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It’s only natural that you want to get the most out of your time at the gym. Many people take a pre-workout supplement to help them do just that. Pre-workout supplements typically contain a blend of ingredients ranging from amino acids to caffeine. Many of these ingredients can actually change the way you feel and perform while you’re exercising
What Are the Benefits of a Pre-Workout Supplement?
The benefits of a pre-workout supplement will depend on the specific ingredients, but the most common reasons people turn to them are:
- Increased metabolism
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved endurance
- Increased productivity
- Enhanced athletic ability
- Improved muscle development and repair
- Improved blood flow
- Increased strength during training
- Sharper mental focus
Natural Pre-Workouts VS. Conventional Pre-Workout Supplements
Though the FDA regulates finished dietary supplements and dietary ingredients, it does so under a different set of criteria than that which is used for other drug products. In essence, dietary supplement manufacturers are prohibited from misbranding products or marketing adulterated products. The manufacturing companies themselves are responsible for ensuring that all their products meet FDA regulations.
Most conventional pre-workout supplements are loaded with jittery stimulants, artificial colors, preservatives, and fillers. These can cause a number of side effects, such as:
- Trouble sleeping: Many conventional pre-workout supplements are over-saturated with caffeine. Some have as much as 200-400mg per serving. Granted this will give you energy throughout your workout, but the effects of caffeine can last anywhere from 3-5 hours, which can be a problem if you work out in the evenings.
- Diarrhea: Diarrhea is another unfortunate side effect of some conventional pre-workout supplements. This is typically due to two factors. The first is that some ingredients commonly found in these supplements have a natural laxative effect, particularly if you have a digestive system. This includes ingredients such as taurine, Yohimbe, sodium bicarbonate, and creatine. The second factor is that many people use pre-workout supplements without understanding the effects they have on their body.
- Dehydration: Some conventional pre-workout supplement ingredients have a diuretic effect, which means they cause you to urinate more often. This can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can also cause other symptoms such as headaches. It’s important to drink water regularly before, after, and during your workout.
- High Blood Pressure: All forms of stimulants increase your blood pressure. This can be a problem if you already suffer from hypertension, particularly if you are not aware of it. For this reason, it’s best to consult your physician before you start taking a pre-workout supplement.
- Tingly or prickly skin: This is a common side effect of many pre-workout supplements and can occur in any area of your body or all over. Everyone is unique and so the ingredients in pre-workout supplements can affect individuals in different ways. Tingly or prickly sensations are most common in pre-workout supplements which contain beta-alanine, niacin, or vitamin B3.
The 13 Best Natural Pre-workout Supplements
If you’re looking for a quality alternative to conventional pre-workout formulas, keeps reading. Here are twelve of the best natural pre-workout supplements.
This herb is frequently used in ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine to help the body cope with stress and anxiety and to revitalize the immune system. Studies have shown that ashwagandha has several benefits as a pre-workout supplement.  These include improved muscular development and repair and increases in muscular strength. It is recommended that you take 500-600mg per day prior to a workout for an energy boost.
The beetroot, also known as sugar beet, red beet, or table beet, is the taproot section of the beetroot plant. Beets have a high content of phytonutrients which help to combat inflammation and boost the immune response. Beet taken as juice or powdered form has been shown to enhance athletic performance.  It can also boost your stamina. This is down to the fact that the nitrate in beetroot increases oxygen delivery throughout the body’s tissues, which means you feel less tired when you exercise.  A pre-workout drink of 0.5 liters of beetroot juice up to 2 hours prior to a workout may improve endurance.
Cordyceps militaris is a type of fungus which contains several chemicals which are used widely throughout modern medicine. Medical experts believe that Cordyceps can increase the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body. ATP plays a role in the delivery of energy to the muscles. It may help to increase exercise performance.  The optimal pre-workout dose is not known, though a daily range of 1,000-3,000mg daily has shown effective in trials.
There are several different pre-workout amino acids. These include:
- Betaine: Also known as trimethylglycine, betaine is found in foods such as spinach, beets, and quinoa. One of betaine’s main functions is to help the body burn fat. It also helps to balance fluid levels. As a pre-workout supplement, betaine can help you increase lean muscle mass.  The standard recommended dose is 2,500-6,000mg daily. Lower does of 500mg can be taken throughout the course of the day.
- Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): BCAAs are essential nutrients obtained from dairy products, meat, and legumes. They stimulate the production of protein in the muscles and help reduce muscle damage. As a pre-workout supplement, BCAAs can help with muscle growth and repair.  The recommended dose for BCAAs is 91 mg per pound of body weight. You can also take the supplement every day, not just on days when you workout. This will help support muscle protein synthesis and recovery.
- Essential amino acids (EAAs): EAAs are amino acids your body cannot make by itself. Together, they provide all of the amino acids the body needs to repair muscle tissue, in addition to many other uses throughout the body. There are 8 EAAs in all, including all 3 BCAAs. EAAs are considered to be more efficient and rapidly absorbed compared to other food sources of protein. For this reason, they are a great tool to support efficient muscle recovery before, during, or after exercise. The average recommended dose is between 5 – 10 grams per day.
- Glutamine: Glutamine, or l-glutamine, accounts for almost 61% of muscle inside the human body and plays a vital role in muscle function. The body can produce glutamine, but there is some evidence to suggest that using glutamine as a pre-workout supplement may help increase muscle repair. Daily use of glutamine is recommended for up to six weeks. It is suggested that you start off with a dose of 5 grams per day, which can be gradually increased up to 15 grams per day.
