In this article we shall discuss some natural pre-workout alternatives, which would give you your desired energy boost before you proceed with your fitness schedule.
Even though the market is flooded with pre-workout supplements promising hours of energy, it often comes at the cost of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and other harmful chemicals that build up in your body.
Coffee has become the go-to for a “natural” pre-workout boost, but there are plenty of other options to pick from if you are looking for variety or want to be off caffeine.
In this article, we will discuss 9 pre-workout substitutes (including coffee) along with serving suggestions and product recommendations wherever applicable.
But before diving into the details, let us first understand what a pre-workout supplement is.
What is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Pre-workout supplements, natural or artificial, are designed to improve your athletic performance and provide an extra boost during exercise.
These have become quite popular among gym-goers, athletes, bodybuilders, and trainers. Artificial pre workout supplement often contain ingredients like caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids, and nitric oxide agents.
Some pre-workout supplements rely primarily on heavy doses of sugar and caffeine. While a chunk of natural pre-workout supplements may contain caffeine, they will give your body exactly what it needs to bear the brunt of intense training.
A natural pre-workout supplement provides amino acids and other nutrients that maintain your blood sugar, metabolism, and energy levels.
A natural pre-workout substitute also help you build strength and muscle. They not only increase stamina, but also, aid in sustaining serious training beyond just a general workout.
What Nutrients Do You Need Before a Workout?
If you think of your body as a car, it is easy to see how crucial fuel is to get your engine running and be at peak performance. It also shows that you either want to refuel after emptying your tank or add a little more gas before you go so you don’t run out on the road.
At least, that’s how Nancy Clark, R.D., sports dietitian and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook sees it:
“When you put food in your body, it just goes better”
When determining what exactly to eat before you jump into exercise (or a pre workout supplement), consider going for complex carbs first. Glucose is the preferred source of fuel for your brain and body, explains Nora Minno, R.D., a dietitian and trainer with Daily Burn.
“Glucose is a simple sugar, known as a monosaccharide, which can be obtained by consuming a more complex carbohydrate that gets broken down over time into glucose,” she says. These complex carbs could be anything from whole grain bread to fruit.
Also, while protein doesn’t necessarily give you the energy you need to move efficiently pre-workout, eating it before a workout will help to make sure you have enough amino acids to repair the muscle you break down during your workouts, Minno says.
That’s why it’s smart to have some protein mixed in with your pre-workout snack or meal, along with those complex carbs.
Micronutrients like vitamin B12 can help with energy production, and muscle and nerve health, while magnesium can help with muscle function, as well. Consider adding these to your list of must-have nutrients before a workout as well.
Benefits of Consuming a Pre-Workout Supplement
If you have never used a pre-workout product before, the main benefit is that you will have more energy to train, and train with more intensity at that.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, “Results suggest that acute ingestion of a high-energy supplement 10 minutes prior to the onset of a multi-joint resistance training session can augment training volume and increase power performance during the workout.”
While there is still some debate regarding pre-workout supplements, experts explain there is value to fueling up properly before you work out. What you choose as your pre-workout fix comes down to the nutrients you require, how hungry you are, and how long or intense your workout is going to be, says Julie Stefanski, RDN, a sports dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
To determine if you fueled up correctly before a workout, consider how you feel afterward, Stefanski adds. You should be able to finish strong, whether you did a cardio or strength workout. However, if you feel overly exhausted, lightheaded, or mentally foggy by the end of your workout, it’s probably best to reconsider your fuel strategy.
By and large, the benefits provided by a pre-workout supplement, including their positive impact on your health, mood, or athletic performance, is rarely challenged- natural or otherwise.
Now that you know what pre-workout supplements are, and why you would benefit from consuming them, let us move on to the principal thrust of this article- natural pre-workout alternatives.
Recommended: Checkout the article: Do pre-workouts make you gain weight?
Best Natural Pre-Workout Alternatives
Natural pre-workout alternatives are the ones that are healthy for your body and provide essential nutrients, while also providing instant energy. The best natural pre workout alternatives that help you increase focus and energy during the workout are:
- Dried Fruits
- Green Tea and Matcha
- Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
- Peanut Butter
Let’s dive into how each of these pre workout substitutes help you improve focus and energy during training:
Coffee is, of course, the OG pre-workout substitute. No, not the Frappuccino’s and mochaccinos with a million shots of syrup, lots and lots of cream, and heaps of sugar. Opt for real coffee that will give you energy without the calories.
