When it comes to pre-workout boosters, you can bet that there is a cult following at your gym over the latest expensive designer supplement. These flashy supplements may work (or not), but one thing is sure, you are paying hefty fees for their marketing campaigns, and not necessarily for the stuff in the jar.
And that’s exactly why we’ve embarked on a journey to educate you on the best alternative pre-workout boosters, which are cheaper, effective, and in many instances damn good for you! Ready? Let’s get down to it.
If this sounds like cocoa to you, that’s probably because it is (sort of). Cacao powder is unrefined “cocoa extract” containing the active constituents and being devoid of artificial preservatives. Many of the benefits of cacao consumption and supplementation is due to the presence of a flavonoid known as epicatechin.
The main effect that makes epicatechin especially attractive for pre-workout use is that it improves blood flow. We all know that one feature of a good pre-workout is its ability to enhance blood flow, allowing nutrients and oxygen to reach muscle cells in a timely manner, as well as aiding removal of toxins and waste. This allows the muscles to buffer fatigue better, and thus improves performance. Studies have shown that cacao increases blood flow throughout the body. 1
Cacao also contains moderate levels of caffeine and other xanthine stimulants and that increases energy and motivation during your workout or other physical pursuits. Be sure to get a high quality cacao or epicatechin supplement to experience the potential of this sleeping beast.
Also known as medium chain triglycerides, these fats are unique in the way they are metabolized. Found abundantly in coconut oil, MCTs are metabolized in the liver where they form ketone bodies—compounds that act as alternative energy sources for the body, especially when on a very low carbohydrate diet. MCTs provide consistent energy supply during your workout in the form of ketones, and prevent premature fatigue or failure mid-set. MCTs have also demonstrated in studies the potential to suppress fat storage, making it an even more attractive option for pre-workout nutrition. 2
Exogenous ketones are a relatively new development. This is simply introducing external ketones, or ketone forming bodies, into circulation. The advantage of using exogenous ketones is the ability to provide consistent energy and improve performance, even when not on a low carb diet.
Carbohydrates are ideal for high intensity work, but ketones may be better in maintaining lower intensity effort over a longer period of time, such as for endurance. Exogenous ketones also show promise in delivering anti-inflammatory effects, meaning faster recovery following a workout along with less pain. Just keep in mind that more studies need to be undertaken to definitively confirm these benefits.
These are Worth a Try
If you are concerned about the artificial preservatives that are packed into big brand pre-workout supplements, give the three mentioned above a whirl. You may find yourself loving their effects after all, and you may not want to go back to overhyped brands.
1. “Protective effects of flavanol-rich dark chocolate on endothelial function and wave reflection during acute hyperglycemia“, Hypertension, 2012, PubMed- NCBI.
2. “Dietary medium-chain triacylglycerols suppress accumulation of body fat in a double-blind, controlled trial in healthy men and women“, Journal of Nutrition, 2001, PubMed-NCBI.