6 Natural Pre-Workout Ingredients That Come From Plants
Physical activity is an important component of a well-rounded lifestyle, but not everyone agrees on the way you should fuel your body before a workout. Most people have some semblance of routine, whether that includes a pre-workout drink, foods high in carbs and protein, or water.
Pre-workout supplements feature multiple ingredients that may1 improve athletic ability and recovery time, such as caffeine, amino acids, and nitric oxide compounds. While the research leans both for and against pre-workouts in supplement stores, nourishing your body with nutrient-dense ingredients is essential for energy and recovery.
This article compares ingredients in regular vs. natural pre-workouts. Here, “natural” means plant-based, which you’ll learn is an effective alternative to store-bought workout powders loaded with caffeine and artificial sweeteners.
Generic vs. Natural Pre-Workouts
Culturally, a strong association exists between appearance, health, and dietary supplements.2 Most commercial stores conveniently place a rack of fitness and diet magazines within eyesight at the checkout line. These covers often feature lean, muscular bodies—the mass-marketed standard of what it means to “be healthy.”
Unconsciously or not, this commercialized trigger towards the “ideal” leads some people to pre-workout drinks, some of them promising explosive energy and muscle power.
There are plenty of variations on the market, but in general, generic pre-workouts tend to contain:
- Caffeine: And lots of it. The average person without caffeine sensitivity can consume up to 400mg3 of caffeine daily (four to five cups of coffee), but factors like weight and age change the tolerable amount in different individuals. Pre-workout supplements can contain half of the daily recommended amount or more, which adds up if you’re drinking caffeine from other sources throughout the day.
- Amino acids (creatine, taurine, L-citrulline, beta-alanine)
- Artificial sweeteners (sucralose)
Studies remain inconclusive on the effectiveness of these pre-workout ingredients for muscle power and energy.4 Does that make them unsafe? Not entirely, but it’s too soon to say whether or not they provide measurable benefits for physical performance.
Some people may experience stomach upset, irregular heartbeat, blood pressure, or blood sugar changes from pre-workout supplements. If you decide to buy a generic pre-workout, talk to your healthcare professional to make sure it’s safe for you.
Conversely, you can also try natural pre-workouts if you prefer a boost from plants.
6 Plant-Based Pre-Workout Ingredients
Going from a generic to a natural pre-workout supplement is more than a product swap. Instead, try seeing this switch as an opportunity to bring mindfulness and intention to how you nourish your body.
These six pre-workout ingredients come from plants and are more holistic than the commercial versions:
- Coffee fruit: With less caffeine than the coffee bean, coffee fruit (or berry) is a good source of antioxidants and polyphenols, which complement your workout by reducing oxidative stress.5 Intense exercise may cause6 an unhealthy buildup of oxidative stress in your muscles from inflammation, fatigue, and stress.
Supplementing with coffee fruit is a great way to naturally offset some of the negative effects of exercise on the body while also getting a low dose of caffeine.
- Herbs, fruits, and veggies: Another perk of plant-based ingredients for exercise? Nitric oxide! In healthy adults, studies suggest7 that consuming nitrate-rich vegetables improves vasodilation, exercise performance, and nitric oxide bioavailability.
In other words, foods like broccoli, kale, green tea, and tart cherries have the potential to fuel your workout by improving circulation.
- Ashwagandha: Clinical studies suggest8 that daily supplementation with ashwagandha root (an adaptogen) complements weight training and offers benefits for increased muscle mass. Other studies9 indicate a relationship between ashwagandha, lowered stress (cortisol) levels, food cravings, and weight management.
Read next: Adaptogens List: Beginner Guide
- Beet juice: Beets are nature’s best pre-workout ingredient. Beetroot powder, specifically, offers a multitude of benefits for physical activity: improved blood pressure10, exercise stamina11, and recovery time12, plus anti-inflammatory13 properties.
- Grape seed extract: As another antioxidant, grape seed extract from dried grapes benefits circulation, blood pressure, and oxidative damage14.
- Schisandra: Research shows15 that schisandra berries are an excellent asset to exercise and a healthy lifestyle for their ability to resist stress-related cellular damage.
When it comes to fueling your body with pre-workouts, opting for versions with sustainable energy from plants and less caffeine may be a holistic way to reach your health goals.
If you’re pressed for time and want a ready-made powder, Purpose+ has all the plants listed above and takes about seven seconds to mix in water. It’s lightly sweetened with organic plant-derived Stevia (a refined sugar alternative).
Early research16 also points to the benefits of hemp extract for muscle recovery from inflammation. With 7mg of broad-spectrum hemp, Purpose+ is a natural pre-workout (if you want it to be).
Do You Have to Use Pre-Workouts for Exercise?
Like all supplements, the decision to use pre-workouts is completely optional. As to the effectiveness of generic pre-workouts, research remains inconclusive.
When to Drink Pre-Workouts
The timing of pre-workouts largely depends on the ingredient profile. Protein-forward blends may be better after exercise, while caffeinated blends are considered more effective 60-90 minutes17 before exercise. Many pre-workout powders work within an hour after consumption. Check the product label for specific instructions.
Verdict on Coffee for Workouts
A lot of people wonder if coffee is good to drink before exercise. According to multiple research findings18, coffee offers ergogenic (performance enhancement) benefits for nonathletes and trained athletes. This is due to the adenosine-blocking properties of caffeine, which contribute to the mental and physical energy you feel after drinking coffee.
This doesn’t mean that you should chug several cups of coffee before your workout since caffeine overdose and withdrawal both come with unpleasant side effects (headache, sweats, and increased heart rate, among others). A reminder: if you’re sensitive to caffeine, know your limits or try less-caffeinated alternatives, such as coffee fruit or green tea.
People use pre-workouts to enhance physical performance during weight-training and aerobic exercise. Whether they work or not remains inconclusive, according to research. Incorporating nitrate-dense veggies and fruits into your diet alongside adequate hydration and sleep are some of the most natural ways to improve energy levels for exercise.