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Tailwind Nutrition Endurance contains 25 grams of carbs and 35 mg of caffeine
Figuring out what to eat before a workout can be challenging. Eating too much can leave you feeling heavy or with a stomach ache, while not eating enough might mean you won’t have enough energy you need for your workout. Pre-workout drinks can be an easy way to get in quick carbohydrates to energize your workout without causing stomach upset. They can also be useful in helping to prevent dehydration.
Pre-workout drinks can however differ widely in their ingredients. Some drinks contain carbohydrates, some have electrolytes, while others may contain protein or added ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, or vitamins. According to Holley Samuel MEd, RD, CPT, “Usually these [pre-workout] supplements have caffeine and B vitamins in them as main ingredients, though some also contain artificial sweeteners, dyes, creatine, beta alanine, guarana, collagen, and other ingredients.” Samuel recommends looking for pre-workout drinks that contain at least 20 grams of carbohydrates and less than 150 milligrams of caffeine per serving which about the same as 12 ounces of coffee.
When choosing a pre-workout drink, it is important to consider the type of workout you’re doing. Endurance based workouts require mainly carbohydrates, while carbohydrates and some protein (and possibly creatine) may be beneficial before strength workouts. Always check ingredient labels so you know what and how much you are consuming. We also recommend choosing products that are third-party tested or at least from reputable brands with strong manufacturing processes.
Always speak with a healthcare professional before adding a supplement to your routine, to ensure that the supplement is appropriate for your individual needs and which dosage to take.
Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel Raspberry
Contains carbohydrates for energy
Contains moderate levels of caffeine
No artificial flavors or dyes
Powder form must be mixed in advance
Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel is our top choice when it comes to a pre-workout drink. This lightly sweet, carefully formulated powder provides you with energy for your workout without added fillers and unnecessary ingredients.
One scoop of Tailwind contains 25 grams of carbohydrates and 35 milligrams of caffeine. While you can get a caffeine boost similar to a cup of tea, Tailwind Endurance Fuel provides you with carbohydrates and electrolytes in addition to caffeine, so you can get all these helpful nutrients in one drink. The manufacturer recommend mixing two to three scoops with water per hour of endurance exercise, or one to two scoops for shorter workouts. The flexibility makes it easy to tailor amounts to your needs.
We like that Tailwind does not contain any artificial flavors or dyes. While the raspberry flavor as well as cola and tropical buzz flavors contain caffeine, Tailwind comes in non-caffeinated options as well such as mandarin orange, berry, and lemon.
Tailwind products were third-party certified, but when we reached out to Tailwind to confirm they stated they discontinued participating in the certification program due to the cost. However, their products are made in a stand alone facility, and raw materials come with a certificate of analysis (COA) of purity. They are still considered a trusted brand by many including some Olympic athletes.
Price at time of publication: $29 ($0.97 per scoop serving)
Form: Powder | Type: Sports drink | Dose: 25 grams of carbohydrates | Third-Party Certified: No | Servings Per Container: 30
Pedialyte Electrolyte Powder Strawberry Lemonade
Best with Electrolytes
Higher sodium content
Packets can be taken on the go
Lower in carbohydrates
Has artificial colors and sweeteners
If you are planning to exercise in the heat or for at least an hour, it is important to protect yourself against dehydration by drinking enough fluids and replenishing electrolytes that are lost in sweat. Electrolytes lost in sweat include sodium along with smaller amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Electrolyte drinks or powders can be a convenient pre-workout drink because they provide the fluids, electrolytes, and sometimes carbohydrates all in one.
While Pedialyte is typically something you think of for a kid's drink when you’re sick, it can make a great choice for a pre-workout drink because it is a good source of electrolytes that can simply be added to water. Pedialyte Electrolyte Powder comes in packet form which can be a convenient choice to take on the go or keep in your gym bag.
One packet provides a good amount of electrolytes—490 milligrams of sodium and 370 milligrams of potassium. However, this powder is lower in carbohydrates with 12 grams per packet. While this amount may be perfect for shorter workouts, we recommend adding this to a carbohydrate containing snack before an endurance workout greater than 60-90 minutes. These packets come in strawberry lemonade, orange, and cherry flavors.
