There’s a lot of information on the internet about how to run longer, and one of the suggestions that often pops up is the need for a pre-workout with caffeine.
While a good pre-workout could help your running, the supplement industry is wild and there are a lot of scammy pre-workout supplements that either have the wrong ingredients or inaccurate claims.
That's why I went and looked at the best pre-workouts to see if they lived up to their claims. Here’s what I found based on my in-depth research and years of experience with clients.
Our Top Pre-Workouts for Running (September 2023)
1 - Gorilla Mode Pre-workout (Editor's Choice)
Whether you're training for an ultramarathon or participating in your first fun run, Gorilla mode will help you build muscle strength, energy, and stamina.
The 350 mg of caffeine anhydrous in this pre-workout will stimulate your brain to increase your alertness and provide a steady energy boost during bouts of prolonged exhaustive running.
Also, the high concentrations of the amino acid L-citrulline and creatine in this pre-workout will provide the muscle strength and stamina necessary to increase peak power output and help you reach your athletic goals.
During a recent long-distance run, Gorilla Mode increased my muscle strength, athletic performance, and endurance while lessening post-training muscle soreness.
- Non-proprietary blend pre-workout formula
- Incredible energy and endurance to maintain a higher level of activity
- All of the flavors are refreshingly tasty
- It contains a high dose of L-citrulline for increased muscle oxygenation
- Some consumers claim that it has a grainy texture in their mouths
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2 - Pre Lab Pro
Pre Lab Pro Pre-Workout was recommended to me by a colleague and I initially liked it because it had a lot of amino acids to support the body.
This food supplement also has unique ingredients like Himalayan pink salt to help with hydration.
I decided to take this pre-workout before my long run. I could feel my blood flow and heart rate increase as I ran. It definitely gave me a quick energy boost.
- It will boost athletic performance
- Helped with endurance and power
- Contains unique ingredients
- Four capsules per serving
The only inconvenience was that a serving is four capsules and it seems like a lot to take all at once.
3 - Transparent Labs PreSeries BULK Pre-Workout
With almost 2,000 5-star customer reviews on their website, I decided to try out Transparent Labs’ Pre-Series BULK to see why so many people think of this as the best pre-workout supplement.
I was really surprised that creatine is not in this pre-workout but the company claims that the caffeine prevents it from working correctly so they excluded it.
- Lots of happy customers
- Contains Testosterone Support complex (vitamin D3, boron, and zinc)
- No creatine
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4 - NitroSurge Pre-Workout
Nitrosurge is another pre-workout that doesn’t contain creatine.
Instead, the company replaced it with Betaine Anhydrous which aids with endurance, strength, and muscle recovery.
I tried it anyway, and I liked the blue raspberry flavor because it had a subtle sweet taste. This pre workout drink mixes and dissolves easily too. The best part is that the flavor tastes natural, unlike some supplements that taste like cough medicine.
- Good-tasting flavors
- No jittery feelings
- Energy booster
- If you’re not used to fruity flavors, you might not like this
- No creatine monohydrate
I didn’t get a jittery feeling as I usually do with other pre-workout supplements. I absolutely felt an significant boost of energy that helped me with my sprinting routine.
5 - Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout
This pre-workout is one of the pre-workouts that has ingredients that I would like to see on a label — everything from citrulline malate to amino acids.
It’s also packed with 175 mg of caffeine to help boost your mind and body, preventing tiredness due to the stimulants' effect.
It even includes a transparent label that lists the ingredient amounts so you're sure there are no misleading proprietary blends.
- No proprietary blends
- Dilates blood vessels to increase blood flow
- Good for endurance running
- Might be too much caffeine if you are sensitive to it, leading to headaches and other symptoms
I took this before I went running, and I was pleased with the results. Even though I was running for quite some time, I had high energy during the entire run without experiencing significant pain.
6 - Legion Pulse Pre-Workout
Legion Pulse is slightly different from the others, offering caffeine-free pre-workouts with natural ingredients.
Their pre-workout powder is a nitric oxide booster and has essential ingredients, such as Beta Alanine, that help tone your muscle mass.
I tried it before running, and I find the taste reasonably delicious, especially the Strawberry Margarita. I felt the effects as I was running such as increased heart rate. I enjoyed feeling like I could keep running for a long time.
