Everybody knows that a pre-workout supplement is a good idea if you’re about to go to the gym to do some heavy lifting. But are they a good idea for runners too?
The truth is that, whether you’re going to do some squats and deadlifts or a 5k run, you need a good amount of energy.
The best pre-workouts for running don’t just give you an energy boost to start running. They also provide useful supplements that improve the immune system and have some recovery benefits after your run as well.
If you aren’t using a pre-workout or you aren’t sure if you need one, we will teach you all you need to know. And we’ll review some of our favorite products and explain how you can make homemade pre-workouts as well.
What are pre-workouts for running?
Starting your run is the easiest part. But to keep going, whether you’re running a 5k or a marathon, is not as easy, and you may start to feel like you’re running out of steam. That’s natural. Your body burns through not just calories, but other nutrients as well. If you want to finish each workout as strong as possible, a pre-workout supplement will top you up on energy, electrolytes and more, so that you start with a full tank.
As the name says, you take a pre-workout before your run. It’s designed to give you the boost of energy you need to run continuously, as well as increase your stamina and endurance.
Pre-workouts can also contain ingredients that help you maintain lean muscle mass and help with recovery after your run. There’s no better way to derail your recovery than to completely exhaust yourself during a run. Pre-workouts can help head that situation off. They contain a variety of ingredients – some may contain carbs, while others don’t. Most will contain vitamins, electrolytes, and antioxidants, and some may contain stimulants like caffeine.
There’s a wide variety of pre-workout formulas and flavors. They can come in many forms, like powder, capsules, tablets, canned drinks, and chews.
What are their benefits?
The human body has two types of skeletal muscle fibers, known as slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers.
If you’re a marathon or half-marathon runner, you’ll be activating the slow-twitch muscles which support these activities. These muscles will work harder and longer than fast-twitch, which is why runners need strong, lean muscles to run effectively.
Pre-workout supplements can help runners gain lower body strength and provide the body with the energy, vitamins, and electrolytes it needs as fuel sources on long runs. Having a pre-workout can help prevent your glycogen stores from becoming depleted, which can lead to cramping, muscle fatigue, and even nausea.
While our bodies can convert fat to a fuel source, it takes longer to convert to energy, whereas glycogen is converted much quicker. If you’re not fueled before a run, your fat stores may not come to the rescue and you could hit the brick wall quicker.
Pre-workouts will increase muscle endurance and focus and keep you motivated on those long runs, where you can achieve your personal best time. They will get the oxygen and nutrients that your body needs through the blood a lot quicker, and can reduce the perceived effort.
Taking a pre-workout will help to improve your respiratory fitness and will help your body convert fat into a primary energy source.
If you take a pre-workout that contains branched-chain amino acids, then you’ll find that your muscle recovery will be better as it alleviates pain. It will also help to build muscle and decrease muscle fatigue.
When do you take pre-workouts?
You should take your pre-workout 15 to 30 minutes before your run.
You should start to feel the effects of the pre-workout during that time, and if it contains amino acids you may notice a tingling or itching sensation once it’s entered into your bloodstream.
The pre-workout should peak within 45 minutes of you taking it, and you could feel its effects for up to 6 hours.
What are they made from?
Each brand of pre-workout has its own formula that likely contains multiple ingredients, including BCAAs, essential amino acids, vitamins, electrolytes, creatine, caffeine, and carbs. Each ingredient has its own benefit:
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Branched-Chain Amino Acids—BCAAs— are the building blocks of protein and aren’t produced naturally in the body. If you aren’t getting enough BCAAs from your diet, you could be prone to muscle weakness and fatigue.
This is because BCAAs are metabolized within the muscle itself and not by the liver, and are quickly absorbed by active tissues.
BCAAs help to regulate whether the body is in a catabolic state or a recovery state. They can improve anaerobic performance, improve the immune system, and protect lean muscle.
BCAAs also help reduce the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Pre-workouts can contain caffeine, which can be sourced naturally from green tea, green coffee beans, or yerba mate. Caffeine can give you more power on a run, and improve endurance and aerobic performance. It can sustain energy levels that will allow you to run for longer or further.
Caffeine stimulates the body to use fat stores as a fuel source rather than muscle glycogen. This will benefit marathon and ultra runners, as the muscles will be able to work longer without glycogen stores being depleted.
