Pre workouts. Yeah those. Yeah, this is Skinny Yoked.com, no need to pretend like you don’t have an addiction.
If you’re a Yoked mofo then you by default regularly rage in the gym and unless you got some serious buried internal struggles, you’ve probably relied on a pre workout (PWO) to get you into the zone at least once.
The news hates them, the FDA pretty much ignores them, mom’s don’t understand them. In a lot of ways PWOs are like the Batman or Punisher of comic book movie characters. …if they were drinks of course.
There are light PWOs, for beginners and teens that are low on the stimulants and offer just a sampling of some time-tested (legal) performance enhancing ingredients like creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, L-citrulline, betaine anhydrous, taurine and of course, our old pal caffeine.
After a few months of testing the PWO waters with lighter offerings, maybe Optimum Nutrition’s Amino Energy, or maybe even the most popular under-dosed PWO of all time in Cellucor’s C4, you might be ready to take it to the next step and discover what a REAL PWO can do..
(Learn how to increase the effectiveness of any pre-workout here)
What’s a “real” PWO you may ask? This is a blend with clinically-studied performance enhancing ingredients that are dosed at studied efficacious levels. In short, this means PWOs that have ENOUGH of the critical ingredient for it to have it’s medically intended effect.
Yeah, you’d be surprised how many supplement manufacturers skimp on the quantity, usually measured in milligrams.
So we cut through all the marketing hype and under-dosed poser PWOs to present a list of ONLY the most effective “full-bodied” blends on the market.
If you’re a regular reader of Skinny Yoked then the inclusion of PEScience’s Prolific product at the top of our list should come as no surprise.
PEScience is a company that forgoes marketing hype and bright colored plastic containers and holographic labels for understated branding but quality influencer partnerships.
You see, instead of trying to get your money by tricking you with fancy branding and labeling PEScience instead focuses on providing quality products with clinically efficacious dosages.
- INCREDIBLE VALUE - Each container of Prolific contains 40 scoops, providing 20 to 40 workouts, which is nearly twice the industry standard in serving size.
They prove their metal by partnering up with equally science-obsessed athletes like Youtuber Kevin Hejnas, competitive powerlifter and bodybuilder Jeff Nippard and Dr. Stephanie Buttermore. These people don’t fuck around with their lifting and they all use PEScience and that’s all you need to know.
Legion Athletics PULSE
Yes, we had to include PULSE. This is one of the best selling PWOs of all time and for good reason; it’s a solidly dosed product with critical ingredients including a whopping 8 grams of L-Citrulline DL-Malate and 3.6 grams of Carnosyn Beta Alanine.
^Those are some of the highest dosings-per-serving you’ll find in a commercially available pre workout.
Packing this much quality into one product means the scoops are quite large and they can only fit about 21 servings per container, but that is a recurring theme with the strongest PWOs and just a fact of life when you’re choosing quality over quantity.
- 100% ALL NATURAL PRE WORKOUT POWDER. Pulse is a naturally sweetened and flavored pre workout supplement that contains large and effective doses of the best science-backed ingredients, including those found in many nitric oxide supplements: L citrulline...
One thing to note is that PULSE is a creatine-free pre workout. This is done because some people are more sensitive to creatine for a multitude of reasons, or they’re just trying to preserve their hair which makes PULSE a great options.
In terms of gains though and getting as yoked as possible we’d recommend including creatine monohydrate in your stack as it is THE most studied legal bodybuilding supplement when it comes to power and muscle gains.
Beyond Raw LIT
With 3.2 grams of beta alanine and a solid pump-enhancing blend including 3 grams of l-citrulline and 1.5 grams of Nitrosigine Beyond Raw’s LIT PWO is a solid reliable contender in this list. It’s well rounded with the aforementioned pump enhancers, creatine and caffeine.
- CLINICALLY DOSED PRE-WORKOUT: Get LIT and power through the most extreme workouts with our best pre-workout for men and women.
One nice part of about LIT is they are able to fit 30 servings in a container. With only 250mg of caffeine per serving this also means you can take this in the afternoon and not still be wired at 10pm when you’re laying in bed trying to doze off.
