When it comes to working out, having enough energy and focus to power through a tough workout session is essential. While pre-workout supplements are a popular option for many gym-goers, they can often be expensive and contain a laundry list of artificial ingredients. If you’re looking for a more natural way to fuel your workouts or simply want to try something different, pre workout alternatives in your daily diet could be the answer.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the best pre workout alternatives that can help you improve your energy, focus, and strength without relying on supplements.
As well as pre workout substitutes that you might want to avoid before your workout.
Let’s dive right in!
What is Pre-Workout
A pre-workout is a type of supplement that is taken before a workout to enhance training performance.
The goal is to increase energy levels, reduce fatigue, and improve overall exercise performance.
There is ample evidence showing that pre-workout supplements can significantly improve strength and power output during workouts (study, study, study). This is largerly due to pre workouts being really good at decreasing fatigue, improving blood flow and optimizing energy release.
As a result, pre workouts are great for those trying to build muscle and strength, beating PRs, and even burning more fat.
So, pre-workouts work, but it’s no magic powder.
It’s all in the ingredients.
Pre Workout Ingredients
The ingredients found in pre-workout supplements can vary greatly from brand to brand.
Commonly you will find beta-alanine, caffeine, arganine, citrulline, and creatine.
Let’s quickly explore some of the scientific benefits of these ingredients.
Caffeine is a potent substance that can enhance both physical and mental performance.
Creatine is a widely used bodybuilding supplement that has gained support from a growing body of research. It is a compound that is synthesized from amino acids and stored in muscle tissue to facilitate short bursts of energy, such as sprinting or weightlifting.
A review paper published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has shown that supplementing with creatine can effectively promote muscle growth, strength, and performance during high-intensity interval training (HIIT)(study).
Beta-alanine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the liver and aids in nerve signal function.
Nitric oxide is a gas that is naturally produced in the body, which helps in increasing blood flow by relaxing blood vessels (source).
This is not to be confused with nitrous oxide, a gas commonly used by dentists to calm patients down.
Nitric oxide is a crucial factor in enhancing blood flow, gas exchange, mitochondria growth and efficiency, as well as muscle contraction (source).
Pre-workout supplements often contain nitric oxide as it promises to boost endurance, workout performance, and strength (source).
So why are we talking about nitric oxide here?
Well because technically nitric oxide cannot be contained in a pre-workout, it’s only available in gas form. So what pre-workouts do is they provide you with nitrates, such as arginine and citruline, which are later converted into nitric oxide.
Is it OK to Workout Without Pre-Workout?
Yes, it is absolutely okay to avoid pre workouts. While pre-workout supplements can be beneficial for some individuals, they are not necessary for a good workout. In fact, many people prefer to avoid pre-workout supplements altogether due to concerns about the ingredients they contain or because of the way they make them feel.
For example, a lot of people are reporting that taking pre workout makes them feel nauseous, dizzy, and itchy. This is potentially due to the dehydration properties of pre-workouts supplements (source).
Beta alanine can also overstimulate nerve cells, causing a tingling sensation (source).
And not many are fans of the pre-workout crash. Myself included.
Ultimately, what works best for your body and your workout routine may be different from what works best for others. Some people find that they have more energy and better performance with pre-workout, while others find that they don’t need them at all.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and do what feels right for you.
And if you don’t feel like you need pre-workout supplements, don’t feel pressured to use them just because others do.
What are pre workout alternatives
While pre workouts are incredibly effective and convenient there are natural alternatives that are just as effective for boosting workout performance, energy, reducing fatigue, and improving muscle growth.
How Can We Substitute Pre Workout Supplements?
We are going to focus on using a combination of macro and micronutrients that are going to help deliver the same benefits.
And adding certain foods to our diet that are going to help deliver the same ingredients that can be found in pre-workouts.
Not everything needs to be consumed. A series of mindfulness techniques have also been shown to aid in workout performance (study).
I will also share a technique that can provide a significantly greater energy boost than any pre-workout brand on the market.
Best Natural Pre Workout Alternatives
The first ingredient on all pre workout lables is caffeine. The problem with most supplements is that they provide you with an exurbant amount of it – most brands offer 150mg to 300mg per serving.
That’s the equivalent of 2 to 4 cups of coffee. And the biggest difference is that you usually tend to sip coffee not just chug it down.
That being said, caffeine is a powerful substance that will help boost workout performance and focus.
Coffee, green tea, black tea or energy drinks are all great sources.
Try and be careful with coffee, though as it may upset your stomach and that is something you definitely want to avoid.
Drink one of these beverages about 30-45 minutes before your workout.
Contary to popular belief, salt actually helps you absorb and retain water (source). Salt doesn’t dehydrate you, it hydrates you.
