Back in the '90s, when it was legal, they had pills with ephedrine… that was the good stuff. Now, pre-workouts are a dime a dozen with new ones coming out almost every day, but can you use pre-workout on keto and not get kicked out of ketosis?
Pre-workout supplements may be used while following a keto diet, but not all pre-workouts are keto-friendly. A keto-friendly pre-workout supplement should have 0 or a very minimal amount of carbohydrates per serving to be considered safe to drink without disrupting ketosis.
I remember when you only had to worry about a couple of things when it came to pre-workout. Your choices way back when was do I drink the coffee, or do I take these pills.
Even if a pre-workout had 0 carbohydrates, not all pre-workouts are created equal, with many of them not having doses high enough to be effective.
In this article, I'll go over what to look for in a keto-friendly pre-workout, which ones are sufficiently dosed, how to make your own at home for cheaper, and much more.
Is Pre-Workout Keto Friendly?
The truth is, most pre-workout supplements on the market are keto-friendly, some more keto-friendly than others.
The ingredients contained in pre-workouts that are supposed to provide energy will not affect you getting in or maintaining a state of ketosis.
However, if one of those ingredients happens to be in the form of carbohydrates, then it wouldn't be keto-friendly, or would it? I'll expand on this topic later in the article, but back to the subject at hand.
To maintain a state of ketosis, the most essential factor you should concern yourself is the carbohydrate count, whether that's from a supplement or a particular food.
For example, if your goal for each day was to stay under 30 grams of net carbs, even if a pre-workout supplement had 5 grams of carbs, you could potentially fit it in your daily “carb budget.”Most pre-workouts are reasonably low in carbohydrates, so to ensure if a particular pre-workout you're interested in is keto-friendly, check the nutrition label to ensure it's not loaded with sugars.
If you stick around, I'll go over the best keto-friendly pre-workout supplements that have very little or no carbohydrates AND have an adequate amount of each ingredient according to the scientific literature.
Remember, not all pre-workouts are created equal. The majority of pre-workouts are junk.
What Do Pre-Workouts Do?
Pre-workout supplements are all the rage these days.
Companies claim they'll help improve your fitness and provide you the energy to power through grueling workouts.
And this is true…
Pre-workouts can be useful aids in helping you lift more weight, increase your endurance, and as a result, get stronger, burn more calories, and reach your goals a little quicker.
Just remember, a pre-workout shouldn't make up for poor nutrition and/or poor sleep, as those will take you much further than a pre-workout supplement ever will.
In the times when nutrition and/or sleep is less than ideal, or you need a little boost, pre-workout supplements can be your saving grace.
So what do pre-workout supplements claim to do? Or, at the very least, what should you look for in a pre-workout supplement?
Boost energy and focus
I'll list this first because most people taking pre-workouts are looking for a boost in energy.
You may be working out after a night of poor sleep or after a long and exhausting day of work… I get it. When most people take a pre-workout, an increase in energy is precisely what they're looking to accomplish.
With increased energy and focus, you'll be able to increase your output, which means more calories burned, and that equates to more weight loss for folks with the primary goal of weight loss.
For those looking to pack on the muscle, pre-workouts may give you more energy, which allows you to lift more weight on the bar.
Over time, more weight on the bar should equate to bigger muscles. Of course, weight loss and muscle gain will only occur when the other staples are in place as well, mainly your diet.
But, training may be just as important, if not more so, if bulking on keto or putting on muscle is your primary focus.
Many pre-workouts contain ingredients, such as creatine and beta-alanine, which are vital ingredients that help prolong the time it takes for your muscles to fatigue.
Whether you're an endurance runner or looking to pump out a few more reps on the bench press, pre-workouts should provide a little boost in that department.
Pre-workouts aren't just for the gym-goers, if you're looking for what to eat before a run on keto, a pre-workout may give you that extra pep in your step.
Some pre-workouts support hydration by including vital electrolytes in their mix, mainly sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Proper hydration and electrolyte balance is vital when it comes to a ketogenic diet, and even more so if you're highly active and engaging in vigorous exercise.
Many individuals find themselves suffering from lack of energy and a variety of unwanted side-effects when first starting a ketogenic diet.
