Pre-workout unlocks your power. The gym is no match for you when you have this potent energy push on your side. At least, that’s what most energy drinks advertise. With so many different pre-workouts claiming to boost your muscle gains, how do you know which one is the right one for you?


The largest division among pre-workout supplements is between stimulant pre-workouts and non-stimulant pre-workouts. The main benefit of the former is the boost in mental alertness they can help provide. The key ingredient when it comes to stimulant pre-workouts is caffeine. Caffeine has been shown to help athletes push through fatigue and grind out extra reps within each set. Extra reps means extra muscle growth in the long run. Other ingredients that help with energy are taurine and B vitamins. If you’re searching for the most cutting edge way to boost athletic performance in the moment, stimulant pre-workout drinks are the way. Increase energy production, boost metabolism to help with fat loss, and dominate your next workout.


Non-stimulant pre-workouts are caffeine free, but that doesn’t mean they are power free. These types of supplements make up for their lack in caffeine by providing more quality ingredients designed to help you get a better pump. L-citrulline is commonly introduced as a way to boost nitric oxide and increase blood-flow, granting you bigger muscle pumps and more efficient nutrient delivery. This acceleration of nutrient transportation allows your muscles to receive the carbohydrates and amino acids they need to maximally build muscle.

One final ingredient non-stimulant pre-workout supplements are known for is beta alanine. Beta alanine is similar to caffeine in that it increases your ability to push through fatigue just through a different mechanism in the body. It interacts with your body to synthesize the amino acid, carnosine. Increased levels of carnosine means higher energy levels at the cellular level, generating more reps during your high intensity workouts.


Just because the above ingredients are the primary movers, doesn’t mean they are free of other beneficial ingredients. Many pre-workout supplements are sure to include the widely researched creatine monohydrate. This powerful supplement accelerates the ATP cycle within the muscles, allowing for more reps and more muscle gains. Creatine can also help enhance muscle fullness and can potentially contribute to greater growth. However, creatine shouldn’t always be the deciding factor in choosing your pre-workout powder. Many companies are realizing that people supplement their creatine separately nowadays and are therefore including less creatine or no creatine in their pre-workout blends.

Other optional bonuses you can search for in your pre-workout supplements are BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) and EAAs (essential amino acids). BCAAs and EAAs are types of amino acids providing your body with the building blocks to build muscle. Pre-workout supplement companies include these in order to maximize the benefits of nitric oxide boosting ingredients like L-citrulline which is an amino acid itself. Maximizing the nutrients your body needs maximizes the muscle growth that can be done.

Head to Head

Pinning the two different types of pre-workout supplements against each other allows you to best evaluate which one is right for your type of training. Often, some of the deciding factors come down to time of training and side effects. If you train early in the morning, an extra boost from caffeine can really help you kickstart your workout. On the other hand, if you’re more of a night owl, taking a caffeine free pre-workout will allow you to still fall asleep post-workout.

Side effects, though uncommon, do occur in certain people. The main ingredient people have trouble with is beta-alanine. Though it can provide certain performance benefits, some people find that it makes their skin too itchy to handle. Selecting a pre-workout supplement that doesn’t contain this ingredient can be just what you need then.

It’s ultimately all about the benefits. Experiment with different pre-workout ingredients and see which ones your unique body responds best to. At the end of the day, the best pre-workout supplement is the one that works for your fitness goals. In time, you’re sure to find the one that maximizes your next workout.

About the Author

Jake Stewart

Jake Stewart

Jake is an author and weightlifter from the San Diego area. He has been in the gym for the past eight years, experimenting with weight training focused on aesthetics and strength. He...

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