It’s no secret that whether you’re in the gym, on the track or in the pool, proper nutrition is essential to maximise your workout. Pre-workouts supplements are marketed to athletes and active people as the ultimate fuel, providing an instant energy boost and helping you to power through your workout. However, will they give you the training edge they promise? With an options available, we investigate whether you need one. And do they work to improve your workout? Or, are there equally effective natural pre-workout foods and drinks that can provide athletes with an energy boost?
What is a pre-workout supplement?
A pre-workout supplement is essentially a powder which is mixed with water. They are designed for athletes to boost stamina and performance in their workout. Pre-workouts vary significantly in type and quantity of ingredients.
Common combinations include caffeine, creatine, adaptogens, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s), beta-alanine, artificial sweeteners and protein. This can add to the confusion, as no two pre-workout supplements are the same. While the quantity and quality of ingredients can vary greatly, it’s essential to know what each component does to maximise your workout.
Common Pre-Workout Ingredients
Caffeine: Caffeine works as a stimulant that mainly affects the central nervous system by increasing alertness and providing a quick energy boost. Caffeine works quickly in the body, reaching peak results within an hour of consumption. It is also metabolised quickly with about half of the caffeine eliminated from the body within roughly 6 hours. Read our full blog on how Caffeine Boosts your Exercise Performance here.
Creatine: This is often touted as the number one supplement for athletes. Creatine can be consumed either as part of a pre-workout blend or on its own. The effects of creatine include enhanced muscle definition and growth, enhanced strength and improve overall athletic performance. Many scientific studies do back creatine for its genuine ability to improve athletic performance. This is because creatine is also a naturally occurring substance in the body and is produced from the amino acids arginine and glycine.
Adaptogens: A buzz term in the broad and ever-expanding world of nutrition. Adaptogens work to help you to adapt to stressful situations. Whether that be giving a presentation at the office, meeting a deadline, or an intense workout in the gym. Traditionally used in ancient medicines, adaptogens are herbs such as ashwagandha, ginseng, and jiaogulan. Each adaptogen has a different effect on the body, so the choice of which one to take will depend on the result you seek, whether it is to stimulate you pre-workout, or relax you for sleep.
Branched Chain Amino Acids: Protein is the building blocks of muscle, but what are the building blocks of protein? Enter amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that our body requires for good health, and 9 of these 20 are considered essential as they cannot be made by the body and must be consumed via diet. These nine essential amino acids come to the “branched-chain” amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine. The benefits of amino acids include decreased muscle soreness (reducing that DOMS feeling!), preventing muscle wastage, and increasing muscle growth.
Beta-Alanine: A member of the amino acid family, beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid. There is conflicting evidence on the long-term effectiveness of beta-alanine for athletic performance. When taken in high doses such as in a pre-workout blend, beta-alanine can result in hot flushes and a tingly sensation throughout the body.
Do you need a Pre-Workout?
To maximise your workout, fuelling your body with the right nutrients is essential. While pre-workouts will give you a quick boost of energy or a stimulus, they aren’t essential. What your body does require before exercise is adequate hydration as well as an easy to digest snack containing carbohydrates, proteins, and some healthy fat. The type and intensity of exercise you are about to undertake can influence the quantity required.
A good pre-workout meal will be easily digested, making it a quick and readily available fuel source. Pre-workouts can be eaten up to 3 hours before working out.
Hydration is essential to power your muscles throughout your workout. You can prepare for gym more naturally by opting for sugar-free hydration and electrolytes such as Bindilyte which will provide your body with essential electrolytes – sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium for optimal hydration without any extra sugars or additives.
Try a natural Pre-Workout Snack:
- One piece of whole-wheat toast and boiled egg
- 1 cup of Greek yoghurt with some fresh fruit
- A handful of trail mix
- Apple slices with peanut butter
- A banana
- Pasta with a tomato-based sauce
- A yoghurt smoothie
- A coffee – keep in mind if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may want to have your coffee first up in the morning to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
Fuelling your body with the right nutrients will impact your performance and help you reach your goals, whether to move up a weight class, run that extra kilometre or swim an extra few laps. While a pre-workout can give athletes an extra edge when it comes to training, it’s important not to neglect a balanced diet, which will help see you make the most gains. Start with the basics and then look at adding in the 1 percenters!