Nutrition Supplements

What are the most important electrolyte hydration ingredients?

When choosing a hydration product, the most important ingredients to look for are the ones that help your body maximize its use of the water you drink.

The first two ingredients I’ll focus on are what I call essential electrolytes that any hydration product should have.

Essential Electrolytes

  • Sodium
  • Potassium

If your electrolyte hydration product doesn’t have these two ingredients, then it’s not a good electrolyte hydration product.

Doses: Sodium 200mg – 1000mg, Potassium 100-400mg

Other Important Electrolytes

  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorous

If your hydration product contains these electrolytes then it is a higher end product.

Doses: Magnesium 50-150mg, Calcium 59-100mg, Phosphorous 30-60mg

Vitamins and Antioxidants

  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc
  • Coconut Water (also contains electrolytes)
  • Pomegranate Juice (also contains electrolytes)

Certain vitamins and antioxidants can help neutralize reactive oxygen species (free radicals) that cause muscular inefficiencies and fatigue.

Just be careful: ultra high doses of antioxidants can suppress the benefits of exercise.

Nutrition Supplements

What are the most important ingredients in a pre-workout?

2023 Update: I’ve reviewed the science literature and found that the information in this article remains accurate. If anything, some trendy ingredients that I’ve excluded from this article even though they’d been getting some hype over the last 5-10 years are being shown to be fairly useless. Sometimes less is more.

Any given pre-workout usually tries to accomplish several different things in a single product. So what’s most important will depend on what you’re looking to accomplish.

New: I’ve ranked the best pre-workouts of 2023.

There are lots of so-called pre-workout ingredients. But which are the most important?

For some people, the most important ingredients will provide energy. For others, the most important ingredients will create focus. Or drive. Or strength. Or pump. Or endurance (anti-fatigue).

Some people absolutely must have caffeine in their pre-workout for the energy and focus it provides. Others want a stimulant free pre-workout. Below, I’m going to list the most important ingredients for common pre-workout functions and from there you can choose what are the most important ingredients for your specific needs.

Energy Ingredients

Energy ingredients are stimulants. The most famous stimulant is caffeine but there are plenty of others, all of which have different effects.

  • Caffeine (strong stimulant)
  • Theobromine (mild stimulant)
  • Rhodiola Rosea (light stimulant)
  • Eleuthero root / Siberian Ginseng

The default stimulant in pre-workouts is definitely caffeine. If you’re looking for something less intense, you can go for something like Theobromine which is found in chocolate, or the ever more popular Rhodiola Rosea which also has properties for endurance and mood enhancement.

Focus Ingredients

Focus ingredients help the brain keep from being distracted and focus like a laser on the task at hand.

  • Tyrosine
  • Choline precursors like Alpha GPC or Citicholine
  • Caffeine (primarily a stimulant but also helps focus the mind)
  • Taurine
  • Theanine

Endurance Ingredients

These are pre-workout ingredients that lessen your perception of fatigue (I call them anti-fatigue ingredients) and increase your endurance and overall stamina. These ingredients also tend to reduce stress.

  • Creatine (reduces fatigue)
  • Beta-Alanine (reduces fatigue)
  • Betaine Anhydrous
  • Agmatine (dulls pain)
  • Tyrosine (reduces stress)
  • Rhodiola Rosea (reduces stress, improves mood)
  • L-Citrulline (decreases fatigue)
  • Electrolytes (e.g. Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium)

Strength Ingredients

Some pre-workout ingredients are included primarily to increase overall strength gains and power output. As you’ll notice, most of these ingredients have multiple functions.

  • Beta-Alanine
  • Creatine
  • Betaine
  • Caffeine

Pump Ingredients

For those looking to maximize their pump, the key is facilitating Nitric Oxide and increasing blood flow. While this creates a nice aesthetic result in vascularity, it also helps maximize hypertrophy as muscle growth.

These are the most important ingredients for increasing your pump:

  • L-Citrulline
  • L-Arginine
  • Agmatine Sulfate
  • Beetroot (powder, juice or extract)
  • Betaine Anhydrous
  • Red Spinach

The 5 Most Important Pre-Workout Ingredients

If I had to choose only five ingredients to include in my pre-workout, they would be:

  1. L-Citrulline (9 grams)
  2. Caffeine (300 mg)
  3. Creatine (5g)
  4. Beta Alanine (3g)
  5. Electrolytes (300mg sodium, 100mg magnesium, 100mg potassium)

If you want to do your own homemade pre-workout, these are the ingredients that should form your base. Caffeine gives you your energy and focus. L-Citrulline increases blood flow (more oxygen to muscles) and helps with endurance. Creatine helps with strength, recovery and body composition. Beta Alanine helps primarily with muscle endurance to help you get that extra rep. It also helps with strength gains and building lean muscle And finally, I find that topping off my electrolytes before a workout goes a long way towards reducing fatigue and pushing through.

