What is the best vegan pre-workout supplement?
Here’s the answer: it depends.
It depends on the workout, as well as the goals of the workout.
- Are you a bodybuilder?
- A long-distance runner?
- A football or tennis player?
- A parkour athlete?
These questions should factor into the type of pre-workout supplement you’re looking for.
The one common denominator here is, I presume, that you are looking for a pre-workout supplement that’s vegan/plant-based. One that doesn’t use animal byproducts or participate in any eco-unfriendly manufacturing processes.
With that in mind, before tackling the best vegan pre-workout supplement, let’s first address why you should be consider a pre-workout supplement at all.
The Benefits of a Pre-Workout Supplement
Not all pre-workout supplements work as intended (or work at all).
Many PWO stacks (and nootropic stacks, for that matter) try to mask their cheap formulas with an abundance of caffeine, which is one reason why non-caffeinated PWO supplements are easier to trust.
In either case, here are the exercise and health benefits of a good pre-workout stack:
1. Enhanced Blood Flow
Circulation is key. Poor blood flow leads to less oxygen and nutrients getting to your muscles, which makes exercising harder, which makes muscle and strength gains more difficult.
Low nitric oxide (N.O.) levels are often responsible for poor circulation, due to the vasodilatory effects of N.O. Pre-workout ingredients that boost N.O. production may improve muscle strength and stamina by increasing oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscle tissue (1).
2. Increased Cellular Energy
Stimulants boost cognitive energy and focus via synthetic pathways. Natural energy boosting involves boosting natural energy, most notably ATP.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a complex organic chemical that functions as a basic energy unit across the brain and body. ATP energy is required for many biological processes, including muscle contraction, nerve signaling and maintenance, and neurotransmitter synthesis (2).
Whereas stimulants provide subjective feelings of better mood and motivation, ATP energy boosters actually increase energy that may be used to exercise more for longer.
3. Fatigue Resistance
Related to the previous benefit, PWO ingredients that boost natural energy may also reduce fatigue. The reasoning here is obvious: fatigue sets in when energy burns out, therefore more energy prolongs the rise of fatigue.
However, it isn’t solely through the “energy boosting” pathway that pre-workout supplements may improve fatigue resistance.
For example, some adaptogens may help reduce the negative impact of the stress hormone cortisol, whereas certain amino acids may replenish the nervous system’s catecholamine neurotransmitter reserves (e.g., dopamine, norepinephrine).
4. Better Hydration
Creatine is one of the best natural energy boosters and pre-workout enhancers. Few natural ingredients improve exercise performance to such a noticeable degree as creatine.
That being said, it is worth erring on the side of caution.
A smart pre-workout supplement combats this possibility with ingredients that help preserve hydration levels – e.g., via electrolytes, salts.
While some bodybuilder supplements are particularly designed to increase dehydration, thereby temporarily giving the body a more sculpted, vascular look, a lot of exercisers (who aren’t competing) may not realize this and accidentally subject themselves to dehydration.
Recreational, yet still serious, exercisers would do better by supplementing a PWO that values sustaining hydration. (Also, drink more water.)
5. To Caffeine or Not to Caffeine?
Odds are there’s some caffeine coursing through your veins right now.
And, yes, caffeine feels good, but the stimulant also possesses significant ergogenic and fat burning benefits as well, hence its popularity in pre-workout and weight loss supplements (5).
However, here’s the problem with caffeine in supplements: it isn’t likely that we’re suffering from a lack of caffeine in our diets.
The opposite is more likely true. And although caffeine may improve exercise performance, this isn’t always the case, especially after having three to four to seven cups of coffee in the morning.
On top of all that coffee, another 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine isn’t great for your cognition or stress levels.
Not to mention that caffeine also seems to work as a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it reduces blood flow efficiency. And that’s counterproductive to muscle pump enhancement. You want better blood flow, not less.
So, it’s up to you to weigh the benefits and detriments of caffeine supplementation as part of a pre-workout booster. For some, caffeine is everything. For others …eh, not so much.
