The best pre-workout supplements to make the most of your gym session

No motivation? No worries


by Jade Moscrop |
Updated on

When it comes to working out, it's fair to want to get the most out of your session.

However, sometimes, it may feel like you're lacking in energy and you end up feeling demotivated and frustrated.

Many people look to supplements to get that extra boost, whether it's protein shakes for recovery, or pre-workout supplements to fuel their session.

The world of supplements is a confusing one though, so you'd be forgiven for not knowing where to start.

Want to find out if a pre-workout is for you? We spoke to Steven Virtue, Fitness Content and Programming Manager at Total Fitness, to find out the all-important information.

Steven has 15 years’ experience in the fitness industry and is a qualified personal trainer with a degree in Sports and Exercise Science. Always seek professional advice before taking any supplements.

What is a pre-workout supplement?


Pre-workouts are pretty much what it says on the tin - supplements you take before your workout.

Steven explains, "Pre-workouts are essentially a stimulant - a blend of ingredients specially merged to illicit a higher level of focus, muscular endurance and aid in the reduction of body fat. They are used to improve training days for those who want an extra kick, are down on sleep or struggle with motivation."

What are their benefits?

Many look to pre-workouts to get the boost they need to train harder and longer.

Steven adds, "They typically include creatine, a substrate which has proven over countless studies to aid in muscular endurance due to its energy production qualities. They also help with internal economy by drawing blood plasma into skeletal muscle which is a big contributor to power output. This compliments an amino acid in all pre-workout supplements called beta-alanine which also helps fight muscular fatigue.

"Caffeine is also prevalent in these products, which helps with concentration and focus, ensuring you’re in good stead after a busy day in the office or lack of sleep."

Group of people workout out with resistance bands
©Photo: Unsplash

Are there any drawbacks?

It's natural to think that adding anything into your diet could have negative effects, and you'd be right to think that way. Steven explains:

"It’s very easy to depend on pre-workout supplements and quite often, people can become less motivated to train without it. There can also be some side effects based on the concentration of ingredients, including irritation, itchiness and the shakes.

"For any new gym user or anyone trying these supplements for the first time, it can be an unpleasant experience. There is a period after taking pre-workout where energy levels crash which can affect your mood and sleep however, you can build up a tolerance to this."

We've searched high and low for the top-rated products on the web, and we've included some of Steven's top picks too:

The best pre-workout products 2020

We do receive commission for purchases made through our links


Best pre-workout supplements

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre Workout Energy Drink Powder1 of 7

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre Workout Energy Drink Powder

This is especially designed to help you unleash focus, power and performance during your next workout. Take 30 minutes before your next spin class for the ultimate burn! A reviewer wrote, "The ground will quake the weights will shake as you consume this divine supplement. It will provide you with the energy of a 50 men no matter what age you are. Your foes will tremble as you get in a couple more reps than they. For as long as you consume this product you will have the powers that only a few can attain, the power of the Gods. Such power shall surge within 30 minutes of consumption and only then will you be unstoppable."

MyProtein The Pump2 of 7
CREDIT: MyProtein

MyProtein The Pump

Available in flavours 'Orange Mango' and 'Rainbow Sherbert', this clever pre-workout has zero-added caffeine. Perfect for evening workouts and if you can't stand any typical side effect including skin tingling. One satisfied reviewer said, "I was on the lookout for a low-caffeine pre-workout since I mostly workout in the evenings. I came across this product and was not disappointed. Improved my focus and energy and gave me that extra push to complete my sessions. Because of the beta-alanine, there's that tingle and itch that makes you want to just start moving. Felt a bit strong and artificial at first but just add a bit more water and it tastes like a fruit punch. Haven't tried mango but rainbow sherbet's delicious. Would love to see some more flavours."

Vegan Supplement Store Vegan Pre-Workout3 of 7
CREDIT: Vegan Supplement Store

Vegan Supplement Store Vegan Pre-Workout

The plant-based pre-workout has only 40 calories per serving but the ingredients wake the body and brain up ready for the hardest of workouts. The mighty pre-workout has 8g of protein per serving, as well as a full amino acid profile - perfect to aid muscle recovery. Available in Pineapple and Red Fruits flavours (and we can vouch that it tastes amazing!)

