If you've ever delved into the world of pre-workouts, you probably know that it's an excellent supplement for kicking your lifts up a notch.
The muscle pumps you can get from a pre-workout are hard to match, and with all that blood rushing through your veins and lactic acid being buffered out, you can also work a hell of a lot longer before your muscles fatigue.
Even better, taking a pre-workout can help with fat loss, too!
So, it's no wonder that gym-goers love this stuff and no question that a pre-workout supplement is key to a good training stack.
But what about if you're on an off day and just hitting cardio, should you be taking pre-workout?
First off, let's establish what exactly we mean when we say "pre-workout."
What is a pre-workout supplement?
Just like fat burners, protein, BCAAs, and the like, pre-workouts are a class of supplements that combine several ingredients to produce the perfect energy-boosting, athletic performance-enhancing result.
They are designed to be taken before workouts and typically contain a blend of ingredients to improve acute performance and potentially augment long-term training adaptations 1.
Here's what you'll often see in the ingredients:
Ever downed a shaker filled with the sweetness of blue-raspberry BCAAs?
Yeah, we can all agree that they taste pretty good. But what's the point of them?
The branched-chain amino acids are three specific amino acids added to pre-workout supplements or can be taken on their own.
They comprise valine, leucine, and isoleucine, and are used in supplements to boost rates of muscle protein synthesis, minimize protein breakdown, reduce exercise-induced muscle damage 2, and reduce muscle soreness while boosting post-workout recovery.
Performance Lab BCAA is specifically designed to supply the optimal research-backed 2:1:1 ratio of BCAAs in two different forms: Ajipure®, made with Ferment-A-Pure technology; and our own fermented NutriGenesis® BCAAs.
Ever feel tingly after taking pre-workout? That's beta-alanine for you.
Beta-alanine is an intramuscular buffering protein that works to increase carnosine levels.
This helps to buffer acid from the muscles, reduce lactic acid buildup, and prevent fatigue 3.
That jittery, "I gotta go do something now" feeling that you get after downing a scoop of pre-workout is usually the result of one thing: caffeine.
Caffeine is the most common of ingredients in pre-workouts. It's absorbed rapidly into the blood with effects peaking anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion.
It's been shown to improve performance during endurance, power, and resistance exercise, as well as enhance cognition 1.
Most blends you'll see contain around 200-300mg of caffeine per serving.
While it is a naturally occurring amino acid, supplementing creatine in pre-workout formulas helps to increase intramuscular phosphocreatine levels.
Ultimately, this enhances physical performance and muscle morphology 4.
Nitric oxide is the molecule shown to increase blood flow to muscles, which appears to enhance physical performance.
It's the component responsible for giving you that "pump."
Why take pre-workout?
If you've downed a scoop or two of pre-workout hoping you're going to get the best pump of your life and be able to lift for hours on end, it may help you do that.
But here's what else you're getting:
Better force production
While taking a pre-workout supplement will not push you to squat that extra 40 pounds, it may help your body to avoid fatigue while you're working your way up to that.
Studies show that multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements (MIPS) may help to mitigate fatigue-related decreases in force production that are often experienced over several sets or reps.
In one particular study, participants who consumed a MIPS prevented a decline in post-supplementation 1RM for a leg press 1.
So, while it may not help you bump up the weight you're pushing, it may prevent you from falling back on weight as you push through set after set.
Improved muscular endurance
Pre-workout supplements' effects on muscle fatigue are the number one reason gym goers take them.
Possibly because of its role in buffering acid from accumulating in muscles, multiple studies show that muscular endurance increases after taking a pre-workout supplement 5,6.
However, while there is a lot of research to support MIPS and endurance, it's also essential to keep in mind that many studies have found minimal to no impact on muscular endurance when taking a pre-workout supplement 7.
What kind of cardio are we talking about?
We've all heard someone say at some point, "I hate cardio," or "I never do cardio, I don't need to" and every other excuse they come up with to avoid doing it.
But the truth is, cardio is an integral part of any proper training program.
What we mean here by cardio is any form of physical activity that gets your heart rate up and pushes your cardiovascular system to help you burn fat and keep your heart and muscles working efficiently.
There are two types of cardio people generally refer to: steady-state and high interval intervals.
Steady-state cardio is any form of physical activity that is done at a consistent pace and a low-intensity.
Exercising below the ventilatory threshold for an extended period, as is the case with steady-state cardio, reduces stress on the cardiorespiratory system.
Simultaneously, it increases the concentration of slow-twitch muscle fibers, thereby helping to improve aerobic metabolism.
High-intensity interval training, also called HIIT, is cardio exercise whereby you alternate between high-intensity exercise periods and low-intensity recovery periods.
High-intensity cardio activities are great for increasing aerobic capacity, torching calories, and increasing concentration of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
Unlike steady-state cardio, HIIT works above the lactate threshold, which can enhance the release of muscle-building, fat-burning hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF.
Why you need to be doing cardio
"It's all about the gains" is a super common phrase you hear lifters say, but cardio is just as important as lifting is.
If you're not looking to lose the gains, you need to spend hours and hours trying to get the timing of your cardio right, not avoiding it altogether.
