If you've ever been in a GNC or looked at the front page of bodybuilding.com, I promise you that you have seen the shiny C4 containers, or the seemingly outrageous claims made advertising some pre-workout products. I think most people know to take any product's claims with a grain of salt, but many of these pre-workouts are actually very, very effective.
WHY USE A PRE-WORKOUT?
How many times have you felt low on energy or unfocused in a way that caused your workout intensity to suffer, or even skip your workout altogether? Most of you, like myself know that feeling all too well. It's easy to make excuses: you had a hard day at work, you didn't sleep well, you're not feeling so great, etc.. That's exactly the feeling that got me into pre-workouts to begin with. I was sick of essentially wasting time at the gym when I wasn't 100%. Pre-workouts are great "distractions" from those thoughts and feelings mentioned above. They provide energy, focus, and often a placebo effect giving you the "I got this!" mentality.
As I mentioned above, I got into pre-workouts for days that I wasn't feeling 100%. Now, I take them almost every workout (be careful to follow directions about cycling and maximum daily servings!). Even on days that I feel good, that little jolt of extra energy, extra focus, and again, placebo effect help push my workouts over the top. If you've read my first article (CAUTION: Not for The Faint of Will), you know that my workout routine is pretty intense. I go twice a day and always try to add at least 5lbs to each exercise from the session before. Pre-workouts in addition to my high protein diet and other aspects of my carefully calculated sports nutrition plan have so far helped me achieve this. For example in the past 2 weeks, my bench press (on an injured shoulder) has gone up 75 pounds! I'm not saying this wouldn't have happened without pre-workouts, only that it would have likely taken much more time as there would be much more variance in energy levels and motivation from workout to workout.
SO, WHAT'S THE BEST?
I have personal experience using three different pre-workouts. There are also a few newer ones to the market that I have not yet tried that I will touch on.
1. Jack3d by USPLabs
Jack3d will always have a sweet spot in my memory. It was the first pre-workout I used, and part of what ushered me into hard core powerlifting. There's a lot of great aspects of Jack3d. For starters it is the first (and perhaps only) supplement I have ever taken that has done EXACTLY what is claimed of it. Shortly after taking Jack3d I get a burst of energy, but unlike an energy drink it doesn't make me hyper or jittery. Rather, it makes me feel like I have an endless pool of energy and effort to tap into. It makes that 4th and 5th rep more possible, and lets you increase the weights faster and push harder. Courtesy of the now controversial ingredient DMAA, it creates a tunnel-vision effect. I remember when I first started taking it, I would get so focused that I would lose track of time and even not notice lifting buddies trying to talk to me. Your thought process slows to thinking about one thing at a time: getting that weight up, and then doing it again.
I can't speak high enough of Jack3d, but like everything it does have a few downsides. For starters it tastes awful. I couldn't stomach the tropical fruit punch, so I switched to lemon-lime. This is at least drinkable, but its more of a chug, less of a pleasant drinking. Secondly, Jack3d is becoming hard to find. Last I checked Bodybuilding.com no longer carries it and GNC has limited supplies in stores only (seems like they're just trying to sell off what's left. Due to the controversy over the DMAA, and also some people's dislike of the tingling feeling of beta-alanine (personally, I love it), USPLabs has created Jack3d Micro without these ingredients. (As of the time of this writing, there are rumors the FDA plans to ban DMAA, but nothing official yet.)
2. C4 Extreme by Cellucor
I was only recently introduced to C4 when a Cellucor rep approached me and offered me samples of various products to review. I think my reaction in the locker room when I drank it for the first time sums up my feelings about C4. It really is Extreme! The energy kick of C4 seems much more potent than anything I have tried. I have a high tolerance for caffeine and the other ingredients common to pre-workouts, so to get a kick like I did from C4 is pretty impressive. That being said, for me it still wasn't a jittery or hyper energy. I use C4 regularly for one of my daily workouts, and its effect has not seemed to lessen. Very happy with it, and the Icy Blue Razz tastes much, much better than any Jack3d I've tried.
3. PlatinumPRE by Optimum Nutrition
First off, I love Optimum Nutrition. I have never known a bad product from them. When PlatinumPRE was released, the hype was incredible. Positive reviews were flowing in from left and right. You can imagine my excitement when an envelope arrived in the mail from Optimum with PlatinumPRE samples! My first impression: this is without a doubt, by far the best tasting pre-workout drink I know of. It was actually delicious. No chugging it down fast, I actually enjoyed drinking it as I sat in the locker room listening to some pre-workout motivation on my phone. One other thing to know: C4 and Jack3d to a lesser extent stay relatively evenly mixed. PlatinumPRE does settle significantly, so a quick shake before each drink is warranted.
Before I tried the PlatinumPRE I read through the ingredients. Minus DMAA, it seemed to have the best of both worlds: almost a combination of Jack3d and C4. My estimation was correct. PlatinumPRE gives an insane kick, focus, and just to remind you it's working: the Beta-Alanine tingle that I love so much. I also appreciate the inclusion of some amino acids and vitamins, as well as using L-Citrulline instead of Arginine as the NO precursor. Citrulline is somewhat more potent, but more important to me: most NO products use Arginine and it's always good to mix things up to preserve effectiveness. PlatinumPRE is not only effective, but it seems to be healthy as well. It is the only pre-workout I know of to include potent antioxidants which help protect your body from free radicals released in large quantities when you work hard and expend masses of energy.
PlatinumPRE made quite an impression. All the commentary on it comes from two uses. Unfortunately the sample Optimum sent was quite a small one and unable to support a long term test. If I can get my hands on some more I will certainly update this review with further impressions.
SOME OTHER BIG NAMES IN THE MARKET:
1. Jack3d Micro by USPLabs
Jack3d Micro is an alternative to Jack3d without the DMAA or Beta-Alanine (two of the ingredients I found most useful in Jack3d). Looking at the ingredients, I am not exactly optimistic about the potency of Micro. It is missing the two best ingredients of Jack3d original. That being said, I have not had the opportunity to try it. By all means, if you have tried it please leave a comment with your impressions. If I have the opportunity to try some samples I will be glad to update this review with my impressions.
2. SCREAM by Bodybuilding.com
I anticipate SCREAM being a fierce competitor with PlatinumPRE. They share many common ingredients, with advantage perhaps to SCREAM. I love the idea of putting 8 grams of BCAA's in a preworkout. That helps ensure they are in the blood when most needed, immediately post workout. Including creatine is a common, but appreciated decision as well as it eliminates or decreases the need to supplement creatine separately. I am quite excited about SCREAM and hopefully will be able to sample and properly review it soon.
Just the fancy legal stuff: All of the above are based on my experiences and research and are for informational purposes only. Workout and consume supplements at your own risk and remember, always consult with a doctor before beginning a workout routine or drastically changing your diet. Be Careful. Stay Safe. Lift Heavy. Be Strong!