The Best Pre Workout Supplements for Men and Women – 2021 Edition
Let’s face it, you’re addicted to pre workouts. And for good reason – they’re freaking awesome.
Quite frankly no other class of performance supplement can compare:
- Protein powders? Tasty but basic.
- BCAAs? A good way to flavor water.
- Test boosters? Just one big steroid tease.
Pre workout supplements on the other hand offer a real sensation.
Energy, focus, stamina and rage!
We love pre workouts for how they make us feel. Yet this same emotional gravitation is often used against us by shady supplement brands who only focus on the ‘mental feels’.
That is the reason why the staff at BWSB has been tracking the 10 best pre workout supplements over the last 6 years. Not to simply filter out the good from the bad, but to bring forward the great from the ‘good enough!’
What we look for:
- Real clinical dosages.
- Ethical and effective caffeine use.
- Good value and servings count.
- Accurate claims from brand to label.
What we don’t support:
- Hyped, over-promoted products.
- Illegal ingredients or pseudo-stimulants.
- Filler-packed proprietary blends.
For the last 6 years, the staff at BWSB have been one of the most respected ‘underground’ references for ranking the best pre workouts.
Why? Because we’re not a store or fitness magazine.
All those other rankings you see are simply “best sellers lists” based on which company spent the most money on advertising. Not an indication of quality at all!
We on the other hand actually try the pre workouts, research the ingredients, and read emails and comments from users like you who submit their experiences to us.
You can share your experiences in the comments below, or email us through our contact us page.
Top 10 Pre Workouts [2021 Update]
#10 Evlution Nutrition ENGN Shred: notable addition
Best for: Value seekers who want a fat burning pre workout for boosting energy.
ENGN Shred by Evlution nutrition is a top selling pre workout that has been getting a lot of attention in major supplement stores. This is specifically the weight loss version of the original ENGN pre workout, and has a very attractive price tag of about $35.
This pre workout appears to be performing well due to its extreme promotion. Evlution Nutrition is constantly doing promotions with this product, and placing it on ideal sales.
ENGN Shred versus all: While many supplement stores rank ENGN Shred very high, we consider its only consumer-centric advantage to be its low price tag. For that reason, we rank it only #10 while many other places place it higher strictly due to sales volume.
Positives for ENGN Shred:
- Extremely inexpensive
- Always on sale or promotion
- Relatively clean energy experience
- Proprietary mind-muscle-matrix blend
- Under-dosed beta-alanine
- Artificial flavors, sucralose, dyes
Our view: “ENGN Shred was an add-on to our last supplement haul, and we were surprised to see it ranking so high on other sites. This pre workout does have notable fat burners in it, though the cumulative formula is dosed low and not quality-competitive.”
#9 Muscletech Neurocore: cheapest pre workout
Best for: Athletes wanting an easy to take most bang for your buck energy pre workout.
Neurocore doesn’t introduce any new novel ingredients, provide PR breaking dosages, or really anything exceptionally ‘fancy’. Instead, Neurocore covers the basics for an extremely cheap price.
With Neurocore, you’ll get a clean energy experience on the cheap. We’re talking less than $20 per 30 servings cheap! Though, if you would like this pre workout to pack a stronger punch, they recommend 2 scoops which cuts total servings in half.
Neurocore versus all: It all comes down to the price tag and good taste. That is the unique advantage for this pre workout.
Positives for Neurocore
- Most inexpensive pre workout
- Decently reliable energy
- Contains creatine HCL
- Tastes half decent
- Contains Yohimbe (pro/con)
- Not Ideal for those looking to upgrade
- Artificial colors, flavors, and dyes
Our view: “This supplement is a great option if you are new to pre workout supplements and want a moderate energy boost but nothing too crazy or extreme. This isn’t a pump, strength, or endurance formulated pre workout, just an inexpensive energy supplement”
#8 Betancourt B-NOX Androrush: previously Bullnox
Best for: hardcore bodybuilders who want a maca root containing testosterone boosting pre workout.
Quite a few years ago, B-NOX was rated best pre workout on this list. Back then, it was called Bullnox, and the formula was much more potent.
B-NOX’s unique advantage was that it contained testosterone boosting ingredients. This effectively made it the only test boosting pre workout available. However nowadays, a bad reformulation of B-NOX alongside rising competition has lowered it in the ranks.
