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Finding The Best Natural Pre-Workout: Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

by Cole Matthews - Last Updated March 21, 2017

Pre-workouts are notorious for containing all sorts of artificial ingredients and additives to get you pumped up for the gym. While most of these are completely safe to ingest, some people have reported adverse side effects, which has put pre-workout formulas under some serious scrutiny in the last few years.

Whether you’ve experienced these effects in the past or you just prefer a more organic approach to your health, natural pre-workouts can give you just as much “pump” as the competition – but without the questionable ingredients. The only issue here is determining quality and potency. We’ve done a fair amount of research on natural and organic pre-workout formulas, and after putting a dozen or so products head-to-head, we believe the five products below are the best natural pre-workouts on the market.

Product image of a container of Do Vitamins PurePump Product image of a container of Old School Labs Vintage Blast Product image of a container of Organic Muscle Organic Pre-Workout Product image of a container of Red Leaf Pre-Workout Energizer Product image of a container of Rad Nutrition Energy Pre-Workout
Do Vitamins PurePump Old School Labs Vintage Blast Organic Muscle Pre-Workout Red Leaf Pre-Workout Energizer Rad Nutrition Energy Pre-Workout
Rating 4.7/5 4.6/5 4.4/5 4.2/5 4.2/5
Caffeine 200mg 150mg 100mg 40mg N/A
No Artificial Ingredients
Other #1 cleanest formula, also packed with vitamins, amino acids, and creatine #1 best-seller on Amazon and several other retailers First pre-workout to be certified organic by USDA Includes BCAA's, also known for good taste Newer company but great product nonetheless
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Top Pick: PurePump by DOVitamins

If you’re committed to a clean, all natural pre-workout supplement, PurePump by Do Vitamins is as natural as you can get. Not only is this pre-workout natural, it’s super effective. Energy booster? Check. Strength enhancer? Check. Vasodilator? Check. Not only will this pre-workout perk you up, it will increase your available energy stores for muscle contractions (which increases strength), give you raging pumps and allow you to work out for longer.

PurePump contains a smattering of amino acids, including leucine, arginine and citrulline, which have strength, endurance and vasodilating properties collectively. As an energy booster, PurePump derives 200mg of caffeine (twice as much as a cup of coffee) from green tea extract. One of the most beneficial ingredients in this natural pre-workout is creatine monohydrate. Creatine is the most effective and most popular naturally occurring, strength-enhancing supplement on the market. Creatine increases available energy in muscle contractions, and also brings water into the muscle, which increases your pump and helps to facilitate protein synthesis. If you can spend more time under tension, while producing stronger contractions with muscles primed for protein synthesis, you’ll experience significantly more growth than without it. A lot of new lifters and fitness novices have this preconceived notion that pre-workouts are just powdered caffeine in a tin; which, for some, is spot-on, but most good pre-workouts actually have a lot to offer in terms of supplementation and sports nutrition.

Sports supplements don’t need certifications – they aren’t even regulated by the FDA. However, PurePump has certifications; lots of them. To start, this supplement is certified Paleo. The paleo diet is a back-to-basics diet consisting of high fats, low carbohydrates and high protein. The paleo diet calls for eliminating hydrogenated oils, added sugars, dairy and several other things the creators of it have deemed unhealthy. Also, PurePump is certified vegan, so it is free of any animal products. Since it doesn’t contain carbs, it is also celiac-friendly; plus, there are no added sugars, making it great for controlling diabetes. This pre-workout is extraordinarily clean, and it has been vetted and proven by several third-party quality-assurance companies. If you’re looking for a natural pre-workout that supports your lifestyle choices, whatever they may be, you’ll be hard-pressed to top PurePump by Do Vitamins.

Runner Up: Vintage Blast by Old School Labs

For a no-nonsense, straightforward pre-workout to get you going before you hit the gym, Vintage Blast by Old School Labs is the pre-workout for you. Staying within the theme of this list, Vintage Blast is all-natural, and touts several third-party certifications, as our top pick does.

Certified vegetarian, non-GMO and gluten free, this pre-workout is one of the cleanest ones out there that will actually have an effect on your workout. 150mg of caffeine, L-arginine, L-citrulline, zinc and magnesium round this supplement out, creating a nice little energy boost with some solid vasodilators and endurance-enhancing compounds. Vintage Blast gets the silver medal due to, basically, its lack of creatine and leucine, which are both valuable components and the top pick contains. The addition of creatine gives our top pick a huge boost and a great amount of added value as a pre-workout. With that aside, Vintage Blast is a great, simple, natural pre-workout that will give you a great boost of energy to crank out those reps.