Nutrition Supplements

The Best Pre-Workout Supplements of 2023

You’re here because you want to use the best pre-workout on the market.

In an earlier article I discussed the most important pre-workout ingredients from a functional and scientific standpoint. You should check that out to understand where I’m coming from.

What I’m going to do now is identify what I feel are the best multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements on the market. This is based on ingredient quality, performance enhancement and several other criteria that matter, like taste and overall experience.

The List

  1. Shifted
  2. Gorilla Mode
  3. Kaged
  4. Bucked Up
  5. Ghost
  6. Transparent Labs
  7. 4 Gauge

As a multi-ingredient supplement, a pre-workout drink is aiming to accomplish several benefits to help you get more out of your workout. Sure, you’ll hear plenty of people suggest that all you need for a pre-workout is some coffee (read: caffeine). And while caffeine is a super supplement on its own, there are reasons that multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements can be significantly better:

  • Improved blood flow
  • Improved hydration
  • Faster ATP recovery
  • Delayed fatigue
  • More muscular hydration
  • Improved mood
  • Improved focus

The bottom line is that a good pre-workout supplement will allow you to get more out of your workout than caffeine alone. This has been well studied and well documented via peer review by nutrition and exercise scientists.

The most well studied and proven pre-workout ingredients are: caffeine, creatine, citrulline and beta-alanine. With proper doseages, 80-90% of true performance gains will come from those 4 ingredients. They are non-negotiable for a good preworkout.

Unlike caffeine and citrulline which provide an acute benefit, ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine need to build up in your system over days and months and so you will not see their full results on day one.

With this brief introduction, I present to you what I consider the best multi-ingredient pre-workouts on the market.

1. Shifted Premium (& Maximum)

I like Shifted’s pre-workouts because they taste great, feel great and get all the details right. In my opinion, it is the best overall pre-workout on the market.

Click for more info about Shifted

Why? Because they cover all the bases. While it may not be the absolute top pre-workout for extreme bodybuilders, it is the best overall pre-workout for most people. It’s great for runners. CrossFitters. Jiu Jitsu. Cardio junkies. Power lifters. Etc.

Of all the pre-workouts I’ve tried this one just feels the best. Gives me the best mood. Best attitude. Best drive. Best focus. And all without the side effects of a lot of pre-workout products.

In addition to getting it right on the Caffeine, Citrulline and Beta Alanine, they also include nitrates which is especially helpful for endurance athletes. Look around and you’ll see that hardly any pre-workouts are including nitrates. It’s a big quality indicator. And for all that reasons it’s my top pici.

Caffeine300mgFocus, Energy, Drive
L-Citrulline8gBlood flow, Pump
Beta-alanine*2.5gEndurance, Anti-fatigue
Creatine*5gIncreased exercise capacity
Sodium40mgMuscle hydration

What I Love About Shifted Pre-Workouts

  • Perfect dose of L-Citrulline
  • Inclusion of nitrates for endurance
  • Electrolytes are included
  • Includes a dose of Creatine
  • Tempers caffeine with theanine
  • Several nootropic ingredients for improved mood
  • Beautiful packaging

What I’d Improve About Shifted

  • Sucralose as sweetener
  • Could use more flavors
  • Wish the tropical flavor came with Maximum and not just Premium

Shifted’s Pre-Workout Review Score

Functional ModalityFunctional Score
Pump / Blood Flow96
Endurance / Anti-Fatigue93
Focus 92
Strength & Body Composition95
Mood Enhancement93
Overall Score95

2. Gorilla Mode

Gorilla Mode is interesting because it has some lesser used ingredients like Glycerol powder, Kanna and N-Phenethyl Dimethylamine Citrate. It also takes the Malic Acid part of Citrulline Malate and considers it as a separate, functional ingredient. Overall, this is a highly-dosed pre-workout that I like to use from time to time because of its uniqueness and the overall skin stretching pump I get which is literally like no other.

