Why You Should Stop Wasting Your Hard-Earned Money On These “Best-Selling” Pre-Workouts
This best pre workout guide, or rather…
“Best “anti-pre workout guide is for you if you find yourself in any of the following categories:
- You’ve used any of these “best-selling” pre-workout supplements in the past
- You consider one of these “best-selling” pre-workout supplements to be your favorite
- You’ve spent hundreds (or, even thousands) of dollars on any of the “best selling” pre-workout supplements in the past
Chances are, you’ve used one of these pre-workouts in the past.
And along those lines, you’ve probably been “sold” on the idea that these pre-workouts were among the best of the best, for a variety of reasons.
As long-time consumers of workout and nutrition supplements here at Supplement Demand, we’ve seen just about every trick in the book when it comes to the various tactics and techniques that the big brand supplement companies use to sell their supplements.
Over the years, unfortunately, these tactics have become more and more… uh, “shady”.
And that’s to put it lightly.
With all that in mind, and to summarize the purpose of this guide:
If you think your favorite pre workout is one of the “best pre workouts” on the market, this article was created for you.
Traditionally, the term “best” has been synonymous with “most popular” or “most often seen around the gym”.
Today, we’re going to re-define what it means to be a “best pre-workout”, in ways that you may not have thought of before.
While doing so, we’re also going to cover some of the most popular “offenders” in pre-workout nutrition supplement category.
As a bit of foresight, here’s some of what we’ll be covering below:
- Formula transparency (and the use of “proprietary blends”)
- Formula integrity (under-dosed “key” ingredients, “label fillers”, etc)
- Misleading and improper use of “science”
- Artificial flavoring, artificial sweeteners, and harmful additives
And that’s just the beginning…
Pre-Workout Supplements – The Unfortunate Truth
In terms of popularity, pre-workout supplements are the undeniable starchild of the supplement world.
Pre-workout supplements (have been) notorious for a number of deceitful practices.
Some of these includes:
- Using ineffective and unproven ingredients to create long and seemingly impressive supplement fact panels
- Citing outdated, structurally flawed, and biased studies to increase the saleability and effectiveness of specific ingredients
- Under dosing key ingredients that are publically known to increase the efficacy of specific supplements
- Including unnecessarily high dosages of caffeine to provide a heightened sense of stimulation (while hiding the ineffectiveness of the rest of the ingredients)
- Stuffing the formula with unnecessary fillers, carbohydrates powders (maltodextrin), and “junk” ingredients
- Listing chemical and/or scientific names for standard compounds to mislead customers into believing the ingredients are more effective than they really are (for example, listing “1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine”, instead of “caffeine”)
- Including (potentially) dangerous artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium (“Ace K”)
- Including dangerous food dyes like Blue #1 (“Brilliant Blue”), Blue #2 (“Indigo Carmine”), Citrus Red #2, Green #3 (“Fast Green”), Red #40 (“Allura Red”), Red #3 (“Erythrosine”), Yellow #5 (“Tartrazine”), Yellow #6 (“Sunset Yellow”)
- Hiding ingredient dosages behind “proprietary blends”
After reading this, we typically see one of two reactions:
- An upset consumer who runs over to their pre-workout stash to look at the supplement facts panel to see how many offenses their favorite pre-workout has committed;
- A customer that says something along the lines of, “As long as I don’t know about it, it doesn’t bother me – I love the pump, and I’m stickin’ to it!“; or
- A consumer that’s disgusted with the information they’ve just learned, who now wants to conduct their own independent research to find a pre-workout supplement that is transparent, provides the right ingredients at the proper dosages, without any of the extra s**t, without any over-hyped marketing terms, that provides real and honest results.
This article is intended to speak to all three groups.
Proprietary Blends vs. Non-Proprietary Blends
WARNING: Rant ahead…
To start, let’s cover the most egregious (though, technically legal) offense…
The infamous “proprietary blend”.
Simply put, proprietary blends are a group, or “bundle”, of ingredients that provide the total dosage of any number of ingredients, as a single amount.
You may be thinking, “So… what’s the big deal?”
To help paint the picture more clearly, here are two examples below (more to come):
Now, this proves troublesome for a simple reason:
As a consumer, you simply do not know how much of each ingredient you’re putting into your body with each serving.
If up until this point, you’re entirely unfamiliar with the word, or even concept, of a proprietary (“prop”, for short) blend, you may be wondering what the big deal is…
For some, this doesn’t warrant the blink of an eye.
But for many supplement users, the proprietary blend is the most frustrating and deceitful tactic used by their favorite supplement companies.