One thing some may want to consider is these packets have a small amount of artificial sweeteners and colors. Abbott, the manufacturer of Pedialyte, does not clearly do third-party testing on their products, but they are a trusted manufacturer used in many healthcare settings.
Price at time of publication: $10 ($1.67 per packet)
Form: Powder | Type: Sports drink | Dose: 490 mg of sodium, 12 g of carbohydrates | Third-Party Certified: Yes | Servings Per Container:6
Skratch Labs Hydration Mix Raspberry Limeade
Best for Running
Contains carbohydrates and caffeine
Lightly sweet flavor
Powdered form must be mixed with liquid
Skratch Labs Hydration Mix is an ideal pre-run drink. Before starting cardio workouts such as running or cycling, it is important to have enough carbohydrates stored (glycogen) in your body. Glycogen stores go down during exercise, so adding in a pre-workout carbohydrate rich drink can help you run for longer and recover more quickly especially if you’re exercising first thing in the morning or on an empty stomach. Having a pre-workout drink with carbohydrates before (and during) running can be especially important for runs that are two hours or longer.
Skratch Labs Hydration Mix contains 20 grams of carbohydrates per scoop. Each serving also contains 380 milligrams of sodium, 38 milligrams of potassium, and 43 milligrams of calcium—all electrolytes we lose in sweat. Getting this boost of electrolytes before a run can help you avoid dehydration.
While many sports drinks taste overly artificial, we like that this product is just lightly sweetened with subtle flavors. The raspberry limeade flavor contains 50 milligrams of caffeine for an added boost. Some research suggests having caffeine before endurance exercise like running may be helpful for your performance. Raspberry limeade and matcha green tea & lemon flavors contain caffeine, but Skratch Labs also comes in uncaffeinated lemon & lime, pineapple, and fruit punch flavors.
Price at time of publication: $22 ($1.10 per serving)
Form: Powder | Type: Hydration mix | Dose: 20 grams of carbohydrates | Third-Party Certified: Yes | Servings Per Container: 20
Chobani Greek Yogurt Drink, Mixed Berry
Best for Increasing Muscle Mass
Contains carbs and protein
Easy to grab and go
Not suitable for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies
If increasing muscle mass is your goal, eating enough calories and protein throughout the day is important to ensure you’re able to build muscle. Opting for a pre-workout drink with both carbohydrates and protein can provide you with energy for your workout along with the amino acids (building blocks of protein) needed to help build muscle. Having protein before strength training can also help with improving muscle recovery.
We like that Chobani Mixed Berry Drinkable Yogurt as a whole food option that can fuel your workout. One bottle contains 17 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein. Protein is often the focus for building muscle, but it’s important to also get enough carbohydrates when trying to build muscle. Without enough carbs, your body can break down protein as a way to get carbs from muscle. We also like this option as a natural source of gut-healthy probiotics and a source of calcium.
This Chobani yogurt is easy to grab while on your way to workout. Since it is dairy based, keep in mind it is not suitable if you have a dairy allergy, are vegan, or are lactose intolerant.
Price at time of publication: $2 per 7 ounce
Form: Yogurt | Type: Yogurt protein drink | Dose: 17 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams protein | Third-Party Certified: N/A | Servings Per Container:1
Gatorade Endurance Formula
Best for Long Workouts
Higher carbohydrate and sodium content
Convenient pre-mixed liquid form
Some may think it’s too salty
Gatorade Endurance is made with a carbohydrate and electrolyte base ideal for longer workouts (at least one to two hours). A pre-workout drink with carbohydrates can be especially helpful for longer workouts. We store carbohydrates, the body’s main source of energy, in the form of glycogen. These stores are limited and can last up to two hours to provide energy for muscles. Drinking or eating quick digesting carbohydrates before workouts can help ensure you have enough energy to fuel your long workouts and can help prevent hitting a wall (bonking).
