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Nitric Oxide Vs. Pre-Workout: Which Supplement is Best?

Reviewed by: Jacek Szymanowski (Certified Nutritionist, S&C specialist, M.Sc.Eng. Biotechnology)

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When comparing Nitric Oxide and Pre-Workout, it’s important to note that many pre-workouts contain nitric oxide-boosting ingredients. So, for most people, pre-workouts will provide all the benefits of NO-boosters, along with caffeine and other added ingredients. 

As a result, we recommend high-quality pre-workouts over NO-boosters for most people.

Nitric Oxide Vs. Pre-Workout Nitric Oxide supplements contain ingredients like L-Citrulline, and L-Arginine, designed to boost NO-production and improve performance. Pre-workouts often contain similar ingredients along with caffeine and other ergogenic aids. So, for most people, pre-workouts will be a much more complete supplement.

nitric oxide vs pre-workout

What is Nitric Oxide?

Nitric Oxide (commonly referred to as NO) is a compound that plays many roles in the bloodstream including vasodilation, which leads to increased blood flow and lower blood pressure. This increased blood flow likely improves exercise performance, which is why “Nitric Oxide- boosting” supplements have become so popular. 

These supplements are meant to be used before your workouts to enhance pumps as well as overall performance. 

The two main compounds used in these supplements to boost NO production are L-Arginine and L-Citrulline. Arginine’s effects on NO production and exercise performance are likely to be minimal at best, while L-Citrulline/Citrulline Malate is likely to produce a more significant effect in both these areas. 

What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout is designed to produce similar effects to Nitric Oxide supplements, namely increased exercise performance. This goal is mainly accomplished through high doses of caffeine, as well as additional ingredients like Beta-Alanine, Betaine, and NO-boosters like L-Citrulline. 

preparing pre-workout

As a whole, a high-quality pre-workout supplement will likely produce a much more significant effect on exercise performance when compared to NO-boosters. This is because pre-workouts include many of the benefits of NO-boosters, along with other additional ingredients. 

So, if you’re interested in NO-boosters, we recommend going for a Pre-Workout with Nitric Oxide-boosting ingredients instead. 

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Nitric Oxide vs Pre-Workout

Below we’ll be taking a closer look at the ingredients commonly included in both NO-boosters and Pre-Workouts so you can make a more informed decision when buying a supplement.

NO-BoostersPre-Workout
Common Ingredients– L-Arginine
– L-Citrulline
– Nitrates (Beetroot juice/Extract)
– Caffeine
– Betaine
– Beta-Alanine
– L-Citrulline
StimulationTypically stim-free– Typically 100-300mg of caffeine/serving
– Stim-free pre-workouts available
Taste/FlavorThe flavor of NO-Boosters and Pre-Workouts will typically be similar
Value for MoneyPre-workouts likely provide better value for more complete formulas

1. Ingredient Breakdown

First, we’ll be taking a look at the most common ingredients found in NO-boosters, L-Arginine, and L-Citrulline, although these are often included in pre-workouts as well. We’ll also be looking at Caffeine, Betaine, and Beta-Alanine, which are some of the most common and effective pre-workout ingredients. 

pre-kaged ingredients

• L-Arginine

First is L-Arginine, which has been shown to have minor benefits for exercise performance when taken at high doses. However, most NO-supplements don’t contain high enough amounts of L-Arginine to produce any effects. High doses will likely also cause gastrointestinal discomfort anyways.

This is why we generally don’t recommend the use of L-Arginine as a sports supplement. 

Overall, L-Citrulline has more evidence supporting its use as a sports supplement. L-Arginine tends to get eliminated by bacteria and different enzymes before it reaches the bloodstream. Meanwhile, L-Citrulline is likely much more effective at actually raising plasma levels of L-Arginine, which then leads to increased NO production. 

• L-Citrulline

L-Citrulline on the other hand, is likely the most effective NO boosting ingredient available. 6-8g of Citrulline Malate or 4-5g of L-Citrulline will likely lead to improved exercise performance. We recommend taking a slightly higher daily dose of 9-15g of Citrulline Malate or 6-10g of L-Citrulline for optimal effects on recovery and endurance performance. 

Keep in mind that while you can take L-Citrulline in NO-booster supplements, most effective pre-workout supplements will contain Citrulline as well. Overall, we recommend prioritizing L-Citrulline if you’re looking to get the benefits of increased nitric oxide production from your pre-workout supplement. 