In either case, non-caffeinated pre-workout supplements do grant their users the option of working out without caffeine or with an additional source of caffeine (e.g., a cup of coffee, a serving of caffeine anhydrous, etc.).
6. The Best Vegan Pre-Workout
Really, the best pre-workout supplement for you might be completely different than for someone else.
Even so, one of the best pre-workout supplements that seems to work universally – or at least provides a model of how a great pre-workout supplement should look like – is Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout, a creatine-powered PWO that uniquely comes in vegan Plantcaps® capsule containers.
Before deep diving into the ingredients, I’ll provide a list of unique features for this stack that distinguishes it from all the junk-O formulas on the market:
- No caffeine or heart-hurting stimulants
- No artificial colorings or flavorings
- All ingredients clinically proven
- Non-GMO, vegan ingredients
- No additives.
This last bulletin point, which I’ll elaborate on below, is unique among all supplements of all types.
Even manufacturers that sell seemingly good formulas have a bad habit of coating and/or filling their capsules with unnatural compounds that do nothing for health improvement. Quite the opposite, actually.
This is a point of concern and anxiety for many vegans: do the supplement’s additives and manufacturing processes align with the supplement’s supposed vegan content?
With Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout, the answer is yes: from top to bottom, this is a clean, green product.
Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout Ingredients
Seven ingredients in total, four-capsule servings – Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout keeps it simple, accomplishing a lot with only what’s necessary to improve circulation, energy, endurance, metabolism, and hydration.
The 7 ingredients are as follows:
1. Creatine (as Creapure® pH10), 1000mg
Research has shown that creatine can improve strength and exercise performance. Highly concentrated in the muscle, creatine is a natural, organic compound used to fuel the production of ATP energy, the energy unit required for muscle contraction (6).
High-intensity training depletes the muscle’s natural reserves of ATP energy and creatine.
Supplementing creatine is an effective way to workout harder for longer by essentially recharging the muscle’s ATP energy reserves and buffering the formation of lactic acid within muscle tissues.
Performance Lab’s Creapure® pH10 is a pH-balanced creatine form with exceptional nutrient bioavailability and concentration standard (99.5% pure creatine monohydrate).
2. Cordyceps Sinensis (as Cordyceps Super™), 750mg
Cordyceps sinensis is Larva Fungus. As a pre-workout booster, Cordyceps is an energy tonic, due to the fungus’ stimulation of mitochondrial ATP production and enhancement of cell oxygen utilization throughout muscle tissue.
Cordyceps is said to replenish muscular energy and oxygenation, increasing aerobic and anaerobic capacity while combating fatigue (7).
The Super™ version of this ingredient enhances the fungus’ bio-active content with a standardized extract of 50% total polysaccharides; 15% 1,3-1,6 beta glucan; and 5% alpha glucan.
3. L-Citrulline, 500mg
Usurping the N.O. booster throne previously held by dietary L-arginine, L-citrulline metabolizes into L-arginine in the body, allowing L-arginine to bypass the denaturing effects of digestion.
Once activated as L-arginine, this amino enhances N.O. activity to relax blood vessels, thereby improving blood flow to muscle tissue.
This is your muscle pump booster. It gifts you that awesome feeling of training with full, strong, pumped-up muscles.
4. L-Glutamine (from Ajinomoto®), 250mg
Another ingredient that’s naturally highly concentrated in the muscles, L-glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body. L-glutamine’s role in the body includes supporting protein metabolism and carrying nitrogen for muscle energy, growth, and repair (10)
The benefits of L-glutamine are felt both during and after working out.
By accelerating the clearance of lactic acid from muscle tissue, L-glutamine keeps muscles pumping for long, while also increasing antioxidant activity in the body to help decrease the damaging oxidative stress that accompanies high-intensity training (11, 12)
The Ajinomoto® brand of amino acids sources aminos from non-GMO, gluten-free vegetable carbohydrates, supplying them in their bio-available forms.
