Pre-workout supplements aren’t just for guys.
For women who are serious about getting toned, improving their fitness, or cutting fat while maintaining lean mass, a pre-workout supplement is almost necessary.
However, you can’t always settle for the same pre-workout supplement as men, since women have a different hormonal profile than men, and thus need a pre-workout supplement that’s tuned to their biochemistry.
We’ve reviewed the best pre-workout supplements for women and ranked the top ten. If you want to tune up your workout, check our our rankings.
1. Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout
90% of pre-workouts contain caffeine, which is great…until you suffer jittery side effects and energy crashes. Performance Lab Pre is a non-stim option for women who want the benefits without becoming dependent on stimulants.
It primes your body for high-intensity training through an intelligent formula of Maritime Pine Bark Extract for fatigue-fighting and circulation, creatine for inter-muscular strength, and Carnosyn® to halt lactic acid build-up.
Add into this some replenishing electrolytes and the powerful antioxidants Setria®, you’ve got a potent, stim-free pre-workout. All-natural and vegan-friendly. Even the capsules are made from prebiotic fiber to improve digestion.
No jitters, no worries – just improved performance.
2. Naked Energy Pure Pre-Workout Formula
Its plain packaging and simple design formula make it clear: this is the go-to pre-workout supplement for women who want to keep things simple.
It has a few key vitamins and minerals: folate, vitamin C, and calcium, plus beta-alanine, creatine, and L-arginine, which work to improve your explosive power, muscular strength, and anaerobic energy.
Well-suited for high-intensity workouts, long cardio, and weight lifting sessions, this supplement is an all-around great pick.
3. Ladder Pre Workout
Ladder’s Pre-workout is perfect for women looking for a clean and pure option. It’s deliciously sweetened and contains very little sugar, making it ideal for dieters.
The inclusion of beta-alanine and creatine help ensure your muscles have the energy they need to push longer and harder – giving you the best workout possible. With just the right amount of caffeine included, this is one of the best options for women who train hard.
4. RedLeaf Pre-Workout Energizer
RedLeaf is a strong candidate for the best pre-workout supplement that focuses on burning fat.
With a combination of green tea extract (one of the most proven fat burners out there), raspberry ketone, a small dose of caffeine (40 mg to be exact), it’s highly effective at turning up your body’s ability to burn fat.
Add to that the amino acids included and you’ve got a winning formula for fitness and weight loss.
5. Alani Nu Pre-Workout
Alani Nu is a potent and ultra-simple pre-workout supplement that focuses on delivering just the most powerful performance enhancers: citrulline, beta-alanine, tyrosine, caffeine, and theanine. It’s great for intense training sessions though the 200 mg of caffeine might be too much for people who are caffeine-sensitive.
6. Cellucor Super HD
Cellucor Super HD is a high-powered pre-workout formula whose focus is clearly burning off fat by up-regulating your body’s metabolism and its ability to oxidize fat during exercise.
It provides a high dose of caffeine, B vitamins, and herbal extracts like yohimbe and capsaicin, which all target fat metabolism.
It may not perform as well if your goal is high intensity interval training, since it lacks some of the anaerobic boosters of other supplements, but if the strong kick of caffeine is okay, it will work well for burning fat.
7. Organic Muscle Organic Pre-Workout
Despite the name, Organic Muscle Organic Pre-Workout isn’t so focused on people looking to pack on muscle. Its formula is instead centered around antioxidants and natural metabolism boosters.
The antioxidants include beetroot, pomegranate, and goji berry, while the matcha, acai, and cranberry are some of the major components of the metabolic boost.
The lack of amino acids and performance boosters makes this supplement less suited for high intensity workouts, but great for long sessions of cardio.
8. Garden of Life Sport Energy + Focus
Can you make an all-natural plant-based pre-workout? That’s what Garden of Life has set out to do with this product. You get a powerful dose of nitric oxide boosters, caffeine, and vitamin B12.
Unfortunately the pre-workout falls flat for many users because of its fairly high sugar content (11 grams per serving). It’s a great idea but doesn’t quite live up to its promise.
9. Raw Synergies ThermoPre
ThermoPre is designed for a strong fat burning and energy boosting effect, but with 250 mg of caffeine per serving, plus other energizers like yerba mate and theacrine, it might be too much for many women to handle without getting jitters or irritability.