Having a pre-workout that contains sodium, potassium and magnesium helps to replace the electrolytes that can be lost on a run.
Even if you go for a short run, if you’re working up a sweat, you need to replace the electrolytes. This would keep your body balanced and help you to recover more quickly.
Pre-workouts can contain Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 or Vitamin B12, all of which help to boost the immune system.
They can also help with muscle recovery, as well as help the body to sustain energy while it’s put through its paces.
New studies are showing that if you take 2.5 grams of betaine, you’re able to increase muscle strength and endurance, and build muscle more quickly.
Betaine helps to increase protein synthesis after a run or exercise session, and this makes your body more efficient in building muscles and recovering.
Some pre-workouts contain creatine, which can help increase energy for both long runs and intense bouts of exercise. Creatine helps produce adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP, which is what the body uses to power the movement of our muscles.
Our bodies don’t store huge amounts of ATP in the cells, and once the muscles begin contracting, the body has to start producing ATP very quickly.
By using a pre-workout that contains creatine, you’ll be increasing strength, muscle endurance, and muscle gain, which could help you finish strong even after a long race.
Are those supplements regulated by the FDA?
Pre-workouts themselves are not regulated by the FDA, but most of the ingredients that go into a pre-workout have been regulated.
The FDA will investigate and remove products from store shelves if they receive any reports of reactions or health issues related to a product.
To make sure that the pre-workout contains only the ingredients on the label, you can check if the product has any independent certifications, like:
If you’ve changed your pre-workout or you’re trying one for the first time, it’s always best to start with half a dose. This will give you time to see how your body reacts to it, and to see if you can feel a difference.
Slowly increase your dosage to the recommended daily dose. If you find that you don’t like how your body reacts to it, or that it didn’t make any difference to your performance, then you may have to consider using a different brand.
Are there side-effects?
No matter how good the quality of the pre-workout, there’s always a chance that you could be sensitive to one or more of the ingredients.
Every person will react differently to a pre-workout, but you could experience one of the following side effects:
- Unusual or unexplained jitters
- Heart palpitations or increased heartbeat
- Tingly or itchy sensations
- Upset stomach or increased stomach activity
- Increase in blood pressure
You may want to avoid taking a pre-workout for at least 6 hours before you go to bed, as it could lead to bouts of insomnia.
Is there a placebo effect with some products?
The placebo effect is real, and there’s a high chance that it comes into effect with pre-workouts. That doesn’t mean they don’t work – it just means that sometimes there’s a mental element to it as well.
But if a pre-workout is effective for you, it doesn’t really matter if it’s the ingredients or the placebo effect. As long as it’s working!
Can I make a pre-workout drink myself?
Yes, you can make your own pre-workout at home, and it will allow you to pick and choose ingredients that you feel will work better for you.
Here are some examples of DIY pre-workouts.
Pre-workout recipe 1
- 300ml coconut water
- 1 shot of espresso
- 1 medium-sized banana
- A pinch of cinnamon
- 1 tbsp honey
Pre-workout recipe 2
- 2 squares dark chocolate
- 300ml milk or plant-based milk
- 50 – 100g strawberries or other berries
- 1 small beetroot, peeled
Pre-workout recipe 3
- 100 g frozen strawberries
- Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp honey
- 300ml water
- 50 to 200mg caffeine (depending on your caffeine sensitivity)
You can also blend your own choice of ingredients together to make a pre-workout using coconut water or water, green tea or coffee, milk, almond milk or yogurt. Add some oats, nuts or chia seeds to some fruits like bananas, berries, or oranges.
Honey is a natural sweetener that also provides a steady release of glucose into the blood, and this can help to sweeten your pre-workout if you find it to be slightly bitter.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Nature Fuel Power Beets
Organic Muscle Organic Pre-Workout
1. Nature Fuel Power Beets
This pre-workout is suitable for any type of runner, whether you’re a sprinter or a marathoner. It is made with plant-based ingredients and contains a high amount of antioxidants and nitric-oxide-boosting nutrients.
The secret behind this pre-workout is just one thing – beets. Their anti-inflammatory properties are well-documented, and they are also great at improving blood circulation. This is beneficial in a pre-workout, as the faster your blood pumps, the quicker oxygen is getting to your muscles, keeping them from feeling fatigued.
