If you’re serious about your workout routine, whether your goal is to build muscle, shed fat, or both, you know that exercise alone often isn’t enough. Diet and supplementation also play a major role in your results.
In fact, there are a host of dietary supplements that can enhance your performance in the gym and improve your gains. These include pre-workout supplements, protein powders, and post-workout recovery supplements.
The only problem? Many of these products are full of harsh, processed ingredients. Some athletes find that conventional pre-workout supplements mess with their guts or make them jittery and anxious, among other potential side effects. Others are simply looking to clean up their diets and don’t want to ingest all those artificial ingredients.
In recent years, several exceptional natural pre-workout supplements have hit the market. Below, we’re offering our unbiased reviews of the best natural pre-workout supplements you can buy today.
But first, what is a pre-workout supplement, and when should you use one?
Pre-workout Supplements Defined
Pre-workout supplements are dietary supplements (usually powders you mix with water) that purport to enhance your workout by helping you go harder and longer. Ingredients vary widely, but most commonly you’ll see B vitamins and caffeine for energy, creatine and beta-alanine for performance, as well as essential amino acids for recovery. Recent research suggests that pre-workout supplements can be quite effective for athletes and gym-goers.
Another common ingredient category is nitric oxide precursors. These compounds are what your body naturally uses to produce nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that expands blood vessels and helps improve blood flow. There are some studies showing that consuming nitric oxide precursors improves oxygen uptake in muscle tissue, thereby boosting athletic performance.
So, should you use a pre-workout? If so, what’s the best time to take a pre-workout supplement?
As the name implies, it’s best to take a pre-workout just prior to your workout (i.e., 20–30 minutes beforehand) because it contains ingredients that work quickly to enhance mental and physical performance.
As for whether you should take a pre-workout, that’s a more complex question. If you are sensitive to caffeine or other stimulants, you’ll want to look for a stimulant-free pre-workout supplement, or avoid pre-workouts altogether. The same goes for any other ingredients you might be sensitive to in a particular supplement.
Moreover, if you’re new to working out or if you’re over 55 and don’t have much experience with gym supplements, steer clear of pre-workouts for the time being. Older people, in particular, should be cautious about taking pre-workouts that contain heavy doses of stimulants due to potential cardiovascular implications.
Pregnant women, and women who are nursing, also need to be careful about their use of pre-workout supplements that are high in caffeine. A fetus or newborn doesn’t have the fully developed liver enzymes to metabolize caffeine (which readily crosses the placental barrier), making it more likely to build up to toxic levels.
Otherwise, pre-workouts are generally considered safe. If you’re young and already reasonably fit, you will likely notice an improvement in your workout routine. And with the natural pre-workouts we review below, most people don’t need to worry as much about adverse effects.
Problems with Conventional Pre-Workout Supplements
Conventional pre-workout supplements work fine for some people, but there are some features that can tend to cause issues.
Caffeine: As mentioned above, pre-workout supplements tend to have a moderate amount of caffeine. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, the caffeine here shouldn’t be a problem. But if you are sensitive to caffeine or medically restricted from consuming it, many pre-workouts will be off-limits for you. The next best bet is to look for a stimulant-free pre-workout powder.
Sugar alcohols and synthetic sweeteners: Pre-workouts are commonly loaded up with artificial ingredients to make them taste decent. In an effort to avoid loading up health-conscious products with sugar, many manufacturers turn to sugar alcohols and synthetic sweeteners, like acesulfame-K and sorbitol. These, too, can be problematic, especially in high doses.
Sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol, for example, are resistant to digestion, which can lead to diarrhea, stomachaches, and abdominal bloating. Some athletes also report gastrointestinal issues related to synthetic sweeteners, which may be a result of gut microbiome shifts, according to recent research.
What Is The Best Natural Pre-Workout Supplement?
Below are our top picks for the best natural pre-workout supplements. Even in this list, you’ll find a wide variety of formula ingredients. Whatever you’re looking for in a natural pre-workout supplement, you should find a worthy option here.
