won’t bore you with the full details again since I already did above, but for a quick summary Pump Surge includes 5 grams of L-Citrulline, 2.5 grams of Betaine, and 2 grams of Taurine – which when combined offer a considerable boost to Nitric Oxide production and therefore increased blood flow in the muscles leading to better performance.
On top of that, they’ve also included focus boosters in the form of a 25mg blend of astragalus and ginseng root extract (both natural nootropics) combined with Huperzine A dosed at 50mcg (which admittedly is a lot lower dose than we’d like to see).
They wrap that all up with a glycerol concentrate to increase muscle hydration and increase absorption in the body.
We’ll be honest, this pre-workout isn’t going to give you that crazy zoned in, tunnel vision, I-could-do-a-hundred-sets type feeling that you get with normal pre’s like Gorilla Mode. But for a non-stim option that you can take later in the day it does offer a great nitric oxide boost with solid cognitive enhancers for a slight increase in focus.
Best All-Natural Formula – Shroom Tech SPORT
- Stimulant free
- Organic, all-natural, plant-based ingredients
- Improved cellular energy and endurance
- Improved focus and reaction time
Serving Size: 4 capsules
Price Per Serving: $2.62
If you’re a Joe Rogan fan you’ve probably heard of this one.
Shroom Tech SPORT is Onnit’s answer to a demand for a stimulant-free, organic, and plant-based pre-workout. And in that context it’s actually one of the best ones out there.
As with Pump Surge, this isn’t going to give you the type of locked-in tunnel-vision energy and focus that most people associate with pre’s. But if you’re looking for something that’s completely natural and plant based then Shroom Tech is your best option.
Onnit notably added Ashwagandha for it’s ability to help athletes increase mental clarity and improve reaction time, with some users noting it can help you more easily achieve that creative “flow state” we all love.
For a mental cognition boost they’ve included Astragalus, Methyl B-12, Green Tea Extract, and Adenosine which combine to be a potent nootropic stack when taken in higher doses.
Finally, the “O2 Blend” (really just a marketing name) offers a decent dose of Cordyceps mushrooms to naturally increase endurance through increased production of ATP.
All of these effects are noticeable if you take the full dose of 4 capsules. But again, it’s not going to be what you’d typically expect from a pre-workout in terms of overall energy.
We just want to level-set expectations there so you’re not disappointed.
But if you’re looking for an all-natural, organic, and stimulant-free pre-workout that will give you a solid NO boost with some added mental focus and clarity, then Shroom Tech SPORT is our go to choice.
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The only way to really identify the culprit and avoid any future issues is with food sensitivity blood tests. These tests measure your body’s immune response to a wide variety of food and give you actionable information to better improve your health overall.
We’ve compiled a guide to our favorite testing service for 2022 here.
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The only problem was that up until a couple years ago the only supplements that you could find (if you could get your hands on any) tasted like straight up gasoline. It was hard not to gag getting them down. Fortunately there have been some great recent developments and nowadays there are a few supplements on the market that taste decent while still giving you the same great benefits. We’ve compiled our three favorite options here.
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