B-NOX versus all: B-NOX is a historically awesome pre workout that still touts its use of maca and other testosterone promoting ingredients. However, from a performance and quality standpoint it isn’t as competitive as it used to be.
Positives for B-NOX:
- Contains maca root for testosterone
- Reasonable tasting pre workout
- Epic lineage / history
- Medium energy level
- Reformulated for the worst
- Contains a ton of sugar
- Generally under-dosed ingredients
Our view: “Bullnox Androrush used to be a much higher quality product before it was reformulated. Today, while it has been marginalized, some of its character still shines through. We’ll always love B-NOX despite the competition rising and over-taking it.
#7 Prosupps Jekyll and Hyde Stack: super stim wildcard
Best for: Athletes that want to make their own concoction and enjoy a super stimulant pre workout.
You would be surprised by how many people enjoy pushing pre workouts to the limit and doing something crazy. The ever infamous Jekyll and Hyde stack is just that.
Combining Jekyll and Hyde increases stimulants to a blistering level, while also adding noticeable pump to the equation. This combo isn’t for everyone, only the semi-insane.
Jekyll and Hyde versus all: By combining both Prosupps pre workouts into one product, you manage to make your own ‘hardcore’ pre workout while still getting a good pump complex and accessory stimulant aids. This makes the combo a more meaningful experience than typical ‘hardcore’ options not included on this list, though more expensive.
Positives for the stack:
- Very high caffeine with co-stimulants
- A unique experience
- Not intended for most (high caffeine)
- A quite costly combination
- Strictly high energy and pump
Our view: “On their own, Jekyll provides quite good pump while Hyde is the real stimulant power. Though, when you combine these two, powers unite and you get a mix of both worlds with a huge caffeine rush being the feature most noted. This certainly isn’t for everyone, but is quite notable considering how popular high caffeine products have become”
#6 Cellucor C4 Original: Best pre workout at Costco
Best for: athletes looking for a quick and easy energy boost that tastes good and is available worldwide.
If you didn’t know already, Cellucor C4 is the most popular and widely sold pre workout on the market. But does that make it the best? Well, its likely best for availability.
Cellucor’s unique edge with C4 is its massive availability at nearly every health store, paired with 10 specialized variants. For our top 10 pre workouts, our data and experience leads us to recommend the original C4 extreme as #6 on this list.
C4 versus all: compared to most pre workouts, C4 isn’t necessarily special. However Cellucor is very good at making C4 the first pre workout most people try. So, C4 is a pretty good pre workout but doesn’t have a unique quality advantage over other supplements.
Positives for Cellucor C4:
- Cost-effective energy pre workout
- Available worldwide in most major retailers
- 10 specialized variants for fine-tuning
- Several great tasting flavors to chose from
- Not a clinically dosed pre workout
- Uses artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners
- Generally an over-hyped supplement
Our view: “Each C4 model is good for the purpose of energy creation. However, pump and endurance just isn’t there. This really doesn’t faze us though, because we’ve always loved C4 for its convenience and cheap price tag! Now however, the price has gone up and the formula got less effective with special versions.”
#5 PES Prolific: multi-scoop pre workout
Best for: Bodybuilders wanting a quality pre workout without beta-alanine.
PES (Physique Enhancing Science) has been making reliable workout supplements for ages. Their pre workout Prolific does a good job representing their commitment to safe supplements.
Prolific manages to deliver great tasting flavors in a 1 and 2 scoop serving size depending on how pumped up you’d like to get. While ‘multiple scoops’ used to be common in pre workouts, lately it has phased out with extreme caffeine levels making it not possible. Prolific brings it back.
Prolific versus all: at two scoops, prolific delivers a great tasting 6 grams of l-citrulline paired with 320 mg caffeine. This greatly out performs other small-dose pre workout supplements.
Positives for PES Prolific:
- Solid 6 grams of pure l-citrulline
- Contains 3:2 caffeine-to-l-theanine
- Good accessory stimulants
- Fantastic tasting pre workout
- Expensive at recommend 2 scoop serving size
- Doesn’t contain beta-alanine
- Contains artificial flavors
Our view: “Prolific is a good small-scoop pre workout made by the long-lasting and respectable PES nutrition. The energy was clean and works quite well as a quick pick-me-up for increasing energy before the gym.
