Pump vs Pre-Workout: Differences, Pros, Cons

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With “pump” products and “pre-workout” products having similar claims, you may be wondering what the difference is between the products and which one is best. 

Pump products focus on vasodilators that may improve blood flow to working muscles, while pre-workout products often contain stimulants and other performance-enhancing ingredients, that may or may not include vasodilators.

To keep you from wasting your time and money on supplements, I’ll break down the main differences between the two, let you know which supplement is best based on your goals, and share my top picks.

Key Takeaways

  • Most pump products do not contain stimulants (check labels to be sure though), so they are a great choice if you want to avoid stimulants but take advantage of the benefits that come from “improved blood flow”.
  • You can get the best of both worlds by finding products that contain pump-promoting ingredients along with other common pre-workout ingredients, like caffeine and beta-alanine.
  • Making your own pre-workout is the best way to tailor your supplement to your needs and preferences and to get the exact doses of ingredients to support your goals.

3 Key Differences Between Pump vs Pre-Workout

The three main differences between pump and pre-workout products are:

1. Whether They Contain Stimulants

One of the primary ingredients in most traditional pre-workout products is one or more stimulants (usually caffeine) unless the product is specifically labeled as “stim-free” (stimulant-free).

2. The Degree To Which They Promote Vasodilators

Pump products specifically focus on combining ingredients that have been studied to assist with vasodilation (that is, widening of the blood vessels), which helps blood flow to the working muscles more easily.

The idea is that increased blood flow to muscles during exercise means more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles, which results in better overall performance and enhanced pump. 

More nutrients and more oxygen mean more fuel, and increase the time to fatigue, both of which increase performance and pump.

According to Certified Nutrition Coach, Amanda Parker:

“Pump” refers to swelling of the muscles caused by a fluid build-up in your muscles (water & blood) while training.

Pre-workout products may or may not contain ingredients that cause pump (it depends on the brand & formula).

3. Whether They Contain Other Ingredients

Pre-workout products are more likely to contain a host of other ingredients, such as vitamins & minerals, food extracts, and anything else that has a link with improved athletic performance.

Pump products are less likely to contain these “extras” and mainly focus on vasodilators.

Pump Products: Pros, Cons, & Who Should Use It?

Pump products are supplements referred to as “nitric oxide precursors” because they promote the production of nitric oxide, a vasodilator that relaxes blood vessels, enabling higher blood volume in the muscle.

The Connection Between Pump & Muscle Building

The term “pump” in the context of muscle growth refers to the temporary swelling of muscles during or after intense exercise.

When you perform resistance exercises, your muscles contract forcefully, squeezing the blood vessels that supply them. This constriction momentarily restricts blood flow to the muscles.

However, during rest periods between sets or after completing a workout, the blood vessels dilate (vasodilation), allowing a rush of blood to flow back into the muscles.

This increased blood flow brings with it essential nutrients, oxygen, and hormones necessary for muscle repair and growth. As a result, the muscles become engorged with blood, leading to a sensation of fullness and tightness, commonly known as the “pump.”

While the pump itself is a temporary physiological response, it is often associated with the process of muscle hypertrophy. The repeated occurrence of pumps over time, coupled with proper training and nutrition, can stimulate muscle adaptation and growth.

The increased blood volume and nutrient delivery to the muscles during the pump create an environment conducive to muscle protein synthesis, leading to an increase in muscle size over time.

Ingredients In Pump Products

Some of the ingredients that boost or support nitric oxide include:

Some people also suggest that creatine can lead to better muscle pumps.

While creatine doesn’t directly boost blood flow, it serves as a vital component for producing ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the body’s primary source of energy.

By using creatine, individuals can lift heavier weights, do more sets and reps, and potentially achieve more significant muscle pumps through intense workouts.

Pros Of Pump Products

Pros vs Cons of Pump Products


Ingredients that improve pump are also ingredients that improve performance, so it’s not a matter of choosing one over the other.


For users who are sensitive to caffeine, either because of their genetics or because they train late at night, pump products can enhance their workout without leading to jitteriness or disrupted sleep.

Cons Of Pump Products

No Energy Provided

While being stimulant-free is a pro, this is also a con depending on the use case. Some users are looking for a product with stimulants like caffeine to reduce the perception of fatigue and improve mental focus during hard workouts.


there is currently little scientific evidence to support anecdotal claims that muscle-pump supplements actually work.