Best All-Around: Organic Muscle Organic Pre-workout
Organic Muscle’s Organic Pre-Workout is the highest-rated natural pre-workout supplement on Amazon, and for good reason. This supplement is clean, vegan, gluten-free, GMO-free, hormone-free, and naturally sweetened.
Organic Pre-Workout ditches the artificial caffeine, using organic yerba mate instead. For a nitric oxide precursor, this supplement uses organic beetroot, a substance full of natural nitrates. And for focus and endurance, you’ll find organic ginseng.
Other highlighted ingredients include green tea, maca root, cordyceps, Rhodeola rosea and acai berry—all organic, of course.
Organic Muscle Organic Pre-Workout describes itself as the “cleanest pre-workout on the planet” and claims it won’t cause jitters, crashing, or itchy/tingly skin (a common side effect of beta-alanine). The company also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. So if it doesn’t live up to the hype, you’re not out any money.
Best Pre-Workout for Women: POWHER Pre-workout for Women
Much of the sports supplement market (including pre-workout supplements) is geared toward one demographic: young men. POWHER saw a problem with this, because men’s and women’s bodies respond differently to supplements.
The ratios of compounds in a typical male-oriented pre-workout aren’t right for the active woman. And the truth is, the goals are often different. Guys who are into pre-workout supplements usually want to look like bulging, rippling hulks. Most women just want to tone and trim their bodies.
The folks behind POWHER invented their own solution: a clean pre-workout formula catering specifically to women. POWHER contains naturally derived caffeine (from green coffeebean extract) and no harsh stimulants. They claim their formula optimizes fat burning over muscle bulk. B vitamins, powdered coconut water, and a handful of herbs and other compounds round out this edgy pre-workout for women.
Cleanest Pre-Workout: Do Vitamins PurePump Pre-workout Formula
There are clean pre-workouts, and then there’s just plain crazy-pure: PurePump from Do Vitamins takes “clean” and “pure” to the extreme; this natural pre-workout supplement doesn’t even contain flavoring or sweeteners!.
Not gonna lie, it doesn’t taste great. But if you tend to react to sweeteners or flavors or are looking for the absolute cleanest option on the market, this is it.
Do Vitamins touts that PurePump was the first clean pre-workout to hit the market. The brand has been around long enough to gain a solid customer base that’s more than happy with their results. PurePump also claims to be the only natural pre-workout that’s both vegan- and paleo-certified.
If your idea of a clean pre-workout involves pharmaceutical-grade amino acids, natural nitric oxide boosters, 200mg of caffeine per serving, a range of herbal ingredients, and essential micronutrients—and nothing else—then PurePump is for you. If you’re looking for something pleasing to the palate, or with a milder amount of caffeine, look elsewhere.
Most Balanced Natural Pre-Workout: Red Leaf Pre-workout Energizer
If you want your pre-workout supplement to be clean while actually tasting good, Red Leaf Pre-workout Energizer is one to consider. This pre-workout works well for men and women that do highintensity interval training (HIIT). Think CrossFit, Beach Body, sprinting, circuit training, and the like.
Red Leaf’s Pre-workout Energizer features a small dose of caffeine (40mg, compared to 200mg in most pre-workouts) along with 1,000mg of beta-alanine and 1,500mg of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). It’s also packed with antioxidants from green tea and features raspberry ketones to help burn fat.
Pre-workout Energizer isn’t about bulking up as much as it’s about giving you great energy and stamina for helping you get the most out of your workouts. Even better, it comes in a pleasant cranberry lime flavor, one that isn’t chalky or gritty.
Best Stimulant-Free Pre-Workout: Genius Pre-Workout Powder
If you have zero tolerance for caffeine but still want to experience the benefits of a pre-workout supplement, we recommend checking out Genius Pre, a caffeine-free natural pre-workout powder. Genius calls this blend their “mind to muscle” formula because it’s based on nootropics and brain science.
