Whether you love them or hate them, pre-workout supplements have become a huge part of the fitness scene over the last couple of decades. They can give you a bump in energy, focus, and muscular endurance. My favorite benefit is the pumps, which, in addition to improving the mind-muscle connection and improving recovery, also feel amazing.
Aside from that, nowadays pre-workouts taste pretty damn good too.
Pink lemonade, black cherry, rocket pop, what’s not to love?
When they first blew up, the original Jack3d and Mr. Hyde supplements were seen as the Gods of the pre-workout world.
Why were these 2 the chosen ones you may ask?
The answer is largely due to the fact that they contained such a high dose of stimulants that chugging down a heaping scoop of made you feel like prime attitude era Stone Cold Steve Austin.
By the time you got out onto the gym floor, the weights would practically lift themselves off the rack and leave you with a pump that could be seen half a mile away.
The problem with these traditional pre-workout supplements, and many others that have come after, is that they contain such a high dose of stimulants that it can actually be detrimental to your progress and general health.
Going too heavy on stimulants can have short-term effects such as nausea and upset stomach that mess up your training session. It can also have more detrimental long-term effects like insomnia which can lead to poor recovery. Excessive stimulants can also fuck up your heart health.
In fact, the original Jack3d formula was actually banned for containing DMAA; an ingredient that posed a risk for potentially dangerous cardiac episodes.
You may be able to fight off the exhaustion and get through your training with more stimulant-laden pre-workouts but without adequate rest and recovery, you’re likely wasting your time and effort in the gym.
How do we get the benefits of a pre-workout supplement without the potentially negative side effects that come along with the stimulants?
Non-stim pre-workout powders are exactly what they sound like. They’re caffeine-free pre-workouts. This means that you’ll still be able to get that Adonis-like pump, increased muscular endurance, and focus during your workout without it keeping you up all night or putting you at an increased risk of other serious cardiovascular complications.
But not all non-stim pre-workouts are created equal. Here are the best stimulant-free pre-workouts on the market.
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Pre-Kaged contains the perfect dose of L-Citrulline, Beta-Alanine, and Creatine. (See the ‘how to choose’ section for why these are so great).
The combination of all 3 of these ingredients will increase ATP levels to bump up intramuscular fuel, increase muscular endurance for grinding through longer sets and induce massive muscle pumps.
In addition to the 3 main ingredients that all great non-stim pre’s should have, Pre-Kaged contains 2 additional amino acids that will further increase performance.
Taurine and tyrosine are included to help enhance mental clarity, focus, and energy. The research on supplementing these amino acids is still evolving, but they seem to provide slight benefits that may help push your mental focus during intense workouts when dosed correctly. Taurine has even been shown to enhance muscle endurance.
What truly sets Pre-Kaged apart, though is its quality. And all of their ingredients are from the highest quality plant-based sources.
No other non-stim product on the market goes above and beyond like Kaged to only put premium ingredients in their products.
Pre-Kaged even contains spectra antioxidants that may help improve hydration and fight free radicals (which, if you watch commercials, is what superfood vegetables do), and coconut water powder.
Overall, because they pack their pre-workout with so much, it’s one of the biggest scoops out there. From pump, to endurance, to focus, all in a health-centric product, you don’t find a better non-stim pre out there than Pre-Kaged.
Even though it doesn’t have stimulants, you’ll get a nootropic-like effect that keeps you dialed in during your training.
When all is said and done, Pre-Kaged is by far the best non-stim pre-workout available a good price.
All ingredients are dosed effectively and will provide great pumps, increased endurance, and allow you to get dialed in for intense sessions.
It’s gluten-free, non-GMO, and suitable for vegans. Both flavors (fruit punch and cherry bomb) are on point.
For all of these reasons, Pre-Kaged Stim-Free is our #1 pick.
Second is a one-of-a-kind product from the science whizzes over at Morphogen Nutrition.
This formula is in our opinion the best on the market if your goal is to train with massive pumps. As mentioned increased pumps mean better blood flow, better mind-muscle connection, better recovery, and better performance.
The base of this formula is 8 grams of l-citrulline. This is a higher dose than you’ll see anywhere else.
However, when it comes to pump, it doesn’t stop there. Volugen includes patented ingredients like Nitrosigine®, AmentoPump®, and HydroPrime® glycerol powder.
You won’t see any other collection of pump ingredients like this, and you will feel it in your workouts. If you’re doing higher-rep, muscle-building-centric workouts, this is your top choice.
Volugen also includes impressive ingredients for overall exercise performance like betaine anhydrous. Check out the label for yourself. It’s filled with proven ingredients and free of fillers.
The flavors are also on point and unique. You can choose between…
Personally, my favorite is the strawberry colada. I’d go as far to say that Volugen is my favorite-tasting pre-workout on this list.