#3: Organic Pre-Workout by Organic Muscle

Earning the bronze medal on our list is the runner up, Organic Pre-Workout by Organic Muscle. Organic muscle is a small, niche brand that focuses on serving the sports nutrition needs of those with dietary restrictions, whether due to biology or lifestyle choices. Organic Muscles offers a decent variety of supplements, so that whether you are paleo, vegan, etc.

The Organic Pre-Workout, like the top pick, is additive-free and great for paleo dieters, vegans and those who are intolerant to gluten. Due to the fact that most of the pre-workout supplements on the market do contain chemical compounds and other additives, including added sugars and added chemicals.

While our top pick is the best organic supplement on the market, Organic Pre-Workout was the first. The ingredients in the Organic Pre-Workout all come from real foods including beetroot, a natural vasodilator; ginseng and caffeine, both natural energizers and other foods that provide mental focus and stamina. The sum of these parts is a pre-workout that is natural, effective and has great holistic and general health benefits. However, with all of these great qualities, why is this pre-workout not in first place? Well, not only do the top pick and runner up have more notoriety from third-party certifications, it has more effective ingredients, including creatine monohydrate and amino acids in abundance. Although, if you’re looking for a pre-workout from strictly whole-food sources, the Organic Pre-Workout by Organic Muscle can be a great option.

#4: Pre-Workout Energizer by Red Leaf

While a bit more on the mild side than our top 3, the Pre-Workout Energizer by Red Leaf is a solid little pre-workout that stays on the natural side of the pre-workout market by remaining free of synthetic additives. Around 100mg of caffeine and a handful of amino acids make up this pre-workout supplement.

The primary ingredients in the Pre-Workout Energizer are glutamine, leucine and caffeine. Glutamine preps your body to release human growth hormone and is also the most abundant amino acid found in your muscles. Leucine is the amino acid with the greatest connection to protein synthesis, which is the construction of proteins from aligned aminos. Naturally, you want as much protein synthesis as you can get while performing and recovering from a workout, so including it in a pre-workout is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, there aren’t any solid vasodilators in this pre-workout; and, at a caffeine content of just under 100mg (the same as one cup of coffee), it doesn’t offer too much in terms of a boost. With that said, this pre-workout will help with muscular endurance if you find yourself burning out halfway through a workout.

#5: Energy Pre-Workout by Rad Nutrition

Rounding out our list, we have the Energy Pre-Workout by Rad Nutrition. This pre-workout has 3 ingredients that will significantly benefit your workout: citrulline, beta alanine and creatine monohydrate.

Citrulline converts to L-arginine, which creates an NO response and increases blood flow, making it a good vasodilator to induce a solid pump. Beta Alanine increases muscular endurance and muscular output, which will help you get more time under tension by providing your muscles with extra energy. Creatine monohydrate, as contained in our top pick, boosts muscular strength by providing muscles with more fuel to burn for contractions, creating stronger concentric motions. Other than that, this pre-workout doesn’t contain much. A bit of coconut water for hydration, vitamins B6 and B12 for energy and about 20mg of caffeine per serving (1/5 a cup of coffee). Energy Pre-Workout by Rad Nutrition placed so low on the list because it simply isn’t as stacked in terms of beneficial ingredients as the rest of the pre-workouts on the list. However, if you’re looking to streamline your food and supplement intake and purchase a pre-workout with as few ingredients as possible, this pre-workout may well be right up your alley.

What Does A Pre-Workout Do Exactly?

As we touched on previously, pre-workouts serve 2 main purposes: to provide energy and pump. Some of the other accessory purposes include increasing mental focus and strength. Let’s break these down individually and take a closer look.

Energy

Working out is tough. It makes you tired and sweaty and it drains your energy – it’s supposed to, that means you’ve worked hard. When that tired feeling consistently sets in a quarter of the way into your workout, or even halfway through, you’ve got a problem on your hands. Another problem, the anti-thesis to the first, perhaps, is loading up on a bad energy source before your workout (i.e. energy drinks) and crashing before your workout ends. This can leave you more lethargic and gassed than you would have been originally, even though you got 6 killer sets in before you hit the wall. Pre-workouts derive energy from several different sources, usually including a vitamin matrix and some caffeine (from coffee bean or green tea extract), which your body can process more efficiently and won’t cause a crash. Some pre-workouts have an insane amount of stimulants that can cause shaking and general discomfort throughout your workout, so I recommend scaling back the dosage initially when you try a pre-workout to find your sweet spot in regard to your appropriate serving size.

