Few things from the early 2000’s have aged well.
Every woman had stripey highlights in her hair… every guy wore jeans that were insanely baggy at the bottom… and everyone was doing Adkins…
But if there’s one thing that’s still remembered fondly from this time, it’s pre workout supplements.
Seriously, go speak to the older guys in your gym, and they’ll fondly share stories of snorting pre workout and being unable to feel their own face.
Ah, good times…
But how would one of the pre workouts from those days stack up against today’s big-hitters? Well, we’re going to find out, because BSN NO-Xplode is going under the microscope for the first time!
I was initially amazed to see that this supplement is still being sold. Most of its contemporaries have long been retired…
… but not only is it still going, it’s f**king thriving.
Believe it or not, No-Xplode still consistently ranks in the top 10 most popular pre workouts for many major retailers at the end of each year.
So let’s see how it fares under the focus of my deliberately harsh supplement rating system. Remember, no pre workout has EVER got 5 stars from me (this one got close).
BSN NO-Xplode – Return Of The King…?
I remember the first time I ever used a pre workout.
My skin was crawling.
My mind was racing.
I could hear colors.
But if I’m going to answer the question: “Is NO-Xplode still the best pre workout?”, I have to first ask the question, “Was it ever the best?”
For me, the clue is in the product name.
You see, pre workouts were very simple back in the day. You had two choices on the “AS F**K” scale…
On one side of the scale you had brands like iSatori, who were at the cutting edge of science. Their pre-workout H-Blocker was the first to discover the crazy benefits of beta-alanine supplementation.
Imagine that! An ingredient which is now in everything, and they did it first. These guys were trailblazing as f**k.
And on the other side of the scale, you had brands like USP Labs (famous for Jack3d) who would experiment with stimulants like DMHA that were ultimately banned. These guys were illegal as f**k.
BSN were somewhere in the middle of the two.
Their products never strayed into banned territory, but they also never really pushed the boundaries in terms of scientific research. However, they became absolutely massive upon securing a sponsorship deal with the UFC in the early 2000’s, and suddenly NO-Xplode was the pre workout choice of the next generation.
Obviously, what we have here is an updated version of the original product.
In fact, this is actually NO-Xplode 3.0…
Let’s take a look what it can do.
NO-Xplode 3.0 Review – The Good
Check out how short this section is…
(Yes, it’s gonna be a rough review.)
We get the inclusion of great ingredients like creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, citrulline malate, caffeine, l-tyrosine, and sure, BSN did give us hype images like the one below, you gotta love ’em.
So what’s the problem?
Oh, I’ll tell you what the problem is…
NO-Xplode 3.0 Review – The Bad
You’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again right now:
F**K PROPRIETARY BLENDS!
I find it strange that we sit here in in the 2020’s dealing with supplement manufacturers who still choose to hide their ingredients from customers.
In case you’re new to pre-workouts, a proprietary blend allows a company to list all active ingredients without revealing the dose. This post will show you more on this topic, but in a nutshell, it means you have no idea if the product contains enough of each key ingredient to give you the results associated with that ingredient.
For instance, we know caffeine will improve focus during a workout, but does BSN No-Xplode contain enough caffeine to give us those benefits?
Nobody f**king knows!
In my experience, companies only use proprietary blends when they are trying to sell a weak formula. After all, if you have a strong product the first thing you do is show people just how strong it is compared to every other product out there.
You don’t hide the formula unless it is poor.
And we can see just by looking at the list of ingredients that it likely IS poor. Very, very poor. Because despite the fact they have updated the product to a third generation, the research team at BSN appear to be stuck in the early 2000’s.
We get an unproven blend of creatine, as opposed to one single dose of standard creatine monohydrate which would’ve worked just fine.
We get taurine. If you’ve read my website for a while, you’ll know we hate taurine in pre-workouts because it counteracts caffeine.
We get the inclusion of less than one gram of citrulline malate (!), which is about as useful as air conditioning on a motorbike, and the few ingredients they do tell us the doses of are completely under the clinical doses required for results.