If you enjoy a coffee around 30 minutes before your workout, the caffeine will help to keep fatigue at bay, making it a great natural pre workout drink.
A cup of coffee from a run of the mill coffee machine contains around 100 mg of caffeine, which is sure to give you a boost for some time during light workouts. With that said, the recommended dosage of caffeine for enhanced performance is 200mg. So, a stronger version of it is recommended.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, “Epidemiological and experimental studies have shown positive effects of regular coffee-drinking on various aspects of health, such as psychoactive responses (alertness, mood change), neurological (infant hyperactivity, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases) and metabolic disorders (diabetes, gallstones, liver cirrhosis), and gonad and liver function.”
Not only is coffee a healthy drink, but it is also specifically effective before exercising. The British Journal of Sports Medicine says, “Coffee and decaffeinated coffee plus caffeine have the ability to improve performance during a resistance exercise protocol.”
We would like to recommend the Maud’s Double Caffeine Dark Roast Coffee (X2 Caffeine Coffee), 24ct as one of the best pre-workout alternatives. Solar Energy Produced Recyclable Single Serve Dark Roast Coffee Pods, 100% Arabica Coffee Beans California Roasted. It’s a great pre-workout supplement.
It’s the most powerful caffeine punch with over 200mg of caffeine in just one cup. This dark roast coffee is specially roasted to draw out natural flavors and pronounced acidity.
Packed full with a whopping 13.5 grams of fresh ground coffee in every cup! With 100% Recyclable Double Caffeine Dark Roast Pods, the dark roast coffee pods are made from recyclable plastic materials and feature easy peel tabs to ensure recyclability across the USA.
Serving Suggestion: No more than 400mg, preferably in hot water, no milk or sugar. This is perfect for delivering you your pre-workout energy fix.
2. Dried Fruits
For a convenient and nutrition-packed energy fix ahead of the gym and natural pre-workout alternatives, reach for dried fruits and dehydrated berries.
Dried fruits are a fantastic source of simple carbohydrates and a sugar kick that are easily digestible, making them the perfect, fuss-free pre-workout snack. Additionally, they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants to improve your general health.
Whether you prefer berries, apricots, bananas, dates, or pretty much any fruit, you’ll find a dried and dehydrated version which you can consume pre-workout.
You can try out the Brother’s All-Natural Freeze Dried Fruit Crisps. The product is available in strawberry and banana variants, and is a healthy and natural pre-workout snack and also a great treat for the kids in your household.
The Brother’s All Natural Fruit Crisps are 100% real fruits, peeled, sliced and gently freeze-dried into a light, flavorful chip-like ‘crisp’ – all made with no added sugar or preservatives.
These fruit crisps contain zero fat and sodium, and are only 30 to 80 calories per serving (depending upon the fruit). The fruit crisps are packed with Vitamin C, Potassium, and fiber, and contain simple, wholesome ingredients. This product is gluten-free, preservative-free, soy-free, peanut and tree-nut free, Kosher, non-GMO and vegan.
At a glance, here are the key features that clinch this product for us (and benefits you should consider in alternatives you may want to avail):
- Peanut and Tree Nut-Free
- No additives or preservatives
- No added sugar
- No added sodium
- Healthy and nutritious: 2 fruit servings per bag
Serving Suggestion: Try mixing a handful of the fruit crisps (or any other dried fruit you are using) with yogurt, or overnight oats to make a nutritious pre-workout snack. You can of course munch on them as is, or even combine them with a trail mix.
Oats are packed full of fiber, meaning that they release carbohydrates gradually throughout your workout duration. Thanks to this slow release, your energy levels are kept consistent throughout your workout, allowing you to train for lengthy intervals minus any crash.
Furthermore, oats contain Vitamin B, which helps to convert carbs into energy. For an added boost, top your oats with banana and a generous serving of honey, and you’ll be good to go.
It’s best to consume this natural pre-workout alternative an hour or two prior to your workout so that you don’t turn up with an uncomfortably full belly, but retain the energy the meal offers.
While your local store may be teeming with oats and you can definitely try any for quite similar results, we would like to recommend the Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Rolled Oats.