And, if you are needing a little bit of a boost you could always go a scoop and a half to up the volume of everything in the tub, but of course then you’re sacrificing the 30-serving lifespan of the product, but that’s actually OK in our opinion given how competitively LIT is priced for what it offers.
Dr. Jim Stoppani’s Pre Jym
Love him or hate him Dr. Jim Stoppani is one of the most well known and respected supplement innovators having created one of the first clinically-dosed PWOs when other brands like BSN, O.N, and Muscletech were still offering “proprietary” blends with under-dosed ingredients.
Oh yeah, and Stoppani is an actual doctor as well, so his words hold a little more weight in our book than the average bodybuilder as he’s actually able to break down the science behind the ingredients in his products, unlike many other “influencers”.
- QUALITY INGREDIENTS - Pre JYM preworkout powder contains the best ingredients to optimize your workout. It has BCCAA's and creatine for muscle growth, citrulline malate and caffeine for endurance, plus beta-alanine and betaine for strength.
Jim busted into the laboratory and threw the entire lab kitchen into Pre-Jym. From BCAAs to creatine to beta alanine to l-citrulline to more rare ingredients like betaine, alpha-GPC, and huperzine-A there are fewer other PWOs that are as “comprehensive” as Stoppani’s Pre Jym and for that reason this classic ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Kodiak Supplements Lumberjacked
On the other end of the spectrum from Stoppani’s “do-everything” PWO the new kid on the block Kodiak Supplements goes for a more focused route with their Lumberjacked PWO.
This isn’t to say they skimp on anything. There are a full 3 grams of beta alanine and 5 grams of l-citrulline, which is very respectable indeed.
There is also a pretty unique energy source which combines 225mg of caffeine with yerba mate extract and green tea extract, which we like as straight caffeine anhydrous can sometimes lead to crashes whereas yerba mate and green tea extract seem to be a little smoother and a little more “concentration” focused.
We’re very excited to see what this new kid on the block offers in the future and are happy to include Lumberjacked in this very competitive list of top-performing PWOs.
Cellucor C4 Ultimate
In case you skipped the introduction to this post (if you did shame on you, go back to the top now, please) we talked a little bit of shit about Cellucor as an example of a under-dosed “light-weight” pre-workout for beginners.
While that might sound a little harsh we stand by it. The standard yellow/chrome colored C4 available in places like Wal-Mart and Walgreens is a poor-excuse for a PWO and is only for amateurs and people who don’t know any better. It’s a shame.
Luckily, there must be some people at Cellucor that “actually lift…bro” as they have a bigger badder brother to the original C4 called “C4 Ultimate”.
How does Ultimate compare to the original? Well, it has transparent labelling for one thing so you know exactly how much of what ingredient you are getting.
This includes a full 6 grams of citrulline malate (but no l-citrulline) and 3.2 grams of Carnosyn beta alanine, both of which are substantial improvements in dosages compared to the crappy original formula.
There’s also a pretty cool “focus” blend of a dozen or so exotic ingredients that intrigues us and make C4 Ultimate an actually memorable PWO, which came as a bit of a surprise for us.
For their improvements, nearly universal accessibility and dominant brand presence within the bodybuilding community C4 Ultimate earns a spot on this list. Just stay away from the original yellow one, that is garbage and you shouldn’t be buying your supplements at Wal-Mart if you can avoid it anyways as there are regularly better deals on Amazon and Bodybuilding.com.
Phil Heath Labs Dream Killer
Phil Heath’s “Dream Killer” (ostensibly named after his reputation within the Mr. Olympia circles as killing his competitors dreams at winning titles) is the newest player on this list.
Released in August of 2019 “Dream Killer” is 7-time Mr. Olympia champion Phil Heath’s signature PWO. He joins his contemporaries like Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler who have had success developing and marketing their own supplement lines based off their likenesses.
Don’t think Phil is just coasting off his name with Dream Killer. No this PWO has solid dosages of key ingredients like 5 full grams of creatine monohydrate, 3 grams of beta alanine, and 3 grams of l-citrulline.
