Pre-workouts are a tool utilized by many before exercise to increase energy. They are designed to increase exercise performance and recovery, yielding more profound and faster results. They reduce physical and mental perception of fatigue, allowing for longer or more intense workouts with the goal of faster and more profound results. The goal of pre-workouts is to:
Increase ATP production: ATP is the molecule that gives us energy to perform tasks
Spike energy: Increases stress hormones briefly to acutely increase energy
Increase Nitric Oxide: Increases blood flow which delivers nutrients and oxygen to the muscles
Mitigate muscle damage: Enables faster recovery, optimize muscle protein synthesis
Increase performance/reduce fatigue: Exercise longer, cover more distance or lift heavier
While the goal of a pre-workout is notable, you will notice that clinical supplement lines rarely make and carry pre-workout. This is because there are several limitations when it comes to the logistics and often, individual nutrients can have more profound effects!
The limitations of Pre-Work
Pre-workouts generally contain ingredients that have the common goal to increase performance and optimize recover, however there is no standardization when it comes to the ingredients found in pre-workouts.
Many pre-works, while they can improve workouts can have inhibitory effects on long term results.
Pre-Workouts usually contain an abundance and caffeine and certain B vitamins.
B-vitamins are an excellent and efficacious avenue to increase energy, however the ones found in pre-workout are likely not doing job they intend to. There are several b-vitamins and they work together to produce energy in the body. Pre-workouts usually contain only certain b-vitamins, throwing off the ratio needed in the body. They also typically contain the inactive forms, meaning the body can’t effectively utilize them. Lastly, the quality is often low, resulting in low absorption, meaning we pee them out!
The caffeine usually is found in multiple forms and therefore the consumer may not be aware of the total amount of caffeine they are consuming. This can indirectly impact sleep, which is where the adaptations of exercise are consolidated. Excess caffeine can also increase cortisol, the stress hormone and increase insulin- both factors that tell the body to store fat. Often times, the 'pump-up' you feel from pre-workout is curtesy of the caffeine- which a simple cup of coffee or two can help you achieve.
Other Limitations of Pre-Workouts
- Pre-workouts typically contain natural flavors as well as colors, ingredients that are not scientifically validated and additives that when taken on a continual basis can cause inflammation in the body and unwanted side effects in the long term.
- They can cause digestive upset and distress
- With the use of a standard pre-workout we can see increased heart rate before a workout has begun, which will hinder performance in the long run. We can also see drowsiness or a crash after and they are often accompanied by anxiety and restlessness.
What’s the solution? Using high quality nutrients that have been clinically backed to modulate physiology on a cellular level, mimicking the ideal mechanisms pre-work claims to achieve such as increasing energy and faster recovery! Our favorites are:
Supplements for Performance and Recovery
A well-known herbal adaptogen, rhodiola, has been used for decades in exercise performance and was most notably used by Russian Olympians for physical advantage. We love rhodiola pre-work because it’s been shown to:
- Improve mood and positive feelings towards exercise, essentially, it’s motivation in supplement form!
- Studies show it decreases the rate of perceived exertion (RPE)- which is a measure of how fast we fatigue during exercise. The lower the RPE, the linger we can comfortably engage in exercise
- It has been used to increase VO2max, improve endurance performance and provide an acute burst of energy.
How to use: take 1 hour before exercise. The best part? The effect is not compounded over time, taken as a single dose as the same effects as if taken consistently, meaning you can take it on an as needed basis!
Physical activity increases the need for b-vitamins because exercise activates metabolic pathways that rely on them. As a whole, B-vitamins are crucial to exercise performance because they increase ATP (energy), they are needed for red blood cell creation (oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles) and they work together to build and repair muscles.
Taking a B-complex provides an immediate surge of energy- the kind that makes you want to run it off or try for a PR.
Low intake of B Vitamins can impact our ability to exercise at a high intensity- topping up is a sure way to ensure levels are conducive to reaching our fitness goals!
How to take: Take 1 hour before workout. It is best to take B-vitamins daily for best results in athletic performance, regardless if engaging in physical activity that day or not.
Unlike rhodiola and a B-complex, astaxanthin does not provide an immediate burst of energy to help get your through your workouts. What astaxanthin does do is promote recovery and increase performance through its cumulative actions on a cellular level.
Astaxanthin has been shown to increase endurance by a substantial amount. One study showed it improved cycle time in elite level cyclists by 5%. It has also been shown to increase power output- a measure of strength. Using astaxanthin daily allows this effect to occur.
Recovery is enhanced by taking astaxanthin through two primary avenues. It has the ability to clear lactic acid from the muscles and offset the free radicals generated by the mitochondria through exercise. This translates to less soreness and
Bonus: Newer research is starting to show astaxanthin can mobilize fat to be burned during exercise. That’s something we can get on board with.
How to take: The effects of astaxanthin re accumulative- typically benefits are seen after 2-4 weeks use
Looking at fitness through the optimization of physiology helps us reach goals through the path of least resistance. In addition to supporting our workouts and recovery naturally, using this stack as a pre-workout has other positive benefits in the body. You just might notice better sleep, increases energy, less stress and more vitality on top of crushing your workouts.
Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, b.Kin