Most of these side-effects could have been severely lessened or avoided altogether had they stayed hydrated and increased their electrolyte intake. Those who exercise and especially those who may sweat a lot, have an increased need for water and electrolytes.
Preserves lean mass
When it comes to weight loss, people often forget a significant component of that, which is the preservation of lean mass.
Lean mass is everything your body consists of minus the fat, which includes muscle. When you diet, you shouldn't only be concerned with losing weight but losing fat.
Lean mass, especially muscle, is vital for a variety of reasons, especially within the context of weight loss.
These reasons include:
- You'll look better
- You burn more calories at rest (higher metabolic rate)
Pre-workouts doesn't preserve your muscle and lean mass by merely taking them, but they may give you the energy and focus required to put forth the effort in your workouts to do so.The best way to preserve lean mass is through a moderate calorie deficit (not eating too little) and resistance training to challenge the muscle.
Burn fat for fuel
Keto specific pre-workouts usually have either MCTs, the ketone body Beta-Hydroxybutyrate (BHB Salts), or a combination of both.
Keto-specific pre-workouts help supply ketogenic dieters and even non-ketogenic dieters with readily available energy in the form of ketones.
Exogenous ketones are a readily and rapidly used energy source you can use during your workouts.
By supplementing with MCTs or BHB Salts, you may experience an increase in exercise performance, but also an increase in recovery. 1 2
Does Pre-Workout Have Carbs?
Many of the pre-workout supplements on the market either contain between 0 and 6 carbohydrates per serving.
Below is a list that shows the carbohydrate count of 14 of the most popular pre-workout supplements available.
- Cellular C4 0g
- ON Gold Standard 3g
- Legion Pulse 6g
- Beyond Raw Lit 3g
- Genius Pre 0g
- Pre JYM 3g
- Mr. Hyde NitroX 0g
- BSN N.O.-Explode 5g
- Six Star Explosion 0g
- MP Assault 0g
- Redcon1 Total War 0g
- Dymatize PreW.O. <1g
- Muscletech Vapor X5 1g
- PEScience Prolific 0g
- Pre-Kaged 2g
Is Pre-Workout Necessary On Keto?
Is pre-workout necessary while following a ketogenic diet? Of course not!Both working out and ketogenic diets have been around and successfully followed before pre-workouts ever existed.
If you find yourself asking low on energy and asking, how do I get the energy to workout on keto… then maybe you should be looking at a few other aspects of your lifestyle, mainly sleep and nutrition.
While using a pre-workout for an added boost or for those times you're feeling un-motivated is perfectly fine, they shouldn't be necessary to get in a good workout.
Three things you should be mindful of if you don't have enough energy to workout on keto are:
- Sufficient calories
- Restful sleep
If your main goal is weight loss, chances are you're probably restricting your food intake to drop some weight.
While you should expect some tiredness to occur, it shouldn't be so pronounced that your energy is zapped from doing anything.
Unless, of course, you are getting to levels lean enough to stand on a bodybuilding stage.
I'm guessing that doesn't apply to most people.
While we all want to lose weight as fast as possible, you could be shortchanging yourself by being too aggressive. By restricting your calories too much, you run the risk of extreme lethargy and an increased chance of muscle loss.
For most individuals, a reasonable weight loss rate of 0.5 – 1.0% of total bodyweight per week should allow you to eat enough food that you're not starving, getting sufficient micronutrients, and have enough sustenance to provide energy.
For extremely overweight individuals, 1.0 – 2.0% of total bodyweight per week may be doable.
Sleep is often downplayed and undervalued in today's society. After all, you've all heard the phrases “I'll sleep when I'm dead,” or “Sleep is for the weak.”
Sleep is a vital tool, not only for energy but for both weight loss and muscle gain.
Research suggests that individuals who sleep fewer hours have an increased chance of being overweight or obese. This means that both sleep quality and quantity may play a vital role when it comes to weight loss.3
On the opposite end, your muscles don't grow when you workout; they grow when you rest. Sleep quality is associated with greater muscle strength 4 5
So much for “sleep is for the weak,” you need to sleep if you want to be strong.
