Maybe you’re the type of person who likes to drink a coffee before your workout.
You likely do so because you’ve noticed that you can run faster, jump higher, and lift heavier. Simply put: you perform better (#gains).
That’s all well and good until that energy jolt wears off mid-run or you cramp up just as you’re about to complete that last set of reps for your PR. Dehydration again! Not to mention the numerous bathroom breaks you have to take during your sweat sesh and the massive energy crash coupled with sugar cravings that inevitably set in an hour after you’re done. (Having the proper post-workout snack can help with this.) Just when you’re starting your work day or heading out to meet friends for a weekend brunch all you want to do is retire to the couch for a double dose of Netflix and chill. So sure, coffee is good for a short-term boost, but at what cost? There’s got to be a better option.
Enter: the pre-workout supplement
A good pre workout provides your body with sustained energy minus crashing, craving, or jitters (after all, the jitterbug is best saved for a Saturday night).
Your pre-workout should also have electrolytes, to help prevent dehydration and cramping, as well as nitrate-containing ingredients for improved muscle performance. Lastly, it should be made with ingredients that help with mental clarity and focus to assist your body in adapting to the stress of actually working out. (While exercise is essential for good health it is still a form of stress. These days, what with deadlines, managing up, and your dog chewing through your favorite pair of shoes, we need all the help in dealing with stress that we can get.) The best pre-workout options will also be all natural, organic, and plant-based, thereby eliminating chemically synthesized, bio-identical ingredients.
What to look for in a pre-workout
When selecting your pre-workout you’ll ideally want something that contains ingredients specified for the categories listed above. For energy keep an eye out for a product that contains a variety of caffeine sources as different types of caffeine vary in the quality of energy they provide. Coconut water is often used as a source of electrolytes (so long, Gatorade) and adaptogens are nature’s way of helping us manage stress (look for products with ingredients like ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and eleuthero). Lastly, nitric oxide can help improve blood flow to the muscles and is synthesized in our bodies from nitrates naturally found in many fruits and vegetables (a pre-workout containing kale, apples, or beets will do the trick).
When to take a pre-workout
Lastly, let’s talk about when to take your pre-workout.
As the name suggests before your workout is best, but about 30 minutes prior to the start of your workout is ideal.
Generally, as you’re heading to the gym or prepping in the locker room should do the trick. The goal is to allow enough time for the nutrients to metabolize in your system so that they’re beginning their circulation just as you’re finishing your warm up and kicking things into high gear. Because we all process sustenance differently, I’d recommend starting with half a serving the first week to see how your body feels and then titrate from there. It’s also important to make sure you’re not drinking coffee in addition to your-workout, otherwise, you’ll get hit with a megadose of caffeine and give the Roadrunner a run for his money. You’ll also be unable to distinguish whether or not the pre workout is having the desired effects.
Always listen to your body and make proper form a priority. Consistency is the “secret weapon” for true results so approach all of your workouts with the mindset of doing enough to create change, but not so much that you can’t get out and do it again tomorrow. Aim for five solid days of exercise per week and be sure to change things up regularly to avoid boredom and burnout. Most importantly, have fun!