#4 Kaged Nutrition Pre-Kaged: hybrid pre workout
Best for: Athletes who want a large-formula but also demand that their pre workout tastes good.
Kaged Nutrition is still a new brand, led by popular bodybuilder and trainer Kris Gethin. His pre workout, Pre-Kaged contains several similarities to our top 3 as well as a few distinct divergences.
What sets Pre-Kaged apart from other leading pre workouts is that it tastes really good, while being naturally flavored and strongly dosed. This makes Pre-Kaged the preferred pick for flavor chasers.
Pre-Kaged versus all: Pre-Kaged delivers almost all of the clinical pre workout promises, while still tasting fantastic. This is like a supercharged version of Kinobody Kino Octane.
Positives for Pre-Kaged
- Tastes good for a large-scoop pre workout
- Naturally flavored and sweetened
- Large dose of creatine hydrochloride
- Available in most retail locations
- L-citrulline instead of l-citrulline malate
- Significantly under-dosed beta-alanine
- Stimulant matrix lacks l-theanine
Our view: “If you demand that your pre workout taste really good, but also want to hit key dosages on l-citrulline, caffeine, and creatine HCL; then Pre-Kaged is a fantastic pre workout to consider.”
#3 NITROSURGE Black: Best value and innovative ingredients.
Best for: strong pre workout lovers that want the latest patented ingredients on the market such as Dynamine™ and Theacrine™.
Nitrosurge Black is one of the most forward thinking pre workouts, climbing from bottom-to-top on the best pre workouts list. You can consider it a ‘breakout product’ with very humble beginnings.
Nitrosurge BLACK’s unique formula has been expertly formulated with the latest patented stimulant technology.
Unrivalled Value: No other pre workout supplement contains heavy hitting doses at such a low cost per serving. If you enjoy the raw heavy-hitting energy sensation, and demand a product that doesn’t break the bank, then Nitrosurge Black Edition wins every time.
Positives for Black Edition Nitro Surge:
- 6 grams l-citrulline at 2 scoops for massive pumps
- Dynamine and Theacrine Patented stimulants
- Fastest acting high energy complex
- Amazing value at less than $1 per serving
- Only 15 servings per container at full clinical doses
- Only available on Amazon and JackedFactory.com
Our view: “Nitrosurge Black was a pleasure to take and you really feel even one scoop significantly in your body. Being loaded with the latest and greatest ingredients at a rock bottom price point is hard to beat”
#2 JYM Supplements Pre-Jym: The original clinical pre workout
Best for: comprehensive pre workout lovers who also require high caffeine.
Pre-Jym is the original large-scoop clinically dosed pre workout supplement. Back when it first came out, it was all the rave, with absolutely no competition. Literally no other pre workout was better for years.
Pre-Jym has the rare advantage of being expert formulated. This time by none other than Jim Stoppani who has a long history in performance research. This is a big plus, considering that the majority of nutritional supplement brands do not disclose who actually formulates their products.
Pre-Jym versus all: The pre workout market has continued to evolve and improve which is why Pre-Jym is no longer rated #1. BULK has inched ahead with a larger formula and well-rounded stimulant matrix, while Kaged Pre-Kaged certainly aspire to do the same.
Positives for Pre Jym:
- High energy with good endurance
- Fully disclosed active ingredients list
- Developed by Jim Stoppani (reputable)
- Best pre workout you’ll find at GNC stores
- 20 Servings per container
- High in caffeine
- Beta-alanine is under-dosed
Our view: “While reviewing Jym Pre-Jym, we were heavily impressed with how this pre workout energizes not just the mind, but the body as well. The citrulline malate works fantastic to promote high levels of performance that can dominate any workout routine.”
#1 Transparent Labs BULK: highest rated
Best for: Athletes and bodybuilders seeking the best pre workout for overall energy, performance and recovery without exception.
It goes without saying that we’ve tried a lot of pre workouts, but nothing ever compares to the experience we get with PreSeries BULK. It’s clean, powerful, and compared to other products actually helps you build muscle.
The reason why BULK is the best is because of its all-encompassing formula. Simply put, its all there, and in the right dosages.
PreSeries BULK versus all: Bulk contains nearly all of the benefits of the top 2-4 pre workouts and combines them into one product. Each ingredient is clinically maximized to work alongside each other, producing the highest powered workout experience without compromise.