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking carbohydrate based sports drinks if you’ll be exercising for an hour or longer. The International Society of Sports Nutrition also suggests when exercising two hours or longer, supplementing carbohydrates becomes increasingly important especially when exercising on an empty stomach.
For your long workouts, we recommend Gatorade Endurance, as each serving contains 22 grams of carbs and 310 milligrams of sodium per serving. Note each bottle contains 2 servings—44 grams of carbs and 620 milligrams of sodium total. This higher amount of carbohydrates can provide you with needed energy for long workouts, while the sodium may be beneficial if you’re planning to workout in the heat and will be sweating heavily. The twist top on the bottles can make it easy to drink during your workout if you don’t want to drink the full bottle before starting your workout or save the rest for your next workout.
Gatorade Endurance is a budget-friendly option that is readily available in many supermarkets. This makes it easy to grab before a workout instead of having to mix a powder with liquid. While we like it’s higher in sodium, some people may find it’s too salty in taste for their liking.
Price at time of publication: $16 ($1 per serving, 8 bottles)
Form: Liquid | Type: Sports drink | Dose: 22 grams of carbohydrates per serving | Third-Party Certified: N/A | Servings Per Container: 16
Klean Athlete Klean Creatine Unflavored
NSF Certified for Sport
No artificial colors or flavors
Creatine supplies our muscles with energy and is the main fuel source used during high intensity, short burst exercise. If you participate in activities like weight training or sprinting, taking a pre-workout drink with creatine can increase the amount of creatine available for muscles, which can ultimately help improve performance. This can translate to improved muscle mass and strength, along with improved recovery.
Klean Athlete Klean Creatine is our top pick for a pre-workout drink with creatine because it’s NSF Certified for Sport. One scoop contains five grams of creatine monohydrate and no other ingredients. This powder is unflavored, so you can mix it into a liquid of choice. The manufacturer recommend taking this creatine 30 minutes before exercise with a carbohydrate containing food or drink. Taking this with carbohydrates can help increase your muscles’ uptake of creatine, plus they provide you with energy for your workout, making this a win-win.
The five gram dose in this supplement is by design. It can help you reach the recommended four servings of five grams of creatine during the loading phase or simply be a way to get the recommended daily five gram amount for maintenance.
Creatine supplements may be particularly beneficial if you are a vegan or vegetarian athlete. This is because creatine is naturally found in animal products, so vegans and vegetarians tend to have smaller stores of creatine in their muscles.
Price at time of publication: $32 ($0.53 per serving)
Form: Powder | Type: Creatine monohydrate | Dose: 5 grams | Third-Party Certified: Yes | Servings Per Container: 60
Cheribundi PURE Tart Cherry Juice
Best for Muscle Recovery
Easy to grab and go
Low in sodium
Tart cherries have been studied for their beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties especially with muscle recovery and joint health. Tart cherry juice has been shown to help reduce pain and improve post exercise recovery in both strength and endurance exercise.
Cheribundi PURE Tart Cherry Juice may be a great pre-workout drink to jump start muscle recovery for your next workout. One bottle, which contains only tart cherry juice and nothing else, contains 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving. You can add this tart juice to your pre workout snack for added carbohydrates and antioxidants.
While Cheribuni contains carbohydrates for your workout, it is lower in electrolytes compared to other pre-workout drinks. It contains 390 milligrams of potassium, but no sodium, calcium, or magnesium. If you’re planning to do a sweaty workout, you might consider adding in something with sodium before, during, or after your workout.
Price at time of publication: $32 ($2.67 per serving)
Form: Liquid | Type: Tart cherry juice | Dose: 8 ounce | Third-Party Certified: N/A | Servings Per Container: 8 ounce
Gnarly Nutrition Pre Workout
Best with Caffeine
NSF Certified for Sport
Also contains citrulline malate and beta alanine
Low in carbohydrates
Caffeine is widely studied for its use as a supplement to improve sports performance. Studies show that caffeine can improve exercise performance by reducing perceived effort and pain and enhancing focus.
