Cellucor C4 Pre-Workout Review: Is It Actually Good For You?

The Cellucor C4 lineup is arguably the most popular pre-workout supplement line there is.

Even though it is obvious to me that they're not as good as many would have you believe, I've always wanted to try Cellucor’s products out and see what the fuss was about. And sure enough, I did.

Overall, I wasn't impressed. However, don't just take my word for it. Instead,  join me on this Cellucor C4 pre-workout review journey, where I dissect these products one by one so the next time you hit the gym - you can be absolutely certain you're maximizing your gains!

As with many other pre-workout supplements, C4 is a pre-workout powder you mix with water and drink before you go to the gym.

It contains a cocktail of ingredients designed to help you maximize your athletic performance in the gym, so you can get the most out of your workout.

Or, at least that’s how it is in theory.

My Experience & Results Taking All Five C4 Pre-Workouts

Even though it was evident by just examining the label that most of these were simply overpriced shots of caffeine, I wanted to make sure I was not overly critical or biased, so I took my time and tried out each and every product in the C4 lineup.

After all, Cellucor is arguably the most popular pre-workout brand, and C4 is probably the best-selling pre-workout in the world, so they have to do something right. Right?

Let's take a look at the scientific evidence and see if that's the case.

1. C4 Original

C4 Original Pre-Workout

Ingredients

3.5

Effectiveness

3.5

Price

4.1


Overall Score

3.7

It's not compelling when you look at the label, and 70% of it is just vitamins.

Now, don't get me wrong, you need your vitamin C (like ascorbic acid) and B vitamins (B12, B6, niacin, folic acid, etc.) to support good health and all that, but you can get that from a multi-vitamin.

Now, for the "active" ingredients.

1.6 grams of beta-alanine, a gram of creatine nitrate and citrulline malate, and 150 mg of caffeine within an "Explosive Energy Blend," which also contains Velvet Bean seed extract and Theacrine in unknown doses.

Literally, every single one of these ingredients (except caffeine) is either underdosed or just plain doesn't belong in a pre-workout.

All in all, C4 Original Pre-workout is a lousy formula.

2. C4 Ripped

C4 Ripped Pre-Workout

Ingredients

3.5

Effectiveness

3.5

Price

3.6


Overall Score

3.5

For C4 Ripped, we have a fairly similar and pretty much equally non-impressive formula, with the same doses of beta-alanine, citrulline malate, and caffeine.

Only this time, instead of creatine nitrate, we have 1 gram of proprietary "C4 Ripped Performance and Thermogenic Blend."

The main ingredient is L-carnitine tartrate, which you need at least 2 grams per day for at least a couple of months to see any actual results.[1]

The actual kicker? This one's more expensive than the Original.

3. C4 Sport

C4 Sport Pre-Workout

Ingredients

3.4

Effectiveness

3.6

Price

4.3


Overall Score

3.8

C4 Sport is aimed at athletes, I believe, because it contains sodium and potassium, which are vital electrolytes for athletes. And because it's called "Sport."

However, neither sodium nor potassium will make any significant difference at these doses.

Therefore, you're much better off with sports or energy drinks if you want to replenish some electrolytes.

As for the rest of the formula, we have not one proprietary blend but two:

  • Performance Blend - 3.181 g
  • Energy Blend - 1.138 g

While I appreciate the precision with which C4 measures their blends - they're still blends.

So we still don't know how much of each ingredient is in there, but what we do know is that the first listed ingredient is the one present in the highest amount.

In this case, that would be beta-alanine (probably less than 1.6 g) for the Performance Blend and taurine (presumably around 500 mg) for the Energy Blend.

With that in mind, the Energy Blend is somewhat decent. On the other hand, the Performance Blend is criminally underdosed and is outright ineffective, which explains the appealing price tag.

4. C4 Extreme

C4 Extreme Pre-Workout

Ingredients

3.8

Effectiveness

3.8

Price

4.2


Overall Score

3.9

There's nothing extreme about the "Extreme" aside from the fact that it is free from proprietary blends.

To prove that to you, we won't discuss the actual quality of the ingredients. We'll assume they're worth it (even though some are not), and we'll simply outline the optimal dose ranges for each ingredient listed in this formula and compare them to the doses actually used in the product:

  • Beta-alanine (3.2-6.4 g) - C4 contains 2 g
  • Citrulline Nitrate (3-6 g) - C4 contains 2 g
  • N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine (500-2000 mg) - C4 contains 200 mg
  • Huperzine A (50-200 mcg) - C4 contains 50 mcg
  • Caffeine (200-400 mg) - C4 contains 200 mg

As you can see, the only ingredient properly dosed here is caffeine anhydrous at 200 mg, which is a moderate dose for an experienced lifter and long-term pre-workout supplement user.

