What is Pre Workout?
You’re likely familiar with the term ‘pre workout’ from reading a mainstream fitness magazine in line at the grocery store, seeing a sponsored product post on Instagram, or listening to your office mate talk about their new workout regimen.
But here’s the deal: pre workout isn’t the chemical-laden, bright blue drink your co-worker is downing every morning in a desperate grab for quick energy. PS -- if you’re wondering if that ‘Razzle Dazzle’ flavored drink is really ‘all natural’, just remember that neon hue of blue isn’t a naturally occurring color in the wild.
Pre workout plays an important part of the nutrient timing system (neon blue chemicals excluded).
As part of the musculature growth cycle, the body requires properly timed energy (pre workout fuel/supplementation) to reach its maximum performance potential. So, whether you’re a runner, pro athlete, or novice gym-goer, your body needs proper nutrition to keep energy levels high to stave off muscle fatigue, enhance recovery, and improve strength.
Pre Workout Nutrient Timing: The Energy Phase
One of the most common questions we receive is, “Does the time of day I eat have an impact on my performance, health, and recovery?” The short answer is ‘yes.’ Let’s explore why.
Nutrient timing, broken down into three main phases, is the “intentional scheduling of nutrient intake with the intent to better promote health, workout performance, and to lose or maintain optimum weight.” So, based on how your body interacts with different nutrients at varying times of the day, we can create nutrient timing strategies to optimize the three stages of the nutrient timing system: Energy Phase, Anabolic Phase, Growth Phase.
Within the three stages of the nutrient timing system, pre workout is critical to optimizing the Energy phase, or the phase that coincides with your workout. The muscle’s primary role in this phase is to release energy and induce muscle contraction. In order to prevent muscle fatigue, keep cortisol levels in check, and achieve greater muscle endurance, consuming an adequate ratio of protein, carbohydrate, and vitamins during the Energy phase is critical.
When to Take Pre Workout
From the research of John Ivy, PhD and Robert Portman, PhD, we know that by providing the muscles with an optimized nutrient mixture at least ten minutes prior to our workout thru the duration of the workout, we can:
- Increase oxygen delivery to muscles
- Improve oxygen efficiency. Much like high octane gas, the oxygen in our blood is more efficient in its work in the body when adequate pre workout nutrition is administered.
- Spare muscle glycogen
- Minimize muscle damage
- Set the stage for optimal recovery post workout
How to Take Pre Workout
Our favorite way to prepare pre workout is taking a natural pre workout powder with beetroot or by blending up the delicious ‘Can’t Beet Me’ Smoothie recipe created by Shalane Flanagan, winner of the 2017 NYC marathon and best selling author of Run Fast, Eat Slow.
This pre workout beetroot smoothie can be consumed 30-90 minutes before exercise.
- ½ cooked beet, peeled and quartered
- ½ cup frozen blueberries
- ½ small frozen banana
- 4oz. unsweetened almond milk
- 4oz. coconut water
- ½ inch fresh knob of ginger
- ½ tablespoon of almond butter
Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high speed until smooth.
Our own all natural pre workout formula contains beetroot powder, vitamin C, and Yerba Mate to boost endurance and focus during exercise. Formulated for people on the run, our pre workout powder serves as a quality energy boost when you’re in a hurry. Bonus: Vitamin C helps mask the taste of beets, so if you’re not a beet fan, it’s much easier on the palette than drinking straight beet juice. We recommend mixing 1-2 scoops in 18oz. of water and consuming 15-30 minutes prior to exercise.
Who Should Take Pre Workout
Anyone can supplement their nutrient timing with pre workout, but the type of pre workout used may vary based on your personal goals. Are you taking a pre workout drink to boost athletic performance, improve recovery or just get thru leg day at the gym?
Caffeine, while performance boosting, may not be the best option for people with a history of heart disease or high blood pressure*. Research shows that caffeine, up to 250 mg before a workout, can improve performance but the effects drop off after that, so more is not always ‘better.’