The FDA, according to its “Dietary Supplement Labeling Guide: Chapter IV. Nutrition Labeling“, does not require the manufacturer to list the dosages of each independent ingredient.
In fact, as it relates to the question of, “How must I list proprietary blends?“, the FDA only states that:
You must identify proprietary blends by use of the term “Proprietary Blend” or an appropriately descriptive term or fanciful name. On the same line, you must list the total weight of all “other dietary ingredients” contained in the blend. Indented underneath the name of the blend, you must list the “other dietary ingredients” in the blend, either in a column or linear fashion, descending order of predominance by weight.
One thing you should take away from this is that:
All proprietary blends are required to do is list the dietary ingredients within in order of predominance by weight.
So, while we’re unable to know exactly how much of each ingredient we’re putting into our body per serving, we are able to decipher which ingredients are most heavily included and which are least heavily included.
In the examples above, “L-Proline” (top example) and “Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate” (bottom example) are the most abundant ingredient in their respective prop blends, while “L-Aspartic Acid” (top example) and “Schisandra Chinensis (Berry) Extract” (bottom example) are the least abundant ingredient in their respective prop blends.
The Death of Proprietary Blends
As you can most likely tell by now…
We’re not fans of the proprietary blend for a number of reasons:
They serve no purpose for the consumer.
They allow the supplement brand to not disclose individual ingredient dosages.
We stand firmly by the position that…
If a supplement brand isn’t willing to provide an exact ingredient-by-ingredient breakdown of exactly what you’re buying (with your hard-earned money), it’s because they don’t want you to know.
“Be the Change You Wish to See… in the Pre-Workout World” – Gainzhi
As a consumer:
You should demand, from your favorite supplement brands, that they provide full formula transparency.
Quite literally, there’s no reason to use a prop blend for anything other than to:
- Deceive; and
- Take advantage of you
All of the “research” and “scientific studies” that support effective ingredients and effective dosages is public knowledge.
In this day and age, supplement consumers have the opportunity to become as educated as they wish to be with regards to the consumer products they choose to purchase.
Everyone knows which ingredients work.
Everyone knows which ingredients don’t work.
And, everyone knows (or has access to the information) related to the clinically effective dosages of each ingredient.
Most supplement companies justify their use of proprietary blends as a means of protecting “trade secrets”. Don’t buy it.
Don’t buy it.
If you’re buying pre-workouts (or any supplements, for that matter) that hide their formulas behind proprietary blends, it’s because they don’t want you to know what’s in the formula.
By not supporting these practices, the consumers can force the big brands to change their ways and “bring death to the proprietary blend”.
Rant over… for “proprietary blends”.
What Else To Look for in A True “Best” Pre-Workout
Pre-workout supplements, over the course of the past decade (or more), have used hundreds of different ingredients, all of which have been touted as the “best-of-the-best” for a wide array of fitness-related benefits.
It’s important to note, however, that there is a select list of key ingredients that have been proven to yield results towards building muscle, losing fat, and increasing strength, energy, focus, and endurance.
Below, we list a handful of these ingredients to look for:
- Caffeine (for energy)
- Beta-Alanine (known for it’s tingling sensation on the skin)
- Citrulline Malate (for muscle endurance)
- Betaine (for muscle endurance and strength)
These are just a few to note, but without a doubt, are four of the most important to look out for.
Artificial Sweeteners and Food Dyes
These days, you’ll find artificial sweeteners and food dyes in just about every supplement on the market.
For a few reasons:
- Taste is one of the most important buying factors for attracting repeat customers (regardless of how well a pre-workout works, if it tastes good, there’s a high rate of customer retention)
- It’s more expensive to use all-natural sweeteners (this reduces the supplement company’s bottom line profits)
- Bright colors are attractive to the eye, which makes them appeal to a wider range of consumers (after all, who doesn’t like a new, shiny object”)
Artificial sweeteners, essentially, are just man-made chemicals that are added to pre-workouts (and most foods) to make them sweeter and taste better.
In fact, the help to trigger receptors on our tongue in the same way as sugar does.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular artificial sweeteners used in the United States and in Europe:
- Acesulfame Potassium (also known as “Ace K”)
- Saccharin; and
With a small amount of research, you’ll find that many of the leading dieticians around the world view these forms of sweeteners as harmful to our long-term health.
So, when it comes to finding the right pre-workout supplements, we aim to find ones that opt-out of using artificial sweeteners.