At $2.80 a serving, it’s a bit pricier than other products, but its quality and effectiveness you’ll feel for yourself.
Price: $1.67 per serving
Third on our list is another quality non-stim pre from Transparent Labs.
Their formula includes 6 grams of citrulline malate, a whopping 4 grams of beta-alanine, 4 grams of branched-chain amino acids to reduce muscle breakdown, electrolytes for hydration, and lots of nootropic-like ingredients.
They also include betaine anhydrous, an ingredient that may support power output.
I’m also a fan of their cognition ingredients like huperzine A, choline, and l-tyrosine. Tyrosine is the least proven of the three (well, it’s great with caffeine, but not as much on its one). But you’ll definitely feel heightened focus.
It also has no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or colors. The cherry limeade is pretty good.
These aren’t necessarily drawbacks, but they are a few elements to keep in mind. First, 4 grams of beta-alanine is a lot. It will give you the tingles if you’re not used to it. It may, simply, be an excessive dose for most people.
Second, while BCAAs can help reduce muscle breakdown, in general they just haven’t shown the benefits that companies have been claiming for so many years.
Nonetheless, this is a top-tier, high-quality pre. Pick up Transparents Labs Non-Stim here.
The combination of all three ingredients plus the addition of sodium and calcium phosphate means that Pre Stim-Free from Nutrabio Labs should provide a great pump and increase time to muscular fatigue when you’re blasting through those tough reps.
It also contains both Tyrosine and Taurine; amino acids that may improve focus and performance.
Taurine might help improve aerobic performance, strength/power, recovery and increase fat burning. Notice that I emphasized “might?” Taurine research is limited and needs to be explored further before saying that it is 100% beneficial. It won’t hurt, but there’s not much proof that it’s doing a hell of a lot either as of now.
Similar to Taurine, Tyrosine is an amino acid that might help increase attention, focus and mood. There isn’t any real science showing that it helps physical performance directly but it can help with feeling alert (especially if you’re sleep deprived) or dialing in on a task. Last time I checked, lifting is a task…
The major con is that the dosage of beta-alanine is pretty high, which may cause some itchiness/tingling. If you’re one of the few who enjoy that feeling, you really have nothing to worry about aside from it being one of the priciest on the list.
Remember the stimulant-riddled Mr. Hyde I mentioned earlier? This is its stimulant-free brother.
Hyde Max Pump is a simple, effective stim-free pre-workout. Unlike many others, Hyde Max Pump only has 5 ingredients.
3 of which are… you guessed it… Citrulline, Beta-Alanine & Creatine.
The combination of these three is really all you need to get you primed for a great session.
I can all but guarantee you’ll be getting some unnecessary itchiness and tingling with the dosage of beta-alanine included, but that’s truly the only negative here.
Dr. Jekyll contains Beta-Alanine & Creatine to increase time to muscular fatigue as well as Tyrosine for increased alertness.
You probably noticed that I didn’t mention Citrulline. That’s because Mr. Hyde has none.
But, it has an adequate substitute with Inositol-Enhanced Arginine Citrate.
This ingredient can increase the amino acid arginine.
Arginine is then turned into Nitric Oxide in the body.
Nitric Oxide equals vasodilation, more pumps, and that vascularity veiny look.
The dose of 800 mg is low here though as most research has used 1500 mg.
The main con with Dr. Jekyll is that the dosages are slightly low per serving. Ultimately, this could mean you’re missing out on some energy gains that could allow you to grind out more reps and lead to increased strength/power long-term.
Animal Pump Pro contains L-Citrulline to live up to its name and support your pumps, with 4 grams per serving. (Note, this is still lower than Pre-Kaged, which has 6.5g.)
It also has a healthy dose of Tyrosine to help give you crisp focus for the duration of your lifting session.
Creatine is included as part of a “pump and volumization complex”. It’s good to know that there is some creatine in there but there’s no way of knowing if it is actually enough to produce any benefits. Spoiler alert, this usually means there isn’t anywhere near enough.
Animal Pump Pro really falls short on Beta-Alanine. When I say falls short, I mean there’s none in there.
The lack of Beta-Alanine combined with a low dose of creatine, mean that you definitely won’t be getting much help on those hard reps at the end of the set.
It’s a decent option if you’re only looking to get a quick pump in but don’t expect much else out of it.
Does your typical trip to the local GNC look something like this?
Don’t worry, I’m not calling you out.
In fact, that was my exact trip for years. At some point, I realized that I could get through my workouts without a boatload of caffeine and started to look up what other ingredients I should be looking for in a decent pre workout.
If you find yourself in the same boat (let’s be honest, why else would you be reading this far), here are the top 3 ingredients that I feel all good pre-workout supplements should contain.