Unless you are working out in the morning and want a huge boost to your fat metabolism, there are better pre-workout options for women.
10. RSP Amino Lean
Amino Lean from RSP has a wide range of ingredients, but unlike many of its competitors, it doesn’t seem to put them together towards a focused purpose.
The presence of artificial flavors and coloring agents will be a big turn-off for many women, and the difficulty of determining exactly how much of each ingredient is included in the proprietary blends is not an attractive feature either.
Best overall pre-workout for women: Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout
Performance Lab SPORT is on the forefront of performance with its ingredients, which include creatine and beta-alanine for power, plus Himalayan salt for electrolytes. On top of that, it’s free of caffeine, making it great for women who are sensitive to caffeine’s negative side effects.
Best pre-workout for female endurance athletes: Ladder Pre-Workout
Ladder Pre-Workout has a great combination of supplements for endurance performance: beta-alanine improves high-intensity interval performance, the modest amount of caffeine is a great all-around performance booster, and citicoline sodium salt boosts the electrolyte content.
Best pre-workout for women over 40: Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout
Performance Lab SPORT has a clean, simple supplement design, and is free of stimulants that women over 40 are particularly sensitive to. Its simplicity makes it a great candidate for women over 40, whether their workouts involve lifting, cardio, or both.
Best pre-workout for women with B-vitamins: Naked Energy Pure Pre-Workout
Naked Energy leverages the energy and mood-elevating properties of B vitamins, as well as arginine and caffeine, to improve workout performance. If you want to combat fatigue and sluggishness at early-morning gym sessions, Naked Energy is the way to go.
Best pre-workout for women without caffeine: Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout
Performance Lab SPORT manages to boost energy levels and enhance your workout readiness without relying on caffeine. It does so using proven performance enhancers like creatine and beta-alanine, which reliably increase speed and power without the jitters of caffeine.
Best pre-workout for women’s weight loss: Ladder Pre-Workout
Boosting weight loss with a pre-workout supplement calls for proven fat burners like caffeine and green tea extract. Ladder Pre-Workout delivers on this front, making it our pick for a weight-loss oriented pre-workout supplement for women.
Who should buy a pre-workout supplement for women?
If you’re a woman who is serious about getting in a quality workout, you’re a prime candidate for a pre-workout supplement for women.
While there are plenty of solid pre-workout products formulated without any specific considerations for women, you’re likely to be better off taking something that takes into account the unique physiology of women.
Taking a generic pre-workout might land you with too much caffeine, tingling and red skin from too much niacin and beta-alanine, but not enough in the way of other sources of energy. There are far better ways to get prepared for your workout than that.
Not every woman needs to take a pre-workout before going to the gym. If all you do is exercise to stay healthy or keep generally fit, you probably don’t need a pre-workout.
However, if you take your fitness seriously and want to perform your best, pre-workout can help you achieve peak performance. Athletes training to compete and lifters looking to set personal records can both benefit from a pre-workout supplement.
The advantages of pre-workout are most powerful for short, explosive, and anaerobic activities, like lifting and high-intensity interval sprints. If your workout involves any of these activities, you should consider a pre-workout supplement a little more closely.
How we ranked
When formulating our rankings of the top pre-workout supplements for women, we had several strict criteria for inclusion.
While we did not require products to be specially marketed for women, it was a big advantage for a pre-workout product to be designed specifically to take women’s needs into account. We excluded products that were too heavy on caffeine and too light on any other beneficial ingredients straight away—often, unscrupulous manufacturers will rely on a caffeine buzz as evidence for a benefit.
A high quality product, if it uses caffeine, will incorporate caffeine at a moderate amount alongside other beneficial ingredients to serve women’s’ interests best.
Next up, we looked for key ingredients that would boost workout performance and decrease post-workout soreness. These included antioxidants like vitamin C, as well as amino acids (particularly branched-chain amino acids or BCAAs for short).
Since amino acids are the building blocks for muscle fibers, they’re critical for workout recovery. Moreover, some research suggests that having amino acids in your system when you work out can decrease muscle damage, and prevent decrements in your performance over the days following a tough workout session.
Products that had these kinds of ingredients climbed up the rankings; those that were lacking got eliminated from consideration.