In terms of food dyes/coloring, here’s a list of some of the most popular that you’ll find on the very bottom of most pre-workouts (and all the ones below), that we highly recommend you look out for:
- Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue)
- Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine)
- Citrus Red #2
- Green #3 (Fast Green)
- Red #3 (Erythrosine)
- Red #40 (Allura Red)
- Yellow #5 (Tartrazine); and
- Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow)
This article here provides a brilliant description of each, along with the harmful effects you may start to notice by ingesting too much of them.
Avoid These “Best-Selling” Pre-Workouts
This section below may upset you.
Especially, if you’re favorite pre workout is one of the following on this page.
If you’ve made it this far down this guide, then you clearly:
- Enjoy (some may even call it “love”) taking supplements to help reach your fitness goals
- Care about the quality of the supplements you take; and/or
- Won’t stand for supporting, endorsing, or taking supplements that use a variety of shady tactics to get you to use them
Now, before you disregard this guide as a “smear campaign”, of sorts, against these products…
…be sure to read each and every line of the following pre-workout supplement breakdowns…
…follow along with the reasoning behind why these products are on this list…
…and draw your own conclusions as to whether or not these various pre-workouts live up to the standards that you set for yourself, in terms of the dietary supplements that you put into your body.
At the end of the day, there’s more to a quality pre-workout supplement than:
- Good taste
- Bright Colors
- Quick Energy
- Tingles on the skin
- A quick pump
Here are four of the best-selling pre-workout supplements that you should immediately stop spending your hard-earned money on.
#4: 1.M.R. Vortex by BPI Sports
1 M.R. Vortex includes 1 proprietary blend, which accounts for roughly 57% of the entire ingredient.
- FULL SPEED VORTEX MATRIX – 1,705 mg (includes 6 ingredients)
BPI Sports blatantly uses “fillers” and unnecessary, non-active ingredients for roughly 42.5% of their entire 1.M.R. Vortex pre-workout.
As you can see on their supplement facts panel that each scoop (1 serving size) includes 3 grams.
The only 2 ingredient amounts listed include:
- Niacin (20 mg);and
- FULL SPEED VORTEX MATRIX (1,705 mg)
That comes to a total of 1,725 mg, out of a 3,000 mg serving size.
So, where are the remaining 1,275 mg?
Well, they’re listed under “other ingredients”, which includes fillers, like maltodextrin.
Missing Key Ingredients
1.M.R. Vortex includes 6 ingredients, 7 if you include niacin.
- White leadwort
- Securinega; and
Seriously, that’s it.
Where’s the beta-alanine?
1.M.R. Vortex uses Acesulfame Potassium, which is known to be one of the worst artificial sweeteners.
1.M.R. Vortex uses multiple different harmful dyes, depending on the flavor.
- FD&C Blue Lake #1 (blueberry lemon ice, snow cone)
- FD&C Red Lake 40 (cherry lime, fruit punch, sour watermelon)
#3: Assault by MusclePharm
Known as “the athletes pre-workout”, Assault is one of the most appealing pre-workout supplements for anyone that admires the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Tiger Woods, who are used to distract unknowing consumers of the true nature of the product.
Assault uses 5 different proprietary blends.
All of which have (ridiculous) names to help distract from the true amounts of each prop blend, and help to lure the consumer in with false product benefits.
- ATP AMPLIFIER – 3,500 mg (includes 5 ingredients)
- CELLULAR TRANSPORT & INSULIN ACTIVATOR – 2,952 mg (includes 4 ingredients)
- ATHLETE PERFORMANCE BLEND FEATURING “ION-3 NITRATE TECHNOLOGY MATRIX” – 2,000 MG (includes 2 ingredients, plus 3 essential amino acids)
- ENERGY & NEURO IGNITER – 1,750 mg (includes 5 ingredients); and
- HYDRATION SYSTEM – 1,200 mg (includes 3 ingredients)
Under Dosed Key Ingredients
With only 2,000 mg of beta-alanine, Assault is quite under-dosed. Considering that beta-alanine is one of the most important ingredients in pre-workout supplementation, you’d think that MusclePharm would make it a priority to include it at clinically effective dosages.
Considering that beta-alanine is one of the most important ingredients in pre-workout supplementation, you’d think that MusclePharm would make it a priority to include it at clinically effective dosages.
It’s impossible to count how many other active ingredients are under-dosed in Assault, with all of the proprietary blends.
Assault also uses Acesulfame Potassium, which is known to be one of the worst artificial sweeteners.
#2: N.O.-Xplode by BSN
Known for their eye-catching bright red labels, N.O.-Xplode is another powerhouse pre-workout brand that you should avoid at all costs.
N.O.-Xplode includes 5 different proprietary blends, which make it impossible for the consumer to know exactly how much of each ingredient is included in each serving.
You should demand this information.