The Pump

We touched on the pump earlier but let’s take a look at the actual science involved. The pump is caused by vasodilators. Vasodilators increase the diameter of your blood vessels to increase blood flow. Increased blood flow leads to the saturation of your muscles with the nutrients transported by blood (which is why is increases protein synthesis and decreases protein degradation). This also makes your muscles look and feel more full, which is why the pump is often dismissed as a purely cosmetic effect. Why you should watch out for pre-workouts with too much caffeine, is because caffeine is a vasoconstrictor. As you may have guessed, that means that caffeine restricts your blood flow, which nixes all of the benefits of vasodilators in exchange for a boost of energy. This is why finding a supplement with a good amount of stimulants balanced with vasodilators is important – that happy medium will allow you an energy spike without sacrificing muscle and strength gains.

Mental Focus & Strength

There are many vitamins that have shown to increase mental focus – most supplements pack a few of these into their formula for some much-needed focus during your workout. Getting the most out of your sets can be largely mental – and having more focus on mind-muscle connection and muscle contraction can only benefit you. Strength increases are usually due to the addition of creatine to pre-workouts. Creatine provides your body with more energy for muscle contractions, which equals more strength on your lifts. Creatine also causes your muscles to hold some water, which can increase the “pumped” feeling. However, creatine is not something you take once and see the benefits of. It can take your body up to 3 weeks with continuous dosage to become saturated with creatine enough for it to take effect.

Common Ingredients To Know

Now that we’ve broken down the purpose of a pre-workout and how it affects your body and your workouts, let’s take a look at what ingredients cause those results.

Ingredients Used For Energy

The most prevalent stimulant present in pre-workout supplements is caffeine. Caffeine is cheap, easy to add and can come from a wide variety of sources, making it economical and a smart stimulant additive. With that said, there are a few other pre-workout stimulants in the supplements on the market. Geranium extract, taurine and vitamin complexes are less common, but are used in caffeine-free supplements, or supplements very low in caffeine to make up the deficit and still provide a nice boost of energy.

Ingredients Used For The Pump

The elusive pump is caused by a variety of vasodilators. The most common ingredient to induce this pump effect is L-arginine. L-arginine, once broken down by the body (as it is quickly), becomes nitric oxide (NO), which relaxes blood vessels and improves circulation in the heart and body. Other ingredients commonly used to get a pump are beet root, glycerol, agmatine sulfate and citrulline malate. With the exception of glycerol, which provides a pump by saturating your muscles with water, these ingredients all have an NO response and dilate the blood vessels to help circulation and get that blood flowing into your muscles.

Ingredients Used For Mental Focus & Strength

Many pre-workout supplements are stimulant free, which means they don’t contain anything that will directly give you energy; however, these supplements all contain ingredients that improve mental focus. Vitamin B12 and tyrosine (an amino acid) are both common ingredients in pre-workouts, both stimulant-containing and stimulant-free. These ingredients aren’t direct stimulants, but they increase mental function so you can get in the zone for your workout. The boss hog ingredient for strength in pre-workouts is creatine monohydrate – there is simply no comparison. Although creatine is the primary additive for strength, beta-alanine increases muscular endurance and is also often added to pre-workouts. If you find a supplement with both, you’ll be able to lift more for longer; and, in turn, you’ll make greater gains in size and strength.

Things To Keep In Mind When Buying A Natural Pre-Workout Supplement

If you haven’t yet grasped the scope of different ingredients that can appear in pre-workouts, know that it is one of the most varied supplements in sports nutrition. Stimulant-free, organic, natural, pump-inducing, strength focused, flavored, unflavored, etc. With that in mind, there are a few guidelines and bullet points to keep in mind when you’re in the market for a pre-workout supplement, especially when looking for one that contains only natural ingredients. Here are the main things to keep in mind when buying a natural pre-workout supplement:

“Natural” On The Label

As there is an increasing market for all things natural, paleo and organic, if a product makes a point to fit any of these descriptions, it will undoubtedly market itself to that audience. Natural pre-workouts are the exception to the rule and quite a small percentage of pre-workout supplements, so you can definitely count on natural pre-workout supplements to be labeled. This is more for scouting purposes, but if you don’t see “natural” anywhere on the label, it’s a pretty solid indicator that it’s not going to be a home run for you in terms of meeting your qualifications.

