Last updated: September, 2019
Caffeine is one of the most well-regarded and productive ingredients in any pre-workout. It’s widely associated with positive health outcomes such as weight loss, improved cognitive performance, and even an improvement in exercise performance.
However, caffeine isn’t a great choice for everyone. Caffeine has non-responders and those with hyper-sensitivity, it can be an intolerance for some and a totally ineffective compound for many others. Pre workout with no caffeine faces a set of totally unique challenges but presents an alternative for these individuals.
If you can take caffeine and it fits your schedule/needs, you probably should. However, if you’re unable to take caffeine, you need a pre-workout that provides you with alternatives. Today we’re going to look through some of the most popular caffeine-free pre-workout supplements and give you guidance on what to look for.
- The Beginner’s Buying Guide for Caffeine-Free Pre-Workouts
- Key Ingredients for an Effective Caffeine-Free Pre-Workout
- Popular Pre-Workouts Without Caffeine
- Low-Caffeine Pre-Workout Supplements
- Final Thoughts: Our Picks and Lessons
The Beginner’s Buying Guide for Caffeine-Free Pre-Workouts
Given the importance of a caffeine-free pre-workout not containing caffeine, it’s clear that the main challenge is going to be finding an adequate replacement for this powerful psycho-active compound.
Thus, the most important factor is going to be how well that a pre-workout can be used to provide the benefits associated with Caffeine. These are broken down into a few central benefits that you are going to look for in a pre-workout supplement:
- Improving power output and short-term explosive exercise performance (*)
- Improving focus, cognitive performance, and reaction times (*)
- Boosting mood and wakefulness to ensure a better sense of being “ready” for training (*)
We’re going to discuss some of the most popular choices for non-caffeinated pre-workout supplements. You want to look at crucial things like ingredient choices, dosage, consistently-effective nutrients and similar factors.
One of the best things with an effective no caffeine pre-workout is that they often find innovative and interesting ways to react to the lack of caffeine. So, we’ll be keeping an eye open and will factor in anything that we’re not expecting or anything that seems unusual or extraordinary!
Key Ingredients for an Effective Caffeine-Free Pre-Workout
There are a few key ingredients to look out for when you’re perusing the pre-workout market:
- Creatine is a strength supplement that boosts your power, as well as how long you stay strong for during a workout. It also has a bunch of other effects and is often considered to be a pseudo-vitamin for the all-round health benefits it provides.
- Beta-Alanine is a pure-endurance supplement. It improves your time to exhaustion, as well as how you recover between sets of shorter, higher-intensity exercise like sprinting.
- Citrulline boosts the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscles – this might bring some recovery benefits, but it’s mostly popular because it increases the intensity of the ‘pump’. This is a secondary process in building muscle, so it’s all beneficial.
- Choline and Cholinergic Compounds are nutrients that make up neurotransmitters in the brain. Consuming them provides your body with raw materials for acetylcholine, a key player in mental health, neuromuscular efficiency, and even power output.
- Vitamins and Minerals are cool – and we love seeing supplements that provide these alongside effective pre-workout ingredients – but they’re not a big factor. They can be a bonus to a good PWO supplement, but they should primarily come from your diet, with only vitamins C and a few of the B vitamins being important for workout performance in most people.
- Piperine is a pre-absorption compound extracted from black pepper that increases the effectiveness of other ingredients by boosting the amount that makes it into your bloodstream. This is great for improving the effectiveness of a pre-workout supplement.
- Betaine is an amino acid the maintenance and repair of muscle tissue, with benefits to both physical and cognitive performance.
- Theobromine is a non-caffeine stimulant that plays a similar role in the body but has an overall-milder effect in the doses seen in these pre-workout supplements.
Popular Pre-Workouts Without Caffeine
These are some of the most popular products on the market that are either well-known for their position compared to others, being effective, or simply being popular with the consumer.
1. PumpSurge Caffeine-Free Pre workout
This supplement is a great place to start, as it balances performance-enhancing ingredients with a caffeine alternative in betaine. This is a pro-performance compound that is associated with improvements in brain chemistry in a way that combines and synergizes with choline and other neural-health compounds.
We’re disappointed to see a lack of other important ingredients such as creatine, beta-alanine, and other performance ingredients. However, what this product does beautifully is to handle the mental performance and focus changes with a combination of high-efficacy choline supplementation and the use of Huperzine A.