5. C4 Ultimate

C4 Ultimate Pre-Workout

Ingredients

4.5

Effectiveness

4.6

Price

3.9


Overall Score

4.3

C4 Ultimate pre-workout supplement looks impressive if you don't know what you're looking at.

A long list of fancy-name ingredients and a hefty price tag for a 20-serving tub give away an impression of a highly effective product.

And, if I'm being completely honest, this one is actually not that bad.

Ignoring a bunch of other, virtually unnecessary ingredients, you'll get about 6 grams of L-citrulline, a gram of taurine, and 300 mg of caffeine.

What you'll also get is 2 grams of two types of creatine (neither of which is creatine monohydrate), 3.2 g of beta-alanine, and a few other ingredients you can definitely live without.

But, ultimately (pun intended), this one will get you going.

Now it’s time for us to talk about the real-world experience with these products.

1. Flavor

If there's one thing that Cellucor does exceptionally well, it's the flavor.

It seems like they've got every single flavor imaginable, and from what I could tell -  they all taste more than acceptable.

To achieve this level of variety, they rely on both natural and artificial flavors, as well as artificial sweeteners.

They’re all sugar-free flavors, however.

Of course, I haven't tried every single one of them, but I did go through tons of reviews to see what people think, and apart from a few isolated cases, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

C4 Pre-Workout Flavors

From my experience, the taste was very pleasant, the powder dissolves rather easily, and I didn't have any issues with it whatsoever.

Just grab 8 oz of water, throw a scoop in, and you're good to go.

Now, since there are so many delicious flavors available - I thought you'd appreciate an overview of the flavors available on their website.

I’ve tried the bolded ones, and Icy Blue Razz was definitely my favorite.

Original

Ripped

Sport

Extreme

Ultimate

Cherry Limeade

Cherry Limeade

Blue Raspberry

Fruit Punch

Arctic Snow Cone

Frozen Bombsicle

Fruit Punch

Fruit Punch

Icy Blue Razz

Cotton Candy

Fruit Punch

Icy Blue Razz

Watermelon

Sour Batch Bros

Icy Blue Razz

Grape

Raspberry Lemonade

Cell

Ultra Frost

Orange Mango

Icy Blue Razz

Cell
Cell

Watermelon

Sour Batch Bros

Orange Burst

Cell
Cell
Cell

Strawberry Watermelon

Strawberry Watermelon

Cell
Cell
Cell
Cell

Watermelon

Cell
Cell
Cell
Cell
Note: If you shop through Amazon, you can find other flavors, like Pink Lemonade or Strawberry Margarita.

2. Performance Increase

Despite the fact that I was very hard on these guys, their pre-workouts can give you a noticeable performance increase if you're a beginner or particularly sensitive to stimulants. Let me explain.

In my opinion, you need four ingredients in a pre-workout - caffeine and L-citrulline for performance, L-tyrosine, and L-theanine for focus. Everything else is just a bonus or a gimmick.

Out of those four, the caffeine content is the most important one.[2]

Caffeine is why you "feel" pre-workout supplements "working" and helping you get a workout in even when they're badly formulated like most of the Cellucor ones.

So, will you notice a performance increase? Yes. Will you get enough energy? Yes. Is there a better product to spend your money on? Oh, yes.

We'll get to that.

3. Pump

You will experience the pump even if you hit the gym on an empty stomach with nothing but water and food in your system.

However, certain pre-workouts will get you more visual confirmation that you've hit the weights hard.

C4 won't be one of those pre-workout formulas. You won’t look like you’ve packed on 5 pounds of lean muscle mass after you finish a workout.

Why? Well, it's the (mostly) L-citrulline that helps you get massive pumps.[3]

Therefore, unless you're willing to overspend on a tub of Ultimate C4 pre-workout (the only one with enough L-citrulline to expand your blood vessels and improve blood flow), you won't notice a difference in this department.

4. Focus

While I'm rarely one of those people who need help focusing on my workout, I can't say with absolute certainty whether any of the C4 pre-workout formulas get you in the zone or not.

However, any time you ingest 150 mg (or more) of caffeine, you'll experience a nice boost in focus and mental clarity. Unfortunately, that's about it.

5. Energy

Once again - the energy you'll experience is directly related to the amount of caffeine you ingest.

With these five, you're looking at around 135-300 mg of caffeine per scoop, depending on the product.

In the real world, this translates to a decent buzz and steady energy levels for at least two to three hours. That's how it was for me. Stable, easy, and just enough to push me through a workout.

Of course, if you're a stim-head, then it’s Ultimate or double-scooping, neither of which is a good financial decision.

6. Side Effects

I'm pretty numb to stimulants at this point, but I'll feel the tingles in my ears and some other areas if I take a beta-alanine because I usually avoid it.

