The Best Pre-Workout Alternatives

Hitting the gym with gusto takes more than just a good playlist. Pre-workout supplements promise that extra oomph—the power to push harder, lift heavier, and reach your fitness goals faster.

They’re designed to give you a burst of energy and enhance your athletic performance during those intense training sessions. But those brightly colored powders don’t work for everyone.

Whether you’re on a budget, prefer natural ingredients, or those artificial additives give you pause, there’s good news: pre-workouts aren’t the only way to prime your body for a stellar workout.

Three men working out in the gym together



Caffeine is the star ingredient in most pre-workouts, and for good reason. It’s a natural stimulant that gives you a mental and physical lift. 

But those supplements often hit you with high doses in one go, potentially leading to jitters, a racing heart rate, or that dreaded caffeine crash. Instead of reaching for the pre-workout powder, try a more natural source of caffeine.

Black coffee

The Classic Pre-Workout entails sipping a cup of joe about 30 minutes before your workout can deliver a boost of energy. It increases alertness and concentration, and it might even kickstart your endurance. Black coffee is a tried-and-true pre-workout, loved by athletes for a reason.

Green or black tea

A Subtler Option If you’re sensitive to caffeine or just prefer a milder kick, these teas offer a lower caffeine content than coffee. They’re also rich in antioxidants, which have numerous health benefits beyond just your workout.

These everyday beverages offer a clean energy boost without artificial ingredients or the potential for unpleasant pre-workout side effects. If you’re searching for natural pre-workout alternatives, coffee and tea are excellent sources to start your fitness journey with.

Carbohydrates: Your Body’s Fuel

Think of your body like a high-performance engine. Just like a car needs fuel to move, your body needs energy to power those reps, sprints, or lifting sessions. Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source, and that makes them a key ingredient for optimal performance. But not all carbs are created equal — let’s explore why.

Simple vs. complex: What’s the difference?

Here’s a quick and easy breakdown to help you differentiate between the two:

Simple carbs

Think fruits, pretzels, and anything sweet. These give you a quick burst of energy since they’re easy for your body to break down. However, they leave you feeling hungry again quickly and can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes — not ideal for a focused, strong workout.

Complex carbs

These champs include oats, sweet potatoes, and whole grains. They take longer to digest, providing a steady stream of energy for your training session. Complex carbs also pack a punch of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, supporting overall health and fueling your fitness goals.

The benefits of complex carbs before your workout

Think of complex carbs as long-lasting fuel for your workouts. Here’s what they bring to the table:

Sustained energy

Unlike a quick energy surge followed by a crash, complex carbs keep your strength high and ward off fatigue. This means you can work out longer and harder, getting more out of every session.

Muscle power

Carbs get stored in your muscles as glycogen. This stored energy is critical for powering those intense workouts, pushing past your limits, and building strength.

Focus and drive

When blood sugar levels remain stable, your brain has the fuel it needs to stay sharp and focused. Forget those fuzzy, distracted workouts.

Post-workout support

Carbs don’t just help you perform during exercise. They help you recover faster by replenishing that glycogen you use for fuel, promoting muscle repair and growth.

Pre-workout snack power: Go for complex

Choose complex carbs like oats, sweet potatoes, or whole grains at least an hour before working out. This gives your body enough time to break them down and turn that food into usable energy. Here’s why opting for these complex sources beats the sugar in traditional pre-workouts:

  • Natural ingredients: Ditch the artificial additives and go for real, nourishing food. Your body will thank you.
  • Stable blood sugar: Complex carbs help you avoid the spikes and crashes common with sugary pre-workout supplements, leading to consistent energy instead of wired jitters.
  • Long-lasting fuel: Complex carbs offer the kind of sustained power that propels you to crush your workout, not just power through the first few sets.

Timing is also crucial — experiment to see how your body responds to complex carbs at different intervals before your workout. Everyone’s body is a bit different, so find the sweet spot that fuels your best performance.

A man wearing a black t-shirt, working out in the gym


Combination Foods: The Powerhouse Pre-Workout

We’ve learned that complex carbs are crucial for fueling your intense workouts. But for those longer, moderate-intensity sessions (think long runs, cycling, or extended training), your body might crave a little something extra. That’s where healthy fats come in.