There are also essential vitamins and minerals which is always nice to see in a “pre” workout as these are key nutrients that are often lost (via sweat) during intense lifting sessions so loading up on them before stepping in the gym is a great idea.
At around $50 for 20 servings per container this isn’t one of the most value-oriented PWOs but let’s be honest, if you’re buying this you’re probably already a huge Phil Heath fan and if that’s the case at least you can rest easy knowing you’re getting solid dosages.
Optimum Nutrition Platinum PRE
Yeah we did talk a little shit about O.N in the beginning of this round-up but that was only in reference to using something like Amino Energy as a PWO which might not have been entirely fair to be honest.
Amino Energy is used as a PWO by amateurs but we do actually like it as an intra-workout to help maintain workouts, as opposed to a dedicated pre-workout.
Fortunately Optimum Nutrition has another pre-workout product called Platinum Pre that has some pretty impressive dosages of ingredients.
- 4 grams of L-citrulline an amino acid precursor to N.O.
O.N Platinum Pre used to be considered a “spendy” PWO but with 30 servings per container, and regularly found at around $30 give or take it’s actually become fairly value-oriented as it’s got all the good stuff you want in a PWO like l-citrulline (2/4g), beta-alanine (1.6/3/2g) and even DMAE bitartrate.
Those dosages are written in two options because that’s how O.N markets their Platinum PWO, one scoop has “OK” dosages but if you want to go zero to a hundred REAL QUICK you simply double down on your scoops and you have some pretty intense dosages for your active ingredients.
Redcon1 Total War
Redcon1 was a brand born directly out of the over-saturation of weak proprietary “bathtub” brands shilling under-dosed sports supplements, according to founder Aaron Singerman, who himself was Editor-in-Chief at RxMuscle and was the CEO of Blackstone Supplements, you know, the guys that sold the “good stuff”.
Well, Total War is definitely the good stuff. All of Redcon1’s offerings have transparent labeling and quality ingredients at very solid dosages.
- Total War Preworkout for Men & Women - Formulated with amino acid beta alanine to enhance muscular endurance and reduce exhaustion. Total War preworkout delivers rapid, fast-acting power & focus for a transformative workout you didn't think was possible.
Total War comes fully loaded and ready for action with 6 grams of L-citrulline DL malate in a 2:1 ratio, 3.2 grams of beta alanine and a good amount of other special stuff you don’t see in that many PWOs.
We also like that despite it’s macho branding “Total War” isn’t overloaded with caffeine. We see brands do this when they try to make a “serious” PWO product but are too cheap to pack it with solid performance-enhancing ingredients so they just fill it with caffeine so users will get all jittery and assume “it’s working”…
There’s a reason why Redcon1 has won STACK3D.com (and they know a good PWO when they see one) supplement brand of the year twice in a row, and there’s a reason why they are sold on U.S military bases the world over; Redcon1 makes a quality product and Total War is a great example of that.
Old School Labs Vintage Blast
Whether it’s their ingeniously eye-grabbing branding or their hyper-masculine aesthetic, Old School Labs has probably been the biggest darling supplement brand of the last couple of years.
Coming out of seemingly nowhere, the founded-in-2013 brand quickly made a name for itself for quality and reliability of product.
- 🚀 Two-Stage Pre-Workout: Vintage Blast is a two-stage pre-workout powder for all fitness levels. It delivers nutrients at a steadier rate to work against dependency and help you power through workouts with laser focus.
Their signature PWO “Vintage Blast” harks back to a time when bodybuilding was more about beauty and aesthetic than it was becoming a “mass monster”.
You can find throwbacks to the “golden era” of bodybuilding everywhere in Old School Labs branding and products from their profession of love for 1960s-1980’s bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Samir Bannout, Steve Reeves, and Serge Nubret, to their undeniably rad retro packaging.
But it’s not just all fancy labels and slogans with Old School Labs (OSL). If you look at the ingredients of Vintage Blast it’s easy to see why so many people are loving their product.