With these pre-workout supplements, you'll get anywhere from 1.6 to 3.2 g of beta-alanine, which may or may not tingle, depending on how you respond to it. I did feel it.

And I hate the feeling. Always have and always will.

Other than that, if you're a newbie, you might feel some caffeine jitters and maybe an upset stomach. However, I haven't had those with C4s.

7. Post-Workout

If we're talking about Original, Ripped, and Sport - the post-workout feels pretty much like a regular post-workout. It's neither better nor worse.

You will be tired if you've trained hard, and you'll probably be able to fall asleep within three hours if you're not overly sensitive to caffeine.

On the other hand, if you take Extreme or Ultimate, you might want to err on the side of caution when it comes to timing because these two might interfere with your sleep.

Other than that, I haven't experienced any crashes, and the energy buzz waned off pretty steadily.

Then again, unless it's the Ultimate C4 pre-workout you're taking - there's not much room for crashing.

8. Cost & Availability

When it comes to availability - Cellucor C4's lineup is one of the most accessible ones on the market.

You can find these products almost anywhere - Cellucor website, Amazon, and probably your local supplement shop.

On the other hand, the price is a different story.

In my humble opinion, some of these are the poorest value-for-money pre-workout supplements you can buy (even though most hold an average rating of 4.5 stars), considering most of them are just pixie-dusted caffeine in powder form.

If we take a look at their website (Amazon and retail prices might differ), the prices are as follows:

  • Original - $29.99/49.99 - 30/60 servings
  • Ripped - $39.99 - 30 servings
  • Sport - $21.99 - 30 servings
  • Extreme - $38.99/54.99 - 30/60 servings
  • Ultimate - $44.99/26/99 - 20/12 servings

Out of all of them, I’d say the best C4 pre-workout, money-wise, is the Extreme 60-serving tub, but even that’s not a good purchase.

Note: The prices can drop by 20-30% if you subscribe to the Cellucor website and make recurring purchases.

Pros

  • Great taste
  • Widely and readily available
  • Effective dose of caffeine across the board

Cons

  • Overpriced
  • Underdosed ingredients across the board
  • Proprietary blend formulas

Cellucor C4 Pre-Workouts: Ingredient Comparison Chart

Header

C4 Original

C4 Ripped

C4 Sport

C4 Extreme

C4 Ultimate

Caffeine

150 mg

150 mg

135 mg

200 mg

300 mg

Creatine

1,000 mg (Nitrate)

0 mg

Unclear
(HCL)

1,000 mg (Nitrate)

2,000 mg (Nitrate & HCL)

Citrulline

1,000 mg
(Malate)

1,000 mg
(Malate)

0 mg

1,000 mg
(Nitrate)

6,000 mg
(Malate & Nitrate)

CarnoSyn Beta-Alanine

1,600 mg

1,600 mg

Unclear

2,000 mg

3,200 mg

L-Tyrosine

0 mg

0 mg

0 mg

200 mg

0 mg

Taurine

0 mg

0 mg

Unclear

0 mg

1,000 mg

Proprietary Blend(s)

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

C4 Original Pre-Workout Supplement Facts

So, looking at the list of ingredients for each of these products, it becomes blatantly obvious how lousy these formulas are.

Here’s how and why.

Proprietary Blends

I like my labels to be fully transparent, and quite frankly, proprietary blends are specifically designed to be the absolute opposite of that.

The reason why proprietary blends exist is so that brands can try and make you believe they’ve developed this super secret formula that will help with gains! In reality, this just means they’re underdosing the important ingredients and using cheap stuff while hiding in plain sight.

However, there is a way for you to “see through” this.

The ingredients are in order of concentration.

In other words, the first ingredient on the list usually makes up most of the blend, while the last one is just a tiny fraction.

Also, there's no guarantee that the first ingredient isn't 99% of the blend, with the rest of them just sprinkled in there.

I'm not saying that's what Cellucor has done here, but if you can - stay away from proprietary blends.

L-Citrulline

L-Citrulline is one of the most essential amino acids for working out and of the key ingredients in pre-workout powders. And, it’s severely underdosed with most of these products.

To get the most out of this L-Arginine precursor that helps with nitric oxide production, improved blood flow, better athletic performance, and overall muscle endurance - you need at least 3 to 6 grams. You're not getting that much 4 out of 5 times.

Creatine

Creatine is definitely the most important supplement in sports nutrition.[4]

It helps with performance, muscle growth, muscle fatigue, brain function, energy production, and so on.

However, you don’t need creatine in a pre-workout formula. Here’s why:

  • It has no immediate effects on performance like C4 Pre-workout should.
  • Creatine is taken daily until it fully saturates your muscles. C4 Pre-workout is not taken daily.
  • Creatine monohydrate is the best type of creatine. C4 pre-workouts contain Creatine nitrate and HCl.