These compounds are designed to improve mental performance by boosting the amount of Acetylcholine in the brain. This is a huge factor in your nervous system and affects your ability to control muscles, produce force, and even improves mental clarity and awareness. Combined with betaine, they provide a formidable mental focus and performance boost without any stimulants.
Stim-free pre-workout supplements are few and far between for the simple reason that the stimulants provide most of the benefits. This is something that PumpSurge handles well, even if not perfectly.
Beyond this, the choice to use L-Citrulline is a great way to improve your experience of the workout. You’ll experience increased pumps, better nutrient delivery to the muscles and a small boost to your recovery between sets.
2. Genius Pre Workout Powder
Genius absolutely wrecks the market with its fantastic combination of effective, well-dosed and pro-performance ingredients. This caffeine-free pre-workout provides a variety of physical and mental performance boosts in a way that totally avoids caffeine and only uses milder stimulants.
When compared to the previous product, it’s clear that Genius comes with a totally different set of intentions and a more well-rounded approach to pre-workout supplements.
Starting with the physical changes, Genius includes an effective dose of citrulline just like PumpSurge, but also adds beta-alanine for a boost to endurance and fatigue-resistance. This is both psychological and physical, meaning improved performance and the sensation of being stronger and more capable during exercise to exhaustion.
The rest of the ingredients in Genius are all dedicated to improved mental and nervous performance, however. Theobromine is the caffeine alternative, a low-level stimulant with fewer side-effects and less benefits than caffeine – a perfect choice for those with a low tolerance for caffeine.
The combination of a wide variety of ingredients – betaine, tyrosine, Alpha-GPC, Huperzine, and more – are all dedicated to mental focus. This cocktail of pro-brain-power compounds are going to make sure you feel great and have the best possible combination of focus and power without creatine (sadly!) or caffeine.
3. Evlution Nutrition Booster
This product is promoted as specifically being a pump enhancer, rather than a well-rounded pre-workout for performance. This is a trend we’re seeing develop between performance supplements (better for most people) and pump-boosters.
It’s about your individual goals, but the carryover is one way: performance Pre-workout will boost your pump and muscle gains, but a pump enhancer isn’t going to be much use unless you’re looking for a vascular, huge pump.
With a combination of vitamins C and D (irrelevant for these purposes but generally-great as nutrients), the ingredients in this pre-workout start off in a confusing fashion. This continues when this pump-enhancer is actually not going to enhance your pump at all.
The only other ingredients in this product are betaine – a compound that is used for mental performance, but often with synergistic compounds like Huperzine or choline – and glycerol. These are both designed as mental performance aids, but this is specifically labeled a pump enhancer?!
This product doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be – it doesn’t provide any of the common, effective ingredients that we’d want to see in a pump enhancer such as citrulline or even the inferior arginine. This makes no sense as a product and it’s easily out-classed by every other product on this list so far!
4. RSP Pump Boost
This is another pump enhancer supplement, but it does provide some of the actually-effective ingredients.
The main focus of this ingredient comes from two ingredients: citrulline and coconut water extract.
The citrulline in this product is designed to improve the dilation of the veins and improve blood flow throughout the body. This is an effective approach when we look at improving the pump and improving your recovery between sets. This can actually boost muscle gains, but it’s common in other products with better secondary ingredients.
Coconut water is actually synergistic with this set of ingredients, even if it’s not nearly as effective as something like creatine or other actually-beneficial performance-boosters. Coconut water – and its powder – improve the delivery of water and electrolytes to the muscle, keeping performance up and reducing cramping/fatigue on a modest level.
Overall, this is another product that has poor balance and is easily out-classed: citrulline is contained in many other products and isn’t enough to rely on by itself.
5. Six Star Nutrition Workout Booster
This product plain sucks.
We’ve already discussed how various forms of pre-workout vary in their goal, but this one is both the least effective and the least well-defined on this list.
While it may be well-received on the market, it doesn’t actually compare to anything else on this list. There is a simple reason for this: it contains 4 versions of the same, poor-quality, inferior ingredient.
If you’re going to pick a single ingredient to make up your pre-workout supplement, you want it to be effective. Arginine is not this: it’s a less-effective version of citrulline since it breaks down in the body and you’re not likely to see much benefit from one version of this, with 4 versions being a matter of marketing, rather than scientific benefits.
Citrulline is an objectively superior choice for improving your serum arginine (the bit that matters), is widely available from other companies and would be better-purchased by itself than getting this product. Not only does it use an inferior ingredient, it has very low levels of arginine to begin with, and no other ingredients.