BSN NO-Xplode – Nutrition Breakdown
I know the reason you guys trust me is because I’m:
a) Funny, and
b) I know my s**t
So, as with all my supplement reviews, before I give No-Xplode 3.0 a score I’m going to walk you through each of the key ingredients in the tub, I’ll show you what each of them is supposed to do, I’ll show you whether they are worth it, and then take a look if the product contains enough of it to give you the results it promises.
But I wouldn’t hold your hopes up too high.
After all, the sales pitch for the product here is:
Part of the “thermic energy” proprietary blend in NO-Explode is 275mg caffeine.
This is one of the few bright spots of the formula.
Caffeine is proven to increase work rate and focus, so that’s why lots of us love using it throughout the day. And 275mg is definitely enough to yield those benefits, too. (1, 2, 3)
Well done, BSN.
But here’s the problem…
Caffeine is very cheap, so including a bigger dose here would have been relatively easy to do. And research shows us that 400mg caffeine, while maybe a bit too much for some people to handle at once, would allow us to tap into caffeine’s often forgotten-about strength training benefits. (4, 5, 6)
So it’s good, but it could have been great.
And that’s gonna matter later in this review.
Because with stacks of other pre-workouts offering a similar sized dose of caffeine but with a better overall formula, I can’t see why anyone would choose this product.
Beta-alanine is amazing.
Research shows us that continued supplementation of this amino acid will have a significant impact on our ability to fight against the build-up of lactic acid (“the burn”) while our muscles work through a tough set, and that makes it invaluable for any bodybuilder looking to push past muscle failure in the gym.
In fact, one study from the College of New Jersey showed that beta-alanine was linked with a 22% increase in the number of repetitions trainees could perform to failure on a heavy squat program! (7)
It’s an ingredient best-known for the skin-crawling feeling it provides (parasthesia), but there really are some great training benefits waiting to be reaped.
A full clinical dose would be 3.2 grams, so NO-Xplode falls well short of the mark here, but new research does suggest we can create slightly greater uptake of it by splitting that dose in two halves, so it’s an approach many manufacturers are using and you’d be okay here providing you could also pick up some beta-alanine to consume later in the day, too. (8)
3g Creatine Blend
Creatine is another wonderful supplement.
When it’s done right, that is.
You see, creatine will improve your explosive strength output, the number of reps you can perform per set, and even force water into your muscle cells to give you a fuller, harder appearance.
In a 2012 review study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, it was noted that the performance of reps to failure rose by an average of 14% thanks to creatine, and strength gains increased by an average of 8%. (9)
You don’t become the best-selling bodybuilding supplement of all time without good reason, after all.
(And creatine is just that!)
Of course, many supplement manufacturers get creatine wrong and BSN have made the same mistake. It’s well-known that creatine monohydrate is very cheap to produce, but even though it works like a charm, companies often feel the need to include newer, flashier types of creatine in a bid to convince us we are getting a superior version of the ingredient.
We are not.
No iteration of creatine has ever outperformed the good old original.
So not only is NO-Xplode under-dosed (we get 3g, not 5g), but it gives us an unnecessary combination of creatine monohydrate and creatine anhydrous.
<1g Citrulline Malate
This is where things go from bad to worse.
The first three ingredients above are the only ones which BSN provided their doses for, so now we’re working within their proprietary blend.
However, given that citrulline malate is part of the products so-called “N.O. Alpha Fusion” blend (really, it’s called that!), and the combined total of all six ingredients in this blend is only a gram, we know we are getting less than 1 gram of citrulline.
And that’s a real shame.
Because citrulline malate is a POWERHOUSE of a pre-workout ingredient. Research studies show us it’ll lead to greater delivery of nutrients to working muscles, a better pump, faster recovery between sets, and an average of one more rep per set! (10, 11)
The problem is we need 6-8 grams of it.
The original NO-Xplode formula used to rely heavily on a similar ingredient; arginine (as did most pre-workouts of the early 2000’s), but citrulline is around 50% more effective at doing the same job. (12)
So, frustratingly, BSN have moved forward by swapping out arginine for citrulline, then provided us with such a tiny f**king dose that it won’t do anything anyway!
Taurine is the bane of my life.
