Pre-workout powder alternatives included water, 100% natural fruit juice, banana, dark chocolate, and green tea. They are lower in cost and caffeine and, in some cases, provide small amounts of protein and carbohydrates to fuel a workout.
Maybe you've started to dig a little deeper into pre-workout powders products, discovering that they might not be all they are cracked out to be – or that they are even safe for prolonged use.
If that's the case, bananas, water, green tea, coffee, dark chocolate, and fruit juice make great alternative.
By the end of this article, you'll know the good and bad that goes along with each and how to pair them for maximum effect.
- Pre-workout powders are an excellent supplement for improving workout performance.
- Pre-workouts have ample nutritional value to fuel workouts and build muscle.
- Pre-workouts can have negative side effects, such as “jitters” from high caffeine and tingling sensations from beta-alanine.
- Pre-workout alternatives are generally more holistic and provide a natural performance boost, albeit less potent than pre-workout powder.
- Alternatives are cost significantly less than pre-workout powders and are easily available from your local grocery.
Here's My Favorite Pre-Workout Alternative:
Bananas paired with iced green tea.
Banana's provide energy with a small amount of carbs to see me through a workout. And the potassium helps with post workout recovery. The green tea is flavorful, refreshing, and hydrates well. It also has enough caffeine to increase energy without the side effects of highly caffeinated drinks. Low in calories too!
The Truth About Pre-Workout Supplements
Here's a short primer on pre-workouts. First, let's discuss the positives and negatives so we have something to compare.
Pre-workout supplements are designed to boost energy and performance during exercise. They often contain a combination of caffeine, amino acids, and creatine and help increase strength, endurance, and focus during workouts.
These common ingredients make them a “go-to” for many because of the performance-enhancing effects they bring to each workout.
Pre-workout Common Ingredients:
- Caffeine: Improves energy, focus, and overall performance.
- Creatine: Improves muscle energy to gain muscle strength and increase lean mass
- Beta-alanine: Enhances recovery and reduces fatigue so that you can push harder longer
- Amino acids: Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) promote muscle growth (increase lean mass), and reduce damage to muscles.
- High caffeine amounts can cause serious jitters
- Beta-alanine can cause a weird tingling and itching sensation
- Rise in blood pressure and irregular heartbeat
- Blood sugar changes
- Digestive system problems
- High Cost
The Six Best Pre-Workout Alternatives – Options That Really Work!
These pre-workout alternatives provide some of the performance benefits listed above. But, in a pinch, they can improve your workout and recovery.
They are also cost-effective in comparison and generally have fewer side effects. Not all of them are 100% innocent, though!
I list the good and bad key points for each.
Note: Caffeine, is listed as “good”. Not for the purpose of saying that caffeine is “good for you“. But because it is the main energy-producing nutrient of a pre-workout.
Pre-Workout Alternatives Nutritional Values
This table summarizes the nutritional value of each of my 6 picks to give you a condensed view of how they compare.
|100% Fruit Juice|
|170||36 g||40 g||0||3 g||0|
|Dark Chocolate 85%|
|168||6.7 g||12.8 g||12 g||2.2 g||22.4 mg|
|105||14.4 g||26.9 g||0.39 g||1.29 g||0|
Coffee is a popular pre-workout alternative because it contains a fair amount of caffeine. Higher doses of caffeine have also been shown to increase muscle strength, power, and focus. It also helps improve endurance.
Being able to push yourself harder and longer in the gym will always pay off.
What's Good About Coffee?
- 96 mg of caffeine for energy.
- Antioxidant-rich. Polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids are anti-inflammatories.
- Hydroxycinnamic acid is also known to be effective against weight gain.
What's Bad About Coffee?
- Consuming 3 or more cups per day can elevate the risk of Caffeine-related issues such as coffee jitters, frequent urination, Irritability (it seems I don't need caffeine for this), Nervousness, and rapid heart rate.
If coffee isn't your thing, give green tea a try.
Not only does green tea offer the same caffeine-boosting benefits as coffee, but it also brings many other benefits into the mix.
Green tea may also help improve metabolism and fat-burning potential. This is because it contains a flavonoid known as catechin.
It's an antioxidant that helps break down fat. Some studies have suggested that people who drink green tea can burn up to 100 more calories per day than those who do not.
Green tea has about 29 mg of caffeine in an 8 oz serving. Coffee, on the other hand, has roughly 96mg. Which is helpful for those who are looking for an energy boost without.
What's Good About Green Tea?
- Full of antioxidants that help burn calories
- Gives some energy without excessive caffeine
- Zero calorie
What's Bad About Green Tea?
- Tannins in green tea might trigger acid reflux or stomach aches.
Fruit juice is a popular alternative, too – though you have to be sure you're drinking the right kind of fruit juice.
Fruit juice can provide a quick source of carbohydrates, which can help fuel your muscles during exercise. Some juices, such as orange juice, are also high in electrolytes like potassium, which can help prevent cramping during exercise.
However, it's important to be mindful of fruit juice's sugar and calorie content.
The high sugar content of some fruit juices may cause a rapid increase in blood sugar, followed by a crash, which can affect energy levels and focus during exercise.
