Pre-workout supplements have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially among weightlifters and bodybuilders looking to boost their gym performance. However, some people have also begun using pre-workout formulas as an ergogenic aid for cardio activities like running, biking, or aerobics. But is taking a stimulant-based supplement advisable for cardio training goals? This article examines the potential pros and cons.
Is Pre-Workout Good For Cardio?
Pre-workout supplements typically contain ingredients like caffeine, amino acids, and creatine that are intended to increase energy, focus, strength, and endurance during exercise.
Pre-Workout for Weight Training
For weight training, these effects can clearly translate into lifting heavier weights and powering through more reps and sets.
Pre-workout supplements can be very beneficial when used strategically before weight training sessions. Many pre-workout formulas contain ingredients like caffeine, creatine, amino acids, and beta-alanine that have been shown to boost strength, endurance, focus, and exercise capacity during resistance training.
Taking a pre-workout 15-30 minutes before lifting weights can provide an ergogenic effect, allowing you to train with higher intensity, complete more reps, lift heavier weights, and progress faster towards your strength goals.
The increased energy and reduced fatigue from ingredients like caffeine and creatine can help power you through challenging multi-set/multi-exercise workouts.
Pre-workout can also enhance mental focus when tiredness or monotony sets in during lengthy training splits.
Just be sure not to become dependent on supplements and give your body rest days from high stimulant doses. When used judiciously, a pre-workout can be a safe and effective way to take your weight lifting to the next level.
Pre-Workout for Cardio
But whether the same benefits apply to lower-intensity sustained cardio exercise is questionable.
While pre-workout supplements are commonly used for weight training, some people also take them prior to cardio workouts like running or biking.
The potential benefits for cardio include increased energy, stamina, and focus to help you power through high-intensity interval or endurance training sessions. The caffeine and other stimulants can provide an initial boost to get you energized and motivated, especially on days when you feel tired.
Some research also suggests ingredients like beta-alanine may enhance muscular endurance and delay fatigue during prolonged cardio.
However, the effects of pre-workout tend to be short-lived and are not well-suited for steady-state, moderate cardio. The high stimulant doses may also interfere with getting into a beneficial cardio rhythm or pace.
Experts generally advise against using a pre-workout before most types of cardio exercise and recommend natural nutrition for sustained energy instead.
But some compromise use for occasional high-intensity cardio sessions may be reasonable. Just avoid becoming dependent on supplements to get through cardio workouts.
There might be a plus side to using a pre-workout for cardio
On the plus side, the caffeine in pre-workout can help increase mental alertness and motivation to stick to your cardio routine when you’re feeling tired. The energy boost may also help you push a bit harder and last longer before fatigue sets in on long runs or cardio sessions.
Some evidence suggests supplement ingredients like beta-alanine can enhance muscular endurance too. So pre-workout may allow you to maintain a higher cardio intensity for longer.
Potential Drawbacks of Pre-Workout Supplements
However, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider.
- Pre-workout supplements are designed to provide quick bursts of energy, power, and focus – not for activity sustained over 30 minutes or more.
- The stimulating effects of high doses of caffeine may interfere with getting into a steady cardio rhythm and pace. And once the pre-workout ingredients wear off, unwanted side effects like energy crashes, headaches, and jitteriness may occur.
- Frequent use could also lead to dependency issues and disrupt your natural energy levels over time.
Most experts advise against relying on pre-workout supplements for your cardio training needs.
As celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels notes, “Save pre-workout supplements for days you strength train and get energized naturally from good nutrition and proper cardio preparation on other days.”
Some compromise recommendations are to only use half servings or limit pre-workout boosts to high-intensity interval cardio sessions. But not for steady-state moderate cardio aimed at fat burning or endurance.
In summary, pre-workout supplements do have some potential upsides but also several risks when used for cardio exercise.
Getting sufficient sleep, nutrition, hydration, and mental preparation may be better solutions.
Use pre-workout judiciously or consider safer natural alternatives like coffee. Don’t become reliant on supplements to energize cardio workouts.