Why fats matter

When working out at a moderate pace for a longer duration, your body starts relying on fat for energy alongside those carbs. Adding a bit of healthy fat to your pre-workout snack provides a sustained energy source.

Why is this important? Because it helps you avoid hitting the wall mid-workout. It also boosts satiety, keeping hunger pangs at bay so you can fully focus on your workout.

Tasty and effective combos

Here are some delicious and satisfying pre-workout pairings that combine the benefits of complex carbs and healthy fats:

Fruit + nut butter

This combo is portable and easy to prep. Spread your favorite nut or seed butter on apple slices, banana halves, or a whole-grain slice of bread. Those naturally sweet fruits deliver those complex carbs, while the nut butter adds healthy fats and a touch of protein.

Avocado toast

Avocados are nature’s source of creamy, healthy fats. Top whole-grain toast with mashed avocado and a sprinkle of salt for a boost of energy. Bonus points if you add a hardboiled egg on top for extra protein and staying power.

Smoothie power

Blend a scoop of protein powder, frozen fruit, milk of your choice (dairy or plant-based), and a spoonful of nut butter or avocado. This is a fantastic way to pack in a balanced snack that’s easy to digest. Customize it with your favorite fruits and boosters for the perfect blend.

Even if you’re having a combo snack, make sure the majority of your energy is still coming from complex carbs. Fats take longer to digest, so it’s best to have your snack a little further in advance of your longer workouts (1-2 hours prior should give you time for digestion).

A bowl of Greek yogurts with nuts, and a piece of bread with peanut butter and bananas


Benefits of a Pre-Workout Snack

Think of a well-timed, well-chosen pre-workout snack as an investment in your workout. Here’s what it delivers:

Energy and Fuel

We’ve talked about complex carbs providing that sustained energy, but a pre-workout snack does more than just prevent you from “bonking” halfway through your workout. It gives your muscles the fuel they need to truly perform, helping you avoid early fatigue, push harder, and last longer.

Supports Recovery

Forget about waiting to refuel until after your workout. A small amount of protein in your pre-workout snack (think a bit of Greek yogurt or nut butter) can give your muscles a head start on recovery and support that coveted muscle growth.

Manages Hunger

A rumbling stomach is the ultimate distraction. A satisfying pre-workout snack keeps hunger at bay so you can focus on your training, not your growling belly.

Supports Your Daily Goals

Smart snacking supports your overall fitness goals. By choosing nutrient-rich foods, your pre-workout snack becomes a valuable part of your healthy eating habits, not just a way to boost performance.

What to Avoid Eating Before a Workout

Not all foods are created equal when it comes to pre-workout fuel. Here’s what you want to skip:

Listen to Your Body

Some people have cast iron stomachs, others are more sensitive. Avoid foods you know cause you digestive upset or discomfort. The last thing you want is to be doubled over with cramps mid-workout.

Greasy, Spicy Meals

Heavy, fatty food takes significantly longer to digest and can leave you feeling sluggish. That’s not the type of energy you want to power your workout.

Sugary Treats

We’ve all been tempted by the candy bowl at the gym. But those quick energy bursts from sugary treats inevitably lead to a crash, disrupting your workout.

Large, Heavy Meals

Eating a big meal right before hitting the gym is a recipe for sluggishness. Your food needs time to digest. Keep your pre-workout snack smaller with the main meal planned for after your session.

It’s best to have your pre-workout snack anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours before exercise, depending on what works best for your body. Experiment a bit to find the sweet spot.

Choose Raw Nutrition Pre-Workouts to Up Your Game

Alternatives have their place, but what about when you need the real deal? Raw Nutrition is your trusted source for high-quality pre-workouts and more. Fuel your workouts and reach fitness goals with Raw Nutrition.

And don’t forget to check out the Raw Nutrition blog for tons of recipes, workout tips, and inspiration to live your most authentic, powerful life.


The information being presented in this blog is intended to be used as educational or resource information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your healthcare provider. This content should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider. You should call 911 for all medical emergencies. Raw Nutrition is not liable for any advice or information provided on this blog, which advice or information is provided on an “as-is” basis, and assumes no liability for diagnosis, treatment, decisions, or actions made in reliance upon any advice or information contained on this blog. No warranties, express or implied, are made on the information that is provided.

June 12, 2024 — Briana Gonzalez