And while we don’t know the dose here because it’s hidden, it’s a safe bet that it’s around 1 gram. That’s the typical dose found in most pre-workout supplements, and given that it’s part of the 5.1 gram “Myogenic Matrix” blend alongside 3 grams of creatine, we’re probably getting the standard dose of taurine.
It’s always included in energy drinks and pre formulas because it’s cheap as f**k and has been linked to increased mental focus. (13)
And that’s a good thing.
But it comes with a caveat…
Taurine and caffeine do not mix well together when taken prior to exercise, with “T” being shown in studies to actually oppose many of the effects of “C”. (14)
Actually, that’s a f**king HUGE caveat.
It’s like inviting your crazy uncle on a day out because he tells funny jokes, but he also eats dogs.
Dopamine is good.
Heck, dopamine is great.
It makes us feel all happy, and energetic, and like we wanna smash the holy mother of f**k outta some dumbbells.
Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine, so it’ll work alongside caffeine to significantly boost your training output.
Although they hide the dose behind their proprietary blend (argh!), it’s safe to say it’s around the 1 gram mark, and it comes in the form of both n-acetyl-tyrosine and l-tyrosine. And this is a mistake. It is often thought that n-acetyl-tyrosine is superior to the free-form amino acid l-tyrosine because it has greater solubility, but this is not the case at all.
In fact, studies show that l-tyrosine can significantly elevate blood levels of tyrosine for a long period of time, but research is very sketchy on whether n-acetyl-tyrosine even works at all (a 130%-270% increase versus a 0%-25% increase). (15, 16, 17, 18)
So why do companies use n-acetyl-tyrosine?
Because it dissolves better in water and they’ve totally failed to research the ingredient properly.
BSN NO-Xplode 3.0 Review – The Final Verdict!
I had high hopes for this.
It had such a cult following back in the day, but it fails to deliver in almost every aspect.
Quite frankly, I’m amazed that there are folks who still pay for this in 2020 and beyond.
Aside from the proprietary blend and the under-dosed key ingredients, I’ve barely even had time to mention the complete lack of betaine, which is a crime in itself. Its only saving grace is that it comes in a chunky 1kg tub with 60 servings.
So how does it fare when it goes through my supplement rating system?
Well, like a Nu-Metal album you fondly remember from your childhood, some things are best left in the early 2000’s. Welcome to the one star club, BSN.
- Duncan M. J., et al. The effect of caffeine ingestion on mood state and bench press performance to failure. J Strength Cond Res. (2011)
- Childs E., et al. Subjective, behavioral, and physiological effects of acute caffeine in light, nondependent caffeine users. Psychopharmacology. (2006)
- Cook C., et al. Acute caffeine ingestion increases voluntarily chosen resistance training load following limited sleep. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2012)
- Del Coso J., et al. Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2012)
- Mora-Rodríguez R., et al. Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLoS One. (2012)
- McCormack, W. P., et al. Caffeine, Energy Drinks, and Strength-Power Performance. Str Con J. (2012)
- Hoffman J., et al. Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med. (2008)
- Artioli, G. G., et al. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2010)
- Rawson E. S., et al. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. (2003)
- Pérez-Guisado J., et al. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. (2010)
- Alvares T. S., et al. Acute l-arginine supplementation increases muscle blood volume but not strength performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. (2012)
- Schwedhelm E., et al. Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of oral L-citrulline and L-arginine: impact on nitric oxide metabolism. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. (2008)
- Kim S., et al. Taurine Induces Anti-Anxiety by Activating Strychnine-Sensitive Glycine Receptor in Vivo. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. (2009)
- Giles G. E., et al. Differential cognitive effects of energy drink ingredients: caffeine, taurine, and glucose. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. (2012)
- Glaeser B. S., et al., Elevation of plasma tyrosine after a single oral dose of L-tyrosine. Life Sci. (1979)
- Pietz J., et al. Effect of high-dose tyrosine supplementation on brain function in adults with phenylketonuria. J Pediatr. (1995)
- Magnusson I., et al. N-acetyl-L-tyrosine and N-acetyl-L-cysteine as tyrosine and cysteine precursors during intravenous infusion in humans. Metabolism. (1989)
- Druml W., et al., Utilization of tyrosine dipeptides and acetyltyrosine in normal and uremic humans. Am J Physiol. (1991)