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Different Pre-Workout Formulations Explained and How to Choose the Right One For You

Confused about what kind of pre-workout you need? Here’s what to look for based on your training needs 

Choosing the right pre-workout can make a big difference in how hard and long you’re able to push through reps and sets during your training sessions. But with so many pre-workout supplements available at the click of a mouse, figuring out which one(s) will actually help you achieve peak performance requires some mental gymnastics. Are you going for a max pump or want to dial in on your stamina and focus? Should you splurge on a pricey elite formula, or will a budget-friendly option suffice? And is a stim-free option going to be as effective as stim pre-workouts?

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When formulating different pre-workouts, supplement manufacturers, like Kaged, carefully consider which ingredients to include based on different athletes’ needs. After all, a powerlifter heading into a heavy leg day may want a different formulation compared to an athlete who is focused on building their endurance with cardio-focused HIIT sessions or rowing workouts.

To help you navigate the different types of pre-workouts, we looked at some of the common study-backed ingredients found in every kind of pre-workout and broke down what to look for depending on your training needs. 

Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new fitness, nutritional, and/or supplement routine. None of these supplements are meant to treat or cure any disease. If you feel you may be deficient in a particular nutrient or nutrients, please seek out a medical professional.

What Is Pre-Workout?

As the name suggests, a pre-workout is a performance-enhancing supplement meant to be consumed about 30 minutes before you hit the gym. Pre-workouts usually come in a powder mixed into water, but capsules, chews, and pre-mixed drinks are also available. There is no real guideline as to what a pre-workout should or must contain, so the ingredients and dosages can vary widely, depending on the product. (1)(2)

Most pre-workouts contain some combination of caffeine, amino acids, plant extracts, and electrolytes. These active ingredients work to increase energy and endurance, sharpen mental focus, bolster strength, improve power output, and support optimal hydration — factors that can help you get more out of your workout.

Kaged Pre-Workouts
Kaged Pre-Workouts
Kaged Pre-Workouts

Kaged offers a diverse line of pre-workout formulas, including pre's optimized for athletes, regular gymgoers, and the caffeine-adverse. 

Research shows that these multi-ingredient formulations can significantly improve anaerobic peak performance and mean power output. Pre-workouts have also been shown to reduce fatigue, improve alertness, and increase upper body muscular endurance. Pre-workout may also support recovery and muscle growth.

Case in point: In one study, people who consumed a pre-workout before resistance training workout showed more significant gains in muscle mass and lower body strength over eight weeks compared to those who consumed a placebo. (3)(4)(5)

Different Pre-Workouts Available

Most pre-workout supplement brands offer different pre-workout formulations to meet the varied needs of every type of athlete — including beginners and casual exercisers, elite and professional athletes, and competitive powerlifters and bodybuilders.

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You’ll want to choose the formula type that best matches up with the kind of workouts you favor, your training schedule, and your goals. 

Standard Formulations

Most standard pre-workout formulas contain a robust mix of ingredients to address three main goals at the gym: 

  1. Energy and focus. Caffeine offers a quick hit of energy and increases alertness. Most brands also include a few brain-boosting nootropics such as tyrosine and theanine. These amino acids have been shown to sharpen mental focus, improve movement accuracy and endurance, and calm jitters from caffeine. (6)
  2. Pump and power. An athlete’s “pump” refers to the rush of nutrient-rich blood to a certain muscle or muscle group, triggering temporary hypertrophy and increasing muscle strength and power. L-citrulline work to increase pump by raising levels of nitric oxide — a gas that dilates blood vessels to allow oxygen-rich blood to flow more efficiently to muscles. Pre-workouts also typically include other muscle-supporting ingredients such as beta-alanine, betaine anhydrous, BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), and/or creatine, which have shown to improve muscular endurance, increase power output, and aid in muscle repair and growth. (7)(8)
  3. Hydration and recovery. A good pre also includes electrolytes — such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium — which work to maintain optimal fluid levels within cells. That’s key to keeping muscles contracting optimally, staving off fatigue, and supporting recovery. Some formulas also include antioxidants to help combat inflammation and reduce post-exercise muscle soreness. 

