What are the healthiest pre workout supplements that work to promote muscle pumps, mental focus and stamina? Pre workout supplements are incredibly popular for gaining a mental and physical edge during high intensity workouts. There are literally thousands of different pre workout products on the market today.
Unfortunately, a vast majority of pre workout products are not healthy. In fact, some are downright dangerous. This is especially the case with pre workout powders and drinks that combine high levels of stimulants (like caffeine) and vasodilators (like l-arginine).
Let’s discuss the healthiest pre workout supplements that work to promote muscle pumps, mental focus and stamina…. and that do so without putting your health, safety and life at unnecessary risk. If you can already answer the question “are pre workout supplements safe” based on the ever-growing body of clinical research, feel free to head straight to the product reviews. If you would like to learn information that could literally save your life before checking out the healthiest pre workout supplements that work, please read on.
Are Pre Workout Supplements Safe?
This is the “million dollar” question in the sports nutrition industry. Ask this question to the guy or girl behind the counter in your local supplement store, or to a product rep for a manufacturer who will profit off of your purchase, and you will get a sales pitch rather than good science.
Let’s cut right to the chase and and answer the question “are pre workout supplements safe?” In reality, relatively few are actually considered healthy or safe. Various performance enhancing substances many pre workouts contain chemically react with each other, and your body, in a potentially dangerous way.
In order to frame this in sound medical/clinical terms, let’s discuss a few of the most popular substances found in a vast majority of pre workout supplements today….
What Are Vasodilators?
Vasodilators are chemicals that open blood vessels. They allow blood and nutrients to flow more freely in your body. Medically speaking, vasodilators are used to help treat or prevent conditions like angina and pulmonary hypertension. In supplement terms, three of the most popular vasodilators are l-arginine, l-citrulline and agmatine sulfate. Arginine and citrulline are semi-essential (or “conditional”) amino acids, and agmatine is a derivative or arginine. The human body naturally creates low levels of these amino acids. However, when taken in high doses, they can facilitate significant nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide lowers blood pressure while shuttling oxygen and other molecule throughout your body with increased efficiency. Vasodilators are diuretics, which causes increased water excretion and potentially, dehydration. Vasodilators are responsible for helping facilitate a muscle pump. The muscle pump feels like an intense contraction where the muscle belly swells and becomes tight. The “pump” can cause muscles to experience feelings of acute discomfort when levels are too high.
What is a Stimulant (i.e.Caffeine)?
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Caffeine consumption can cause an increase in mental stimulation and focus. Unlike vasodilators, caffeine is a vaso-constrictor, which means it decreases blood flow to your brain and other internal organs. Like vasodilators, it is a diuretic, which means caffeine causes you to pee and/or sweat a lot, which can cause dehydration. Caffeine comes from natural sources like coffee beans and tea leaves, but it is also commonly made in a laboratory. Synthetic caffeine (made in a lab) is generally much stronger and faster acting than natural caffeine. In terms of pre workout supplements, synthetic caffeine can also be much more dangerous than its natural counterpart, because it can stimulate your central nervous system quicker and cause you to excrete more water. Stimulants are responsible for helping facilitate focus and stamina. Focus and stamina are feelings of alertness, energy and for some people who ingest too much, jitters. Stimulants can also lead to an energy “crash” when the substance begins to wear off.
Combining Vasodilators and Constrictors
Our bodies face several potential dangers by combining vasodilators and constrictors:
- Mixing a vasodilator and constrictor can minimize the effects of both because both substances compete for a biochemical reaction to occur (i.e. vessel expansion and/or vessel constriction).
- Mixing two diuretics together can significantly increase the risk of dehydration, which is compounded by physical activity that promotes water excretion through sweating and heavy breathing. This can be further compounded by other popular pre workout supplement additives like creatine or glycerol, which pull water into your muscles for a swelling effect, leading to a higher risk of dehydration and chemical pH imbalance in your body.
- Vasodilators lower blood pressure, and caffeine raises blood pressure. This makes your heart work overtime to pump blood effectively throughout your body. Exercise compounds this because it can inhibit your heart’s ability to deliver critical oxygen stores and nutrients into your tissues. This increases the stress on your heart significantly, which is yet further compounded by the lungs’ need to compensate for the increase in blood oxygenation.