While drinking a cup of coffee before a workout can give you caffeine, we like Gnarly Nutrition Pre Workout for a caffeine source before a workout. It is NSF Certified for Sport, and it contains 180 milligrams of caffeine per serving (about the amount of two cups of coffee). What sets this apart from just drinking coffee is it contains citrulline malate and beta alanine. Citrulline malate may allow for better blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles, while some studies show beta alanine may help delay fatigue and improve performance.
One drawback for this supplement is that it is low in carbohydrates with only one gram per serving. We recommend adding this to a carbohydrate containing smoothie or pairing it with other carbs such as toast, fruit, or applesauce before your workout.
It is important to be aware of the caffeine amount in pre-workout drinks. Samuel cautions that some pre-workout drinks may contain dangerous levels: “Caffeine is a stimulant, so too high doses can cause cardiac problems, increase anxiety, upset the GI system, etc.” Since supplements are not regulated by the FDA, what is in the product may not match what is on the label.
Price at time of publication: $39 ($1.30 per serving)
Form: Powder | Type: Pre-workout with caffeine | Dose: 180 mg caffeine | Third-Party Certified: Yes | Servings Per Container: 30
Sour Patch Kids
High in carbs
Easy to grab and go
Contains artificial colors
While it might sound strange to choose sour candy as a pre-workout supplement, Sour Patch Kids may actually be a great choice if you’re looking for a source of portable, quick energy. Candy is thought of as a snack which can spike your blood sugar while not providing many other nutrients. However, before a workout, they could serve the purpose of providing a quick source of fuel for your muscles, especially if you haven’t eaten in a while.
One bag of Sour Patch Kids contains 51 grams of carbohydrates and 50 milligrams of sodium. They contain no fat or protein, which make them a good choice before impact exercise like running. Foods higher in fat and protein can take longer to digest and cause stomach upset for some runners.However, keep in mind you may only need a smaller dose than the whole bag before your workout.
Sour Patch Kids can be a convenient pre-workout supplement found in many stores, and they are an affordable choice. They are easy to take on the go, and you can easily adjust the amount you eat to your needs. These do contain artificial colors and flavoring which some people may not want. The sour flavor doesn’t add anything beneficial for pre-workout energy, so you could also choose other gummy based candy if you don’t want something sour or opt for energy chews if you’re looking for something easy to digest before a workout.
Price at time of publication: $17 ($0.71 per serving)
Form: Gummy | Type: Candy | Dose: As desired based on activity | Third-Party Certified: N/A | Servings Per Container: 24
Pre-Workout Drinks We Excluded From Our List
We didn’t include any energy drinks for pre-workout supplements we recommend. Energy drinks can be higher in caffeine than other pre-workout drink choices, and they can also have ingredients that may not be best for everyone like added herbs or higher amounts of vitamins. Some energy drinks provide primarily just caffeine and B vitamins which may not be the best way to fuel your workout.
Is a Pre-Workout Drink Beneficial?
Pre-workout supplements are not necessary for everyone. It is important to focus on adequately fueling your workouts with whole foods that provide a blend of carbohydrates before, during, and after your workout. Getting enough protein throughout the day and after a workout can also help with recovery.
Pre-workout drinks should not replace food, but they can sometimes be a helpful addition. Samuel says, “People who are already fueling their bodies adequately before, during, and after their workouts may benefit from adding additional ergogenic aids like caffeine/pre-workout.” The following groups may benefit from a pre-workout drink:
Those short on time: If you don’t have much time before your workout, such as if you workout first thing in the morning or right after work, then you may benefit from choosing a pre-workout supplement that is easy to digest like a drink. Pre-workout drinks are quickly digested and may be less likely to cause you issues while working out.
Athletes with sensitive stomachs: Many people enjoy eating a pre-workout snack to get in easily digested carbohydrates. Some examples of popular pre-workout snacks might be fruit, graham crackers, apple sauce, or toast with peanut butter. If you find that solid food before exercise upsets your stomach, then a pre-workout drink may be your best bet for having an easier time digesting liquids before working out.