This gluten-free old fashioned rolled oats make a deliciously hearty, whole grain cereal that gives you lasting energy.
To ensure that these types of oats maintain their gluten-free integrity, it is handled with care in the brand’s dedicated facility. They’re a great way to add dietary fiber to your diet and a wonderful low glycemic load for breakfast, a snack or baking.
Key features that make these Oats great for you:
- Gluten free
- Whole grains and non-GMO
- High Fiber
Serving Suggestion: Mix 50g oats with nut milk to make a nutritious and energizing pre-workout meal. You can also consider making overnight oats, and add dried fruits and nuts to amp up the nutritional value.
Nuts have high-fat content so you’ll want to avoid going overboard. However, they provide ample protein and calories that will boost you ahead of a workout, making them great pre-workout alternatives.
They are also the ultimate mass gaining food. Using a trail mix ahead of a workout is best for those trying to gain muscle mass.
If your goal is weight loss, other natural pre-workout energy boosters may be better suited to you.
We would like to recommend the Yupik Trail Mix, with Almonds, Pineapple, Papaya, Raisins, Sunflower Seeds.
Yupik’s Trail Mix includes nuts, dried fruits, and seeds! This blend combines whole, roasted blanched peanuts, roasted red skin peanuts, almonds, roasted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, dark raisins, and cubed papaya and pineapple.
Nutty and fruity flavors, this mix is also crunchy and chewy in texture; ideal for snacking, topping, or baking applications.
Trail mix is the perfect snack before or after physical and athletic activities- it is nutritious, tasty, and energizing. A bag of trail mix is an open invitation to creativity!
For savory applications, top soups, salads, and grain dishes; or serve alongside cheese platters. If you’re looking for a sweet fix, add your blend to cookies, scones, muffins, granola, and the like.
A few facts about this mix:
- Product of Canada.
- Low in carbohydrates.
- High in fiber, protein, and iron.
- Contains calcium.
Serving Suggestion: Consume a handful, preferably soaked, of this trail mix before your workouts. Or top your overnight oats or smoothies with it!
5. Green Tea and Matcha
Although there is caffeine in green tea, that’s not the only reason we are advising it as a pre-workout. When you consider green tea contains just 15 mg of caffeine, it’s a minuscule amount compared to coffee. However, green tea is packed with antioxidants and minerals that can offer you a significant pre-workout boost.
The main benefit of drinking green tea before a workout compared to other pre workout supplements or other natural pre-workouts is “green tea extract” or ECGC. Green tea extract (GTE) assists with fat oxidation and also assists with energy metabolism.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, “Matcha resulted in lower respiratory exchange ratio and enhanced fat oxidation during a 30-min brisk walk. Matcha green tea drinking can enhance exercise-induced fat oxidation in females”.
A great green tea to try is the Tetley Super Green Tea Matcha: Green Tea with Pure Matcha. Not only is it a supremely well known and well available brand, but it is also amazing value for money.
The new Tetley Super teas are Canada’s first line of teas fortified with vitamins and minerals, crafted to complement an active, balanced lifestyle. Each tea perfectly blends the flavors you’ve come to love from Tetley with health benefits to help you conquer the day.
Features that impressed us:
- Contains added vitamins
- Each cup contains 10% of an adult’s recommended daily intake of manganese.
Spirulina is a form of blue-green algae which is packed full of antioxidants, B-vitamins and trace minerals that are sure to give you a great pre-workout boost.
The best bit? It is relatively inexpensive, natural, and totally safe. This powerhouse comes in powder and tablet form, so you can add it to smoothies and energy drinks or simply take a capsule before your daily workout for a lasting boost of energy.
We would like to recommend the Alovitox Certified Organic Spirulina Powder. It is a nutrient dense superfood packed with antioxidants, proteins, vitamins A and B, Fiber, Omegas 3, 6 and 9. Furthermore it is free from any additives or artificial colourants.
Spirulina is packed with essential nutrients such as proteins, fiber, amino acids, Omegas 3, 6 and 9, GLA, Arginine, Flavonoids, plus significant levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin B complex, Vitamin K and E, and other antioxidant compounds.
This Alovitox Spirulina Powder allows you to enjoy all the powerful health benefits, making it absorb faster and easier on the stomach.
This Spirulina is completely organic and sustainably sourced, alongside being 100% Pure, USDA Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, With No Additives, and Preservatives, Colors or other silly nonsense.
