Pre-workout supplements are the go-to product for enhancing your workouts and making sure you get the most out of your time at the gym. They provide an energy boost, help deliver nutrients to your muscles, and can even help build muscle. However most pre-workouts also contain significant amounts of stimulants and this can mean sleepless nights or dangerous side effects for many people. This section contains the stim-free products.
What's the best stim-free pre workout?
If you're overwhelmed by the selection on this page, then the best place to weed out the winners from the losers is on our Best PreWorkout buyer's guide. On that link, we have provide a section just for the best stim-free pre workouts.
Our guides take your preferences into consideration, while also explaining the science behind the most common ingredients at the bottom of the page.
About the stimulant craze
Pre-workouts with stimulants are so popular because their effects can be felt immediately. When you down a concoction of caffeine, yohimbine, PEA, and some bizarre sounding chemical you've never even heard of, you will quickly feel your heart beat faster, your body temperature rise, and a pleasant or intense sense of drive and motivation, all of which can help you get through your workout.
Many other muscle-building ingredients that will boost your workout, however, do not have effects that are quite so acute or noticeable. Building muscle takes time. Compounds should demonstrate their effectiveness over a period of months -- not via instantaneous increases in mass or strength.
The issue is compounded by supplement companies trying to one-up each other by marketing the craziest stimulant blend in their product. So over time, stimulant doses in pre-workouts have trended further and further upwards, delivering effects that more closely resemble feeling "cracked-out" rather than delivering a natural burst of healthy energy and motivation.
You can significantly enhance your muscle-building, endurance, pump, and focus without consuming stimulants.
Some pre-workouts, for example, contain up to 500mg of caffeine. That's equivalent to five cups of coffee consumed in a matter of seconds!
Now, we're certainly not stimulant haters here. We love our energy blends as much as any other gym goer. but if you're working out at night and don't want your heart pounding into the early morning hours, or you're sensitive to stims, there's some merit to be had for avoiding these stimulants.
Luckily, while they're the majority of what you feel from your pre-workout, you can significantly enhance your muscle-building, endurance, pump, and focus without consuming stimulants. Most non-stimulant workout enhancers are exceptionally well tolerated and do not have some of the more common side effects so often seen with stimulant use. So if you work out at night, or are intolerant of stimulants, products containing some of the ingredients here are great workout enhancers:
Specific amino acids, like L-arginine, L-citrulline, agmatine sulfate, and nitrate-containing compounds, help increase energy by upping the concentration of nitric oxide (NO) in the body. They do this by triggering the cells lining blood vessels to produce more of the naturally occurring gas. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels, promoting vasodilation and the influx of oxygen, nutrients, and water into cells -- including the hard-working muscle cells that need the most help. This action is similar to how prescription nitroglycerin tablets help treat chest pain.
Some nutrients help boost focus. Choline, for example, is used in several chemical reactions in the brain as a component of neurotransmitters. Ensuring that there is enough of this nutrient available can help improve or maintain cognitive function during a workout and delay fatigue.
Other ingredients that help with mental focus include acetyl-L-carnitine and tyrosine.
Some nutrients, like beta-alanine, can help improve endurance. Beta-alanine is the precursor to a compound called carnosine. Increased concentrations of carnosine in muscle tissue has been linked to improved endurance and reduced muscle fatigue in athletes.
Other ingredients that help with endurance include leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
This naturally occurring, nitrogenous organic acid supplies energy to all the cells in your body -- muscle in particular. According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, creatine may increase power and performance in repetitive, high-intensity muscle-building workouts by up to 15%.
Unfortunately, not all pre-workouts contain enough creatine, especially for serious lifters. For that reason, some people take it separately -- in addition to their pre-workout.
While a stim-free supplement won't give you racing thoughts or heart palpitations, too much or too little can still have undesired effects -- or none at all.
Amino acids dosage
The key to upping levels of NO is by supplementing L-arginine. A non-essential amino acid, there is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) or tolerable upper intake (UL) for L-arginine, according to the Mayo Clinic. A therapeutic dosage is from 400mg to 6,000mg. A 1.6g (1,600mg) dose of oral L-arginine each day for three months may improve cognitive function, which includes focus. For exercise performance, the Mayo Clinic reports that 6g (6,000mg) of L-arginine twice a day for 28 days, or 14.2g (1,420mg) daily for six months, may also be helpful.
The body produces small amounts of this essential nutrient and stores it in fat molecules. The adequate intake (AI) for choline is 550mg per day for males over the age of 18 and 425mg for females over the age of 18.
Researchers at Glyndwr University determined that beta-alanine supplementation increases power and strength by some 2,000%, compared to placebo. The smallest amount of the amino acid to provide a benefit is a daily 1.6g dose. Muscle carnosine levels have been seen to increase with 2.4g to 4g per day. Peak beta-alanine blood levels occurs at the 30 to 60-minute mark prior to working out.
According to the Mayo Clinic, 5g of creatine four times a day for five days can increase anaerobic capacity. In 2003, researchers from Charles Sturt University in Australia found that you can improve power and strength by taking 20g of creatine for four days, followed by 5g per day for 66 days -- 90 days in all.
When to take pre-workout supplements
As a rule, the use of any stim-free workout supplement should not change your exercise routine. Consuming them about 30 minutes before your workout will give the ingredients a chance to break down and be absorbed into your bloodstream. Timing is important. Taking a supplement too early before your workout or even too close to your workout, could result in not having enough of the ingredients present in your body to give you the benefits you're looking for. By the same token, some supplements, such as beta-alanine, leaves the body quickly. Splitting your dose and taking it before and after your workout can be more beneficial than taking it once a day.
Stimulant-free pre-workout supplements are available in pill and powder form. One form is not inherently better than another. Some people prefer the convenience of flavor-free pills. Others find that powdered supplements are more palatable -- especially newer ones that come in a variety of flavors.
While stimulant-free products typically don't have the same drawbacks as pre-workouts containing stimulants, it's still important to use caution any time you change your supplement regimen. Always consult your healthcare provider or fitness expert about changes to your diet, exercise, and supplement routines.
Where to buy
PricePlow does not sell vitamins and supplements, but we do scour the market to find the best products at the best prices to save you time and money. Be sure to stop by to compare brands, prices, and quality on everything from your favorite stimulant-free pre-workout to ordinary vitamins, nootropics, and more.
- R.J.C. Brown; "Nitric oxide in our bodies"
- Brain Power; "Choline"
- Van Thienen R, et. al; Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise; "Beta-alanine improves sprint performance in endurance cycling;" April 2009
- Medical News Today; "What is Creatine? What are the Benefits of Creatine?" 2013
- ConsumerLab.com; "Do Nitric Acid Supplements Work?" 2011
- Mayo Clinic; "Arginine: Dosing;" Updated 2012
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University; "Choline;" Updated 2009
- Donovan T, et. al.; International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism; "?-alanine improves punch force and frequency in amateur boxers during a simulated contest;" 2012
- Mayo Clinic; "Creatine: Dosing;" 2012
- Stephen P. Bird; Journal of Sports Science and Medicine; "Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: A Brief Review;" 2003
- Hoffman J, et. al.; International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism "Effect of creatine and beta-alanine supplementation on performance and endocrine responses in strength/power athletes;" 2006.