I’ve included 3 main descriptors for each:
If you don’t want to learn about the ingredients and just want the rankings, feel free to skip this section and go straight to the list of the 5 best non-stim pre-workouts.
L-Citrulline is an amino acid.
Citrulline increases aerobic Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) production and Nitric Oxide Synthesis (vasodilation).
In short, ATP is what the body uses for fuel. Therefore, more ATP equals a longer time to fatigue during high intensity activities. Longer time to fatigue equals more reps. More reps means more volume. More volume equals more gains.
Nitric Oxide promotes vasodilation. When this occurs, our blood flow increases and we get a sick pump. Not only does this look awesome, it helps deliver nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the muscles more efficiently allowing for increased recovery.
For more on citrulline, you can check out this supplement on l-citrulline supplementation.
While some brands use citrulline malate, we prefer l-citrulline because it has more citrulline by weight. When you see 6 grams of citrulline malate, you’re really only getting about 6 grams of citrulline.
Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that the body produces it naturally.
Beta-Alanine helps produce Carnosine (by up to 80%) which aids in recycling lactic acid and clearing hydrogen build up in the muscle. When hydrogen builds up, the environment of the muscle becomes very acidic, making muscular contraction impossible.
Carnosine helps buffer the acidity out of the cell.
Better ability to clear hydrogen equals longer time to fatigue.
Longer time to fatigue equals more reps and subsequently… more gainz.
The recommended dose is 2-5 grams/day.
BUT… high doses of beta-alanine can give you that itchy, pins and needles feeling. If you’ve ever had too much, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This feeling isn’t dangerous at all, but can be uncomfortable for some (or enjoyable if you’re nuts).
To avoid this buzzy itchy feeling, take less than 800 mg at a time.
For more on beta-alanine, check out this article on beta-alanine supplementation.
Creatine is a molecule that is naturally found in the body. It can be found in a number of foods (primarily meat) or supplemented.
Despite what you may have heard from the local gym bro, creatine is not a steroid. It is one of the most researched supplements ever and has been found to be completely safe and extremely effective.
It helps increase phosphocreatine stores in the muscle, which increases ATP levels. As we learned before, more ATP equals longer time to fatigue and an increased ability to complete work. You won’t get tired as easily, allowing you to do more reps and get more gainz.
After all, what’s wrong with regular pre-workouts? Well, there are a few reasons.
1) You’re sensitive to caffeine. If you’re caffeine sensitive, you’re going to get a lot of jitters from regular pre-workouts. It might just be too much.
2) You’re trying to consume less caffeine. Maybe you love caffeine, but just need less of it. That’s when a non-stim pre can come into play
3) For evening or late-afternoon workouts. As you know, caffeine will fuck up your sleep. Even if you love regular pre-workout, it’s worth it to have a bottle of non-stim stuff just in case you find yourself training in the evening.
For the former two, you can also look into pre-workouts with less caffeine. You can fine our list here on the best pre-workout supplements for beginners.
Of course, you don’t have to go for a classic non-stim pre-workout product before you train.
Maybe you just want the focus without the crazy pumps. In which case, something like alpha GPC may be what you’re looking for.
Simple hydration products as well are simple yet beneficial non-stim pre-workouts. The reality is that if you’re dehyrated, you still won’t perform your best, regardless of your pre-workout.
Finally, nitric oxide booster supplements are a good, non-stim option.
Watch out for brands that aren’t transparent about the dose of their products. These are called “proprietary blends.” If it says beta-alanine, and you can’t figure out how much, that’s a problem.
As mentioned, I’d put BCAAs in the “overrated” camp. While leucine will help reduce muscle protein breakdown, as long as your nutrition around training is dialed in, there’s not much evidence it’ll help.
I’d also include l-arginine in that mix. The thing with arginine is that it does the same thing citrulline does, but not as well, since our body has a hard time digesting it.
Citrulline gives you the muscle pumps without the stomach discomfort.
Beetroot is another supplement that can boost nitric oxide levels, but again, it doesn’t do it as well as citrulline.
Not directly, but indirectly, yes. After all, pre-workouts are most popular in the bodybuilding community. While pre-workouts won’t help you build muscle like protein powder will, it can help you have better workouts, which in turn can help you hit your fat loss, muscle building, and performance goals.
Whatever your goal is, it starts with better workout performance.
One of the core components of almost every pre-workout are ingredients that boost nitric oxide production. These in turn increase blood flow, which increases pumps. These are called “nitric oxide boosters.” As mentioned, the best one is citrulline. There are other nitrate-heavy ingredients like beetroot, and other “pump serum boosters” like glycerol.
Well, this starts with how you’re handling your life outside of the gym. If you need stimulants to train all of the time, think about how you can look into getting better sleep first.