Here's how 100% orange juice compares to a can of Coke. Although Orange juice has some vitamins and a small amount of protein, 3 g. Tts carb, calorie, and sugar content is close.
12oz can of Coke vs. 12oz 100% Orange Juice
(12 fl oz can)
|Minute Maid 100% Orange Juice|
(12 fl oz)
So if you choose fruit juice as a pre-workout drink, opt for 100% juice with no added sugars and consume it in moderation.
What's Good About Fruit Juice?
- Vitamin C helps protect the immune system.
- Orange juice pulp is a solid source of fiber and can help maintain digestive health.
What's Bad About Fruit Juice?
- Fruit juice is often high in calories and sugar. So you have to keep consumption in check if you are managing weight.
Yes, you're reading this right. Dark chocolate really can help you train better, harder, and longer. It's a great pre-workout alternative.
Dark chocolate is a rich source of antioxidants, specifically flavonoids, which may help reduce inflammation and improve muscle blood flow.
Choosing high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% is important to get the most benefit from the flavonoids.
What's Good About Dark Chocolate?
- Ahh…the taste. It makes you happy!
- Iron to help deliver oxygen to starving muscles
- Magnesium to support muscle function and energy production
- 1 oz has over 20 mg of caffeine for energy. That puts it on part with green tea
What's Bad About Dark Chocolate?
- High in calories, fat, and, sugar so use it sparingly
There are several benefits to eating dark chocolate that go well beyond this article. But as far as a snack to boost your workout performance and recovery, it's awesome. I snack on 1 oz before and after my workouts.
It combines well with coffee for workout kickstart with over 100 mg caffeine together.
Bananas are a popular pre or post-workout snack due to their convenience, taste, and potential health benefits. Here are a few ways in which bananas may be beneficial for fitness and workouts.
What's Good About Bananas?
- Carbohydrate Source: Bananas are a good source of carbohydrates to fuel your workouts.
- Potassium Source: Bananas are a good source of potassium. Consuming potassium-rich foods before and after a workout can help reduce inflammation and promote recovery.
- Easy To Digest: Bananas are high in fiber and slow-digesting . They keep you fuller longer and can help reduce the risk of weight gain.
- Super Convenient: Bananas are inexpensive, always available, and easy to pack and snack.
- Low on the glycemic index. At a GI of 51, bananas are in the “low” category. Their GL is
What's Bad About Bananas?
- Not much. However, they do have about 14 g of sugar. So if you are trying to moderate sugar, keep that in mind
- They are low on the Glycemic Index with a GI of 51. But they are rated “moderate” with a Glycemic Load (GL) between 11-13.
Water seems obvious, but I always find myself surprised. As you know, the recommended daily intake of water is at least 64 oz. But that depends on several factors.
Staying hydrated can help regulate your body temperature, reduce muscle cramps, reduce injury risk, and improve stamina during workouts.
We should consume water at least 2 hours prior to a workout. Drink it afterward and throughout the day to stay hydrated.
|Before||17 to 20 oz.||2 hours prior to exercise|
|During||7 to 10 oz.||every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise|
|After||16 to 24 oz.||For each pound lost in sweat|
What's Good About Water?
The benefits of water and staying hydrated are huge, but when it comes to working out, these are the key benefits.
- Zero calories and free unless you insist on bottled water
- Increases endurance and aerobic performance
- Enhances power and strength
- Boosts focus
- Helps With Weight Balance
- Reduces fatigue
What's Bad About Water?
- No electrolytes. We lose sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium through sweat/ Replace them with something like Mio or get them from foods. Bananas, dark chocolate, and fruit juice mentioned here can help.
- Bland tasting for some. Add flavoring such as lime, lemon, cucumber, for a fresh taste.
Pre-workout Alternatives: The Bottom Line
Just like traditional pre-workout supplements, it's important to remember that the six options we highlighted above are not designed to be magic pills or cure-alls.
These supplement alternatives should be combined with a smart diet and training program. They can help give you an edge and unlock results faster, but they aren't going to do all the heavy lifting for you.
Don't be shy about combining the alternatives we touched on above, either. “Stacking” these alternatives can boost your progress even further, all without you having to worry about adverse side effects.
Good luck getting after it!
Video – Natural Pre-Workout Recipe
I thought I'd share this video with a natural pre-workout recipe. Easy to make, tastes great and nutritious.
References and Citations
Martins, G. L., Guilherme, J. P. L. F., Ferreira, L. H. B., de Souza-Junior, T. P., & Lancha, A. H. (2020, December 11). Caffeine and exercise performance: Possible directions for definitive findings. Frontiers in sports and active living. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7739593/#:~:text=Caffeine%20is%20one%20of%20the,both%20intermittent%20and%20strength%20activities.
TE;, G. (n.d.). Caffeine and exercise: Metabolism, endurance and performance. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11583104/
MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Green Tea for weight loss: Does it work? Medical News Today. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320540#weight-loss
Bananas. The Nutrition Source. (2021, July 6). Retrieved December 24, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/bananas/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20International%20Glycemic,of%2013%20and%2011%2C%20respectively.
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