The result of this stress, and when taken with the risk of dehydration, is a significantly increased potential for life threatening medical conditions including stroke and heart failure.
So now to answer the question “are pre workout supplements safe?” Well, it totally depends on whether a supplement contains both vasodilators and constrictors, what those amounts are, and what other supporting chemicals (also called agonists) the supplement contains that enhances the effects of the main vasodilators and constrictor ingredients.
On their own, much less risk exists by taking a vasodilator or constrictor before a workout. Even combining them in low levels and/or via natural means (like actual black coffee or green tea) instead of a synthetic stimulant powder or drink carries a much lower risk than combining large amounts of both…. and then working out, which taxes our hearts through strenuous physical activity.
This brings us to the largest unspoken issue in the sports nutrition industry currently: Many manufacturers are loading their pre workout supplements with very high levels of both types of substances in synthetic forms, as well as large amounts of agonists that further enhance their effects (and your risk). This is especially the case with stimulants like caffeine.
For reference, one cup of black coffee contains about 95mg of naturally occurring caffeine. The typical pre-workout supplement can easily contain at least 3-4 times that amount in synthetic form, plus dozens of other performance enhancing substances like arginine, citrulline and/or agmatine…. not to mention a wide variety of natural and/or synthetic agonists that further stimulate the “effectiveness” of these substances. Add to this artificial sweeteners like sucralose or acesulfame, artificial colors or dyes, and various banned substances that can result in the loss of scholarships and employment for competitive athletes and you have a potentially volatile cocktail of chemicals that can put your life and/or livelihood at risk.
What does this look like in “real world” terms? Let’s take a look at two labels from different pre workout supplements so you can see the difference between “healthy” and “potentially dangerous” for yourself….
The pre workout supplement on the left contains a total of 4 ingredients, does not mix stimulants with vasodilators, has no artificial chemicals, and therefore is considered safer than the label on the right, which is a very popular pre workout supplement we will not name here. As you can see, the product on the right contains dozens of chemicals, mostly synthetic, and it combines various vasodilators will extremely large amounts of stimulants. How large? 745 mg large to be exact (identified in the “Thermic Energy Blend” section), which is the equivalent of almost 8 cups of black coffee!
This brand uses a potentially dangerous marketing tactic called “proprietary blending” where the consumer is not made aware of how much of each substance he or she is ingesting. Instead, he or she must trust the same manufacturer that is potentially endangering his or her life by producing and selling a volatile chemical product.
At this point we must ask ourselves, is getting a muscle pump or increased focus-stamina worth putting our health and potentially, lives at risk? If you answered no, rest assured you can still get a great pump and focus by using the healthiest pre workout supplements that work without putting you in nearly as much risk for issues.
We have selected some premium, natural and in this regard, comparatively safe pre workout supplements you can add to your workout regiment to increase muscle pump, mental focus and stamina. Like any supplement you ingest, we recommend first consulting your healthcare provider to make sure you are healthy enough to consume these products and work out. Now, let’s move on to our safest pre workout supplement review!
Safest Pre Workout Supplement Review
Best Stimulant Free Option: Muscle Feast Primitive Pump
If you want a monster pump without any stimulants whatsoever, then Muscle Feast Primitive Pump pre workout powder is the perfect choice! Muscle Feast Primitive Pump contains only high quality vasodilators, specifically citrulline and agmatine. It also contains Hydromax, also known as glycerol, which draws water and nutrients into muscle tissue to increase volume and maximize the pump effect in a similar way to creatine but without the subcutaneous (under skin) bloating effect. Muscle Feast Primitive Pump is unflavored and mixes instantly in water. You can mix it with natural fruit juice, which helps increase the pump effect via the addition of fast acting carbohydrates. Or, you can add it to a low stimulant, all natural pre workout supplement that promotes focus and stamina, like the Organic Muscle product we review below!
Best Organic Pre Workout: Organic Muscle
If you want a pre workout supplement that promotes focus and stamina with a natural pump effect, as well as the highest quality ingredients, then Organic Muscle Organic Pre Workout is the perfect choice! Organic Muscle packs only natural, organic ingredients into Organic Pre Workout. Although it contains proprietary blends, the all natural ingredient spectrum and mild stimulant properties make this a trustworthy, much safer choice than synthetic blends. The result is a product that helps you power through your workout, but will not leave you with the jitters or a synthetic caffeine crash afterward. Also, the passionfruit guava flavor tastes very natural and pleasant. If you are looking to enhance vasodilation, add a scoop of Primitive Pump and you will enjoy your workout sessions like you never dreamed possible!