Those exercising in warm weather: It is important to remain hydrated while working out. Since we lose more water via sweat while exercising in warm weather, a pre-workout drink may help you stay hydrated when it’s warm. Consuming a drink with carbohydrates and sodium can also help your body hold onto fluids.
Those looking for an added boost: If you already get enough fuel for your workouts, adding in ingredients such as caffeine or creatine before workouts may help you reach your exercise goals. Keep in mind that pre-workout drinks should not replace food.
Who May Not Benefit From a Pre-Workout Drink
There are certain groups who may not benefit from a pre-workout drink including:
Those who workout in between meals: Pre-workout drinks should not replace whole foods, but rather should be used as a supplement. If you time your eating before and after working out, and are eating enough for your needs, then you likely do not need a pre-workout drink.
Individuals who are sensitive to caffeine: Pre-workout drinks can contain high levels of caffeine. This can cause anxiety or difficulty sleeping in some. If you are sensitive to caffeine, be sure to check the labels of pre-workout drinks before taking them.
Those who are not getting enough food throughout the day: If you aren’t eating enough foods and enough carbohydrates, protein, and calories overall, then pre-workout drinks may not be beneficial. They can help provide a source of carbohydrates or caffeine (depending what is in your drink), but you will likely not see a boost in your athletic performance and risk getting injured or fatigued. It is important to begin with a strong nutrition base before adding in pre-workout drinks. A dietitian can help you determine what your sports nutrition needs are and how to best fuel for your body.
People who are pregnant or lactating: The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that people who are pregnant or lactating limit their caffeine consumption to less than 200 milligrams per day. You should therefore be aware of the amounts of caffeine contained in pre-workout drinks and may want to avoid them.
Those taking certain medications: If you are taking medication, we recommend speaking with a healthcare provider before using pre-workout drinks with added ingredients. Certain ingredients may interact with medications. Samuel says, “too high amounts of caffeine, beta alanine, and other stimulant-like products like guarana can interact with medications and cause negative side effects.”
How We Select Supplements
Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain supplements; you can read more about our dietary supplement methodology here.
We support supplements that are evidence-based and rooted in science. We value certain product attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. We prioritize products that are third-party tested and certified by one of three independent, third-party certifiers: USP, NSF, or ConsumerLab.com.
It's important to note that the FDA does not review dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they go to market. Our team of experts has created a detailed, science-backed methodology to choose the supplements we recommend.
We also talked with dietitian Holley Samuel MEd, RD, CPT who works with athletes, and she gave insight into pre-workout drink ingredients and considerations for what to look for.
What to Look For in Pre-Workout Drinks
Supplements that are third-party tested are sent to a lab where they are tested to ensure they contain what they say they contain and are not contaminated with specific high-risk, common contaminants. However, it’s important to note:
Third-party testing does not test to see if a product is effective or safe for everyone, and it does not ensure the supplement will not interact with other supplements or medications.
Not all third-party testing is created equal. It is not uncommon for supplement companies to pay labs for certificates after conducting minimal to no testing.
The third-party certifications we can trust are ConsumerLab.com, NSF, and USP. However, these certifications are difficult to obtain and/or expensive for manufacturers, so many companies choose not to get their products tested by one of these three organizations.
Sometimes products tested by these three companies are more expensive to try to offset the cost they pay for certification.
Just because a supplement is not tested by one of these three companies, it does not mean it’s a bad product. We recommend doing some research on the reputability of the manufacturer and calling up the manufacturer and their testing lab to determine their protocols and decide if you feel comfortable consuming the supplement.
Pre-workout drinks typically come in liquid form or as powders that must be mixed with liquid. Ready made drinks may be convenient for when you’re on the go, but powders can also last longer on your shelf.
Ingredients & Potential Interactions
It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included, relative to the recommended daily value of that ingredient. Please bring the supplement label to a healthcare provider to review the different ingredients contained in the supplement and any potential interactions between these ingredients and other supplements and medications you are taking.
Many pre-workout drinks contain high levels of caffeine. Accepted amounts of caffeine in pre-workout drinks are typically three to six milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. However, some individuals may find they are sensitive to caffeine, and high levels can lead to a fast heartbeat, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, and jitteriness.
