Take a look at the label of most pre-workouts and you'll find they contain some form of caffeine or other stimulants. But many lifters find they don't want or need caffeine for every workout. Sound familiar? Maybe you just want to take a so-called "stim break," or you train late at night and want to get a good night's sleep afterward.
Whatever the reason, you've got choices! There's been a recent spike in the popularity of caffeine-free pre-workout products that can help maintain workout endurance, focus, and even support recovery—all without the buzz. Here are four of the best non-stim pre-workout ingredients to power your training.
1. Citrulline Malate
Citrulline is a heavy hitter in the most popular caffeinated pre-workouts, but also in stimulant-free pre-workouts like Kaged Muscle's Stim-Free Pre-Kaged and BSN's Nitrix 2.0, and for good reason. Your body converts the amino acid citrulline to arginine, which boosts nitric oxide and dilates your blood vessels to get more blood flowing to your muscles. More blood flow means more nutrient delivery, less workout fatigue, and better pumps!
Multiple studies have reported that people who consume 8 grams of citrulline malate one hour before exercise can perform more reps than people taking just a placebo. But it's not just about more reps. A study of masters tennis players found that citrulline malate significantly enhanced their hand-grip strength, as well as their peak anaerobic and explosive power (as measured by a 30-second, all-out cycling test).*
Supplement researcher and natural bodybuilder Adam Gonzalez, Ph.D., recommends 6-8 grams of citrulline before training. Citrulline is most effective when taken daily, so consider taking it on its own in addition to what you get from a non-stim pre-workout.
Theacrine, more commonly seen on labels as the patented version TeaCrine, is a natural compound which is derived from caffeine. But this neuroactive supplement doesn't behave like caffeine. Think of theacrine as a modified version of caffeine: You can get the same kind of performance benefits, but without the jitters and post-workout crash that often comes with caffeine.*
A 2017 study showed that a single 200-milligram dose of theacrine had a positive impact on energy levels, fatigue rates, and concentration, when compared to the same dose of a placebo. Also, prolonged theacrine use can give you the same kind of benefits you get from caffeine without the habit-forming effects.*
The best stim-free pre-workouts give endurance, focus, and muscle pumps, all without caffeine.
3. Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha-GPC)
Alpha-GPC is another newcomer to the world of performance-enhancing supplements, but is quickly building a reputation as a "secret weapon" in the best new pre-workouts. It seems to improve strength and power performance primarily by increasing production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a chemical that neurons release to activate muscles.
One study found that a single 600-milligram dose of alpha-GPC taken 90 minutes prior to exercise significantly elevated growth-hormone release and increased peak bench-press power. Another study found that while a single dose given one hour before exercise had no effect on the subjects' lower-body force production in a single workout, significant improvements were seen after six days of supplementation.*
Betaine is a common ingredient in both stimulant and non-stimulant pre-workouts. It's also a longtime favorite of muscle-building expert Jim Stoppani, Ph.D, who advises taking it both pre-and post-training to maximize workout performance, recovery, and overall and muscle and strength gains.
Participants in a 2009 study who took 1.25 grams of betaine per day for 14 days were able to complete more reps and delay fatigue during high-intensity exercise compared to a placebo group. A second study among resistance-trained men showed that two weeks of betaine supplementation significantly increased their vertical-jump power and isometric squat force. Betaine supplementation has also been shown to improve average and peak power during repeated bike sprints.*
Unlike taking supplements that can have immediate effects on performance, you need to supplement with betaine for around two weeks before you start seeing any noticeable improvements in your strength. You can take it on its own, in a stimulant-free pre-workout like EVL Nutrition PumpMode, or in many popular post-workout amino acid blends.
Kick-start your recovery while you're still lifting with aminos, electrolytes, and other proven performance boosters.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.