This is why there are so many people reporting amazing pumps when taking half a teaspoon of salt before their workouts.
While salt is a great pre workout alternative, it’s important to note that it can also raise blood pressure (source). Consult with a medical professional before incorporating salt into your routine.
I’ve seen a lot of people put nuts on their “not before workout” list.
Their justification? They have fats.
I personally think it’s silly to chuck away nuts just because of their fat content. Nuts are packed with a lot of helpful micronutrients which can improve workout performance.
Walnuts are an excellent source of Vitamin B12 – which is helps with the delivery of oxygen to the muscles (source).
Pistachios are rich in Vitamin B6 – which allows your body to produce more energy quicker (source).
And most nuts are a great source of magnesium, which has been shown to improve exercise performance and reducing fatigue (study).
You have to be careful with your meat choice, though. Low fat meats like chicken and turkey are easier to digest than higher-fat meats like pork and beef.
5. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, above 60% cocoa, is rich in flavonoids – compounds that carry a number of health benefits (source). Those same flavonoids have been linked with dark chocolate’s ability of increasing nitric oxide concetration (study).
Dark chocolate is also a source of theobromine – an active chemical with a similar structure to that of caffeine (source). Theobromine can cause a long-lasting boost in energy, improve mood, and enhance focus (source, source).
Honey is not just a great way to add some sweatness to your pre workout, it can also serve as an excellent source of energy.
Studies indicate that consuming honey 30-40 minutes before a workout can better maintain blood glucose levels than other carbohydrate sources (study). This suggests that honey may offer a longer-lasting energy source.
Another study has shown that using honey as a pre-workout can provide the same amount of extra energy as sports gels made from glucose (study).
On top of that, honey is also really good for you. A great source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties (source).
7. Beetroot Juice
Beets are a rich source of nitrates. Drinking beetroot juice before exercising can enhance performance, increase blood and oxygen circulation to fatigued muscles, and improve endurance (source).
This study shows that drinking beetroot juice before a workout improved exercise efficiency by 7% and delayed exercise fatigue by 15% (study).
The outstanding nutritional value of beets is what makes them one of the best pre workout alternatives.They are a valuable source of powerful antioxidants, such as vitamin C, carotenoids, phenolic acids, and flavonoids (source).
I know that beetroot juice is not everyone’s drink of choice, I have a fantastic solution to that in the following section.
Smoothies are a great convenient method to obtain a variety of nutrients at once.
Here is a great example:
Beet & Berry smothie:
- 1 cup of beetroot juice
- 1 ripe banana
- 1 cup of frozen mixed berries
- 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup of almond milk
- 1 tablespoon of honey (optional)
In a single smoothie, we’ve managed to pack two of the pre workout alternatives on the list.
Bananas are also a core ingredient in most smoothies and they are a great source of potassium. Potassium is shown to improve muscle contraction (source).
9. Cold Showers
Cold showers are an incredibly effective pre workout alternative that will delivery a crazy burst of energy.
The cold water exposure sends electrical impulses to your brain, increasing alertness, clarity, and energy levels. It also releases endorphins leading to feelings of well-being and optimism (source).
Cold showers also stimulate you to take deeper breaths, helping you concentrate.
I know that not everyone is a fan of cold showers, but they make workouts feel amazing and are definitely worth trying!
Oh, and the best part? No pre workout crashes!
What to Avoid as a Pre Workout Alternatives
While there are many effective natural alternatives to pre workout supplements, there are also some things you should avoid before a workout. Here are some substances that can hinder your performance:
While these are typically great for overall health, they can sometimes cause digestive discomfort and bloating if consumed too close to a workout.
These can also cause digestive discomfort, particularly if you’re sensitive to them or have a sensitive stomach.
These can cause a quick spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash, which can leave you feeling sluggish and fatigued during your workout.
These can take longer to digest and can sometimes cause feelings of heaviness or sluggishness, particularly if consumed in large quantities.
Fast food may seem like a convenient option before a workout, but it’s important to remember that it’s often high in calories, fat, and sodium. While these may provide a temporary energy boost, they can also lead to sluggishness and reduced athletic performance. It’s best to opt for whole, nutrient-dense foods as pre workout alternatives.
In conclusion, pre-workout supplements can be a useful tool for improving exercise performance, but they are not necessary for a good workout. Many people prefer to avoid pre-workouts due to concerns about the ingredients they contain or because of the way they make them feel.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and do what feels right for you.
Natural pre workout alternatives can be just as effective in boosting energy and reducing fatigue. These include consuming a combination of macro and micronutrients and adding certain foods to your diet that contain the same ingredients found in pre-workouts. Mindfulness techniques can also aid in workout performance.
Ultimately, the key to success in your workout routine is finding what works best for your body and sticking with it.