Peak workout performance in strength and power tasks depends to a great extent on your body’s anaerobic energy systems. For this reason, we put a strong emphasis on pre-workout supplements that contained ergogenic aids for anaerobic power, like beta-alanine and creatine.
These compounds, and related supplements like arginine, are some of the most potent performance enhancers for short-duration tasks like lifting and sprinting, so their presence in a pre-workout supplement is enormously helpful.
For endurance events, keeping hydrated and topping off your electrolyte levels is more important. While most people get enough electrolytes in their diet, a pre-workout that has electrolytes still has an edge on one that doesn’t, especially because women tend to engage in cardio more often than men do.
So, while it wasn’t our top priority, we did consider whether a pre-workout product for women had electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Finally, we looked at the overall composition and quality of the supplement. Did it use minimalist design, with little or nothing in the way of artificial flavors, colors, and additives? Or was it sugary, full of artificial sweeteners, or colored with potentially undesirable synthetic coloring agents?
Products that scored well in terms of overall supplement design ended up at the top of the rankings, while those that scored poorly ended at the bottom, or got dropped completely. The remaining products, in order of quality, represent the best pre-workout supplement choices for women that are on the market right now.
Achieving your workout goals gets a lot easier when you choose the right pre-workout supplement. For women who want to accomplish more at the gym (or, for that matter, on the roads, in the yoga studio, etc.), a pre-workout supplement can keep you hydrated, increase the amount of fat you burn, improve your anaerobic power, or help you recover faster from heavy lifting sessions.
It’s all a matter of choosing the right supplement for your workout needs.
Broadly speaking, a pre-workout supplement for women is going to be targeted at (at least) one of a few primary benefits: improving hydration, boosting fat oxidation, increasing performance during high-intensity exercise, and improving recovery after resistance training sessions (i.e. weight lifting).
Pre-workout supplements provide quality hydration. Hydration is a critical need if you’ll be doing long cardio sessions, taking a sauna, doing hot yoga, or anything else that will produce a lot of sweating.
Research published in 2001 in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology indicates that even mild dehydration–a loss of a few percentage points of your body weight in water–can result in a substantial decrement in performance, as well as an impairment in your ability to tolerate heat (1).
This could cause problems if you are out for a long run in the summer or in the middle of a 90-minute hot yoga class. There’s a lot more to hydration than just drinking water. A pre-workout supplement can use one of several tricks to help increase your hydration levels and improve your performance in situations where you’ll be sweating a lot.
The first among these is the inclusion of a wide range of electrolytes. Most people know that sweat is salty, but that salt isn’t just comprised of sodium–there are several other electrolytes, including calcium, potassium, and magnesium, that are contained in sweat, at varying levels.
This was reported in detail in a 1997 scientific study in the Journal of Applied Physiology (2). While sodium is indeed the most common electrolyte in sweat, it’s necessary to replace the others, too.
A good pre-workout supplement for women will include not just sodium, but magnesium, calcium and potassium as well.
Another tool in the arsenal of a pre-workout is the use of glycerol powder to boost water retention. This is a biochemical trick that’s been known to elite exercise physiologists since at least the 1990s, but has only recently become popular among pre-workout supplements for women.
One study, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, demonstrated that a glycerol supplement improved cycling performance in a simulated time trial (3).
In the experiment described in that paper, cyclists were able to ride faster with a “hyper-hydration” protocol that involved glycerol, compared to drinking just water alone.
Pre-workouts for women can burn fat. When it comes to fat oxidation, a good pre-workout supplement provides many of the same benefits as a fat burner. The key ingredients for this kind of pre-workout supplements are herbal extracts like green coffee bean and green tea extract, which are both potent fat oxidizers.
Each of these seems to combine well with caffeine in moderate amounts, as they seem to interact synergistically. This was the conclusion of an article published in the International Journal of Obesity–the active compounds in green tea combine with the effects of caffeine to produce better increases in fat metabolism compared to either compound alone (4).
These pre-workout supplements tend to combine well with cardio, as long sessions of aerobic exercise increase fat metabolism as well.
For high-intensity interval training and high-rep weight lifting sessions, you need something a little different.
Several key ingredients in a pre-workout can boost anaerobic performance. These training methods are based more around your anaerobic power output, and because of that, the kind of supplement ingredients you want to look for are things like beta alanine, carnitine, and beet root extract.
