Walk in to the sports supplement section at the store and you are surrounded by drinks and containers all shouting at you in big bold letters "GET BIG MUSCLEZ NOW!!!", "MAX ENERGY 5000!!", or "MEGA MUTANT PUMP!"
The truth is that a quality product is actually quite hard to find despite there being a selection of seemingly thousands of options. By quality I mean that the supplement contains legitimately beneficial ingredients (backed by research) AND has effective dosages of each. Price does not determine quality. Quite often what most preworkouts are formulated with is an extrememly high dose of caffeine (~4-6 cups of coffee-worth), and a couple of unbacked but impressive sounding ingredients. Occasionally there will be one included that IS effective but most likely will be underdosed.
And even worse, is the "proprietary blend." Whenever you see this on a label, RUN. It means it is filled with cheap junk and solely relies on marketing to sell.
Other marketing buzzwords that should set off your BS alarm:
-Anything "For Her"
-Any other ridiculous trying-to-be-scientific-sounding term with a "TM" after it on the label like "Somatophasic EX Terafusion Blend"
Also know that ANY supplement is just a very minimal icing on the cake for your performance. How much you eat, your ratio of macronutients, your micro-nutrients (what you eat), your water intake, your sleep amount, your stress level, and your train/rest schedule ALL play a MUCH greater role in your sports performance than any supplement can ever add.
Look past the marketing, read the label, and do your research before buying. Examine.com is an excellent research site that I recommend for its unbiased collation of scientific studies on supplements. We don't know everything yet, and new discoveries are constantly being made, but this is a great place to find out what IS currently known so that you can make an inflormed choice on what you buy and put in your body. Some supplements may also be interact with medication you may be on, so it's always good to research.
For myself personally, I prefer to buy my supplement ingredients separately, and then mix them myself. I have found that the cost is significantly lower as I can buy them in plain bulk bags, and most importantly I am getting exactly what I want. :-) Below is what I am currently liking for my pre-workout mix. I have listed these in order of proven effectiveness for performance enhancement from most to least.
1. Creatine: 3-5g (Helps to increase power output, stregnth, and in turn, muscle mass)
2. Caffeine: a squirt of Kroger brand Energy water drops or a caffeine pill or some coffee(Improves aerobic capacity and power output)
3. Citrulline Malate - 6-8g (Helps to enhance training recovery, improve endurance, and reduce soreness and fatigue)
4. Beta Alanine - 2-5g (Improves cardiovascular and muscular endurance)
5. Acetyl-l-carnitine - 4g (Improves mental focus and muscle recovery)
6. Alpha GPC - 600mg (Improves power output and mental focus)
Again, these supplements are exactly that, supplemental. And also considered separate from vitamins and minerals which is a different topic. They are MINORLY EFFECTIVE supplements to an already perfected system. If you don't know how much protein or carbs you eat or you can't remember the last time you drank water, then I would consider anything in this list to be pointless. If you have things pretty well dialed in then I would say anything under caffeine is pointless. If everything is on track with your nutrition, then the items below caffeine may provide the slightest benefit to your workout (think 1-2%).
And when it comes to fat loss (if that is a goal), notice there are no fat loss supplements in this list. There are none that are considered legal, safe, or very effective at all. The key to fat loss is a calorie deficit. There are no shortcuts and anyone that claims some supplement (or tea or detox or shake) will do otherwise is selling something. Period.