While sleep loss affects each individual differently, I somehow doubt that your energy levels wouldn't benefit from increasing your quality and quantity of sleep, especially if they are deficient.
I mentioned it previously, but maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance is essential, more-so on keto, and EVEN MORE if you're regularly exercising.
Think about it this way; water is undoubtedly the most critical nutrient. Water is the only nutrient that has the potential to cause death after restricting it within days.
Many of the unwanted side-effects such as the keto-flu or feeling tired despite sleeping and eating a sufficient amount may be attributed to dehydration and/or a lack of electrolytes.
Ensuring you're drinking enough water and replacing electrolytes, mainly sodium and potassium, will help keep you well-hydrated.
Read: How much water to drink on keto
Your hydration levels play a significant role in both your physical and mental energy levels.
Dehydration can result in a change in body temperature, increased fatigue, and reduced motivation. 6
Additionally, studies show that mild dehydration resulted in impaired mood, concentration, and working memory. The studies also show an increase in the frequency of headaches, fatigue, and anxiety 7
What Should I Eat Before I Workout On Keto?
Besides a pre-workout, what else can you eat before you workout to help boost your energy levels?
I fall into the school of thought that you should experiment to find what works best for you, but a good rule of thumb is:
- Eat enough food that you're not feeling hungry during your workout
- Don't eat so much food that you're working out with food just sitting in your stomach
You'll want to eat foods that digest well and provide you enough energy to sustain your workout. What that is for you, only you know, but here are a couple of ideas.
- 2-3 eggs with a few slices of avocado
- Protein shake with MCT's or Exogenous Ketones
The trick is to play around with your food choices to find what works best for you.
If you're a gym rat or engage in very high-intensity exercise, you may want to consider some pre-workout carbs.
Pre-workout carbs on keto and sometimes even post-workout (afterward) is a popular keto protocol athletes and bodybuilders use, known as a targeted ketogenic diet (TKD).
Again, this should be reserved for those who engage in very high-intensity exercise.
The thought here is that the pre-workout carbs provide you enough of an energy boost to increase work capacity. With a high-enough intensity and enough volume in your workout, you should be back in ketosis by the end of your workout, or shortly afterward.
We're not talking about that many carbs either, as little as 5 to 20 grams of carbs is sufficient and should be taken in an easily digestible form, such as dextrose or highly branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD).
A lot of ketogenic dieters also like to use something like Ucan Superstarch, which is said not to spike or crash your blood glucose like most common carbohydrate sources.
If you'd like to try any of the above, you can find links to them below.
Is Pre-Workout Bad For You?
Pre-workouts are generally safe, but that doesn't mean they are entirely without any negative side-effects. 8
A primary ingredient in most pre-workout supplements is caffeine, and that's because caffeine is one of the most well-studied drugs to increase performance and help enhance weight loss.
While caffeine may affect everyone differently, excessive intakes could lead to negative side effects, such as impaired sleep, anxiety, and increased blood pressure. 9
Almost all pre-workout supplements contain artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, or a combination of both.
In some individuals, high amounts of sugar alcohol may trigger symptoms like gas, bloating, and even diarrhea. 10
That definitely wouldn't be conducive to a great workout.
Proprietary blends and under-dosing
While not an adverse side-effect, most pre-workout supplements try to hide how much fo each ingredient is in their product by throwing it under a “proprietary blend.”
Chances are if you see “proprietary blend” on the label, there's isn't a sufficient dose to produce an optimal effect.
Even half of the pre-workout supplements on the shelf that list out each ingredient and dose line by line are under-dosed, making the pre-workout not as effective as it could be, or not at all.
But don't worry, I'll let you know which ingredients are proven in the scientific literature to give you an edge, and the dose which has been shown to do so.
What Pre-Workout Supplements Are Keto Friendly?
Almost all pre-workout supplements are keto-friendly since most of them are artificially sweetened and contain very little to no carbohydrates.
In terms of pre-workout supplements, these are my favorite pre-workouts that have science-backed ingredients and in doses sufficient enough to experience the most benefit.
For the most part, three main performance-enhancing ingredients seem to offer the most benefits according to the scientific-literature.