Define What You’re Looking For

Not everyone is looking to get the same thing out of their pre-workout supplement. Some people are looking for primarily a strength enhancer, while others are looking for a pump and a stimulant. The second step in finding your holy grail natural pre-workout is to define what you’re looking to get out of your pre-workout. Are you looking for a stimulant? Look for coffee bean or green tea extract. Maybe more of a pump? Look for pump-inducing ingredients. Get the picture? Good.

Always Read The Ingredients List

Since natural pre-workout supplements generally have pretty short ingredient lists, the burden is on you to research what is contained in your pre-workout. Remember, just because it occurs naturally doesn’t mean it’s good for you. One of the most commonly used natural ingredients to avoid is Yohimbe. This nutrient is derived from a tree in Africa and has been long known as a performance enhancer, vasodilator and fat loss aid. However, Yohimbe has also been medically linked to anxiety attacks, panic attacks, nausea, dizziness and a drop in blood pressure. These side effects can be rough under normal circumstances, and much worse when you’re in the middle of a workout.

Regular Food Alternatives That Can Give You A Natural Pre-Workout Feeling

One thing to remember about supplements is that they are just that: supplemental. What most supplements have can be found in the foods you eat. Although you’ll have a hard time finding effective ingredients in equal concentrations, pre-workouts are no exception to this rule. Since natural pre-workouts are limited in variety on the market, there is a possibility you might not like any of them, or you might not like the first few that you try. For some natural energy before your workouts during the transition period between pre-workout formulas or as a completely additive-free alternative, turn to food.

You want foods you eat before a workout to have these two main components: carbohydrates and protein. Many people wake up and hit the gym while skipping breakfast, which can lead to dizziness and fatigue. A healthy source of carbohydrates before a workout will ensure that your body has enough energy to support you through your sets. Getting fatigued halfway through your workout is going to have detrimental effects to your gains in size and strength. A source of protein is good because it will aid your muscles in recovering between sets and help spark synthesis to start the growth process. Here are some simple meals you can eat as a pre-workout snack:

Banana & Greek Yogurt

Bananas have been an energy staple of dedicated fitness professionals and enthusiasts alike for decades. Since bananas are quite starchy and contain a moderate amount of potassium, they’ll help you keep your nutrient and energy levels high during your workout. Greek yogurt is low in fat and high in protein, which fills in the gaps that the banana has, making a potent, complete and tried-and-true pre-workout used by several lifters around the world.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is one of the American staple breakfast foods, and has been for a long time; but, what got this snack to its high rank among first meals of the day? Well, oatmeal contains a good amount of fiber. What fiber does, is slowly release carbohydrates into your body providing a constant feed of energy so long as the fiber is in your system. This makes a great morning meal because it can sustain you for longer than simple carbs, or even complex carbs without the addition of fiber. Oatmeal also contains a nice little amount of protein to help start the repair process during your workout.

Eggs & Toast

Ahh, classic eggs and toast. The nutritional backbone of the working class – also, turns out it’s a pretty good pre-workout. Complex carbohydrates from toast supply your body with energy and the protein from the eggs will help grease your muscles for reparation and growth. Also, don’t be afraid to eat the yolks. There was a common misconception that egg yolks increase blood cholesterol level, but they don’t; also, the yolk is where half of the protein in an egg is. So eat them.

Final Thoughts

As we all know, a huge part of being, getting or staying fit happens in the kitchen. What you put into your body is what you get out of your body, which is the entire rationale for supplements. If you put in high-performing compounds and nutrients in your body and keep it well-fed, you’re going to perform better in the gym and reap more benefits outside of it. Pre-workout nutrition is no exception to this rule. Pre-workout supplements are incredibly varied on content and intended purposes within the subcategory of “pre-workout”. General fitness, natural living and those geared more towards health longevity than bodybuilding or powerlifting might prefer a pre-workout supplement that is completely natural. Although natural pre-workouts don’t have as much of a present on the market as non-natural pre-workouts, they can be found if you do your due diligence. Make sure to remember that food can also be a pre-workout if you’re in between supplements or still finding your sweet spot with dosage. Scoop up, get to the gym and go pound out those reps!

 

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