According to Richard Bloomer, PhD, the Dean of the Department of Health & Sport Science at the University of Memphis:

Several dietary supplements, including pump products, rely on borrowed research and paid endorsements rather than conducting rigorous studies to support their product claims.

In addition, Bloomer says that many nitric oxide boosting products don’t have clinical doses of effective ingredients.

In other words, products contain far less than the amount of effective ingredients required to achieve a performance-enhancing benefit.

Who It’s Best For

Pump products are best for lifters who are primarily interested in hypertrophy, meaning their goal is to grow bigger muscles above all else. 

People interested in hypertrophy are typically those doing bodybuilding-style training or competing in bodybuilding.  Pump products specifically cater to these goals above anything else.

However, not every athlete or exerciser wants bigger muscles so a pump product isn’t for everyone.

Those who participate or compete in sports that require you to gain as much strength as possible while remaining as small as possible, such as rock climbers, gymnasts, weightlifters, and fighters likely wouldn’t benefit as much from a pump product.

Pre-Workout: Pros, Cons, & Who Should Use It?

Pre-workout supplements are often blends or “stacks” of different ingredients that have been studied to support performance.  

Sometimes, the term “pre-workout” is broadly used to describe any stimulant intended to reduce perceived effort, leading to the use of coffee or energy drinks like Bang, Monster or Red Bull instead of traditional pre-workout supplements. 

However, pre-workout supplements should contain ingredients beyond stimulants that also help increase strength, delay fatigue, and improve endurance. Depending on the specific blend, the outcome might favor one, or all of these outcomes.

Pre Workout Ingredients

Some common pre-workout ingredients include:

  • Creatine: naturally appears in pre-workout for the same reason it appears in pump products; it allows people to train more intensely, leading to better results from workouts.
  • Beta alanine: an amino acid involved in the production of carnosine. Carnosine helps to buffer acid in the cells, increasing the time to fatigue in high-intensity exercise.

Curious to know what some of these ingredients are? Check out our Complete Guide to Pre-Workout Ingredients where we explain 27+ different ingredients found in pre-workouts.

Pros Of Pre-Workout Products

Pros vs Cons of Pre-Workout Products

Synergistic Effects

Different pre-workout ingredients boost performance in different ways, so taking them together in a “stack” can have a more potent effect and produce better results than taking just one ingredient or the other.


Pre-workout products save you the time and hassle of buying and measuring multiple ingredients.  It’s “one and done” with just one serving to give you what you need.

Cons Of Pre-Workout Products

Inadequate Doses

Many of the ingredients in a standard serving of pre-workout are present in amounts that are less than the clinically effective dose (the amount that has been proven in studies to actually provide benefits).

Risk of Banned Substances

supplement labels are not regulated by the USFDA, therefore there is a risk that pre-workout blends could include ingredients that aren’t listed on the label, and may not be safe or allowable for use in your country.

This same risk exists with pump products, but it is more common with pre-workouts because they often “hide” ingredients in their “proprietary blend” stated on the label.

To avoid this, it’s important to look for pre-workout products that are third-party tested and certified (this will be advertised on the label).

Proprietary Blends

Supplement companies often use proprietary blends as a way to protect their formulas or recipes from being replicated by competitors.

A proprietary blend is a mixture of ingredients in which the specific amounts of each ingredient are not disclosed on the product label. Instead, only the total weight of the blend is provided, along with a list of the ingredients contained within it.

Since the specific amounts of ingredients are not disclosed, consumers are unable to determine the potency or effectiveness of individual components within the blend. This makes it challenging to assess the true value or potential side effects associated with the product.

Who It’s Best For

Pre-workout comes in so many different formulations that it’s essentially an “every person” product.

It can be used for weight loss, muscle gain, or performance improvement.

Unless you are a physique competitor looking for increased vascularity above all else (and wanting to avoid stimulants), I’d recommend pre-workout to any adult involved in strength training or regular, moderate-vigorous exercise. 

Note: I don’t recommend pre-workout for teenagers.

Since there are so many different products with different combinations of ingredients, you could also consider making your own pre-workout so that you get only the ingredients you want, in the doses that you want.

If that seems like something you’d want to do, check out my article on DIY Pre-Workout on how to make your own.

Otherwise, if you want to save time and don’t want to go through the hassle of buying individual ingredients and measuring them out, check out my recommendations for the best pump and pre-workout products below.