To put the icing on the cake, you are actually advised to get past this poor dosing and ineffective ingredients by taking these pills up to 4 times throughout the day. This is a great way to burn through your supply of poor-quality supplements, make no progress, and have to buy more of this product sooner.
Low-Caffeine Pre-Workout Supplements
While there are zero-caffeine pre-workouts listed above, this might not suit everyone. We’re going to cover some additional pre-workouts that are “low caffeine” – enough to avoid any serious problems with tolerance or sensitivity.
These products provide some of the positive benefits associated with a caffeinated pre-workout, with a much smaller dose to ensure that you’re well-prepared for your workout with less risk of side effects or excessive response.
1. ProSupps Jekyll NitroX
This is a great example of what a pre-workout supplement should be – especially one that includes only 100mg of caffeine – less than half of the regular dose.
Jekyll might be lacking the standard dose of caffeine, but it provides a variety of well-balanced ingredients that are going to ensure you’re getting the best possible experience for your money. It provides a balance of the ingredients we’ve mentioned as crucial above.
To start with, the combination of creatine and beta-alanine ensures that you’re getting reliable benefits to performance across the whole spectrum of exercise. This is paired with an effective and predictable pump-boosting matrix including citrulline, a valine adaptation, and others. The citrulline is the crucial aspect here, even if the dose is a little below what pump-specific pre workout on this list may include.
Finally, the mental performance ingredients are both reliable and well-combined. They include cholinergic compounds – like choline bitartrate – and traditional compounds such as caffeine (though in very low dose) and theacrine.
Overall, we’re big fans of this product and the example it sets for a well-balanced product.
2. Cellucor C4 Original
One of the biggest names on the supplement market, with a proven track record of reliable benefits and dosing, C4 is instantly recognizable.
With 150mg of caffeine per serving, well below what we’ve seen in other pre-workouts, though slightly more than Jekyll’s 100mg. This comes with additional benefits, but it may also be a little high for those who are very sensitive to caffeine.
The rest of the ingredients in C4 are predictable and don’t break the mold. While they include effective doses of both creatine and beta-alanine, the rest of the products do very little to commend C4 above others in the field.
For example, the mental performance complex doesn’t include any cholinergic compounds and other mood-adjusting compounds are relatively weak and found in comparable levels in food. We don’t dislike C4, but we do think that there’s a standard that it has set but not improved upon.
A great all-round supplement but lacking a definitive presence on the market or unique value… Read our in-depth review
3. Cobra Labs: The Curse Pre-Workout
The first problem with The Curse is that the most important compounds in the product are hidden behind proprietary blends. This is a common problem, but without values on individual ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine (which are combined, but also very important), it’s hard to say whether doing is effective at all.
The ingredients used in this pre-workout are pretty standard and don’t seek to break into new territory. The physical performance blends, while hidden proprietary blends, are relatively simplistic. The standard combinations of creatine, beta alanine, and citrulline are present. The only other relevant ingredient is L-Arginine – something we’ve shown to be inferior to citrulline!
Finally, the “mind control matrix” – supposed to provide the cognitive performance benefits to the user – is incredibly weak. The caffeine content is 146mg, comparable to C4, but there are no mental performance compounds like tyrosine, choline, Huperzine, or any others.
Overall, this product is uninspired. Despite the branding as a hardcore pre-workout, it falls in the “low-caffeine” category but without providing additional benefits. The effects are likely to be comparable to any other product, but it is easily out-classed by Jekyll, as well as a variety of other products on the market.
Final Thoughts: Our Picks and Lessons
The overall trend of these products is to minimize the amount of caffeine you ingest to ensure that you’re healthy and have options whatever your personal needs and conditions.
For the caffeine-free pre-workout supplements, we’re inclined to split the field into two areas: a performance supplement and a focus supplement. Genius provides the best cognitive performance supplement for those who are already taking creatine or aren’t solely focused on workout performance.
On the other hand, PumpSurge provides a well-rounded product that provides for both your mental and physical needs in a balanced way. It’s not perfect, but of those we’ve looked at today, it provides the best value for money.
When it comes to low-caffeine pre-workouts, we’re inclined to lean towards Jekyll – this is an exemplary approach to providing an effective pre-workout supplement without relying solely on caffeine. The caffeine levels are low enough to be healthy for those with lower tolerances, while the ingredient profile is an outstanding example for all pre-workouts on the market.