Find Your Unicorn: Choosing the Healthiest Pre-Workout Supplement

athletic african american man in black shirt and shorts holding white towel and black water bottle

When choosing a healthy pre-workout, look for products that are free from artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and fillers. Be sure to check the ingredients label for hidden sources of sugar, possible allergens, and ingredients that may be banned by your sports organization. Seek out pre workouts that contain natural energizing ingredients like coffeeberry, ashwagandha, and matcha green tea.

In this article, you will learn:

Pre-workout ingredients to avoid
Natural pre-workout ingredients to seek out
How to put it all together and “find your unicorn”

Ingredients to Avoid

While most consumers of pre-workouts use them for the energy, focus, and stimulation that they provide, these results may come at a high cost.

In addition to standard ingredients like caffeine and beta-alanine (the ingredient that creates the itchy, skin-tingling feeling), many pre-workout products also contain ingredients that can lead to long term health issues.

Artificial Colors and Flavors

Perhaps not surprisingly, many pre-workouts are chock full of artificial colors and flavors.

While these neon colors and “X-treme” flavors might be good for marketing, scientific studies have linked the consumption of these chemicals to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and it is likely that these ingredients can cause similar issues in adults.

Artificial Sweeteners

Most fitness-minded consumers are savvy enough to scan nutrient facts panels for sugar, but just because something contains “0 grams” of sugar doesn’t mean that it is healthy for you.

Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin lack calories, but there is evidence that suggests that they may still lead to weight gain by negatively impacting your gut microbiome, triggering an insulin response, and increasing food cravings.

Unnecessary Fillers & Banned Substances

The ingredients label for most pre-workouts read like a mad scientist’s dream, but scientific sounding terms like “thermic”, “myogenic”, “fusion”, and “composite” have no actual meaning when it comes to giving you results.

Despite sounding cool, they often contain little more than synthetic vitamin powders sprinkled with just enough active ingredients to get them listed on the label.

Some supplement manufacturers even add pharmaceutical drugs (like the banned stimulant DMAA) to their products. These ingredients can cause adverse effects ranging from high blood pressure all the way up to heart attacks and death.

Ingredients to Look For

A healthy pre-workout supplement trades artificial and potentially harmful synthetic ingredients for all-natural substances that provide health benefits.

Natural Colors and Flavors

Ever wonder what your pre-workout would look like without all those artificial colors and flavors? It would probably be a chalky white that shows their synthetic “true color”.

Natural colors and flavors on the other hand, and we’re talking those derived from real ingredients, have colors that come from naturally occurring antioxidants and phytochemicals that provide health benefits instead of causing health issues.

Beets for example have a dark red color, and the use of a pre-workout that contains beet powder means that you’ll be getting positive “side effects” like increased blood flow and enhanced athletic performance.

Pomegranate fruit is another example of a natural ingredient that tastes great while also providing nutrients that can help protect against obesity, inflammation, and cancer.

Natural Sweeteners

While sugar itself is technically a “natural” sweetener, its impact on health precludes it from being considered a good alternative to synthetic sweeteners.

Fortunately, Mother Nature once again comes through as there are naturally sweet plants that can help your pre-workout to taste better without adding empty calories.

Stevia, a member of the mint family, contains a substance called steviol that is 150x sweeter than sugar and there is evidence to suggest that it may actually improve, rather than impair, insulin sensitivity.

Monk fruit extract and xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, are other natural sweeteners that provide sweetness without the harmful effects associated with synthetic sweeteners.

Safe Functional Ingredients

At the end of the day, a pre-workout needs to work in order to be worth your hard-earned money.

Unlike fillers, functional ingredients provide real benefits and therefore give you the most pre-workout bang for your buck.

Ingredients like cordyceps sinensis and ashwagandha have thousands of years of traditional use backing up their inclusion in your pre-workout arsenal, and both help to combat the effects of stress on the body.

Natural energizers like coffeeberry extract and matcha green tea are also supported by traditional use, and provide stimulating compounds like caffeine. Unlike their synthetic counterparts however, natural sources of caffeine come with built in co-factors like chlorogenic acid and L-theanine that balance out their stimulant properties.

Finding Your Unicorn

Identifying a pre-workout that avoids artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and fillers might seem as difficult as finding the mythical unicorn, but it isn’t impossible.

This is the actual scenario Natural Force co-founders Joe and Justin faced when they first started looking for a pre-workout formula that contained only all-natural and functional ingredients.

To accomplish their goal, Joe and Justin bought individual ingredients in bulk and mixed up their own pre-workout blend.

This eventually led to the creation of Raw Tea, the world’s first all-natural pre-workout, and later on, spurned the development of the first USDA Organic 3-stage pre-workout product, Organic Pre-Workout.

Now that you know what to avoid, and what to look for, you can follow in their footsteps and find your pre-workout unicorn that contains everything you need and nothing you don’t.


Also published on Medium.