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Wellness Club

Natural Alternatives to Pre-Workout Supplements


By: Shivani Shah



Dietary supplements have become increasingly popular in recent years. A 2012 study indicated that nearly half of all U.S. adults (52%) reported using dietary supplements on a daily basis. While supplements can be good for your health, it’s important to do your due diligence before trying them since the FDA does not review supplements for safety and effectiveness. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive into a particular subset of dietary supplements—pre workouts and exercise enhancers. The global pre-workout supplements market size is expected to reach $21.2 billion by 2026. This promise of supercharged workouts often contains a mystery blend of ingredients and sometimes, dangerous additives. Ingredients like caffeine, creatine, and artificial sweeteners are staples in most pre-workout blends. Because the supplement industry is poorly regulated, the amount of certain compounds you’re consuming can be dangerous. If pre-workout is something you want to invest in (it can get expensive), be sure to purchase from a brand that is diligent about third party testing. 

If you’re looking for something more natural, there are safer alternatives to taking a pre-workout. An active and healthy lifestyle can be supported by proper sleep, staying hydrated, and eating well. With that being said, sometimes we need a little extra help with getting to the gym or recovering after a grueling workout session. The latter is why many pre-workout supplements include nitric oxide precursors, like L-arginine and nitrate. Nitric oxide causes vasodilation—this term means that the blood vessels are widening, relaxing, and blood flow is increasing. In relation to exercise physiology, this may enhance oxygen/nutrient delivery to active muscles. In turn, muscular recovery is aided. If this interests you, opt for a glass of beetroot juice, which is naturally high in nitrates. Upon ingestion, these nitrates are converted to nitric oxide. The results of a 2016 study presented that beetroot juice, when compared to a placebo, improved the countermovement jumps recovery and reactive strength index performance after a muscle-damaging repeated sprint test.

Alternatively, the next time you want an extra boost before a workout, drop the pre-workout and reach for a cup of coffee. A new study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, confirmed that caffeine ingestion increases maximal fat oxidation (fat burn) and aerobic capacity. Caffeine is a staple ingredient in many pre-workout blends but is often present at dangerously high levels, which can have a negative effect on the heart. The subjects in the study each ingested 3 milligrams of green coffee bean powder per kilogram of bodyweight (or a placebo). This amount is equivalent to a strong cup of coffee and offers a more controlled way to consume caffeine before a workout. Interestingly, the study found that this fat burning effect of caffeine is higher when working out in the afternoon, as opposed to the morning. To summarize: the results suggest that if you’re looking to burn fat, consumption of caffeine combined with moderate intensity exercise in the afternoon provides the most optimal scenario to do so.