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Pre-workout supplements are a good way to step up your game and hit the weights so hard they’ll fly into space.
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However, they are not for everyone.
Perhaps more importantly, they may not be good in every situation.
An oft-asked question is whether or not pre-workouts are good for cardio, running, swimming, or other similar exercises.
Sure, they are known to be good for anaerobic exercise, but what about aerobic exercise?
Like so many things in life, the answer is not clear-cut.
So, to answer the question, I’m going to look at what pre-workout supplements are and what they do. After that, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of taking pre-workouts for cardio, and even suggest a few if they are right for you.
What Is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
In short, a pre-workout is something you take before your workout to make it easier.
That seems obvious from the name, but it’s only one of several things you can do to improve your workouts.
Rest well. Eat properly. Avoid overtraining. All of these ensure that you’ll kick butt, whether at the gym, running on the track, or even studying for school.
Pre-workouts are there to give you a little extra edge so you can push a little harder during exercise and improve your gains a little.
Added up over time, a little bit of help can turn into a lot of progress toward your fitness goals.
But, how exactly does a pre-workout supplement give you this extra edge?
What Does a Pre-Workout Supplement Do?
When you exercise, whether it’s with a weighted bar or a run down the street, you are fighting fatigue.
ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) gets used up, glycogen stores deplete, lactic acid builds up, and adenosine starts to flood your brain and tell it, “hey, it’s time to feel tired!”
When you’re out of ATP and glycogen and are full up on lactic acid and adenosine, well, finishing your workout may be harder than asking your crush to the school dance.
Pre-workout powders such as Bucked Up (which I reviewed here!) contain ingredients to counteract all of those fatiguing situations.
Caffeine is the most famous.
It attaches to your A1 receptors and blocks adenosine from attaching and telling your brain to feel tired.
Amino acids are also commonly included.
“Aren’t those just protein?” you may ask. Technically, yes, but they’re not here to build muscle mass, unlike the amino acids in protein powders.
Instead, your body uses them to improve the efficacy of your muscles.
Beta-alanine prevents carnosine from degrading, leading to less fatigue in your muscles.
L-arginine and L-citrulline help as well by increasing your blood flow. Lactic acid, therefore, gets washed away more quickly, keeping you working out longer.
Every pre-workout contains something different. Other common ingredients include BCAAs, creatine, and herbs such as ginseng.
You can learn more about pre-workout supplements on this page.
What About Runners and Pre-Workout Supplement?
That all sounds pretty great, right?
Hold on, there’s a catch.
Pre-workouts are designed for, and marketed toward, gym workouts.
You know, anaerobic workouts. Not cardio.
They are designed to improve short-term, maximal-intensity effort, not a moderate amount of effort over a longer period of time.
Some of the intended effects are not as effective when your aerobic exercise isn’t the same type of demanding as anaerobic exercise.
That’s not to say that pre-workouts are ineffective for cardio.
They’re just not as effective.
A sprinter would get more out of a pre-workout than would a runner.
Let’s look at reasons to take or avoid pre-workouts.
Why You Should Take a Pre-Workout For Cardio
- You’re tired, from not resting well or from other exercise. Pre-workouts will help energize you. Some, like Optimum Nutrition’s Amino Energy, are equally good when not working out as well!
- If you “hit the wall” easily. That’s from lactic acid build-up, so a pre-workout with L-arginine and L-citrulline will help you go further before hitting that wall.
- You want to get as fit as possible as quickly as possible. Remember, every little bit adds up!
- You don’t enjoy cardio. I know someone who hates running and considers it a slog, but a pre-workout peps them up so they can run for hours.
Why You Should Not Take a Pre-Workout For Cardio
- You don’t feel enough of a benefit to make up for the cost. It’s okay to save some money if you need to. Save the pre-workout for another exercise, or skip it entirely!
- You’re sensitive to caffeine. Though, some pre-workouts, such as N.O. XT, do not contain caffeine and would be safe to use.
- Your heart beats pretty fast already. Cardio gets your heart pumping and so can pre-workouts. Combining the two, for some people, can cause the heart to pump dangerously fast!
- You have high blood pressure. Just like how cardio and pre-workouts both increase your heart rate, they both increase your blood pressure.
- You dehydrate easily. Caffeine and creatine are both diuretics and creatine causes water retention, but in a way that doesn’t hydrate you. Stay hydrated!
- You are prone to panic attacks. The stimulating effects of the pre-workout can potentially cause one in unlucky individuals.
There may be more reasons to avoid pre-workouts than to use one for your cardio workout, but don’t let that scare you off.
You see, your number one goal in fitness should always be safety and health. Know the upsides and downsides before choosing to do something.
So, while pre-workouts may not be for everyone, they are still worth checking out.
Whether or not you should take a pre-workout supplement before running is a question you have to figure out for yourself.
If you do decide to take some before doing cardio, I would recommend to start off with a half dose.
We don’t want to get the heart pumping too hard!