Caffeine350mgFocus, Energy, Drive
L-Citrulline9gBlood flow, Pump
Beta-alanine*0Endurance, Anti-fatigue
Creatine*5gIncreased exercise capacity
Sodium0Muscle hydration

What I Love About Gorilla Mode

  • Massive dose of L-Citrulline
  • Gives me the best, fullest pump of all pre-workouts
  • Mood improvement ingredients like Kana are really nice
  • Includes a complete dose of Creatine
  • Strong, potent dose of caffeine
  • The focus on muscular hydration with several ingredients

What I’d Improve About Gorilla Mode

  • Add choline support
  • Reduce clumpiness of product
  • Flavor can be chalky (I’ve used mango peach)
  • Beta Alanine endurance ingredient versus Malic Acid
  • Would benefit from B vitamins and Taurine
  • Could use some electrolytes like sodium

Gorilla Mode’s Pre-Workout Review Score

Functional ModalityFunctional Score
Pump / Blood Flow95
Endurance / Anti-Fatigue80
Focus 84
Strength & Body Composition95
Mood Enhancement92
Overall Score93

3. Kaged Pre-Kaged

Kaged Pre-Kaged is an excellent multi-ingredient pre-workout. It hits most of the right notes. And it’s especially good if you like BCAAs in your preworkout and don’t want or need choline for its mental benefits. With key ingredients it covers all the bases:

Caffeine274mgFocus, Energy
L-Citrulline6.5gBlood flow, Pump
Beta-alanine*1.6gEndurance, Anti-fatigue
Creatine*1.5gIncreased exercise capacity
Sodium50mgMuscle hydration

What I Love About Kaged Pre-Kaged

  • Natural, organic source of caffeine
  • Includes some creatine, perhaps the most effective overall ingredient for increased performance
  • Includes an ORAC blend for anti-oxidant support (clean feel)
  • Minimal to non existent Beta-Alanine tingles
  • Gets *some* of all the key ingredients and functional modalities
  • Inclusion of B vitamins

What I’d Improve About Pre-Kaged

  • Creatine dose is on the low end
  • Creatine monohydrate is the more well studied form of creatine
  • Eliminate BCAA’s
  • Include more electrolytes
  • Beta-Alanine dose is on the low end
  • Include support for choline (improved mental focus)
  • Add additional mechanisms for improved blood flow (nitrates)

Kaged Pre-Kaged Review Score

Functional ModalityFunctional Score
Pump / Blood Flow92
Endurance / Anti-Fatigue91
Focus 84
Strength & Body Composition89
Mood Enhancement84
Overall Score91/100

4. Ghost Legend Pre-Workout

Ghost modifies their Legend pre-workout regularly and also does limited edition runs. So pinpointing an exact formula is hard. This analysis is done at the time of this writing using a formula acquired in September of 2021.

Caffeine202mgFocus, Energy, Drive
L-Citrulline4gBlood flow, Pump
Beta-alanine*2gEndurance, Anti-fatigue
Creatine*0Increased exercise capacity
Sodium0Muscle hydration

What I Love About Ghost

  • Inclusion of slow release caffeine to extend the focus and energy.
  • Inclusion of taurine and beta-alanine for endurance
  • Good effort at shaking things up in a sometimes stale industry
  • The use of rhodiola rosea for mood enhancement
  • Inclusion of a choline supplement for focus in Alpha GPC
  • Excellent flavors and unbeatable mixability

What I’d Improve About Ghost

  • Increase L-Citrulline dose to 6-8g
  • Remove the theobromine (stimulants don’t stack well)
  • The effectiveness and efficiency of agmatine sulfate is in question
  • Include creatine, the most effective strength & composition ingredient
  • Include L-Tyrosine for mental freshness
  • Include some sodium for basic muscle function and hydration

Ghost’s Preworkout Review Score

Functional ModalityFunctional Score
Pump / Blood Flow83
Endurance / Anti-Fatigue90
Focus 87
Strength & Body Composition60
Mood Enhancement91
Overall Score85

5. Bucked Up

Bucked Up has developed an excellent brand and maybe is the best tasting pre-workout on the market. My personal favorite flavor is Rocket Pop. Bucked Up will give you a nice caffeine kick plus a small sampling of several other ingredients although most of these are significantly under dosed.