Best Flavored Pre Workout: MusclePharm Natural Energy
If you are looking for increased stamina, focus and performance with a secondary muscle pump effect, then MusclePharm Natural Energy Pre Workout is perfect for you! MusclePharm Natural Energy features a comprehensive, yet natural energy-focus matrix. The main stimulant is organic green coffee beans, which lets you experience a safer increase in focus and stamina than from a synthetic source. You also have less of a chance for jitters or any post workout crash. Although this product does contain a slight bit of citrulline for vasodilation assistance, it also contains coconut water powder. Coconut water powder helps with hydration, which can offset potential dangers of mixing stimulants and vasodilators. The watermelon flavor is fresh and natural, and it does not taste fake or over-sweet because MusclePharm does not use any artificial flavors or sweeteners!
Best Unflavored Pre Workout: Naked Energy
if you are looking for an unflavored pre workout formula that increases stamina and focus with a secondary pump effect, then Naked Nutrition Naked Energy Pre Workout Formula is perfect for you! Naked Nutrition is well known for its no-nonsense approach to supplementation. Naked Energy follows suit with a simple list of ingredients headlined by a decent (but not overwhelming) dose of natural stimulants including caffeine from un-roasted coffee beans. Of all the stimulant options, Naked Energy contains the second highest dosage (200mg per serving). If you are sensitive to caffeine, this product might be a bit strong, but its natural ingredient profile limits jitters and post workout crashes. Be sure to take in extra water to compensate for the presence of creatine. Naked Energy mixes well in water, or can be combined with juice to help enhance the energy matrix and accentuate the small amount of vasodilation (courtesy of 1 gram of arginine) it contains!
Best Pump and Stamina Combo: Old School Vintage Blast
If you want to push the limit of what we consider to be healthy pre workout supplements, Old School Labs Vintage Blast is perfect for you! Old School Labs combines higher levels of vasodilators with a bit more caffeine than Naked Energy. However, it is chemically staggered to deliver a 2-stage stamina effect. Therefore, are not digesting all 250 mg at once. With the addition of 5 grams of cirtulline malate (malate is a derivative of green apples that acts as a synergist to increase the effectiveness of citrulline), vintage Blast delivers sustained mental focus and stamina along with intense muscle pumps throughout the duration of a training session without too much risk of jitters or a crash. This supplement pushes the boundary of what we consider “healthy” and “safe,” but its non-GMO all natural ingredient list and staggered delivery system gets our respect. The blueberry lemonade flavor is not as natural tasting as Organic Muscle or MusclePharm, but taste should be secondary to effectiveness in the case of this product…. because if you are looking for a great pump with razor sharp mental focus and sustained stamina, Old School Labs Vintage Blast will scratch you where you itch!
I have personally used all five of these products, and I can report that each supplement fulfills its intended purpose very effectively! To figure out which purpose your pre workout supplement should serve, you must decide what your main goal is. As detailed in the information section, high levels of vasodilators and synthetic stimulants not only work against one another biochemically, but are also potentially dangerous to your overall health. So it is important to decide whether you want to maximize the vasodilative pump effect, or you want to maximize energy/focus and stamina.
For me, the pump effect is most important because it helps hone the mind-muscle connection and is in line with my goal of packing on as much natural, lean muscle mass as I can. So I prefer Primitive Pump. However, if I want flavor and a bit of extra mental “boost,” I will add a scoop of the Organic Muscle and I get the best of both worlds naturally, effectively and safely! As an honorable mention, I will say the Old School Labs Vintage Blast is pretty intense, but I have a caffeine sensitivity and the stimulant energy boost of this product was too much for me.
Every one of these options will fulfill your personal objective. Best of all, they do so without putting your body and health at increased risk like so many pre workout supplements on store shelves currently.
You can click on the links to purchase these products, and drop us a line to let us know what you think of them. If you have any specific questions for us about these products, or to recommend more of the healthiest pre workout supplements that work to promote muscle pump, mental focus and stamina, we welcome you to contact us!