The main ingredient is beetroot powder, which accounts for the health benefits this pre-workout claims to offer. There are 20 calories in one scoop and just 2 grams of sugar, but it’s natural sugar from the vegetable.
You’ll also find some electrolytes in it, which will keep their levels up during your exercise. What you won’t find are artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, or artificial flavors.
Some users have complained that the powder doesn’t dissolve completely, so drinking it leaves a slight gritty feel.
- Antioxidants and nitric-oxide-boosting nutrients
- Added electrolytes
- No artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors
- Some may find that the powder doesn’t dissolve completely when diluted with water, giving the drink a “gritty” feel
2. Organic Muscle Organic Pre-Workout
No matter what your dietary preference, you should be able to take this pre-workout. It’s certified USDA organic, suitable for vegans, and it’s free from gluten, GMOs, and hormones.
You can choose from a range of flavors, and they are all naturally sweetened. There are quite a lot of ingredients, and each one has specific benefits that make it good for a pre-workout.
Most of the ingredients are certified organic. If you prefer a plant-based powder, then this one is a good choice. It contains ingredients like pomegranate, beet root, and goji berry for a bit of a pump.
For energy and focus, you might be surprised that 125mg of caffeine comes from ingredients like yerba mate, green coffee beans, and green tea. If you are sensitive to caffeine, don’t assume that a plant-based or organic pre-workout will be lower in caffeine.
In addition to the dose of caffeine, for 30 calories you’ll get 6 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein and 56mg of potassium to help prevent cramping.
- USDA Organic
- Suitable for vegans
- Comes in multiple flavors
- Contains no hormones, chemicals, or artificial sweeteners
- May not be suitable for people who are sensitive to caffeine, as each scoop contains 125 mg of caffeine
Best Made with Coconut Water
3. TRUWILD Motion
There are many benefits to drinking coconut water. It’s filled with natural electrolytes, and doesn’t need to be sweetened in order to be palatable. Using it in a pre-workout can be extremely helpful for replenishing electrolytes and maximizing hydration.
Manufacturers create a powder out of coconut water by evaporating it and then freeze-drying the evaporated liquid. Other supplements are added to this to make the pre-workout.
As well as the impressive health benefits of coconut water, this pre-workout contains an interesting blend of mushroom ingredients that provide an energy boost. There is also 160mg of natural caffeine, from green coffee beans, green tea extract, and yerba mate.
Each scoop is 30 calories, with just 2 grams of natural sugars. You will also find vitamin C, B6, and B12, as well as sodium chloride and potassium chloride to replace lost electrolytes.
Although coconut water has a decent taste on its own, the combination of ingredients in this pre-workout may leave a strange aftertaste.
- Plant-based pre-workout
- Three sources of natural caffeine
- Provides essential electrolytes
- Added vitamins for an immune boost
- The combination of ingredients may leave a strange aftertaste
Best Range of Flavors
4. Legion Pulse
Legion Athletics is one of the cleanest supplement companies, and their pre-workout is impressive in ingredients as well as in flavors. You can choose from exciting flavors like fruit punch, watermelon, pink lemonade, grape, and sour candy, and they all taste decent.
Legion’s products are backed by science, and much care is taken to ensure that they provide only the healthiest products. Each one has around 10 calories per serving, making it perfect for running while you’re fasted. You will find 350mg of caffeine, 8 grams of citrulline malate for increased blood flow, 3.6 grams of beta-alanine to help with recovery, and 2.5 grams of betaine.
Still not sure about Legion Pulse? It’s been recommended by athletes and Ironman triathletes as a good choice thanks to its clean nature. It is made in the USA, GMP certified, and 3rd party tested to make sure it’s high quality.
The only potential issue that some individuals may have is that there are fewer caffeine-free flavors than those with caffeine.
- Wide variety of flavors to choose from
- Available in caffeine or non-caffeine options
- Science-backed ingredients
- Improves energy levels
- Fewer caffeine-free flavors than those containing caffeine
Top Bulk Servings
5. 6AM RUN Marathon
With just 5 calories per serving, you might be surprised at how effective this pre-workout is. There are 40 scoops in one container, and just one scoop per serving, so it should last you a month or more if you use it once a day.