- Uses natural ingredients for better cell production
- Has caffeine-free versions
- Energy booster
- Not as many servings per container
The only downside to this is that a container of the caffeine-free stimulant only contains 21 servings, so it doesn’t last as long as other supplements.
7 - Red Leaf Pre-Workout Energizer Powder
Red Leaf's Pre-Workout has ingredients that you don’t usually find in other products like cranberry, beetroot juice, and green tea extract, which are Vegetarian. These improve fat oxidation while exercising.
They include these for their antioxidant properties, so you only get the best for sports nutrition.
However, it doesn’t have creatine. The caffeine content is also pretty low with only 40mg per serving. While it may work well for a cardio workout session, it may not be enough for more intense strength exercises.
- Contains unique ingredients like green tea
- No jittery feelings
- Good energy pre workout supplement
- A little artificial taste
I thought the taste was a little artificial, but I still managed to have a good run. You can also add this to your existing pre-workout drink.
8 - BioSteel High Performance Sports Hydration
Pro athletes like Andrew Wiggins and Jalen Ramsey use this hydrating drink as it contains vitamin B12, minerals, and good amino acid profiles.
The primary purpose is to increase your endurance level during your workout while helping with muscle fatigue through preventing glycogen depletion.
It’s not a pre-workout in a traditional sense, but it can help with other aspects of your
- Used by pro athletes
- Helps with hydration
- No high blood pressure
- Not a traditional pre-workout
When it comes to running, I thought this helped a lot with staying hydrated. It helped me run longer that way.
9 - MusclePharm Assault Pre-workout Powder
The ingredients of this pre-workout powder certainly pack a punch with 200 mg of caffeine.
I was excited to test this out and see if it did anything for my energy.
I liked the taste of fruit punch and the fact that it does not contain any proprietary blends. I did my long workout sessions, and I felt like it significantly increased my energy levels and helped with muscle fatigue.
- No proprietary blends
- Elevated energy
- No noticeable side effects
- Contains artificial sweeteners and flavors
Each container has 30 servings, so it can easily last you one month.
Is Pre-workout Good For Running?
Yes, pre-workout is good for running, whether it comes as a powder, pill, tablet, or even gummies and bars. It helps boost your energy and prevents lactic acid from building up which makes your muscles tired .
I would caution against taking it all the time though. You might develop a tolerance to pre-workout and won’t feel the energy-boosting effects anymore.
Use it wisely, and you’ll notice having longer runs.
Evidence supports a range of carbohydrate uses for various athletic applications, from taking in 30 to 60 grams per hour during endurance events to simply rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate solution before sprint events.
- Georgie Fear, R.D., C.S.S.D
What Should A Runner Look For In A Pre-workout?
A runner should look for the following ingredients in a pre-workout:
- Beta-alanine: It's an important amino acid that helps with endurance and sustained energy. It creates a process in your body to prevent fatigue in your muscles , preventing your body from producing hydrogen ions. It's best if you also find a pre-workout with Carnosine since it buffers your pH levels to prevent metabolic acidosis.
- Creatine: The primary purpose of creatine is to help with muscle strength . It can be taken by both females and males for short bursts of energy that make it easier to lift weights. It could also potentially help sprinters.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is one of the common ingredients for pre-workouts which solely helps to increase energy. It can provide support for endurance athletes as well as repeated short efforts of maximum power for sprinters. It also prevents fatigue and the feeling of perceived effort .
- BCAAs: Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are fundamental to a pre-workout. It includes the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They help manage protein in your body, and they can also help distance runners with next-day soreness . It's effective because they bypass your liver digestion, meaning it goes straight to your muscles. At the same time, it prevents a spike and dip in blood sugar after consuming carbohydrates.
Another thing I would look for in a pre-workout is the correct dosage. It’s not enough to only have the right ingredients, even for vitamins C and other B vitamins like niacin.
Caffeine should be 200-500mg, BCAAs need 5-20g, beta-alanine ranges from 1.5-5g, and creatine is between 5-20g.
You should consult a health professional to determine the exact amount you need, especially for Branched-Chain Amino Acids and other essential amino acids like L-Citrulline.
You might also find that some other supplements add unique ingredients like pink salt, vitamin C, or matcha green tea. If you find those, then you might want to do some research into their health benefits.