Genius rejects the prevailing trend of including caffeine, DMAA and DMHA for purposes of increasing blood flow. Instead, Genius Pre includes a mixture of several nitric oxide boosting compounds (L-citrulline malate, beta-alanine, and ATP). Genius Pre is naturally flavored and sweetened with organic stevia.
The folks at Genius believe that brain function is key to effective workouts, so Genius Pre is loaded up with AlphaSize Alpha-glyceryl phosphorylcholine (Alpha-GPC). As one of the best choline donors with high bioavailability, alpha-GPC may help to increase agility, reduce fatigue, and sharpen mental acuity.
If you’re looking for something natural, clean, and science-based, Genius Pre is worth considering. The same goes if you react negatively to stimulants found in some other pre-workout products, including natural pre-workout supplements.
Another Strong Contender: Legion Pulse
Another highly-rated contender in the natural pre-workout space is Legion Pulse. We like that Legion Pulse is available in a dozen or so flavors, including both caffeinated and caffeine-free blends.
Watch out if you get the caffeinated variety, as the dosage is sky-high: 350mg is nearing the recommended daily max for the average adult. At those levels, we’re not quite sure why the company’s ad copy talks about avoiding jitters and upset stomach. Another concern for some will be the small amount of erythritol, a sugar alcohol. It’s not present in large amounts, but if you’re especially sensitive, this isn’t the pre-workout for you.
Aside from those two concerns, Legion Pulse is a respectable natural pre-workout. Legion founder Mike Mathews is a well-known fitness author who wasn’t happy with the sketchy products full of mysterious fillers. He founded Legion as an alternative, producing clean supplements that he personally uses. Of these, Pulse is Legion’s flagship product.
Highlights here include 350mg L-theanine (for crash avoidance), 150mg alpha-GPC (for focus), 8g L-citrulline malate (for blood flow and muscle endurance), 3.6g beta-alanine (for anaerobic performance) and 2.5g betaine anhydrous (for stamina and strength).
Legion Pulse is marketed to both men and women, though the focus seems to be on the former demographic as opposed to the latter.
Budget-Friendly and Plant-Based: Garden of Life Sport Organic Energy + Focus
Thus far, every entrant on this list has been natural, which is a good place to start. But there’s natural, and then there’s plant-based. Garden of Life Sport Organic Energy + Focus is the truest plant-based pre-workout supplement we’ve found. And with a focus on whole food ingredients, you know you’re getting nutrients quite literally from Mother Nature itself. This is a USDA-certified organic, NSF-certified pre-workout that’s also non-GMO, plant-based, vegan, and gluten-free.
Sport Organic Energy + Focus is packed with antioxidants from organic baobab fruit, organic coffee berry extract (85 mg caffeine), and organic emblic fruit. Garden of Life also included organic nitric oxide precursors from spinach, beetroot, and kale. Naturally occurring vitamin C, vitamin K1, and vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin) are also in the mix.
If it’s not available in a plant, you won’t find it in this blend. Unfortunately, that means ingredients like creatine are absent from this formula. So, while you might be trading a bit of power or performance with this choice, you get the reassurance it’s treating your body with nutrients straight from the ground.
After all those reviews, we hope you have a better sense of the best natural pre-workout supplements on the market today. Which one is the absolute best pre-workout? That depends quite a bit on your reasons for taking a pre-workout, as well as any dietary limitations you may have.
- Our top all-around pick is the Organic Pre-workout from Organic Muscle.
- Our top recommendation for women is POWHER Pre-workout.
- Our top pick that’s caffeine-free is Genius Pre.
- Our top plant-based pick is Garden of Life Sport Organic Energy + Focus.
Still, we know that these few top picks won’t be right for every reader. And that’s why we included the additional best natural pre-workout supplement reviews above.
Whatever your motivation for working out and whatever your goals, if you’re looking for a natural pre-workout supplement, the picks we’ve highlighted above are the cream of the crop. Pick the one that best aligns with your needs and goals, then it’s time to hit the gym. No excuses! Remember: Pre-workouts don’t work unless you do.