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Kaged Pre-Kaged comes fully loaded with 274 milligrams (mg) of caffeine (the equivalent of about three cups of coffee), energizing B vitamins, and focus-enhancing tyrosine. It also boasts six and a half grams of vegan BCAAs, six grams citrulline, and one and a half grams creatine HCL to deliver superior pump, fend off muscle fatigue, and increase muscle gains. Coconut water powder and sodium will keep you hydrated, while 100 milligrams ORAC superfood blend provides anti-inflammatory protection against delayed onset muscle soreness. 

Stim-Free Pre-Workout

Do you have to be bouncing off the walls with energy to get an effective workout? Think again. That’s where stim-free pre-workouts can come in.

What Is Stim-Free Pre-Workout?

Stim-free pre-workouts contain many of the pump-inducing, muscle-supporting, and performance-enhancing ingredients of traditional pre-workouts but without the stimulants. In almost every case, this means the stim-free version is a caffeine-free version.

Stim-free varieties allow gym-goers who prefer to train at night or are sensitive to caffeine to get all of the fantastic performance-enhancing benefits of a pre-workout supplement without caffeine. Research has shown that pre-workouts without caffeine still improve maximal force production and may improve muscle gains. (9)

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Pre-Kaged Stim-Free comes with all of the pump- and power-supporting ingredients in the OG Pre-Kaged with Pre-Kaged Stimulant Free – Best Non-Stimulant Pre-Workout, one of the caffeine. Enjoy a scoop of this powerful supplement before an evening workout, and it will not only give you increased strength and stamina to power through your sweat session — the antioxidant ORAC superfood blend, creatine, and BCAAs will help to support your recovery and work to repair and rebuild muscle tissue overnight while you sleep. 

Athlete-Centric Pre-Workout

Professional athletes, top-tier bodybuilders, and powerlifters push harder at the gym — and they need a pre-workout that works as hard as they do. To meet their need, supplement brands develop athlete-centered formulas that turn the dial-up on the active ingredients — doubling down on caffeine, amping up the dosage of nitric oxide-boosters like citrulline and beta-alanine, and incorporating additional muscle-supporting nutrients.

Two favorites: 1) L-carnitine, a compound that ferries fatty acids and other fuel to muscle cells to be burned for energy, increasing endurance and power. 2) Alpha glyceryl phosphoryl choline (alpha-GPC). This powerful nootropic stimulates the release of the focus-enhancing brain chemical acetylcholine, which can help you level up your force development, balance, hand-eye coordination, and agility. (10)(11

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Containing 20 clinically-dosed ingredients (including 338mg of caffeine, double the vitamin B12, two types of creatine, and 10,000mg of citrulline), Pre-Kaged Elite is the formula you need to take your workout to new heights. The addition of carnitine (as Carnipure), Alpha GPC, and ElevATP (an antioxidant that increases levels of the fuel molecule ATP in cells) support maximum power, strength, and endurance to help you reach your goals faster. 

Starter/Budget Pre-Workout

Athletes just getting started with a training program or people who want some light energy support for their workout don’t necessarily need the heightened levels of caffeine, BCAAs, and creatine in a standard pre-workout — and opting for a more mild formula can also be beneficial to the wallet.



Most sports pre-workouts are more budget-friendly, developed to provide lower doses of caffeine alongside energizing B vitamins and hydration-supporting electrolytes at a cost-effective price. For extra oomph to power you through tough resistance training workouts, look for formulas that include some muscle-fueling ingredients, such as l-citrulline, beta-alanine, and betaine anhydrous. 