Benefits for BULK:
- Most clinically-backed pre workout
- Full 30 servings per container
- Clean energy experience without crash
- Natural flavors, sweeteners, and no dyes
- Premium price (quality + 30 servings)
- Not available on Amazon or Bodybuilding
Our view: “The first time we took BULK was an incredible experience, the workout potential seemed endless. However what really caught our attention was how this first experience continued on, workout after workout. Like with pre-kaged and pre-jym, we’re confident in the ingredients found in BULK. However on a performance comparison level, BULK is top rated.”
What exactly makes a great pre workout so great?
The quality of a pre workout supplement will always come down to its formula. Some can get ahead by focusing on one well-dosed ingredient, while the best blend several well-dosed ingredients together flawlessly to improve body and mind.
Here is a brief informational buyers guide covering what you should be looking for in a quality pre workout:
High energy pre workouts focus on stimulants.
If you enjoy pre workouts that your friends can only half-scoop, then you’re all about the stimulants. Lucky for you, high stimulant pre workouts are more common than not, and typically cost less.
Here are the ingredients to know in high energy pre workouts:
Caffeine is the pillar of all energy supplements and is responsible for the rush you get from coffee and tea (11). In terms of dosing: 0-100 mg is considered low, 100-225 mg is considered moderate, and 225+ is heavy.
Nearly every pre workout that isn’t stimulant free will contain caffeine to a varying degree, and its dosage can gauge the overall ‘energy strength’ of the product.
Theacrine increases energy like caffeine, but the timing and strength is different (12). For one, theacrine kicks in about an hour into your workout, right as caffeine may be weakening. Second, theacrine requires a much smaller dosage. And third, it is believed that we do not build a tolerance to theacrine the same way as caffeine. Despite its bad taste, Theacrine is a powerful pre workout stimulant (13).
ThermoDiamine™ also known as Evodiamine is considered to be both an energy ingredient and a fat burning ingredient (14). From an energy perspective in pre workouts, ThermoDiamine™ is commonly referred to as a fast-acting Theacrine.
Yohimbe isn’t directly considered a stimulant, but when paired with caffeine it certainly potentiates like one. In low and moderately caffeinated pre workouts, Yohimbe can increase the thermogenic and total energy potential. However, in highly caffeinated pre workouts, we consider it to be more harm than good due to its effects on blood pressure, heart rate and other rare but occurring side effects (15).
Endurance pre workouts focus on circulation, pH control, nutrients and stable stimulants.
Many endurance pre workouts contain stimulants like the ones listed above, however they also contain many endurance-specific ingredients to take workouts farther.
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branch chain amino acids are known for their anabolic effects. However when paired with l-citrulline malate pre workout, BCAAs can reduce mental fatigue and improve endurance (10). BCAAs can improve endurance and mental power at dosages as low as 3 grams, but for recovery and muscle growth 7+ grams are required.
At 3.2 grams and up, beta-alanine increases endurance and performance by delaying muscle acid build-up (6) (7). Smaller dosages will only give you ‘tingles’. For maximum effect, you’ll want to take beta-alanine consistently every day.
Found to increase pumps, endurance, performance, and strength (1)(2)(3)(4) – l-citrulline malate is superior to straight l-citrulline pre workouts (5). The clinical dosage for L-citrulline malate starts at 6 grams, make sure you are getting it.
Strength pre workouts focus on ATP and CNS power.
The placebo effect and a good night of sleep will always be the worlds best strength enhancer. However, nutritional ingredients can help too. While all of the ingredients we’ve listed participate to a degree, these two are most pronounced.
Creatine is the defacto number one strength enhancer of the sports industry. When in your pre workout, you can anticipate it as creatine monohydrate or the faster acting creatine HCL. Though, when combined with other pre workout ingredients creatine may lose its ability to uptake properly.
Sometimes Heavy Stimulants
A large part of strength has to do with how strong nerve impulses fire from your brain to your muscle. You can non-glamorously compare this to crackhead/meth super-strength, but the principle is the same. The only caveat is that it isn’t going to make you stronger forever, as your body will quickly burn out if your regularly super-dosing stimulants.
Weight loss pre workouts focus on thermogenesis.
Anything that makes you workout harder or longer is going to increase the amount of calories you burn. But which do it best in a pre workout?