Pump Product: Recommendations

Here are my top recommendations for those interested in pump products:

Kaged Elite: Stimulant-Based Pump Product

Kaged Elite Pre-Workout blurs the lines between traditional stimulant-free “pump-only” products and pre-workouts, but it’s a serious contender because a full serving contains the recommended clinically effective dose of over half a dozen performance-boosting ingredients, including 10 grams of L-citrulline, 5 grams of creatine, and 2.5 grams of betaine.  

Pre-Kaged Elite

It does, however, have 388 mg of caffeine per serving, which approaches the upper limit of 400 mg (more than this is considered unsafe) and may not be appropriate for people who are sensitive to caffeine.

Our in-house supplement tester wrote a detailed review of Kaged Elite here.

PE Science: Stimulant-Free Pump Product

PEScience High Volume Supreme Nitric Oxide Matrix is a caffeine-free product that has both 4 grams of L-citrulline and 2 grams of arginine nitrate per serving. 

This is less than half of the 10 grams of L-citrulline in the Kaged product, but a serving of this product is only 14 grams, whereas the Kaged serving size is a whopping 35 grams (more than a scoop of protein powder).

Since it’s caffeine-free, you could safely double the dose to get 8 grams of L-citrulline with no adverse effects.

Pre-Workout: Recommendations

Transparent Labs Bulk: Stimulant-Based Pre-Workout

Transparent Labs Bulk

Transparent Labs Bulk Advanced Pre-Training Formula is a top-ranked product from our pre-workout reviews, has 180 mg caffeine anhydrous, 50 mg theobromine, 4 grams BCAAs, 4 grams beta-alanine, and 6 grams of citrulline malate (read our full Transparent Labs Bulk review), giving you a perfect mix of performance-enhancing products at clinical doses.

Swolverine: Stimulant-Free Pre-Workout

Swolverine Advanced Pre-Workout Formula is great for those looking for a non-stim pre-workout that still has performance-enhancing benefits. This blend serves up clinical doses of citrulline malate (5 grams) and beta alanine (3.2 grams). Read our full Swolverine Pre-Workout review).

Other Pre Workout Comparisons

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the potential side effects of using pump and pre-workout supplements?

Pump supplements can cause bloating and stomach discomfort due to the high amounts of amino acids. Pre-workout supplements, especially those with caffeine, can lead to jitteriness, insomnia, and increased heart rate. Always consult your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen.

How should I time the intake of my pump or pre-workout supplement for optimal results?

Take pump supplements 30 minutes before your workout to allow for increased blood flow during exercise. Pre-workout supplements should also be taken 30 minutes prior to exercise for optimal energy and focus.

Can I combine pump and pre-workout supplements, or should they be taken separately?

If you’re seeking the benefits of both pump and pre-workout supplements, it’s more effective and convenient to find a single product that contains ingredients for both. This way, you can enjoy the benefits of improved blood flow and increased energy without the need to manage and mix two separate products.

What To Read Next


Maiorana, A., O’Driscoll, G., Taylor, R. et al. Exercise and the Nitric Oxide Vasodilator System. Sports Med 33, 1013–1035 (2003). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200333140-00001

Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z

Flam, B. R., Eichler, D. C., Solomonson, L. P. (2007). Endothelial nitric oxide production is tightly coupled to the citrulline–NO cycle. Nitric Oxide, 17(3–4), 115-121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.niox.2007.07.001

Bloomer, Richard J PhD, CSCS. Nitric Oxide Supplements for Sports. Strength and Conditioning Journal 32(2):p 14-20, April 2010. | DOI: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3181bdaf89

Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2008). Effect of caffeine on the neuromuscular system — potential as an ergogenic aid. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1139/H08-121

MacLean DA, Graham TE, Saltin B. Branched-chain amino acids augment ammonia metabolism while attenuating protein breakdown during exercise. Am J Physiol. 1994 Dec;267(6 Pt 1):E1010-22. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.1994.267.6.E1010. PMID: 7810616.

About The Author

Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing. 

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I’ve Tested 28+ Pre-Workouts, Here’s My #1 Pick


  • Proven Doses: Ingredients Dosed To Clinical Standards
  • Great Value: 17% Cheaper Than Other Similar Formulas
  • Well-Rounded: Excellent for Pump, Energy, & Strength


  • Proven Doses: Ingredients Dosed To Clinical Standards
  • Great Value: 17% Cheaper Than Other Simliar Formulas
  • Well-Rounded: Excellent for Pump, Energy, & Strength

Read my review