Pre-Workout Supplements - What to Avoid & Ingredients to Look For

Pre-workout supplements are amongst the most popular products in today's fitness and sports supplementation industry. With all of the hype surrounding their over-exaggerated claims, flashy labels, and "broscience", everyone's out to try the best pre-workout supplement.  

Unfortunately, a majority of the pre-workout category is riddled with false claims and less-than-quality products.

What to Avoid in Pre-Workouts

Below are only a handful of deceitful practices that supplement consumers fall victim to everyday, from some of the largest and most well known brands:

  • Proprietary Blends - With minimal federal regulation on formula transparency, supplement brands are not required to disclose actual ingredient dosages, allowing them to hide under-dosed ingredients with "proprietary blends". Dishonest companies will "label stuff" - meaning they include fancy or quality ingredients, but do so at minimal, non-effective doses. In all reality, there's absolutely no reason for a supplement brand to use a proprietary blend, other than to deceive their customers. The concept of "trade secrets" is, well, a load of BS. With all of the available clinical research available on the internet as public knowledge, the world knows what works, and what doesn't, in terms of ingredient doses and effectiveness. The fact of the matter is simple - if a supplement company isn't willing to tell you exactly what's in their products, it's because they don't want you to know, for whatever reason. As a consumer, you have the right to demand transparency, especially when you're hard-earned money is being used to support their brand. 
  • Under-Dosed Ingredients - The clinical research behind the ingredients that have been shown to be effective for pre-workout supplementation is publicly available. For example, a company that uses only 500 mg of "ingredient X", when the effective dosage has been shown to be 4-6 grams (4,000 - 6,000mg), is providing an injustice to the consumers paying a premium price for the benefit that company claims to provide with only a fraction of the effective dose. If your current pre-workout includes several ingredients, but only has a total serving size of 7-10 grams (7,000-10,000 mg), it's almost using entirely under-dosed ingredients. Why pay $59 - $79 on a tub of this, when it would be cheaper to simply take a couple caffeine pills to achieve the same results?
  • "Everything but the kitchen sink" - Supplement brands add dozens of ineffective and needless ingredients in small dosages to make long, seemingly impressive, supplement facts panels. 
  •  Misrepresented Clinical Research - With troves of information online and clinical studies financed by large supplement corporations, big brands are able to "pick and choose", misrepresent, and exaggerate research for specific ingredients in order to project better efficacy of their products.
  • Artificial Sweeteners & Food DyesWith more and more clinical studies providing evidence of the various harmful side effects that artificial sweeteners and food dyes have on the body, there's absolutely no reason to consume them, with healthier alternatives available. Here are some links to help with your research on the matter; Artificial Sweeteners [1], [2], [3], Food Dyes [1], [2], [3]. Check your current pre-workout - If it includes Acesulfame Potassium, Aspartame, and/or Sucralose, or food dyes like FD&C Red Lake #40, FD&C Blue Lake #1, or FD&C Yellow #5 it's important to understand that there are healthier alternatives available!
  • Fillers & Unnecessary Ingredients - Using substantial amounts of "filler" ingredients, like maltodextrin (cheap carbohydrate powder) to increase serving size, or even excessive amounts of caffeine for the wow effect. These cheap tactics gives the unknowing consumer the false appearance of a better product, when in reality the product is cheaply made, overpriced and often ineffective. 
  • Using Chemical Names - By using the chemical compound name, like 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dion, when "caffeine" will suffice, gives a false impression of the nature of the product. Though, it's technically accurate, using the general name helps consumers to better understand what's included in the product. 
  • Limited Servings - We're all familiar with the terrible feeling associated with running out of pre-workout. But, what's worse, is running out of your favorite pre-workout after only a couple of weeks, or even only 20 servings. Seriously? Who only puts 20 servings in a container that should last an entire month, or at minimum, 30 servings?

Now, to some consumers, these practices may be completely acceptable, but for those that demand more from the supplement companies they give their hard-earned business to, and for those that care to know exactly what their money is being spent on, this article is for you. 

With this understanding, it begs the question - Why do supplement companies do this? The answer is quite simple. From a business and economics standpoint, it's extremely profitable. With little regulation and so many labeling loopholes, these products are incredibly cheap to manufacture and even easier to market to the masses.  

Something to consider, as a supplement consumer, as it relates to the way supplement companies operate, is that it's easy to fill products with cheap ingredients and stimulants and skip out on all of the important, necessary ingredients.

    Best Pre-Workout Ingredients

    Aside from the aforementioned elements to look out for when looking for the best pre-workout supplement, something else to consider are the key ingredients, and their clinically effective dosages. We cover 5 of the most effective, and proven, ingredients for pre-workout supplementation below:

    • Beta-Alanine - If you've ever felt the tingling sensation on your skin after drinking pre-workout, it's from beta-alanine. It's harmless, and should subside by the time your workout is through. Research shows that it helps to improve endurance performance and cardiovascular fitness, while also reducing muscular fatigue. The clinically effective dose of beta-alanine ranges from 2.6-6.4 grams per day. [1], [2], [3]
    • Betaine - Research on betaine supplementation shows that it results in moderate increases in total repetitions and volume load in compound exercises like bench press, improves muscle endurance and the quality of repetitions performed in exercises like squats, and increased power, force, and protein synthesis. The clinically effective dose of betaine, as cited in the studies above, ranges between 1.25-2.5 grams. [1], [2], [3], [4]
    • Caffeine - No surprise here, as caffeine has been show to increase muscle endurance, anaerobic capacity,  and strength output for 1RM (1-rep-max). The clinically effective dose of caffeine ranges from 3-6 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. [1], [2]
    • Citrulline Malate - Simply put, it's the amino acid citrulline bound with malic acidSome pre-workouts use L-arginine instead of citrulline malate, which is often frowned upon, as citrulline malate is absorbed more efficiently than L-arginine. It's been shown to enhance athletic anaerobic performance, relieve muscle soreness, and promote energy production. The clinically effective dose of citrulline malate ranges from 4-10 grams per day. [1], [2], [3]
    • Theanine - Supplementation containing theanine has been shown to reduce psychological and physiological stress, while enhancing mental alertness and attention. When paired with caffeine, theanine provides a host of cognitive benefits, which improves focus, memory, and mood. [1], [2], [3], [4]

      Introducing Transparent Labs PreSeries Pre-Workouts

      Transparent Labs is simple and strays from the typical "standards" set by our supplement industry. With some of the most exciting pre-workout supplements available, our PreSeries line contains:

      • 100% label and formula transparency
      • Science-backed ingredients
      • Clinically effective dosages
      • Zero artificial sweeteners, fillers, or additives
      • Zero over-exaggerated marketing / product claims
      • Zero misused research 
      • 30 full servings

      Learn more about our pre-workouts here. 


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