These have a strong influence on your body’s ability to produce a lot of energy in a short period of time. Supplementing with beta alanine and carnitine, for example, has been shown to improve performance in high-intensity sprints and repeated-sprint tests, indicating they are valuable supplements for events like Crossfit and HIIT training (5).
Beetroot juice is well-suited for continuous high-intensity training, since it boosts your ability to utilize oxygen in your muscles, according to a 2012 scientific article (6).
Amino acids are crucial for strength gains. For strength gains, you’ll want to seek out a pre-workout supplement that includes amino acids (particularly branched-chain amino acids) and creatine, especially if you are looking for absolute gains in strength.
Amino acids, and BCAAs in particular, help with muscle recovery after intense strength training bouts. A research paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research suggests that a BCAA supplement could help athletes who are pushing themselves right to the limits of recovery, preventing overtraining and improving recovery during training (7).
Creatine is one of the most-proven supplements for increasing muscular strength. For women looking to boost their muscular strength, creatine is one of the safest and most effective supplements you can take.
While creatine is most commonly associated with male athletes, there’s a substantial body of evidence suggesting it can increase muscular strength and even decrease body fat in women specifically. An experiment published in 2000 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research split sixteen college female lacrosse players into either a placebo group or a creatine supplement group for a five week portion of training (8).
The researchers tracked upper body strength and body fat in both groups throughout the study. At the study’s conclusion, the researchers found that the creatine supplement resulted in increased upper body strength and decreases in body fat—both of which are great outcomes for athletes.
Other research published in 2003 found that just five days of creatine supplementation was enough for healthy women to increase their quadriceps strength (9). Short-term results like these justify the inclusion of creatine in a pre-workout supplement, as they suggest that creatine has an immediate and fast-acting effect.
Almost all quality pre-workout supplements for women will be well-tolerated. The only category of ingredients that can cause side effects are those designed to increase fat metabolism, and the biggest culprit among these is also one of the most ubiquitous in everyday life–caffeine.
Women seem to be especially susceptible to the negative effects of caffeine, partially because they just tend to be smaller and thus affected more by a given dose of caffeine, but also because of hormonal influences.
Caffeine lasts a lot longer in the bloodstream of women who take contraceptives, which means that taking a pre-workout supplement with caffeine in it in the afternoon could keep you up late into the night (8).
If you get jittery, irritable, or restless later in the day, check the caffeine content of your pre-workout supplement.
Other fat burners can cause similar problems, but high quality pre-workout supplements for women tend to only use safe, proven fat-burners like green tea extract, which has an excellent safety profile.
Most high-quality pre-workout supplements for women have had their serving size calibrated to correspond to the ideal dosage of all of the active ingredients, but you can’t always count on a product’s serving size to get it right.
If your pre-workout supplement contains caffeine, you should know that most research suggests you can garner all of the benefits with a dose as low as about 3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. That’s about 150 mg of caffeine for a 120-pound woman.
By this math, most women will want to stay below 150 to 200 mg of caffeine for optimal benefits and minimal side effects. As for creatine, traditional supplementation routines often call for 15 grams per day or more, but new research shows that as little as three grams per day total can achieve the same effects (9).
For beta-alanine, optimal effects occur with one to two grams per day, but if you take too much all at once, you can get a tingling sensation in your skin. It might be better to allocate some of your total beta-alanine to a post-workout or intra-workout supplement.
When it comes to BCAAs, most research on BCAAs for women suggests that five to ten grams is the optimal dose, though this is total across the day. If other supplements, like a protein shake, contain BCAAs as well, these also count towards this total.
Exact dosage is less critical for electrolytes and antioxidants like vitamin C, so you can be flexible with the amounts of these ingredients.
You’ll notice that most high-quality pre-workout supplements already have these dosages dialed in, so you often don’t have to worry too much if you’re using a top-notch product.
Q: What should be in a pre-workout drink for women?
A: To be prepared for optimal workout performance, you want to look for ingredients that will support three broad categories of athletic tasks: muscular strength, anaerobic power, and aerobic endurance.
On the muscular strength front, a pre-workout drink with BCAAs is a real winner. Not so much because it will increase your one-rep max, but because research indicates that BCAAs can reduce post-workout soreness and muscle damage.