• Caffeine

Caffeine is the main ingredient in most pre-workout supplements and is an ergogenic aid because of its energy-boosting effects. 

While the dose will depend on factors like age and body weight, for most people, something around 200mg of caffeine should do the work. You may want to go milder if you’re more sensitive to caffeine, or stronger if you have a higher tolerance. 

preparing coffee with l-carnitine

We don’t recommend exceeding 400mg of caffeine a day and limiting your intake within several hours before bed to prevent side effects like headaches, jitters, and insomnia. 

• Betaine

Betaine is mainly used to increase force production and endurance performance. Keep in mind that it needs to be taken daily to produce meaningful effects, so it may not be the most beneficial pre-workout ingredient. We recommend at least 1.25g-2.5g of betaine daily. 

• Beta-Alanine

Finally, Beta-Alanine is an ingredient mainly used to reduce fatigue. Similar to Betaine, it needs to be taken daily, so it may not be super beneficial if you’re not taking it every day. 3-6g/day is likely enough for most people to notice significant effects. 

2. Stimulation

Most NO-boosting supplements contain no caffeine and will be completely stim-free. While there are some stim-free pre-workout supplements available, most will contain somewhere between 100-300mg of caffeine per serving. 

3. Taste/Flavor

The taste of NO-boosters and pre-workouts largely comes down to additional sweeteners and flavors added to the formula. As a result, most of these supplements taste fairly similar, although there may be some differences depending on what brand you choose. 

drinking meal replacement shaker

4. Value for Money

In our opinion, because pre-workout supplements offer much more significant effects, they offer much better value for money as well. Especially considering that many pre-workouts contain the NO-boosting ingredient, L-Citrulline, they’re just a better all-around choice. 

Nitric Oxide vs Pre-Workout: Summary

Overall, a high-quality pre-workout supplement will be more effective than a NO-booster in almost every case. Pre-workouts will provide all the same benefits as an NO-booster along with the bonus of caffeine and additional active ingredients. 

Positives:

  • L-Citrulline will likely provide a moderate boost to performance
  • May contain additional effective ingredients like Betaine or Beta-Alanine
  • May be well-suited to those sensitive to caffeine

Could be better:

  • Common NO-boosting ingredients like L-Arginine won’t do much
  • Not ideal for those who want a caffeinated supplement

Pros/Cons of Pre-Workout

Positives:

  • Caffeine is an effective ergogenic aid
  • Combines several effective ingredients like Betaine, Beta-Alanine
  • Will often contain the NO-boosting ingredient L-Citrulline

Could be better:

  • Some people may prefer to avoid caffeinated supplements
  • Some ingredients may not be dosed effectively
Nitric Oxide we Recommend

Transparent Labs Pump

transparent labs pump
  • Form: Powder
  • Best for: High-Intensity Exercise Performance, Training Volume, Enhanced “Pumping” Effect
  • Flavor: Blue Raspberry, Strawberry Lemonade
  • Caffeine: 0mg
  • Special Ingredients: Citrulline Malate, Betaine
  • Package Size: 1.31lbs
  • Serving: 19.8g
  • Price Per Serving: ~$1.67
  • Company Founded: 2012
  • Recommended by AthletesHafthor BjornssonPaul SklarSean Harris

If you do want a high-quality NO-booster supplement, we recommend going with Transparent Labs Pump.

The main ingredient here is L-Citrulline, dosed effectively at 8g per serving, which should produce significant effects. Although you can also expect Arginine Nitrate and L-Glutamine, it’s unlikely either of these ingredients will have a major effect on performance. This supplement does however contain a solid 2.5g dose of Beta-Alanine.

transparent labs pump instagram
Photo by @alexwassom

At ~$1.67 per serving, this is a fairly affordable supplement, with a decent formula. However, you’re likely still better off spending slightly more on a high-quality pre-workout supplement instead. 