Women's Best Pre-workout Booster4 of 7
CREDIT: Women's Best

Women's Best Pre-workout Booster

Turn your half-hearted training into an intense mega workout with this cult-favourite pre-workout. We love this as it's not too sweet, thus easier to drink. A reviewer said, "Alright this really helps me rock those gym sessions, but what I like the most is the taste. It has enough sweetness, but not too much and therefore easy to drink. Amazing booster, ideal before workouts at great price."

Performance Lab Pre Supplement5 of 7

Performance Lab Pre Supplement

This performance supercharger enhances muscle power and strength, extends aerobic and anaerobic endurance, while boosting and sustaining blood flow to muscles to keep you feeling powerful. It's clean, plant-based with no caffeine and needs to be taken 30 minutes before your activity.Review: We found that this one doesn't give you those pesky jitters or weird fizzy skin feeling, but feels great and aids with pushing you through a tough workout.

Caffeine Bullet Mint Chews6 of 7

Caffeine Bullet Mint Chews

Each chew contains 100mg caffeine (more than a strong cup of coffee) and 4 types of electrolytes helping you to smash your pb. Avoid for your evening workouts, unless you don't fancy sleeping much... A reviewer wrote, "Thought I would give these ago on my next triathlon, and they were great. Better than my gels and a great deal easier to carry as they are the size of a toffee. Real good energy boost from them and if you like the taste of coffee then you will like the taste ofof these. If you can't get on with gels or other products that all seem to be too big to fit in your pocket then try these. Well worth the money and better than the other products I've tried."

PhD Nutrition Pre-Workout Supplement7 of 7

PhD Nutrition Pre-Workout Supplement

Take this pre-workout between 20-30 minutes prior to a workout with water for a good muscle pump. It contains over 2g of Arginine and Betaine per serving, as well as super-ingredient L-Norvaline. Available in Fruit Punch or Raspberry Lemonade.One reviewer says, "The best pre workout if your looking for a good pump. As it's caffeine-free there's no judders and gives you that little bit extra".

What are the most common ingredients in pre-workouts?


Our bodies take in amino acids when we eat meat to make creatine, which is a form of energy our muscles use for recovery. Using a creatine supplement speeds up how quickly you recover, meaning you can train harder and become stronger. It's one of the most popular and effective supplements.


We rely on caffeine to help us function during the work day, so why not for workouts, too? A caffeine boost before you workout can help you focus, react more quickly and enhances your overall performance. It can also aid with longer sessions (like running long distance) and have thermogenic properties, meaning it speeds up your metabolism


There are 20 amino acids that make up the thousands of different proteins in the human body. Nine of these are essential amino acids, which means your body can't create these and has to get them from things we consume.

BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) are three essential amino acids called leucine, isoleucine and valine. They're usually found in meat, eggs and dairy products and help with muscle recovery, fatigue and muscle growth.

If you already eat a lot of protein-rich foods, it's unlikely you'll need BCAAs supplements.


Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, which increases carnosine in the muscles. Carnosine reduces lactic acid accumulation, which can aid with fatigue and increase endurance.

If you consume too much beta-alanine, you may experience tingling in the skin, although this isn't seen to be a harmful side effect.


Citrulline is a nonessential amino acid, which means that your body naturally produces it. It was first found in watermelon.

It can widen your arteries and veins to increase blood flow in your muscles, helping to improve the oxygen content and usage. This can lead to better performance when exercising, as well as decreased soreness after exercise.

Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is best known as baking soda, but athletes also use it to boost their workouts. When we exercise, our muscles produce lactic acid, which decreases the pH of our muscle cells and can lead to fatigue.

Sodium bicarbonate helps to lower the pH of our muscles, meaning they can continue to work harder, faster or longer.

It's generally thought of as a good supplement for those who take part in high intensity workouts, like HIIT classes.

How do you know which pre-workout is right for you?

We'd always recommend seeking professional advice before adding any supplements in your diet, and Steven echoes this.

He notes, "If you’re new to pre-workout, chances are you wont entirely know your tolerance level to some of the ingredients. I’d advise entering a supplement specific store and asking advice on the lower concentrated products, where trained professionals can advise before you buy online. Over time, you can increase as you build a tolerance.

"Also, try not to take pre-workout for the sake of taking it, as I eluded to before, you can become quite dependant on these, over-train and struggle to train without it. Be strategic - use it as a catalyst to a more effective workout if you are over tired or low on motivation. Don’t like the side effects? Creatine as a standalone product is enough."

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