Samuel says, “Pre workout drinks and powders are supplements, so they are not regulated by the FDA. This means that as a consumer, we may not really have a good understanding as to the ingredients, dosing, and if the claims are valid on the product. As a dietitian, my main concern with athletes or recreational exercisers taking pre-workouts is that it may contain dangerous levels of caffeine…and unknown doses of ingredients we are generally unaware of, since again what is in the product does not necessarily have to match what is on the label.”
The recommended dosage will depend on the ingredients in your pre-workout drink. Below are recommendations for specific ingredients you may find in pre-workout drinks:
Carbohydrates: The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that athletes consume one to four grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight one to four hours before prolonged exercise. Exact amounts will differ based on exercise duration, intensity, and goals.
Caffeine: While caffeine tolerance varies from person to person, accepted recommendations of caffeine for improving performance are generally three to six milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight taken 60 minutes before exercise.
Creatine: Recommendations for increasing the body’s creatine stores are to take 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight for five to seven days, split into four doses. After this stores can be maintained with three to five grams per day.
Protein: While amounts will vary based on activity and goals, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends active individuals aim to consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This should be spread throughout the day.
Beta-alanine: The typical dose of beta-alanine is 4 to 6 grams per day.
How Much is Too Much?
Certain ingredients found in pre-workout drinks can pose risks when consumed in amounts that are too high. Consider the following:
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrate needs will vary based on activity type, intensity, and duration. While there isn’t an upper limit, consuming too much close to exercise can cause GI upset in some. Focusing on simple easy to digest carbohydrates and reducing fiber can help mitigate this issue.
Caffeine: Caffeine tolerance can vary widely. Guidelines recommend consuming no more than 400 milligrams per day, as more than this can lead to symptoms such as restlessness, headaches, insomnia, and anxiety. Teenagers should not consume more than 100 milligrams per day. Caffeine can also suppress your appetite, and should not be used in place of food for fuel. Taking more than recommended amounts can harm performance, and taking 10,000 milligrams or more in one dose can be fatal.
Creatine: Studies consistently show that creatine is safe for healthy adults when used for weeks or months. While side effects are rare, they may include cramping, weight gain, muscle stiffness, and stomach upset.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do pre-workout drinks work?
Pre-workout drinks can help provide you with energy for your workout. A pre-workout drink can help you stay hydrated and provide you with carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes, which can help you through your workout. They often also contain caffeine which can provide you with a boost. Not all pre-workout drinks are created equal though, and the efficacy will depend on the ingredients it contains. Pre-workout drinks should not take the place of complete meals or whole foods.
How long does a pre-workout supplement last?
Samuel suggests taking a pre-workout drink 15-30 mins before beginning your workout. “Caffeine peaks in our bloodstream 45-60 minutes after we ingest it, so if you want it to ‘kick in’ during a workout, timing it correctly can help.” For endurance based workouts, you should include carbohydrates mid workout in addition to a pre-workout supplement for events that are around 90 minutes and longer.
What are the best ingredients for a pre-workout drink?
A pre-workout drink should contain carbohydrates for energy. Caffeine may also help boost performance, but does not provide true energy in the form of calories. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium may also be beneficial before long or sweaty workouts. We recommend when possible to choose supplements that are third-party certified to ensure it contains what is written on the label and that it is free from banned substances.
What is a homemade pre-workout drink you can use?
You can make your own pre-workout drink at home. One option is to drink coffee or tea alongside a carbohydrate containing snack to get a caffeine boost. You might also opt for juice or a smoothie before working out for a homemade pre-workout drink.
Why Trust Verywell Fit
Tamar Kane, MS, RD, is a plant-based Registered Dietitian and marathon runner. She is the founder of Tamar Kane Nutrition, a virtual practice that focuses on helping runners learn to fuel their running and their lives.
Tamar has her master's degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College Columbia University and specializes in working with plant-based athletes. Her goal is to help people understand how to properly fuel their bodies (and supplement if needed!) to optimize performance and wellbeing.