Pre workouts are very popular nowadays, everybody wants to have more energy at the gym and to crush the sets.
However, they may have some negative side effects that you may not be aware of. Some pre-workout supplements may contain high dosages of caffeine and artificial sweeteners.
Some possible negative side effects are: nausea, rapid heartbeats, itching and jitters.
People who have health condition such as hearth diseases and high blood pressure may want to avoid them. As with any supplement, it’s better to consult a specialist before taking them.
But luckily there are healthy natural alternatives which can provide equivalent benefits, without the side effects.
Some natural alternatives to a pre-workout are, herbs and foods, and even a variety of practices such as tai chi, yoga and qi gong.
Healthy Alternatives To Pre Workout Supplements
Below, you can find more details about each alternative and it’s benefits:
Caffeine is one of the best natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements, the main benefits you get from it are improved focus and energy boost.
Coffee has the following effect on your body: it blocks the action of a neurotransmitter called adenosine which is responsible for the feeling of fatigue.
This allows for increases in other neurotransmitters called norepinephrine and dopamine which can improve alertness and focus.
Caffeine has also several positive effects on athletic performance, it improved muscle endurance and strength. Several studies show that coffee can improve your endurance maximum of 11% and muscle strength maximum of 13%.
The release of adrenaline will also be increased which can drastically boost energy throughout workouts.
High-intensity workouts or activities that require a lot of focus like cycling require a lot of focus, coffee can improve concentration and mental focus.
However beneficial caffeine can be for athletic performance it is a double edge sword, high consumption of coffee can lead to negative effects such as making it harder to fall asleep, anxiety, and jitters.
The recommended amount of coffee before a workout is 200-300 mg or the equivalent of two cups of coffee. Just don’t consume it too close to bedtime to avoid sleeping problems.
Overall coffee is a natural choice for a pre-workout, it can improve athletic performance and improve energy, and focus. If consumed at the recommended levels you don’t have to worry about negative side effects.
Carbs are one of the most important macronutrients, and one of our bodies’ main sources of energy and thus essential to consume pre-workout and post-workout.
You may have heard the terms simple and complex carbohydrates.
Some examples of simple carbs are:
- Candy, cakes, and other refined sugar products
- Fruit juice concentrate
Examples of complex carbs:
- Whole grains
Simple carbs release energy quickly when consumed, but they are leading to a sudden high spike in blood sugar levels and then a crash of energy.
Complex carbohydrates are broken down more slowly through your body and they release a more sustained level of energy during intense workouts.
A good meal to eat as a pre-workout would be a bowl of oats with some berries, one hour before you go to the gym. This will assure that you have the required energy for your workout.
Complex carbs such as whole grains, brown rice, and quinoa are healthier and offer you more benefits.
Also, timing is key when consuming complex carbohydrates, when eating too close to a workout you may feel bloated so always make sure to consume your meal at least one hour before your workout.
Just make sure to not overdo it with carbohydrates since consuming too much can lead to weight gain, try to balance your diet with healthy fats and protein.
In conclusion, carbohydrates are an outstanding alternative to a pre-workout, they provide essential nutrients for your diet and fuel you with energy for exercise and throughout the day.
Eating protein before a workout is also a good alternative to a pre-workout, it provides you with the essential amino acids that help you build muscle and recover after intense exercise.
This study shows that protein intake before a workout plays an important role in increasing physical performance and the recovery process.
Some good sources of protein are:
- Chicken breast
And here are some plant-based protein sources
An example of and quick and easy pre-workout meal would be Greek yogurt with fruits and an omelet.
Protein-rich foods also help you control your appetite and prevent eating too much after a workout.
The recommended amount of protein varies for everyone, there is no fixed value. It heavily depends on your activity level, muscle mass, age, and other factors.
Overall protein is also a good alternative to a pre-workout it can help you recover after intense physical activity and grow your muscle even bigger. And most importantly it’s essential in everyone’s diet.
4. Nitric oxide
Nitric oxide is a gas that is naturally occurring in our bodies and has a crucial role in muscle function and blood flow.
You can say that nitric oxide is a vasodilator – it widens and relaxes blood vessels which leads to higher blood flow to the muscles.
The increased blood flow can help drive more nutrients and oxygen to your muscles which boosts workout performance and muscle development.
You can boost your nitric oxide naturally by consuming foods with high levels of nitrates such as:
- Bok choy
A great source of nitrates is beet juice, when consumed as a pre-workout it can boost the blood flow to your muscle thus increasing workout performance.
You can consume the aforementioned foods either as juice or can add them to your favorite meals and eat them as a pre-workout.
Another great way to improve nitric oxide levels is through exercise, doing it frequently can greatly increase its production in your body.
And finally, you can also use nitric oxide supplements but they’re not recommended, there are not enough studies to support their benefits and safety.
It’s better to stick with foods that are high in nitrates and try to hit the gym or exercise often.
In conclusion, nitric oxide is another excellent alternative to a pre-workout supplement.
It increases your workout performance and promotes muscle growth by improving blood flow and delivering more nutrients and oxygen to the muscles.
And you can easily get it by engaging in physical activity frequently or from foods with high nitrates levels.
5. Herbs and adaptogens
Herbs and adaptogens are first of all natural and they’re known to be benefic for overall well-being. They can help improve focus, improve your ability to handle stressors, and increase energy levels.