Pre-Workout we Recommend

Pre-Kaged Pre-Workout

pre-kaged pre-workout
  • Form: Powder
  • Best For: Overall Exercise Performance, High-Intensity Exercise Performance, Muscular Endurance, Reducing Fatigue, Training Volume, Enhanced “Pumping” Effect
  • Flavors: Pink Lemonade, Fruit Punch, Krisp Apple, Grape, Orange Crush, Cherry Bomb, Berry Blast
  • Caffeine: 274 mg per serving
  • Special Ingredients: Creatine, Beta-Alanine, L-Citrulline, Betaine, BCAA
  • Package Information: 20 servings per container
  • Serving: 27.9-29.6 g (per scoop)
  • Company Founded: 2014
  • Recommended by Athletes: Michael WittigJessica MadisonTawna McCoy

For a high-quality pre-workout formula, we recommend Pre-Kaged

In this formula, you can expect a solid 274mg of caffeine, which is fairly strong. In terms of active ingredients, you’ll also be getting 6.5g of L-Citrulline, 2.5g of Betaine, and 1.6g of Beta-Alanine. It’s worth noting there’s also 1.5g of Creatine HCl, which is less ideal than Creatine Monohydrate, all will not be an effective dose to produce, even with daily use. 

At ~$2.25 per serving, this is more expensive than Transparent Labs Pump, although it will likely produce much more notable effects, making it well worth the money in our opinion!

FAQ

Is Nitric Oxide a Pre-Workout?

NO-boosters are commonly marketed as pre-workout supplements, although they do not have the caffeine included in most standard pre-workout formulas. The inclusion of caffeine along with active ingredients typically makes pre-workouts more complete supplements. 

Should You Take Nitric Oxide Before or After a Workout?

If you’re looking to take a Nitric Oxide booster, we recommend taking it around an hour before your workout to maximize the effects of ingredients like L-Citrulline. 

Can You Take Nitric Oxide With Pre-Workout?

Yes, especially if the supplements have different ingredients, or the doses would only be effective together, it may be beneficial to take NO-boosters and pre-workouts together. Taking NO-boosters along with pre-workout may be a good way to get more effective doses of ingredients like L-Citrulline, Betaine, and Beta-Alanine, without also taking an excessive amount of caffeine. 

However, if you have a high-quality pre-workout supplement with effective doses of all the active ingredients you’re looking for, taking an NO-booster alongside pre-workout is likely pointless. 

Conclusion

Overall, Pre-workouts are likely more effective and complete supplements for boosting performance when compared with NO-boosters. As a result, most people will be better off just taking a high-quality pre-workout. 

With this being said, if you want a solid NO-booster, check out Transparent Labs Pump. For a great pre-workout, consider giving Pre-Kaged a try instead. 

Have you ever tried NO-boosters or pre-workout? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

References:

  1. Amy Richter RD, et. al “5 Ways Nitric Oxide Supplements Boost Your Health and Performance,” Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/nitric-oxide-supplements#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5 (Accessed May 13, 2024)
  2. Aitor Viribay, et. al, “Effects of Arginine Supplementation on Athletic Performance Based on Energy Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” Nutrients, 12(5), 1300; (2020).
  3. Fredrik Tonstad Varvik, et. al, “Acute Effect of Citrulline Malate on Repetition Performance During Strength Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Jul 1;31(4):350-358. (2021).
  4. Gabriel Loureiro Martins, et. al, “Caffeine and Exercise Performance: Possible Directions for Definitive Findings,” Front Sports Act Living.; 2: 574854. (2020).
  5. Apicella, Jenna M., “The Effect of Betaine Supplementation on Performance and Muscle Mechanisms” Master’s Theses. 109 (2011).
  6. Julie Y. Culbertson, “Effects of Beta-Alanine on Muscle Carnosine and Exercise Performance:A Review of the Current Literature” Nutrients. Jan; 2(1): 75–98. (2010).
  7. Photos made by Torokhtiy Media Team.

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Camila Parente Santos

Author: Camila Parente Santos
Sports Nutritionist

Experience: 7 years

Camila has worked as a Nutritionist for 7 years. In addition to being a nutritionist, she is an amateur weightlifting athlete for 2 years. Camila has experience at Flamengo’s football base and in a food supplement company and currently provides services at a clinic. At the moment she is coursing a postgraduate study in Sports Nutrition.

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Jacek Szymanowski

Reviewed by: Jacek Szymanowski

Certified Nutritionist,
M.Sc.Eng. Biotechnology
Performance architect
,
Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Experience: 20 years

With over 30 years of fighting experience, specialization in nutrition coaching for athletes, and expertise in metabolic health and dietary strategies, Jacek offers a comprehensive approach to optimizing your performance and well-being. Backed by a Master of Science degree in Biotechnology, Jacek remains at the forefront of scientific advancements, ensuring that his coaching is always evidence-based and up-to-date.

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