As an alternative, natural BCAAs are great for those who want to avoid caffeine and reduce post workout muscle soreness. BCAAs help prevent your body from breaking down hard-earned muscle tissue for energy during your workout. Also known as a ‘muscle sparing’ supplement, BCAAs are a great option if your goal is to build muscle and decrease body fat.
Benefits of Beetroot: Natural Pre Workout
How exactly does this natural performance enhancer work? Beetroot has the ability to improve exercise performance that is on par with PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) while being a safe and healthy option. What makes beetroot a special supplement for performance enhancement and a natural pre workout is its abundance of nitrates.
The science behind beetroot: The root of the beet transforms nitrogen gas from the soil into nitrate. When consumed, that nitrate attaches to the plasma in our blood system and is transported to the salivary glands.
Upon reaching the salivary glands, the bacteria present convert the nitrate into nitrite, which is now ready for delivery into the digestive system for absorption. When nitrite is present in the bloodstream, the plasma nitrite is then transformed into nitric oxide, also known as supplemental oxygen, to be used for various body and brain functions. As a benefit, nitrates decrease blood pressure and increase blood flow and metabolic threshold.
As discussed, the primary objective of the body during the Energy phase is to draw sufficient nutrients from the muscles in order to active contractions and prevent muscle fatigue.
When you increase exercise intensity, aerobic processes in the body become anaerobic. As a result, waste molecules are produced, which in turn yields fatigue because the body has reached its metabolic threshold. This is where the benefits of nitric oxide come in: nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels, thereby allowing increased blood flow to supply muscle tissues with increased oxygen supply at a faster rate.
Medical research shows that drinking beetroot juice as part of the pre workout Energy phase “yields connectivity in brain regions associated with motor function, compared with adults who did not drink beetroot juice before exercising.”
But researchers discovered that the benefits go beyond just exercise. They discovered that “subjects who drank the beetroot juice supplement also showed greater connectivity between the somatomotor cortex and the insular cortex, a brain region associated with motor control, cognitive functioning, emotion, and other brain functions. Such connectivity is usually seen in the brains of younger individuals.”
According to one of the co-researchers, W. Jack Rejeski of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University, “Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic, or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body.”
How is your neon blue pre workout stacking up to beetroot?
What’s in Your Pre Workout?
Not all pre workout ingredients are created equal. While there are a variety of pre workout supplements on the market with many claiming to be the ‘safest pre workout’ or ‘best pre workout’ available, there are a few things athletes, runners, and gym-goers alike should look for in a pre workout to ensure you’re getting a premium supplement.
- Sources premium beetroot as a main ingredient to increase nitric oxide in the blood and boost performance
- Look for natural caffeine from sourced from plants like Yerba Mate; avoid the synthetic caffeine, anhydrous. Limit caffeine to no more that 250 mg in your pre workout and 400 mg daily. Any more than that will decrease performance and promote adrenal fatigue.
- An effective formula should include Vitamin C to boost immune health and recovery
- Amino Acids such as Beta Alanine or BCAA’s to boost endurance
- A good pre workout should be free of Artificial Colors, Flavors and Sweeteners
- A++ verified for low heavy metals
- Free of banned ingredients or prohormones that can stress the liver and kidneys
- Free of common allergens like soy (soy lecithin is used in a lot of flavor systems)
And there you have it: the down and dirty on pre workout. Still have questions? Check out ‘ The Science of Beetroot’ and our FAQ to start. Or, feel free to chat with us on social or send us an email. We’re happy to chat nutrition!
Joanne Tull, former Fitness America, Fitness Canada and Fitness Universe finalist. Joanne is a Co-Founder of Nutrology, the naturally based sports nutrition company that has innovated clean label nutritional products used by thousands of athletes, including elites in the NFL, MLB, NHL and Professional Boxing. Having appeared on ESPN, Fox Sports and TSN after finishing a storied athletic career as a state champion, collegiate and national level gymnast. Joanne’s common sense approach to nutrition will educate and motivate people on how to live a healthy lifestyle while balancing career, kids and fitness goals.