The same applies for antioxidants like vitamin C. Creatine is another critical ingredient for building muscular strength, and its advantages bleed over into anaerobic power as well.
For better anaerobic power, you also want beta-alanine, as it increases your body’s maximum power output.
When it comes to aerobic endurance, electrolytes can help maintain strong performance even on hot, humid days.
Caffeine is an overall performance enhancer that appears to boost athletic performance across the board, though understandably not everyone wants caffeine right before every workout they do.
Q: What can you take instead of pre-workout?
A: One of the simplest and most old-school “pre-workout” alternatives is a cup of coffee. A little hydration and a healthy serving of caffeine is more than enough to boost your performance and motivation at the gym.
If you want to go more high-tech, try adding MCT oil to your coffee for a boost of energy from medium-chain triglycerides.
You can also cobble together your own supplementation routine that provides, separately, key pre-workout ingredients like creatine, beta-alanine, and branched chain amino acids, but at that point, why not just take a pre-mixed pre-workout?
Q: Is pre-workout bad for you?
A: Some people have negative reactions to pre-workout products that are too heavy on caffeine, or load up on too much beta-alanine.
As you likely know, too much caffeine can result in anxiety, nausea, jitters, and irritability—not exactly what you want for peak athletic performance.
Too much beta alanine can cause tingling in your skin, as can pre-workouts with huge amounts of niacin. Some lower-quality manufacturers rely on ingredients like these to give you a “buzz” in an effort to make you think the supplement is doing something.
If you can avoid these kinds of products, and use pre-workouts judiciously at the right dosage, they shouldn’t be bad for you.
Q: Do you need to use pre-workout?
A: If all you do is go to the gym to stay healthy or say generally fit, pre-workout probably isn’t necessary. Pre-workout supplements are good if you are a serious athlete who wants to achieve your personal best, or take your training to the next level.
Pre-workout supplements work best for athletic tasks governed by muscular strength, anaerobic power, and aerobic endurance, so they’re not likely to help with something like yoga, no matter how serious you are about it.
The benefits of pre-workout tend to scale with the intensity of the activity, and the level of seriousness of the athlete. That’s why they are so popular among high-level athletes and competitors.
Q: What does a pre-workout supplement do?
A: Pre-workout supplements prime your body for top performance in a variety of ways. Each ingredient plays a specialized role. Caffeine helps your central nervous system output more power for the same effort.
Beta alanine helps your muscle fibers buffer lactate from anaerobic energy production, while creatine helps with short-term muscle power production and increases muscle fiber size as well.
BCAAs, on the other hand, prevent muscle damage, which lets you sustain workout performance day to day. While all of these different ingredients stimulate different physiological systems, the ultimate goal is the same: better workout performance.
Q: How long does a pre-workout supplement last?
A: The elimination time for different pre-workout ingredients varies, but it’s reasonable to expect a pre-workout to last for at least two to three hour.
If you’re doing a very long workout, or splitting your time between two different workouts, you might opt for an intra-workout supplement to keep your energy levels up, but in most cases, this won’t be necessary.
Q: Why does pre-workout make you tingle?
A: Tingling from a pre-workout supplement comes from two sources. Either the product contains a lot of beta-alanine, or it contains a lot of niacin (or both).
The flushing and tingling from these ingredients is harmless, but it can be pretty annoying and even distracting when you are trying to get a good workout in.
If your pre-workout supplement is making you tingle, look for one that has a lower dosage of beta-alanine and low or no niacin.
Beta-alanine has potent ergogenic effects, but the benefits of niacin for workout performance are less clear, so you aren’t losing much in the way of performance by opting for a pre-workout without niacin.
- Fat burners for women
- BCAA for women
- Protein powder for women
- Post-workout supplement
- Protein for weight loss
Getting the most out of your workout is something that the right pre-workout supplement can help you achieve, assuming you choose the right one.
Keep in mind the fact that many pre-workout supplements are geared towards different activities and different goals, so think about both when you choose one.
The right pre-workout supplement for a woman who wants to make it through an entire hot yoga class without taking a break may not be the right pre-workout supplement for a woman who wants to step up her performance in Crossfit. The same is true for someone who wants to lose weight doing cardio.
The good news is that there are pre-workout formulations for all of these goals and more.
For BodyNutrition’s #1 recommended pre-workout supplement for women, click here.