Those ingredients are:
For performance benefits, 4-6mg/kg of caffeine is used. Caffeine is used for its ability to improve cognitive function, increase strength, prolong fatigue, and much more.11 12
This means, for a 180-pound male (~82kg), you'll be using between 300mg and 500mg for an effective dose. Your average 16oz cup of coffee (grande size) has ~200mg of caffeine.
Used for muscular endurance by athletes, beta-alanine must be dosed in the 2-5g range, with most studies using a dose of 3.2g per day. 13 14
3,000mg of L-Citrulline or 6,000 – 8,000mg of Citrulline Malate is used to increase blood vessel diameter, which allows more blood to flow to your tissues. The increase in blood flow leads to more efficient oxygen being delivered to the working muscles in addition to more nutrients. 15 16
If you miss having that pump on keto or low-carbs, using L-citrulline along with a bit of sodium will solve that for you.
With that said, these three pre-workout supplements below fit the criteria of having clinical-doses of the above three with a few additional performance-enhancing ingredients.
Legion Athletics Pulse
If you can spare a few carbohydrates, my favorite pre-workout supplement with quality ingredients clinically-effective doses is Legion Athletics Pulse.
Legion Athletics Pulse is on the higher side of carbohydrates at 6g per serving, but the company that produces it is top-notch and stands by all their products.
Amount of the above three ingredients:
- Caffeine: 350mg
- Beta-Alanine: 3.6g
- L-Citrulline: 8g (L-Citrulline DL-Malate 2:1)
Purchase Legion Athletics Pulse Here
Beyond Raw LIT
Is lit pre-workout keto-friendly? Beyond Raw LIT pre-workout powder energy drink is keto-friendly with only 3g of carbohydrates per serving.
Also, you'll be glad to hear that Beyond Raw LIT uses clinically-doses of ingredients for maximum benefit.
Amount of the above three ingredients:
- Caffeine: 250mg
- Beta-Alanine: 3.2g
- L-Citrulline: 3g
Is C4 pre-workout keto-friendly? C4 pre-workout is keto-friendly with the original formulation containing 0g of carbohydrates and the ultimate version with 1g of carbs.
More specifically, the Ultimate version of the C4 Pre-workout has sufficient doses of the mentioned above ingredients, while the regular formulation falls a bit short.
Amount of the above three ingredients:
- Caffeine: 300mg
- Beta-Alanine: 3.2g
- Citrulline-Malate: 6g
Perfect Keto Pre-Workout Perform
If you're looking for a keto-specific pre-workout, this pre-workout tackles the pre-workout energy boost from a different angle (a ketogenic one) than the three products above.
Perfect Keto Perform provides a higher dose of vital electrolytes, in addition to delivering 4,500mg of MCTs and 7.7g of BHB Salts to increase the level of ketones in your blood for added energy.
Even better is that if you use code AOK, and by following the link below, you'll be able to receive 15% off Perfect Keto Perform and any other Perfect Keto product.
Alternatively, if you just need a quick pick me up, there are plenty of keto-friendly energy drinks with ~300mg of caffeine almost everywhere you look.
Nearly anything that is labeled “sugar-free” such as Bang, Reign, And Monster energy drinks is perfectly acceptable to drink while following a ketogenic diet.
How To Make Your Own Homemade Keto Pre-Workout
I always find it best and most cost-effective to make my pre-workout at home. Simply buy the ingredients in bulk, a small digital scale to measure each component individually, and mix it in a tub.
Alternatively, if you want to stick to something more “keto,” then I'd suggest a pre-workout cocktail of something similar to keto coffee.
- 16 oz of coffee
- 1-2 tbsp of MCT Or C8 Oil
- A scoop of Exogenous Ketones
Most pre-workout supplements you'll find at the store or online are keto-friendly with carbs ranging from 0 to 6 grams.
However, not all pre-workout supplements are created equally. Most supplements are under-dosed or have their actual doses hidden under a “proprietary blend.”
If you want to keep it simple and old school, nothing beats a cup of coffee and adding MCT oil if you wish.
Additionally, a teaspoon of salt will go a long way to keeping you hydrated and bringing back that pump you may have lost when switching to low-carb.