It features a blend of 12 free-form amino acids, which helps to build muscle, heal it while you’re resting, and give you 10 or more hours of energy. You should need only one scoop to have a great workout, without feeling bloated or crampy thanks to the vegan-friendly formula.
There is 175mg of caffeine in this pre-workout, which is enough to give you quite a pump. This drink is suitable to be used not only as a pre-workout drink, but also as a post-workout drink to give you energy for the rest of the day and aid in muscle recovery.
This formula is both keto and vegan-friendly. But it does contain some artificial flavors, which some people’s stomachs could react badly to.
- Twelve free-form BCAA/amino acids
- Keto and vegan-friendly
- Aids with recovery, daily focus and energy
- Can be taken as pre- or post-exercise drink
- Contains some artificial flavors that some people may react badly to
Best Flavor Combos
6. Top Secret Nutrition Cardio Igniter
This pre-workout also contains just 5 calories per scoop, so you don’t have to worry about it adding to your daily calorie intake. In those 5 calories, it contains a vitamin B6 and B12, which are helpful for providing sustained energy throughout the day.
You’ll also find a blend of electrolytes to replenish what you lose when you exercise. These include 110mg of sodium, 230mg of potassium, and 33mg of magnesium. A combination of amino acids and useful ingredients like beetroot extract, kelp, and raspberry ketones round out the ingredients.
It’s easy to miss in the list, but there’s also 150mg of caffeine anhydrous in this pre-workout. This is a highly concentrated caffeine powder, so it may be best to avoid this pre-workout if you are sensitive to caffeine.
Top Secret uses both natural and artificial flavors in all of the versions, which could cause a strange and unpleasant taste for some people.
- Variety of flavors
- Increases muscle oxygenation
- Has an electrolyte blend
- Only 5 calories per scoop
- The combination of natural and artificial flavoring may cause a bad taste for some people
Top BCAA and Beta-Alanine
7. Red Leaf Pre-Workout Energizer
This pre-workout is one of the best for the full running process, from giving you an energy boost to start strong, giving you the endurance to keep going when you start to feel tired, and helping your muscles recover properly after your run.
The 1500mg BCAA blend provides many benefits, from muscle growth to the prevention of muscle breakdown during fasted training. You’ll also get a dose of L-glutamine, which is a powerful recovery helper.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that has antioxidant, anti-aging, and immune-boosting properties. It can help improve your endurance for long runs and prevent muscle fatigue.
Some people may experience itching or tingling when taking this pre-workout for the first few times, but it isn’t dangerous, and should pass after you’ve used it a few times.
- Branched-chain amino acid blend
- Boosts of energy
- Aids in post-workout recovery
- Naturally sweetened
- Some people may experience tingling or itchiness when they start to use this product, due the Beta-alanine and Amino Acid
Best with Caffeine
8. Ora Organic Renewable Energy
If you like the buzz of caffeine, then you should try this pre-workout. It’s organic and vegan, so you can take it no matter what your dietary preferences.
The 90mg of caffeine per serving is less than most others, but it’s enough to give you a buzz without negative side effects. You shouldn’t get heart palpitations, the jitters, or a crash with this product.
The caffeine comes from organic sources, and other natural herbs provide a variety of helpful properties. Ashwagandha is a neuro-protector and an adaptogen, which means it can help your body deal with stress. For men, it can also increase testosterone levels, which can have a positive effect on muscle building.
That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t use it. It has many other benefits, including being an anti-inflammatory and improving thyroid function. The addition of beet and pomegranate boost nitric oxide in the body, improving blood flow to muscles during activity.
One of the reasons we chose this pre-workout over others containing caffeine is that it has only natural caffeine in it, and it’s at acceptable levels for most people to use with no side effects.
Because of its natural composition, some people may find that it has a strong earthy taste that isn’t appealing. It also takes some effort to get it to mix with water, so be prepared for some gritty bits in your shaker.
- Caffeine from organic, yerba mate, organic green coffee beans, organic matcha
- Free from artificial stimulants
- Blend of organic adaptogens
- Enhances focus and endurance
- Some people may find that it has a very earthy taste and that it doesn’t dissolve well when mixed only with water