5. L-Carnosine (N-beta-alanyl-histidine), 300mg
Here’s a bodybuilder favorite. L-carnosine, a dipeptide that, again, is highly concentrated in the muscle (namely fast-twitch muscle tissue), is an antioxidant PWO that’s particularly advantageous to anaerobic athletes – e.g., sprinters, football players, bodybuilders (8, 9).
L-carnosine is reported to work by:
- Neutralizing catabolic oxidative stress (free radicals)
- Inhibiting catabolic advanced glycation end-products (AGEs)
- Buffering the negative impact of muscular acid build up
The amino’s potential benefits on fat loss via the breakdown of fat for energy fuel may help contribute towards a leaner physique.
6. Himalayan Pink Salt, 350mg
Here’s a hipster favorite. Aside from pink salt looking cool and incredibly Instagrammable in the kitchen, this particular type of salt supplies additional trace minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, that are essential to cardio, metabolic, and bone health (13).
However, the main purpose of this ingredient is to maintain hydration levels. Salt restores electrolytes depleted by sweating, which is doubly important here given this supplement’s use of creatine (14).
7. Maritime Pine Bark Extract (Pinus Pinaster), 100mg
In a pre-workout context, maritime pine bark extract may deliver these nootropic cognitive enhancement benefits as well as being a rich source of antioxidants.
By improving N.O. activity, maritime pine bark extract may help bolster blood flow, increasing delivery of oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissue. Additionally, the antioxidants may also help reduce the oxidative stress incurred by overtraining.
How to Take Performance Lab Pre-Workout
The “Suggested Use” directions for this stack are as follows:
On training days, take 4-6 capsules 45-60 minutes pre-workout with 16-32 oz. of water. For best results, take consistently.
Because this is a creatine product, the “consistency” factor here is important.
Creatine takes a week or two to build up to effect, at least until you begin to notice that it’s working. So you need to be consistent and take the supplement before each workout over that two-week build up process.
The good news is that with Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout’s specific creatine brand, you don't need to cycle on/off.
Some creatine supplements supply way more creatine than what’s necessary, potentially hurting hydration levels and kidney health. Performance Lab use a modest, yet potent-enough creatine content that won't overload you.
100% Vegan Capsules – No Gelatin
It’s all in the name: the patented Plantcaps® capsules used by Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout are plant-based – 100% natural, vegan – constructed out of tapioca. And the capsules are clean, absent of any colorants or fillers.
Many supplements that supply vegan formulas fail in the “Other Ingredients” department, usually by using gelatin, an animal protein obtained by boiling skin, tendons, bones, etc.
Some manufacturers proudly declare their products as vegan while using HPMC capsules, which are constructed out of synthetic polymers. However, these polymers aren’t exactly earth-friendly – plus, they’re lab-synthesized.
Non-GMO, vegan ingredients contained in non-GMO, vegan capsules. Again, Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout is clean and green from top to bottom.
Pre-Workout Stack Side Effects
Of course, there are those cases, those rare incidences of a common supplement ingredient interacting weirdly with a particular substance.
Someone who supplements creatine does have an increased risk of dehydration, especially if that someone’s frequently boozing (and, thus, urinating). But that’s easily remedied by drinking more water, as we all should anyway.
On the whole, Performance Lab SPORT Pre-Workout is a safe, natural, and effective supplement that works without resorting to risky stimulants.
I personally haven’t experienced any side effects with this stack and I don't expect anyone else to.
What’s particularly pleasing about Performance Lab’s supplements is that they standardize their herbs and extracts to a reliable potency, removing any variability in effect from serving to serving.
I have a workout history of over 20 years, spanning football, gym, and martial arts. I know what works well for my body and I am very choosy when it comes to taking any supplement.
I avoid supplements that overload their formulas with tasty flavors and colorants and abstain from artificial sweeteners.
As a vegan and someone who entirely avoids animal ingredients, I am extremely careful not to get caught out by ingredients like gelatin, magnesium stearate, carmine, or caprylic acid.
Performance Lab SPORT delivers an ergogenic exercise stack in capsule form that works well in terms of digestion, and is entirely vegan – from the production process to the ingredients.