Vintage blast is packed with 5 grams of L-citrulline malate, 2 grams of D-aspartic acid, a bunch of vitamins and minerals and a gram of beta alanine.
There are also two types of caffeine to keep your workout intense all the way through, just like the hardcore gym bodybuilders of Gold’s Gym decades ago.
So there you have it, 10 of the best selling, most clinically-dosed preworkouts currently available for purchase. All of the above blends strive to hit generally accepted volumes of active ingredients like l-citrulline (5+ grams/serving), beta alanine (3+ grams/serving) and caffeine (250mg+/serving).
Now, we have to mention that while we think some of the generic Muscletech and Cellucor products like the original C4 with their proprietary blends are worth skipping, that doesn’t mean that ALL proprietary blends are bad.
In fact, some proprietary blends are pretty awesome in their own unique ways. Sure, it would be nice to know what they were putting in them and how much, but at the end of the day, if they are recommended to us in the gym and we try them and are impressed we don’t care what the label says (to an extent).
Below are two products that we’ve personally used and both of which left a very positive impression and so are thus getting “honorable mentions” in this otherwise very dose-dependent best-of list.
GAT has been associated with hardcore bodybuilding over 20 years. Short for German-American Technologies, their products like Jetfuse, PMP and the legendary Nitraflex are staples in hardcore gyms across the world.
Nitraflex, while small in stature (the jar and scoop are tiny compared to the above listed big-hitters) it packs one of the hardest and most intense energy and focus punches we’ve ever experienced.
- NOW WITH NITROSIGINE FOR EVEN GREATER PUMPS!
This isn’t your typical plain-Jane caffeine jitter quick-to-peak and then quick-to-crash types of energies.. this is an energy that comes in smooth, builds up into a type of focused intensity, we’d even say “rage” except it’s not about anger as much as it is just going full on Hulk-mode.
We wrote up a dedicated review for GAT Nitraflex we were so impressed. While it hasn’t been in our cupboards for a while (it’s so potent you have to cycle on and off regularly) it’s definitely one of our favorite PWOs of all time and definitely worth trying at some point in your life as long as you aren’t overly sensitive to stimulants.
Musclepharm Assault Black
We’d usually lump the regular Musclepharm Assault in with the regular C4 as a PWO worth skipping right over at the supplement shop except it seems like Musclepharm knew too many critics were saying that so they formulated a more hardcore blend just for us and called it Assault “Black”.
Packaged in a completely murdered-out tub Assault Black has a very unique ingredient profile with all kinds of rare things not commonly found in your run-of-the-mill PWO.
- Helps increase energy, focus, strength and muscular pumps
The dosages are better than regular Assault with 3 grams of l-citrulline and 2 grams of beta alanine. There’s also a smattering of agmatine sulfate, betaine, creatine, BCAAs, and huperzine A.
Musclepharm also has a more transparent and clinically dosed offering that’s one step above Black and that is called Wreckage. So the order of potency for Musclepharm goes Assault > Assault Black > Wreckage.
Our stand-alone review of Assault Black can be found here and we’ve still yet to give Wreckage a try but it’s definitely on our shopping list for our next supplement haul and should at least be on your radar as well.
Skinny Yoked Summary
One thing you’ll notice about all of the above mentioned pre workouts is that they are all a bit more expensive than Amino Energy, C4 or whatever other crap you’ve been buying at Wal-Mart. This is because those clinically studied ingredients like l-citrulline aren’t exactly cheap.
Supplement companies often cut corners and save money by under-dosing that stuff and filling their products with filler, sugar, or just cheap caffeine.
So, if you’ve ever taken a pre workout and wondered why you didn’t feel anything afterwards it may be because whatever you’re consuming is under-dosed where it counts.
We’ve also done a complete round-up of the best carb-loaded mass gainers as well as a roundup of the best stim-free BCAAs for intra-workout support as well.
Give a couple of the above mentioned brands/blends a shot before making a final decision on whether or not PWOs are for you and yes, some people just don’t get the same effects as others, and for those people we only have to say: we hate you.. because you will save so much money over the course of your bodybuilding career!
Last update on 2023-06-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API