- L-theanine: This amino acid is found naturally in all types of tea leaves, though it is most commonly associated with green tea. It has a very similar structure to l-glutamine. L-theanine promotes the release of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which improves focus, memory, and attention. The fact that l-theanine helps you to relax may sound counterproductive when you’re working out, but when combined with caffeine, it boosts your energy and helps you focus. This is why caffeine and l-theanine are often referred to as “smart caffeine.” The recommended dose of L-Theanine is 100-200mg per day for pre-workout energy.
- Beta-alanine: Beta-alanine is a building block of carnosine, a substance which helps to buffer acid in the muscles. This amino acid helps to fight muscle fatigue caused by a build-up of lactic acid during intense exercise. Taking beta-alanine as a pre-workout supplement may also improve exercise performance, particularly during short bursts of exercise.  Beta-alanine is a common ingredient in many pre-workout supplements, which usually contain 3.2 grams. However, many bodybuilding experts believe that 4 grams per day is a more adequate dose.
- L-citrulline: L-citrulline is produced naturally in the body but taking it as a pre-workout supplement may have a positive impact on your exercise performance.  After it is consumed, this amino acid is converted to arginine, which is then converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes the smooth muscle cells causing an expansion of the blood vessels.  This, in turn, increases blood flow to the body’s cells and tissues, which improves oxygen and nutrient uptake and can increase stamina. To enhance your fitness performance, you should take 6,000 – 8,000 mg of citrulline malate an hour before working out.
- L-Ornithine: L-ornithine is a non-protein amino acid, which means it is not used to create proteins as many other amino acids are. It plays an important role in the urea cycle and helps to reduce blood ammonia concentrations. Ammonia can become elevated during long periods of intense exercise and l-ornithine can help to regulate this. The recommended dose of L-ornithine is 2-6 grams daily.
Green tea as a drink or a supplement is known to have a number of benefits when taken before a workout. It contains antioxidants known as catechins, which boosts the metabolism and can increase stamina during exercise. Green tea may also increase fat burning when used in combination with exercise. This is probably due to the fact that it can help increase the effects of some fat-burning hormones. One of the main antioxidants in green tea is epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which helps to inhibit the production of enzymes which break down noradrenaline. As the enzyme is blocked, levels of norepinephrine increase, helping break down fat. To get the full benefit of green tea, you should take a green tea extract supplement. The recommended dose is 400-500 mg per day.
This supplement is made from an extract of the twigs and roots from a holly tree which is native to the Amazon. In ancient times, many indigenous tribes used it medicinally. Yerba mate is rich in antioxidants and nutrients, even more so than green tea. As well as promoting oxidation, yerba mate boosts energy and improve mental focus. As a pre-workout supplement yerba mate can also improve performance, reduce muscle fatigue, and increase the breakdown of fat.  The recommended dose of yerba mate is 1,000-1,500mg of yerba mate leaf extract per day.
Caffeine is found naturally in coffee and tea. It is well known for its stimulating effect and can make you feel more alert and less tired. It is also a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements and can help to improve certain aspects of exercise performance. It is known to be able to increase strength and power output in many types of exercise, such as weight training, sprinting, and cycling.  Studies have also shown that caffeine can improve performance or long-duration athletic events such as cycling or marathons. Caffeine affects everyone differently, so it is best to start out with 200mg of caffeine one hour before endurance exercise until you figure out how much caffeine is right for you.
BONUS: 3 Natural Post Workout Supplements for Recovery and Repair
Endurance Greens: This pre-workout powder contains natural ingredients including organic ashwagandha root, which can improve athletic performance.  It also contains a combination of berries and pineapple extract which are rich in antioxidants and can combat the negative effects of free radicals which are produced during muscular exercise. Endurance Greens also contains an organic, alkalizing blend of wheatgrass, kale, broccoli, spinach, and celery. This blend of greens can help to improve recovery after intense exercise. This supplement contains no added sugars and no artificial ingredients. The recommended dose is 1 scoop (6 grams). It can be taken at any time of day or around your workouts.
Collagen Peptides plus Whey: This high-quality supplement contains 15 grams of grass-fed whey and 10 grams of collagen for a well-rounded pre-workout. As well as promoting healthy joints, Collagen Peptides Plus Whey can help give you natural energy and support muscle strength. During exercise protein synthesis decreases. It increases immediately after exercise. Taking a collagen supplement can help speed up muscle repair after intense exercise. This supplement is gluten-free, non-GMO, and contains no artificial sweeteners. The recommended daily dose is 2 scoops (36 grams).
Turmeric Curcumin: Curcumin is one of the main constituents of the spice turmeric. Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory agent and as such can protect against free radical damage and aid with post-workout inflammation after an intense workout. It also helps support healthy heart activity. This supplement is gluten-free and non-GMO. The recommended dose is 400mg per day.
If you are considering taking a pre-workout supplement to boost your energy levels, it is important to think about the type of exercise you are undertaking and your goals for the exercise. Many pre-workout supplements will only improve certain aspects of your performance, so you need to prioritize those. For example, some supplements may increase your endurance, while others may boost your strength. Knowing which types of supplements are best for each type of exercise will help you to choose one that works best for you.