Serving Suggestion: Stir a small spoon of spirulina powder into a glass of water and juice and drink it straight. In fact, you can also mix Spirulina into smoothies, shakes, yogurts and more!
Kombucha is a fermented tea that is loaded with probiotics and antioxidants. It can be sourced easily and has been used as an energy booster for a very long time, which makes it a healthy pre-workout alternative.
While some prefer to make their own Kombucha, it can be quite time-intensive. If you were to opt for a store-bought Kombucha, we would like to recommend the Remedy Raw Organic Kombucha Tea, available in 6 flavours.
You can check out this sparkling and live-cultured drink here.
Here’s what we love about this Kombucha:
- No Sugar, For Real — All the delightful effervescence of your favorite sparkling drink without any of the sugar!
- Remedy live kombucha tea is made using only small batch, long-age brews with organic vegan ingredients.
- Gut-loving live cultures and tasty ingredients with no sugar or alcohol.
8. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water, honey, and lemon, this drink packs the nutritional punch you need to keep going on your strenuous workouts. The probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that this drink packs in should make this a daily go-to.
We would like to recommend the Bragg Live Food Organic Apple Cider Vinegar.
The Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar is made from delicious, healthy, and organically grown apples. It is full of zesty natural goodness. It is a wholesome way to add delicious flavor to salads, veggies, most foods, and even sprinkle over popcorn.
Here’s why we prefer this particular product:
- Unfiltered, unheated, unpasteurized and 5-Percent acidity and contains the amazing Mother of Vinegar
- Processed and bottled in accordance with USDA guidelines
- Made from delicious, healthy organically grown apples
- Naturally supports a healthy immune system, helps control weight, promotes digestion and helps soothe dry throats
Serving suggestion: One capful in a glass of lukewarm water, before your workouts is the perfect way to go. You can also use it as a dressing on salads and pre workout meals.
9. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is the dieticians’ favorite natural pre-workout alternative. It is extremely energizing and great for bulking.
While just a spoonful of it before your workouts should do, you can also make it fancy and more filling by spreading a spoonful over toast, maybe along with a container of low-sugar yogurt with some fresh berries. A peanut butter sandwich is also a convenient and healthy way to go.
While the peanut butter can give you a great dose of protein before you hit the squat rack, the carbohydrates from the bread can raise your energy levels, making you feel more than ready to lift heavy and run faster.
Consuming half a sandwich around twenty to thirty minutes before your workout can help you a great deal, and is also a healthy pre workout alternative.
We recommend the New World Foods Peanut Butter. It is organic, smooth, and unsalted, perfect for a nutritious and energizing snack before workouts.
Here’s why we love this product:
- High iron
- No Sodium
- No Cholesterol
- Made with high quality dry roasted peanuts
- Signature delicious, nutty taste and creamy texture
Serving Suggestion: One to two tablespoons on toasted bread is a no-nonsense way to harness the power of peanut butter. You can of course add it to your smoothies, shakes, or baked goods!
Recommended: If you are looking for a pre-workout to gain weight, checkout Transparent Lab’s Bulk Review.
Pre-workout supplements being sold in the market may show quick results but in the longer run, they stand the possibility of harming you in one way or another. Hence, when it comes to your body, it is best to stick to the natural pre workout alternatives as far as possible, and preserve your health holistically.
As you can see, there are many options for natural alternatives to pre workout supplements, packed with energy from natural products! If you choose to use an all natural pre-workout, you should make sure that it caters to your needs- physical as well as lifestyle.
It is important to remember that nutrition is individual, and pre-workout nutrition will boil down to a ton of different factors including the duration of your workout, the intensity of your workout, the type of workout, environmental factors (like extreme heat), and your own personal preferences and needs.
Also, checkout the best pre workout supplements for weight gain.
As Nora Minno advises, “Find a pre-workout routine that works for you and fits your nutritional goals.”
You can choose to make your own pre-workout supplement using a few of the ingredients from this article or buy one off the shelf- whatever suits your needs and lifestyle the best!
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Rohan Arora is a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutritionist and has been actively involved in sports and fitness for over 8 years. He now leads the team of fitness specialists and personal trainers who help people around the world with personalized workout and nutrition plans, along with providing the right information on sports supplements.