Here are some examples of herbs and adaptogens:
- Ashwagandha — A popular herb that you may have seen on social media.
It can be excellent as a pre-workout due to its many benefits such as improved recovery after workouts, increases in mental and physical stamina, and decreased anxiety.
Ashwagandha’s key benefit is reducing the level of cortisol – a hormone that is produced when you feel stressed.
This is benefic for workouts because you’ll tend to be more focused during exercise and thus have a better performance.
Another important benefit of Ashwagandha is that it improves strength and muscle mass, according to this study it may be helpful in combination with a resistance training program.
Improved recovery after an intense workout and the ability to decrease muscle damage also makes it great as a pre-workout alternative.
- Ginseng – is another alternative to a pre-workout, studies show that it can improve the body’s production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the main source of energy for muscle contraction during training.
It can also help with recovery after workouts since it has anti-inflammatory properties which can reduce muscle soreness and damage.
Ginseng also is known to improve cognitive functions such as mental focus, clarity, and working memory.
Being focused during an intense workout set is crucial to execute it correctly and finishing it with success.
Overall ginseng may be a great natural alternative to pre-workout supplements. It offers a range of cognitive and physical improvements, without the negative effects of stimulants.
- Rhodiola Rosea – is a medicinal plant that has been used traditionally as an anti-fatigue remedy and as an adaptogen.
Rhodiola’s main benefits are associated with its adaptogenic properties and can include reduced stress and fatigue, as well as improved physical performance.
Studies show that Rhodiola Rosea has a positive effect on sports performance and athletic ability without side effects.
In the paper, the results show that it can also reduce muscle pain and damage after a workout and improve skeletal muscle damage.
Overall Rhodiola Rosea is a great alternative to a pre-workout if you seek a more natural choice.
Also, since it is an adaptogen it can reduce stress and fatigue. Studies show can increase your performance during workouts and can decrease muscle pain and damage after it.
- Cordyceps – is a mushroom that has been used traditionally as medicine in China. It is also an adaptogen and has positive effects on stress and fatigue as well.
Recently studies show that it can also have a positive effect on exercise performance by increasing the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) generation.
It may also Improve how your body uses oxygen, especially during training.
This study shows that subjects who took Cordyceps sinensis improved their oxygen uptake and improved their resistance to fatigue during exercise.
Another study that researched the effects of Cordyceps militaris on high-intensity exercise after 1 to 3 weeks of supplementation, found that participants improved their tolerance to high-intensity training after 3 weeks of taking it.
Cordyceps can be found in many forms including extracts, powders, and capsules, meaning you can easily take it as a pre-workout.
Overall cordyceps is another great natural alternative to a pre-workout, it is an adaptogen so it may have anti-stress and fatigue effects.
Also, studies show that it may also be benefic for exercise performance and can improve performance during high-intensity training.
In conclusion herbs and adaptogens are healthy alternatives to pre-workout supplements, they provide positive effects on exercise performance, have anti-inflammatory proprieties and can reduce stress.
6. Mind body exercises
Like yoga or meditation have proven to be an effective alternative to pre-workout supplements. These exercises can improve your focus, physical performance and reduce stress.
- Yoga has many several benefits that you may take advantage from.
For example, it connects your mind and body through your breath, so you become more present. It will also help you prevent future injuries.
Overtime, intense workouts can lead to imbalances in your muscles and joints. Yoga helps your tendons, muscle and ligaments, through full range of motion movements.
Studies show that it can also reduce the level of cortisol — the hormone produced by stress. Which can also be beneficial for workouts since focus and control is key during your sets.
- Meditation is another great alternative to a pre-workout. It has many benefits including reducing stress and anxiety, improving sleep, enhancing self awareness, and increasing attention span.
There are some forms of meditation which can actually help you build a better understating of yourself and how you interact with those around you.
Meditation can also help you improve your sleep.
A study which investigated 40 adults who had insomnia found out that mindfulness meditation had improved their condition and managed to stay asleep longer.
You’ll also fall asleep easier since meditation can help release tension and relax your body, placing you in a calm state of mind.
Another benefit you can get from mediation is increased attention span.
Which is very useful during workouts, being focused will ensure that you execute correctly the exercises and successfully complete your set.
This review says that mediation can actually help with mind wondering, poor attention and worrying. Doing daily meditation for short periods of time can greatly benefit you.
This study shows that participants who did 13 mins of meditation for 8 weeks improved memory and attention.
- Other mind body exercises such as Tai chi, Qigong and Pilates can help you prepare your body for the upcoming workouts.
Tai chi, for example, is a form of martial arts, which involves deep breathing and slow movements.
Qigong involves a combo of meditation, breathing exercises and movement.
Pilates is an exercise with the main focus on flexibility, body awareness through composed motion and core strength.
Studies have found that these mind body exercises may help lower the stress levels, which in return may improve physical performance.
In conclusion, adding these pre-workout alternatives to your routine has many benefits for both physical performance and mental as well.
Compared to a conventional pre-workout supplement, they have no negative side effects and are easy to adapt them.
The mind body exercises will increase your focus, decrease stress and anxiety, and will improve physical performance.
Consuming whole foods, packed with nutrients, such as complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein will provide you with the needed energy and strength for the upcoming workout.