Pre vs. Pump vs. BCAAs: What’s the right pre-workout for you?

One of the questions we get asked most frequently at Gnarly is who should use Gnarly Pump, Gnarly BCAAs and Gnarly Pre, and whether all three products are necessary.  All three products can be used before training and when to use one and not the other can be understandably confusing.


To shed some light on this topic, I’ve given a little background on each product and also some recommendations for where it might (or might not) make sense to integrate each product into your training regime.  Finally, I specifically address how you might integrate one or all three of the products into your performance nutrition strategy.

What is Gnarly Pump and is it right for me?

Gnarly Pump is a creatine supplement with the addition of l-arginine and l-citrulline to help with vasodilation and blood flow to and from the muscles. Supplementing with creatine increases strength and power by increasing muscular stores of creatine phosphate and thus maximizing ATP use in power-based movements. While athletes of all disciplines may see power generation benefits from supplementing with creatine, supplementation is most common in sports that focus on dynamic movements like classic weight lifting or hard bouldering. Note that creatine loading causes a small amount of water weight gain.


Often the performance benefits of creatine supplementation ‘outweigh’ (ha ha) the benefits of any weight gain due to water, but if this is a concern for you, consider using creatine during the strength phase of your training and then cycling off of it when you need to drop some weight.  When you cycle off of creatine your muscular stores of phosphocreatine will drop, and thus you will see a small decline in power generation, but you will retain the new muscle that supplementing with creatine helped you built during your strength emphasis.

How and when should I take Gnarly Pump?

To see the full benefit of creatine supplementation, muscular phosphocreatine levels need to reach their physiological maximum, and this can be done a couple of ways.  Creatine ‘loading’ is a strategy used to reach these levels quickly and involves taking an increased dose for about a week; this increased dose is ~140mg/lb of bodyweight (or 21g/day for a 150lb athlete).  After a week at the loading dose you would drop back down to a typical ‘maintenance’ dose of 5g/day. The second way to approach creatine supplementation is to skip the loading phase and start with the 5g ‘maintenance’ dose; muscular phosphocreatine stores will still reach the physiological maximum, bu twill take about a month longer.  


You benefit from taking Gnarly Pump any time of the day- the key is consistency (every day).  Many customers want the performance boost of a pre-workout without a high dose of caffeine, and for these individuals, using Pump directly before training is a great option.


For more in depth info on creatine supplementation, click here.

What are Gnarly BCAAs and is it the right product for me?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.  Of the 20 amino acids, 9 are essential, meaning they cannot be synthesized (produced or created) by the body and must come from our diet.  Of these essential amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine are known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Unlike other essential amino acids, which are broken down in the liver, BCAAs are transported directly to skeletal muscle where they play a critical role in muscle recovery and synthesis. Leucine, isoleucine and valine, the three BCAAs, work together to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and reduce the rate of muscle catabolism, or breakdown – exactly what we’re looking for to maximize recovery. Taking BCAAs before and during exercise decreases Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) which has a direct impact on the ability to perform in subsequent training efforts.

How and when should I take Gnarly BCAAs?

Although protein contains BCAAs, different sources of protein contain varying amounts and complete proteins have to be fully digested in order to access free-form amino acids; this process takes time and is not efficient.  Because free-form amino acids don’t require digestion and are absorbed directly into the bloodstream as is, they are a much lighter, quicker and more efficient way to increase BCAA concentration in the body directly before and during exercise.  We recommend taking BCAAs 20-30 minutes prior to training and then following up with a high quality protein that contains ample amounts of BCAAs as well as the other essential amino acids required for muscle protein synthesis.

What is Gnarly Pre and is it right for me?

Gnarly Pre is more of a pre-workout in the classic sense in that it contains a significant amount of caffeine from green tea leaf (180mg in Pre vs 60mg in Pump) as well as Beta Alanine to help buffer muscle acidity. Both of these ingredients have been shown to increase endurance (good for cardio workouts as well as power endurance). Specifically, Beta Alanine enhances muscular endurance by buffering the acid produced through anaerobic respiration (the energy system used most during high intensity efforts). One thing to note about Beta Alanine is that it causes a harmless side effect called paresthesia, or a tingling or prickling sensation in the hands, feet and sometimes face.


Gnarly Pre also contains BCAAs to decrease muscle breakdown as well as citrulline malate to help with vasodilation, energy production and clearance of metabolic waste products.  The general feedback we’ve gotten from the Pre is that folks can “feel” it working, but they don’t get the jitters common to other pre-workouts.

How and when should I take Gnarly Pre?

Gnarly Pre is best taken 15-20 minutes prior to training.  We have had a few customers inquire about taking 2 scoops of Gnarly Pre.  If this is something you’re interested in, we recommend slowly increasing your dose to 1.5 scoops and then 2 scoops to make sure the increased beta alanine and accompanying parasthesia is tolerable.

putting it all together

We have a lot of athletes using all three of these products and some using one or two.  For most athletes, I generally recommend using stand alone BCAAs prior to training for most workouts and only using Gnarly Pre when you need an extra boost of energy, have a super intense training day planned or are planning on going for a personal best and need an extra push. 


If your tolerance for caffeine is high then Gnarly Pre may be a daily staple for you and in that case there is no reason to add in Gnarly BCAAs, because they are already in Gnarly Pre. 


The use of Gnarly Pump really comes down to whether or not you are interested in supplementing with creatine.  To make a long story short, you could use all three, but you wouldn’t use all three daily. If you decided you wanted to supplement with creatine, you would take Pump daily and then choose whether to use the BCAAs or the Pre before your workouts based on need/intensity.


I hope that helps.  Keep the questions coming!  Also – we LOVE to hear what your goals are and how Gnarly products are helping you on your path to achieving them.


Visit the Gnarly Store to try a sample box of all our products or to buy individual tubs of PUMP, PRE or BCAAs.

curious to try these products yourself?

Shannon O'Grady

Shannon O'Grady

Shannon O’Grady is the CPO & COO for Gnarly Nutrition. She has her doctorate in Biology from the University of Utah, and through research in nutritional physiology and her own obsession with sports nutrition, ended up at Gnarly Nutrition.

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