Here are some reasons you need cardio in your training program:
- Boosts fat loss—High-intensity cardio helps to increase hormones that promote fat loss, like testosterone and growth hormone. Not to mention, if you're doing fasted cardio, your body will eventually turn towards burning fat for energy.
- Improve aerobic efficiency—Aerobic workouts, especially things like swimming, train your body to use oxygen more efficiently, thereby helping to decrease resting heart rate and breathing rate, both of which show improved cardiovascular health.
- Boosts immunity—You may think exercise suppresses your immune system, but it's the opposite. Studies show that people who exercise regularly have a healthier thymus, the organ responsible for creating specific immune cells called T cells 8.
- Tones your muscles—Most people think cardio depletes muscles, but it can actually be just as effective at growing them as resistance training when done correctly. One study found men who did cardio four days a week for 45 minutes saw a 5-6% increase in leg muscle size 9.
So, what's this about pre-workout and cardio?
People often think of pre-workout for strength workouts because they help to boost performance, reduce time to fatigue, and increase maximal strength, but is there any benefit to taking a pre-workout supplement before cardio?
Pre-workout and steady-state cardio
Most pre-workouts you'll find on the market are designed to help you through those grueling high-intensity strength workouts by reducing time to fatigue and boosting muscular power.
But that's not to say that even though they're meant for high exertion work that they aren't beneficial in some ways to steady-state cardio.
By this, we mean that they still contain ingredients that can give you an edge. Performance Lab Pre has everything you need to get through your lift or cardio session with ease.
The blend of glutathione and citrulline helps to increase oxygen supply to muscles for endurance activity and enhance mental focus and intensity.
And if you're looking towards a pre-workout to boost fat loss during cardio sessions, combining it with Burn Lab Pro may do precisely that.
Pre-workout and HIIT
High-intensity training is what a pre-workout is designed for. If you're taking a pre-workout containing stimulants, the hit of caffeine will hype your system to carry you through your workout.
And even if it's stim-free, the combination of ingredients in most pre-workout supplements will provide you with the energy needed to meet the demands of bursts of explosive work.
In Performance Lab Pre, the blend of glutathione and citrulline is the perfect combination to protect your muscles against oxidative stress during high-intensity training and support greater muscle efficiency.
Creatine helps to reload ATP supply that powers muscles during high-intensity work, and beta-alanine helps to boost muscle endurance and delay fatigue.
What you need to be careful about
One of the huge problems with 95% of the pre-workout supplements available on the market is they're loaded with crap, to put it bluntly.
Whether it's cheap ingredients, too much caffeine, or artificial flavors and sweeteners, they may give you the pump you're so desperately craving. Still, they're not doing anything for your health.
Lucky for you, Performance Lab has created a smarter, cleaner pre-workout supplement that's designed to give you everything you're looking for in a pre-workout—without all the garbage.
Performance Lab SPORT Pre is an innovative blend of Setria® Performance Blend (Setria® Glutathione + L-Citrulline), Creapure® pH10, CarnoSyn® and NutriGenesis® to enhance strength, intensity, and endurance without caffeine overload or bloating.
While pre-workouts have gotten a rep for being designed for your lifts, they may also be beneficial before cardio.
If you're choosing a pre-workout that's stimulant-free but want that jolt of energy you get from caffeine to power through your run, chances are it will not give you that.
But combined with a clean stimulant like Performance Lab Stim, you may get the results you're looking for.
With Natural Caffeine 50 mg and Suntheanine® 100 mg, it delivers greater dosing precision, fewer side effects, and superior performance-tuned stimulation.
- PS Harty, HA Zabriskie, JL Erickson, PE Molling, CM Kersick, AR Jagim. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2018 Aug; 15(41).
- RR Wolfe. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug; 14: 30.
- RM Hobson, B Saunders, G Ball, RC Harris, C Sale. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012; 43(1): 25-37.
- R Cooper, F Naclerio, J Allgrove, A Jimenez. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9(1): 33.
- PB Collins, CP Earnest, RL Dalton, RJ Sowinski, TJ Grubic, CJ Favot, AM Coletta, C Rasmussen, M Greenwood, RB Kreider. Short-erm effects of a ready-to-drink pre-workout beverage on exercise performance and recovery. Nutrients. 2017; 9(8): 823.
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- YP Jung, CP Earnest, M Koozehchian, E Galvan, R Dalton, D Walker, C Rasmussen, PS Murano, M Greenwood, RB Kreider. Effects of acute ingestion of a pre-workout dietary supplement with and without p-synephrine on resting energy expenditure, cognitive function and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jan; 14: 3.
- RD Pollock, KA O'Brien, LJ Daniels, KB Nielsen, A Rowlerson, NA Duggal, NR Lazarus, JM Lord, A Philp, SDR Harridge. Properties of the vastus lateralis muscle in relation to age and physiological function in master cyclists aged 55-79 years. Aging Cell. 2018 Apr; 17(2).
- AR Konopka, MP Harber. Skeletal muscle hypertrophy after aerobic exercise training. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2014; 42(2): 53-61.