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With 188mg of caffeine (about two cups of coffee), 50mg of vitamin B6, and 42mg of vitamin B12, Pre-Kaged Sport delivers moderate energy to get you pumped for any workout. Combining electrolytes (20mg magnesium and 50mg sodium) and 500mg coconut water powder provide superior hydration support to push you over the finish line. This formula also packs a punch in power and strength support with three and a half grams of l-citrulline, 1.6 grams beta-alanine, and 1.25 grams betaine anhydrous — nearly the exact muscle-fueling dosages found in the standard formulation. 

The Bottom Line: Pre-Workouts Improve Your Workouts 

No matter what formula you choose, supplementing with the right pre-workout can help you push harder and longer — and achieve bigger gains faster. If more than one type appeals to you, feel free to mix and match to meet your specific needs.

Kaged Pre-Workouts
Kaged Pre-Workouts
Kaged Pre-Workouts

Kaged offers a diverse line of pre-workout formulas, including pre's optimized for athletes, regular gymgoers, and the caffeine-adverse. 

Many athletes keep multiple formulas on hand to switch between depending on their workouts — for instance, if OG is your go-to, maybe you keep Sport for active recovery days or a stim-free version for the occasional evening workout. 


  1. Jagim AR, Harty PS, Camic CL. Common Ingredient Profiles of Multi-Ingredient Pre-Workout Supplements. Nutrients. 2019 Jan 24;11(2):254. doi: 10.3390/nu11020254.
  2. Harty PS, Zabriskie HA, Erickson JL, Molling PE, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Aug 8;15(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0247-6.
  3. Martinez N, Campbell B, Franek M, Buchanan L, Colquhoun R. The effect of acute pre-workout supplementation on power and strength performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016 Jul 16;13:29. doi: 10.1186/s12970-016-0138-7. 
  4. Jagim AR, Jones MT, Wright GA, St Antoine C, Kovacs A, Oliver JM. The acute effects of multi-ingredient pre-workout ingestion on strength performance, lower body power, and anaerobic capacity. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016 Mar 8;13:11. doi: 10.1186/s12970-016-0122-2.
  5. Outlaw JJ, Wilborn CD, Smith-Ryan AE, Hayward SE, Urbina SL, Taylor LW, Foster CA. Acute effects of a commercially-available pre-workout supplement on markers of training: a double-blind study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Aug 15;11:40. doi: 10.1186/s12970-014-0040-0. 
  6. Zaragoza J, Tinsley G, Urbina S, Villa K, Santos E, Juaneza A, Tinnin M, Davidson C, Mitmesser S, Zhang Z, Taylor L. Effects of acute caffeine, theanine and tyrosine supplementation on mental and physical performance in athletes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2019 Nov 26;16(1):56. doi: 10.1186/s12970-019-0326-3.
  7. Gonzalez AM, Trexler ET. Effects of Citrulline Supplementation on Exercise Performance in Humans: A Review of the Current Literature. J Strength Cond Res. 2020 May;34(5):1480-1495. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003426.
  8. Hobson RM, Saunders B, Ball G, Harris RC, Sale C. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012 Jul;43(1):25-37. doi: 10.1007/s00726-011-1200-z.
  9. Stratton MT, Siedler MR, Harty PS, Rodriguez C, Boykin JR, Green JJ, Keith DS, White SJ, DeHaven B, Williams AD, Tinsley GM. The influence of caffeinated and non-caffeinated multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements on resistance exercise performance and subjective outcomes. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2022 Apr 4;19(1):126-149. doi: 10.1080/15502783.2022.2060048. 
  10. Koozehchian MS, Daneshfar A, Fallah E, Agha-Alinejad H, Samadi M, Kaviani M, Kaveh B M, Jung YP, Sablouei MH, Moradi N, Earnest CP, Chandler TJ, Kreider RB. Effects of nine weeks L-Carnitine supplementation on exercise performance, anaerobic power, and exercise-induced oxidative stress in resistance-trained males. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2018 Dec 31;22(4):7-19. doi: 10.20463/jenb.2018.0026.
  11.  Parker AG, Byars A, Purpura M, Jäger R. The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Sep 21;12(Suppl 1):P41. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-12-S1-P41.