Caffeine200mgFocus, Energy, Drive
L-Citrulline4gBlood flow, Pump
Beta-alanine*2gEndurance, Anti-fatigue
Creatine*0Increased exercise capacity
Sodium39mgMuscle hydration

What I Love About Bucked Up

  • Small but efficient scoop
  • Excellent flavors
  • Inclusion of B12
  • Inclusion of Alpha GPC for focus
  • Use of Beta-Alanine for endurance and ant-fatigue

What I’d Improve About Bucked Up

  • Increase amount of L-Citrulline to 6-8g
  • Additional pathways for nitric oxide support (nitrates)
  • Add creatine for strength and composition support
  • Consider adding Betaine for strength and power
  • Increase taurine to a more effective dose
  • I’d prefer 250-300mg for caffeine, preferably with a slow release

Bucked Up’s Preworkout Review Score

Functional ModalityFunctional Score
Pump / Blood Flow80
Endurance / Anti-Fatigue85
Focus 87
Strength & Body Composition60
Mood Enhancement60
Overall Score84*

*Bucked Up will give you a basic boost for working out and it tastes great. It’s very good at what it tries to do and that’s what carries it to fourth place. However, as a modern day pre-workout it is lacking for several functional modalities.

6. Transparent Labs Bulk

Transparent Labs Bulk Pre-Workout tries to stay focused on the science. And while they do a good job in many respects, and hit a lot of the right notes, they miss the boat on flavor and enjoyability. In particular, I’d consider this a pre-workout only for the hardcore who can handle the heavy Beta-Alanine dose (massive tingles!) and unpleasant Stevia flavor. But functionally, this is right up there with Kaged.

Caffeine210mgFocus, Energy, Drive
L-Citrulline4gBlood flow, Pump
Beta-alanine*4gEndurance, Anti-fatigue
Creatine*0Increased exercise capacity
Sodium150mgMuscle hydration

What I Love About Bulk

  • Hard core endurance with big Beta-Alanine dose
  • Theanine, L-Tyrosine, and Alpha GPC give you a smooth focus
  • Use of Infinergy aka Dicaffeine malate for extended energy
  • Inclusion of several B vitamins
  • Good doses of electrolytes sodium and potassium
  • Use of Betaine Anhydrous for strength improvement
  • Natural sweeteners

What I’d Improve About Bulk

  • Drop the Theobromine (stimulants don’t stack well)
  • Increase L-Citrulline dose to 6-8g range
  • Not a fan of BCAAs in the pre-workout. Better as EAAs and post
  • Beta Alanine tingles are overwhelming and distracting
  • Taste is on the low-end and an overall detraction from the preworkout experience
  • I prefer caffeine in the 250-300mg range

Transparent Labs Preworkout Review Score

Functional ModalityFunctional Score
Pump / Blood Flow80
Endurance / Anti-Fatigue94
Focus 91
Strength & Body Composition80
Mood Enhancement80
Overall Score84*

*If you don’t care about the taste, you like BCAA’s in your pre, and you don’t need creatine, and endurance is your #1 factor for a preworkout, then Transparent Labs score would be much higher. If you want minimal fatigue and pain, this is the preworkout to try.

7. 4 Gauge Pre-Workout

I really like the ingredients in 4 Gauge, however several of them are under dosed and one of them is sub-optimal. To get what I want out of 4 Gauge I need to basically double the dose. Still, they do a good job of getting at the core of what a pre-workout should look like based on today’s science.

Caffeine150mgFocus, Energy, Drive
L-Citrulline4gBlood flow, Pump
Beta-alanine*0gEndurance, Anti-fatigue
Creatine*1gIncreased exercise capacity
Sodium20mgMuscle hydration

What I Love About 4 Gauge

  • Rhodiola rosea keeps you in a positive mood
  • Theanine smooths out your energy and keeps you calm
  • Creatine helps you build strength
  • Beet root is a nitrate and additional pathway for your pump
  • Simple, effective set of ingredients.

What I’d Improve 4 Gauge

  • At 150mg, I need to double the dose to feel full performance effect
  • Need additional creatine supplementation for full effect
  • Needs more sodium. 80-150mg is ideal.
  • Should include Beta-Alanine. Uses less studied Carnitine.
  • Should include more support for mental focus via choline and tyrosine

4 Gauge Preworkout Review Score

Functional ModalityFunctional Score
Pump / Blood Flow87
Endurance / Anti-Fatigue84
Focus 78
Strength & Body Composition82
Mood Enhancement91
Overall Score82/100

*Creatine and Beta-Alanine are both chronic ingredients that need to build up in your system and should be taken daily. I recommend 5g of Creatine and 3-6g daily of Beta-Alanine. Unless you love tingles, it’s recommended to spread your Beta-Alanine doses apart throughout the day as 1-2g per serving.