Let’s start by exploring what exactly a pre-workout supplement is.
What is a pre-workout supplement?
At its core, a pre-workout supplement is formulated to provide an extra burst of energy that can help you to power through your workout routine. This is achieved by consuming a product that has a range of specifically selected ingredients that have been proven to not only provide energy, but to help prolong muscular endurance and even provide glorious muscle pumps.
A pre-workout supplement should - as the name suggests - be taken prior to beginning your workout, roughly 20 - 30 minutes before. The serving size of a pre-workout supplement can vary massively, typically anywhere between 5g, right the way up to 20g!
We’ve produced a guide on all things pre-workout, check it out.
What's included in pre-workout supplements?
A complete pre-workout supplement should include ingredients that will help with energy, mental focus, muscular endurance and muscle pumps. It is best to research the ingredients that are in your pre-workout to understand their purpose and the quantities of these should be within the recommended dosages.
Popular ingredients that are often found in pre-workout supplements include:
- Citrulline malate
- B vitamins
You can read more about these and the benefits they provide in our pre-workouts 101 blog.
Natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements
Now that we’ve spoken about pre-workout supplements and the benefits that they can provide, let’s explore some of the natural alternatives that you could choose to consume instead of a pre-workout in supplement form.
As the main objective for taking pre-workout supplements would be to provide energy, this can also be achieved by consuming natural foods. However, you would need to play around with the amount you’re consuming prior to your workout to see which works best for you.
So without further ado, let’s explore five natural alternatives to pre-workout supplements.
A very obvious choice due the caffeine content associated with coffee. A cup of coffee can contain anywhere from 50 - 80mg of caffeine and this is down to the brewing method used, the type of coffee bean and overall, the amount you actually choose to consume.
So caffeine, in a natural form coming from coffee can increase energy levels, help with focus and reduce fatigue.
The amount of coffee you choose to consume is really dependent on your tolerance to caffeine level. If you’re quite sensitive to caffeine, then it’d be recommended to consume a small amount of coffee or skip it altogether if you wish! Whereas if you’re not sensitive to caffeine, then you can choose to consume a larger amount, usually a double espresso should do the trick!
Fruit can be a great, natural alternative to consuming a pre-workout supplement.
They are a great choice of simple carbohydrates that are easily digested and easily found too! In addition to providing carbohydrates, fruits also contain a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants… all of which are critical for optimal gym performance.
Consuming carbohydrates before a workout can help to fuel your session, especially if they are coming from natural, whole food sources as they can help to maintain blood sugar levels which is important in preventing fatigue and helping to sustain energy levels during your workouts.
Fruits also contain a range of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals which again, are essential when it comes to optimising your gym performance. Vitamins and minerals that are easily consumed from natural sources can help with a range of functions such as immune function, muscle function, nerve function and bone health.
Since fruits are rich in antioxidants, they can help to protect the body against oxidative stress and can help to reduce muscle damage.
Another benefit of consuming fruits before a workout, is that they’re easily available! Fruits are very easy to get hold of and there are so many to choose from, all of which contain benefits of their own. You could literally grab an apple and banana and be good to go and smash your workout!
3. Complex carbohydrates
Since fruits typically contain simple carbohydrates which can be beneficial to consume as a pre-workout, on the other side of the spectrum, complex carbohydrates can equally be the same!
Complex carbohydrates can also be a great alternative to consuming a pre-workout supplement as they can help to sustain energy levels throughout your workouts. In a nutshell, complex carbohydrates are made up of long chains of molecules that take longer to break down as opposed to simple carbohydrates, thus providing the body with a sustained source of energy over a longer period of time.
Since complex carbohydrates will provide the body with sustained energy over a long period of time, you can consume these hours before beginning your workout as they are slowly digested and provide a steady release of energy. And this release can again, help to prevent fatigue and keep the body fueled during exercise.
Similar to fruit, complex carbohydrates can be easy and versatile to consume. Some typical complex carbohydrates include whole grain bread, oats, potatoes and quinoa.
4. Nut butter
They can be a great alternative to traditional pre-workout supplements as they are a fantastic source of healthy fats which are important for energy production and even overall health. They contain fats that are extremely important for maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol, reducing inflammation and helping to support the brain. Nut butters can provide a sustained source of energy to help fuel your sessions.
Where simple carbohydrates provide a short burst of energy and then the levels are depleted, consuming healthy fats can provide the body with a steady stream of energy that, like complex carbohydrates, can last for hours.
Something that is overlooked, especially when it comes to talking about exercise… is the brain! Memory, mental performance and cognitive function are all associated with the brain and healthy fats are essential for overall brain function.
When exercising, the brain plays such an important role in optimising your workout performance as it regulates energy expenditure and helps to maintain focus and concentration.
Nut butters also contain various vitamins and minerals which as mentioned earlier, help with an array of body functions.
5. Water + salt
Now not necessarily an alternative to consuming a pre-workout supplement, but all of the above sources are useless without being sufficiently hydrated so that is why we feel it's essential for us to include it here. Water is critical for not only optimising your gym performance, but for living a healthy lifestyle in general.
Simply put, water is essential for hydration and maintaining fluid balance within the body and when you sweat during your workouts, your body loses water which in turn, can lead to dehydration.
And dehydration can cause muscle cramps, fatigue and overall, a massive decrease in athletic performance and overall body function, from head to toe.
Salt is also critical in regulating fluid balance within the body and massively helps with muscle contractions in particular. Salt is depleted from the body when exercising and should be replenished to ensure hydration for the body. Consuming salt before your workout, can help to ensure that your body has sufficient stores to help improve performance, provide powerful muscle pumps and prevent muscle cramps.
So there you have five natural alternatives to consuming a pre-workout supplement if you choose to do so.
The great thing about these five sources is that they are natural, healthy and provide vast amounts of benefits that not only help with gym performance, but overall day to day health and activities.
Another benefit of these sources is that they can be combined together to provide a powerful source of energy to help fuel your workouts.
We’ll be sure to do a detailed recipe blog where we show you how to combine various foods for optimal performance, but for now here’s a quick and easy recipe that you could whip up in no time to charge your workouts.
So take roughly 60g of oats, mix together with 150-200 ml of a milk of your choice and cook on the hob to make porridge, this should take less than 5 minutes. Now simply add a tablespoon or so of a nut butter of your choice (we love peanut butter for this) and mix in. Right there you’ve got a combination of healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, you could even choose to sprinkle a little bit of salt on top which makes it taste even better. In the meantime, you could make a cup of coffee or espresso for your caffeine kick, and of course, have a big glass of water on the side too!