What Are The Benefits?
There are many benefits to taking a pre-workout for runners. Let’s take a quick look:
- Increases energy for endurance runs and sprints
- Reduces the chances of soreness
- Helps with muscle strength through protein synthesis
- Lowers the feeling of perceived effort
- Increases energy for muscle cells (ATP)
- Improves metabolism and consumption of carbohydrates
Runners of all levels can enjoy the benefits of pre-workout, especially due to its proteins and other ingredients to help with nutrient absorption. It supplements your energy and supports your muscles. However, it's best to get pre-workouts with electrolytes, sodium, potassium, and magnesium if you intend to run longer, like in a triathlon since you sweat them out. These nutrients ensure you have healthy skeletal muscle contractions and nerve conductions.
Some people ask me if pre-workout is good for weight loss. It’s not a diet pill, but even with this reason, it could help intensify your workouts with vitamins and other nutrients, like vitamin B6.
If you work out harder, then you might see some fat loss. But of course, you will see better results if combined with a calorie-restricted diet or low-carb diet .
What Are The Side Effects?
The potential side effects of drinking a pre-workout are minimal but may include a tingling sensation throughout your body caused by beta-alanine. However, there’s no need to worry as this is only temporary.
If you go running in the evening or at night, you should consider using a pre-workout with no caffeine.
Otherwise, you might not sleep that night and mess up your sleeping schedule. This isn't ideal for your fitness goals since it will make your sleep quality worse, causing you to become unmotivated to stick to your running routine. Before long, you might notice a sharp drop in your lean muscle mass.
When Should I Take Pre-workout?
You should take a pre-workout before you exercise. The pre-workout I use, Gorilla Mode, suggests taking it 45-60 minutes before your workout. Other people suggest 20-30 minutes.
We talk about more of this on our how long are the effects of pre-workout article.
Should I Take Pre-workout Before Every Run?
You shouldn't take a pre-workout before every run. Taking a pre-workout regularly may cause your body to adapt to it which can reduce the overall effectiveness.
Therefore, you may need to take more dosage of pre-workout to get the same effects which is a common symptom of substance dependence, making you unable to function without pre-workout as fuel.
How Long Does Pre-workout Last?
A pre-workout usually lasts anywhere between 3 and 6 hours. It also takes 30 to 45 minutes to kick in, based on my personal and clients' experience.
With caffeine as a common ingredient, the effects of pre-workout depends on your sensitivity to its ingredients.
Is Pre-Workout Safe For Everyone?
Pre-workout isn't safe for everyone, but it is for most people. If you have concerns, you should consult with a health professional because they can help you make the best choice.
You should also be careful in choosing products that contain high amounts of sugar or artificial flavors as they can affect your body and muscle mass.
Are Pre-workouts FDA-Approved?
Pre-workouts are not FDA-approved. However, most of the common ingredients in a pre-workout are being regulated.
To make sure that your pre-workout contains the exact ingredients on the label, you can check if it has any independent certifications from:
Will It Make Me Run Faster?
It could potentially make you run faster. Pre-workout is designed to help your body produce more energy, which could help with your overall running.
There are a lot of other factors to consider to improve your running performance. But if you find a pre-workout that works for you, then there's no harm in taking it.
Can I Take Energy Drinks Or Coffee Instead?
You can't take energy drinks or coffee instead because both lack certain nutrients that a pre-workout has. However, you would probably increase your energy levels either way.
An espresso does have some health perks, but coffee beans can only boost your energy. Coffee can't support your muscles as pre-workout can. Worse, it can cause cramping, diarrhea, and nausea among marathon runners with caffeine sensitivity.
Our Recommended Pre-Workout for Running?
The best pre-workout supplements contain the ideal combination of ingredients that work together to improve muscle strength, endurance, and focus.
While it may seem difficult to find a single supplement that provides all of these benefits, my team agreed that Gorilla Mode contains the optimal formula to achieve this.
Gorilla Mode contains sufficient caffeine in the anhydrous form to exert a stronger ergogenic effect, enhancing running performance and concentration.
Furthermore, L-citrulline provides sufficient oxygen to your leg muscles, allowing them to endure prolonged periods of exhaustion and deliver nutrients more quickly, reducing muscle soreness after long-distance running.
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