Beta-alanine

While CarnoSyn beta-alanine can help with lactic acid buildup alongside many other things, this amino acid also does not belong in a pre-workout, even though it is commonly found in virtually every pre-workout powder.

Why doesn’t it belong? Because it is only marginally effective in exercises lasting one to four minutes which happens once in a blue moon for an average gymgoer looking to build muscle.

And, even if it did, research suggests you need 3.2 to 6.4 grams daily to even begin to experience its many benefits.[5]

Once you factor in the dose, the tingles, and the fact you're not taking a pre-workout drink every single day - it becomes easier to understand why beta-alanine isn't vital.

Caffeine

Caffeine is the sole reason why people feel these pre-workout formulas work.

A proper dose of caffeine will help you stay focused and alert, and it will give you a boost in physical strength and endurance. This holds true even at a lower dose.

With that in mind, how much caffeine do you need to be lifting weights? Anywhere between 100 to 400 grams, depending on at which point of your fitness journey you are, as well as your body weight.

So, just like most pre-workouts, Cellucor gets their caffeine dosages right.


Are C4 Pre-Workouts Good For Beginners?

Assuming these were free products, I’d say they’re good for beginners.

Jokes aside, you will feel C4 working, and if you're new to the gym, you might be better off starting with a mild stimulant like the Sport.

Still, if you'd like to make the most of your pre-workout supplement, I'd suggest going with something else entirely - mostly because you can get more for the same amount of money.


Who Should Avoid Taking Cellucor C4 Pre-Workouts?

On the same note, everyone not looking to waste money on a subpar product should avoid the C4 lineup because, even though they do work - they're lacking in many areas.

Other than that, if you are suffering from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, thyroid conditions, or are just overly sensitive to stimulants - don't use this or any other pre-workout.


Cellucor C4 Pre-Workouts Vs Popular Alternatives

Cellucor C4 Vs Gold Standard Pre-Workout

Gold Standard is often compared to C4 Original because they're both fairly affordable and pretty popular. I'd add one more thing to that - they're equally underwhelming.

Caffeine content aside, Gold Standard features an array of underdosed and unnecessary ingredients, but there is one thing about this one that makes it a bit better than C4 - creatine.

I've said that creatine doesn't belong in a pre-workout, and I still stand by it, but at 3 grams per scoop, this could theoretically maintain your creatine saturation if you're lightweight and you take pre-workouts more than five times a week.

See Our Full Breakdown - Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout Review

Cellucor C4 Vs Ghost Pre-Workout

Ghost Pre-Workout is another very effective formula that puts C4 to shame.

We're looking at a great product with ingredients that matter and are essentially all properly dosed.

And, while I don't really care for some of them, especially beta-alanine, I can't deny that tingles get some folks in the mood to work out, and if you're one of them - more power to you.

Either way - a much, much better option than any C4.


Frequently Asked Cellucor C4 Questions

When should I take C4 pre-workouts?

Not everyone will have the same experience with a pre-workout. However, you should feel it working in about half an hour.

How long does the C4 pre-workout last?

It depends. The Ultimate will certainly last longer than the Sport with its not so “Explosive energy blend.”

See Our Complete Guide - How Long Does C4 Pre-Workout Last?

Can you stack the C4 pre-workout supplements?

As long as you don’t overdo it, you can stack your C4 with other supplements, including a C4 protein powder.

Is Cellucor C4 pre-workout considered a steroid?

No. C4 Original Pre-workout or any other product from this range is not a steroid.


Final Verdict

So, what have we found out during our C4 pre-workout review roundup?

Is C4 the best pre-workout on the market? Not even close.

Can it help you reach your health and fitness goals? Probably, yes.

Would I recommend this product? Absolutely not.

While the C4 lineup has one decent product, overall, their products are not up to the standard. I would much rather point you in the other direction and have you spend your money on a product that would actually help you reach your goals faster.

We recommend this instead!

Transparent Labs BULK Pre-Workout

Ingredients

5.0

Effectiveness

5.0

Price

5.0


Overall Score

5.0

Pros

  • Cleanest and best tasting formula
  • Sustained energy and pump for workouts
  • Clinically dosed time-tested ingredients 
  • No artificial flavors or sweeteners 

Cons

  • Slower delivery time due to high demand

References: 

1. https://www.e-pan.org/journal/view.php?doi=10.20463/jenb.2018.0026
2. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4
3. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/effects-of-lcitrulline-supplementation-on-nitric-oxide-and-antioxidant-markers-after-highintensity-interval-exercise-in-young-men-a-randomised-controlled-trial/0FEC22D5929E902A4A7F566155FD20E3
4. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/6/1915
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374095/

Last Updated on November 16, 2022