All of the stimulants that we’ve mentioned above act as fat burners in your pre workout, too. This is because the energy you feel comes from somewhere, it requires power – that power is from burnt calories.
Forskolin is extremely popular in fat burners, though you may also find it in some specialty pre workouts. Unlike many other weight loss ingredients, Forskolin isn’t a stimulant which gives it an edge for daily use.
L-carnitine is a popular fat-burner add-on because well, its cheap. The benefit to taking l-carnitine is that it can improve metabolism in your mitochondria, something that may be hard to amplify when you first start exercising.
Green Tea Extract
Lots of natural pre workouts like to tout the addition of green tea to their blends. It makes sense too, considering green tea can increase weight loss, provide caffeine for energy and is rich in antioxidants (16). What they aren’t telling you, is that is a pretty cheap add-on for them.
Muscle growth pre workouts focus on volume hypertrophy, nutrient delivery and recovery.
Lifting heavy weights is the most clear-cut way to build more muscle. But, there are specific pre workout ingredients that can increase the results produced by lifting.
Improves exercise performance and body composition in both male and female athletes (8)(9).
Strength and endurance ingredients:
Several studies have observed BCAAs, l-citrulline malate, beta-alanine and creatine increase muscle growth in addition to their other performance benefits.
Nootropic pre workouts focus on co-stimulants and neuro-enhancing compounds.
Several low and medium caffeinated pre workouts can produce an absolutely euphoric and clean energy experience thanks to nootropic style ingredients.
L-theanine is naturally occurring in tea and compliments caffeine by reducing the jitters associated with caffeine intake (17). The ideal dosage of l-theanine is in reference to caffeine at 1 to 2 mg l-theanine per 1 mg caffeine.
Higenamine and Hordenine
We’ve grouped the pre workout ingredients higenamine and hordenine together because they are rarely separated. These two ingredients increase energy alongside caffeine similarly to synephrine.
Choline is a highly effective pseudo-b-vitamin that can have a noticeable impact on mood, focus and performance as a whole (18, 19). Containing both l-theanine and choline is an indication that the pre workout you’re taking is a good one.
Huperzine A functions in the body to upregulate choline, and thus its benefits can be attributed to the benefits of choline (20).
The best pre workout supplements deliver more than just one of these.
The overall best pre workouts hybridize many of these characteristics, to not only give you one specific goal, but ensure you can keep coming back day after day to make serious progress.
For instance, our top 3 best pre workouts contain clinical dosages across several categories above.
Pre workout supplements vs pre workout meals
This is for the rookies. Eating before exercise and taking a pre workout before exercise are completely different things.
Here’s what you should know:
- Pre workout supplements do not hit your food macros.
- You shouldn’t eat a pre workout meal at the same time as drinking your pre workout powder.
- No, a pre workout meal will not produce the same results as a pre workout supplement.
Here’s what you should do:
- You can still enjoy both, just eat your pre workout meal at least 45 minutes before you drink your pre workout shake. If you’re pre workout is hardcore, add some more time to that.
- Pick one or the other. If you’re already amped with energy, just get your macros in via food and skip the powder.
Best Pre Workouts Ranking Update Log
Curious about how pre workout supplements have changed over time? Here is our historical log for ranking updates. We make small tweaks all the time, but here we have documentation on any actual ranking change for a pre workout.
Pre Workout Supplements taken into consideration
There was a great deal of competition for the top 10 pre workouts list. Here are a few of the powders that didn’t make it this time but still offer a great lift: Juggernaut HP, 1stphorm megawatt, MRI Black Powder, Hemo-Rage, BPI 1MR, Muscletech Nano Vapor, Muscletech Shatter SX-7, Muscle Meds NO Bull, EXT GO, BSN NO Explode, and more.
To see what other popular pre workouts that we have been working with, check out our reviews using the top navigation.
Glance into the future: the next best pre workouts
With 2018 at a close, we didn’t get the kind of excitement we would’ve wanted. Really, we lost some epic pre workouts due to ingredients like DMAA being completely banned.
For 2019, we feel that our pre workout ranking is spot on. Looking forward the only thing that is going to shake up the industry is if a new novel pre workout ingredient is created. Most notably a new stimulant.
Regardless, we’ll be here covering it all so that you can focus on your gains.
If you discuss our rankings, cite it!
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