Avoid dodgy pre-workouts with my handy red flag guide.

Watch Out For These Pre Workout Red Flags

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

6 min read

Let’s face it, some pre-workouts leave you feeling flatter than a witch’s tit.

That’s because it’s too easy (and too profitable) for supplement companies to build terrible pre-workout supplements when the general public don’t really know how to tell the difference between a good product and a bad product until it’s too late (i.e. after payment).

This article will help you avoid falling into the same trap.

You’re going to see a few things below which I consider to be red flags. If you catch your desired pre-workout making any of these errors, it’s time to switch to a better product. When you’ve finished this article, you’ll also enjoy reading my great pre-workout check list.

Table of Contents

🚩 It’s A Proprietary Blend

A pre workout which uses a proprietary blend

Some pre-workout supplements hide their formula behind a proprietary blend, which means you can see the list of ingredients but not the dosages which have been used.

The law which allows them to do this was put in place during the early 2000s, when pre-workouts were fairly new to the market and manufacturers were understandably worried that rival brands would steal their formula and create knock-off versions of their product.

However, we quickly learned that this technique simply doesn’t work.

You see, if a supplement manufacturer really wants to discover the ingredients in a product, it’s very easy for them to do so by simply taking it to a lab, so that’s exactly what they did. For example, back in 2006 i-Satori released their ground-breaking new pre-workout H-Blocker. It was the first product to use beta-alanine, and they slapped a proprietary blend on the label to prevent their rivals from copying their new discovery. Fast-forward just a year and beta-alanine was inside every new product on the market!

Nowadays, the only companies who continue to hide their formula behind proprietary blends are those who have deliberately under-dosed key ingredients. They’ll show you the total amount of the formula (see pic above; 4.145 grams) but won’t reveal the individual numbers for each ingredient, so although you can see it contains caffeine, creatine monohydrate, and beta-alanine, you don’t know if it contains enough of these ingredients to make a difference.

🚩 It Contains Taurine & Caffeine

Taurine and caffeine clash

Taurine and caffeine both provide interesting training benefits, but they should never be used together.

A study published in Pharacology, Biology & Behavior showed that taurine is an antagonist of caffeine, which can make you feel sluggish and fatigued when consumed at the same time (Ever randomly felt tired after drinking a pre workout? This is most likely why!). (1, 2, 3, 4)

Considering the benefits of caffeine are so vast, I recommend looking for a pre-workout which contains 200-400mg of caffeine, and then if you want to also supplement with taurine you can do so with a separate supplement later in the day.

🚩 Motherfucking BCAAs

Should BCAAs be in a pre workout? No.

Here’s a controversial one.

BCAAs should NOT be in your pre-workout supplement!

It’s not like they’re bad for you, but they simply get in the way of the other ingredients and stop them from doing their job. For example, research from The University of Texas found that leucine actually prevents l-tyrosine from entering the brain, which directly inhibits dopamine production. This can lead to early central nervous system fatigue and make you feel lethargic in the gym. (5, 6)

🚩 It’s A Concentrated Formula

See the difference in scoop size for a concentrated formula versus a top quality pre workout

Concentrated formulas were a strange trend in the 2010s, when pre-workout tubs started shrinking in size and brands would promise that their micro-scoops would give you more bang for your buck.

Unfortunately for them, the math wasn’t mathing!

If you take a selection of the most proven pre-workout ingredients in doses which are shown to be effective, like citrulline malate (6 grams), creatine monohydrate (5 grams), beta-alanine (3.2 grams), betaine anhydrous (2.5 grams), and caffeine (200mg), this explains why your standard pre-workout scoop is quite large.

So how do you squeeze 17 grams of ingredients into a 5-gram scoop? The honest answer is that you can’t, and concentrated formulas (which conveniently hid their formulas behind proprietary blends) were nothing more than cheap caffeine and sugar.

🚩 It Contains “The Next Big Thing”

Some pre workout supplements contain unsafe ingredients

When we get down to the science showing us which ingredients are most effective for boosting performance, the list is pretty short.

However, supplement companies know that they need to stay one step ahead of their competitors, so this occasionally causes them to include unproven, untested, and even unsafe ingredients in their pre-workouts.

Let’s look at DMAA, N,a-DEPEA, and DMHA.

DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine) is the stimulant which shot to fame via the Jack3d pre-workout in the mid-2000s. This thing made you want to crush dumbbells and headbutt walls! However, the manufacturers (USP Labs) should have waited until more research had been done on the safety of long-term use and the maximum tolerance levels before releasing it to the public. They didn’t wait, though, and it caused the death of several gym users. Eventually it was banned worldwide. There was even a a noteworthy incident where Usain Bolt’s Jamaican relay team were stripped of an Olympic gold medal after a team member (not Bolt) tested positive for using DMAA before the Olympics.

In a moment of classic fitness industry stupidity, supplement companies did not learn any lessons from this horrible experience and quickly went in search of the next next big thing, which turned out to be N,a-DEPEA (N,a-diethyl-phenylethylamine). This stimulant was used in the popular Craze Pre-Workout (DS Sports), which stepped up in the absence of the now-banned Jack3d, until it was discovered that N,a-DEPEA is actually fucking methamphetamine!

And even then, the fitness industry did not learn, and went in search of the next next next big thing, which led them to DMHA (dimethylhexylamine 2-aminoisoheptane). Basically a slightly watered down version of DMAA, the entire body of research for this exotic stimulant consisted of just one single study dating back to 1969, and it’s also now banned. (7)

You see where I’m going with this?


  1. Kim S., et al. Taurine Induces Anti-Anxiety by Activating Strychnine-Sensitive Glycine Receptor in Vivo. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism (2009).
  2. Moloney M. A., et al. Two weeks taurine supplementation reverses endothelial dysfunction in young male type 1 diabetics. Diab Vasc Dis Res (2010).
  3. Giles G. E., et al. Differential cognitive effects of energy drink ingredients: caffeine, taurine, and glucose. Pharmacol Biochem Behav (2012).
  4. Peacock A., et al. Energy drink ingredients. Contribution of caffeine and taurine to performance outcomes. Appetite (2013).
  5. Walker D.K., et al. Exercise, amino acids, and aging in the control of human muscle protein synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2011).
  6. Choi S., et al. Oral branched-chain amino acid supplements that reduce brain serotonin during exercise in rats also lower brain catecholamines. Amino Acids (2013).
  7. Hedman K. Studies on Orchidaceae Alkaloids. XV. Phenethylamines from Eria jarensis Ames. Department of Organic Chemistry, University of Stockholm (1969).

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

2 responses to “Watch Out For These Pre Workout Red Flags”

  1. Jeff Breene avatar
    Jeff Breene

    Excellent article Russ. My old ‘go to’ Pre Jym made the BCAAS and TAURINE mistakes, so now I will be on the lookout for a new one.

    1. Russ Howe PTI avatar

      The rest of the formula is solid, but yes those 2 things are what peaked it at #4 on my list of top pre workouts (search; The Russ List).

      Highly recommend AML Pre Workout if looking for a product which doesn’t hit any red flags.

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