- Myogenic Matrix – 5.5 grams (includes 9 ingredients)
- Endura Shot – 2.8 grams (includes 6 ingredients)
- N.O. Alpha Fusion – 850 mg (includes 7 ingredients)
- Thermic Energy – 745 mg (includes 4 ingredients); and
- Shock Composite – 680 mg (includes 10 ingredients)
Under Dosed Key Ingredients
N.O.-Xplode is, perhaps, the grossest display of under dosing that we’ve ever seen.
Citrulline Malate is one of the most studied pre-workout supplement ingredients, with a proven effective dosage to be around 4-10 grams per day.
N.O.-Xplode includes citrulline malate in their “N.O. Alpha Fusion” proprietary blend, which includes a total of 850 mg.
This means that the entire “N.O. Alpha Fusion”, which includes 7 active ingredients, includes only 8.5-21% of the effective dosages of just citrulline malate.
This is outrageous.
This only represents 1 of the 36 active ingredients included in N.O.-Xplode.
BSN follows an “everything but the kitchen sink” supplement model, where they try to impress their consumers by the long list of ingredients that they use in their products.
N.O.-Xplode also uses Acesulfame Potassium, which is known to be one of the worst artificial sweeteners.
N.O.-Xplode uses multiple different harmful dyes, depending on their flavoring, including:
- FD&C Red Lake 40 (fruit punch, grape)
- FD&C Blue Lake #1 (Blue Raz, green apple, watermelon, cherry limeade)
- FD&C Yellow #5 (green apple, watermelon, cherry limeade)
#1: C4 by Cellucor
Here’s why you should avoid C4 at all costs, as a consumer:
Cellucor is notorious for the use of proprietary blends, which legally allows them to bundle multiple ingredient dosages together, in order to hide the amount of each ingredient that they use.
As you can see below, they group 5 separate ingredients together within their “Explosive Energy Blend”, which includes a whopping… 371 mg. This is downright embarrassing.
This is downright embarrassing.
As a consumer, there’s no telling how much of each ingredient you’re ingesting (besides caffeine anhydrous, which they disclose).
There’s absolutely no reason to use proprietary blends for anything other than deception and fraud. All of the major supplement brands know what works and what doesn’t.
All of the major supplement brands know what works and what doesn’t.
If a company isn’t willing to tell its customers exactly what they’re buying, it’s because they don’t want you to know.
It’s that simple.
Don’t support proprietary blends!
Under Dosed Key Ingredients
Cellucor, to the less-educated supplement consumer, may look like a decent product.
However, for those “in the know”, it’s clear that the key ingredients, like beta-alanine (1.6 grams) and l-tyrosine (undisclosed – proprietary blend), are severely under dosed.
C4 uses Acesulfame Potassium, also known as “Ace-K” or “ACK”, as their artificial sweetener of choice.
As one of the most well-known artificial sweeteners for many of the largest supplement brands, ACK has been shown to cause
- Mood problems
- Some types of cancer
- Impaired liver and kidney functions
- Eyesight issues; and
- May be linked to autism
With healthier alternatives, like Stevia available, why us the lowest product on the “totem poll”?
C4’s uses multiple different harmful dyes, depending on their flavoring.
- FD&C Red Lake 40 (fruit punch, strawberry margarita, watermelon)
- FD&C Blue Lake #1 (blue razz)
So, what exactly does a quality pre-workout look like?
Let’s set the scene:
It’s 5:30 am, and your alarm clock starts singing…
It’s cold outside…
And you didn’t sleep very well…
And yet… regardless of the world around you, it’s time for you to hit the gym.
You grab your old shaker bottle, chalky gym bag, and beat-to-shit gym shoes.
Its times like this that you thank the Iron Gods for pre-workout supplements.
You grab your go-to pump powder, mix a generous scoop, and slug it.
Within 15-20 minutes you’re driving to the gym with your windows down, a cool breeze in your face to jumpstart the nerves, and your favorite workout playlist blaring.
You’re getting your mind mentally prepped to crush your workout.
Then it begins…
Your pre-workout kicks in while you start to feel like the laws of gravity don’t apply to you.
You’re ready to push and pull whatever the weights demand of you.
Then, after 1-2 short hours of tearing through every exercise in your routine, you head home victoriously, without a crash.
That’s the-pre-workout experience of a quality supplement.
So, what does a pre workout like that look like on its label?
Essentially, it avoids all of the loop holes and trickery mentioned above.
If you would like an example of what a great pre-workout looks like, we recommend you view these Top 10 Legit Pre Workout Supplements.
To us, pre workouts don’t come any better than our top ranking choices!