Like most worthwhile endeavors, great workouts don’t just happen. They take planning and preparation. In fact, what you do in the hours leading up to your fitness session is more critical than the actual movements you perform while training. To implement the best pre workout strategy you must consider 4 key elements, each of which works synergistically with the others to provide the platform for an awesome workout. Let’s examine them one at a time.

1. Pre workout Nutrition

Nothing happens without energy. That’s why it’s such a sought after commodity. When it comes to working out, the amount of energy available to fuel your workout will mark the difference between a so-soworkout and a fat burning, muscle pumping frenzy that will catapult you toward your fitness goals. To get that energy you’ve got to eat. The timing of your pre workout meal, though, is critical. Too early and you’re energy stores will already be depleted. Too late and your stomach enzymes will be busy digesting the food while you’re training, leading to bloating and unease.

The latest scientific research suggests that your pre and post workout meals should be no more than four hours apart. Your post workoutMuscle Food meal doesn’t need as long a window after the workout, as stomach discomfort while training is no longer a factor. So, assuming that your workout is 60 minutes long, you’ll want to consume your pre workout meal,  one and a half to two hours before your workout. (1)

Despite the common belief that a high carb meal is what’s needed before your training session, getting a good amount of quality lean protein into your body pre workout is critical. Carbs are still important to provide the slow release energy that will fuel your session. But protein will provide your muscles with the nutrients needed to push to their maximum effect and to repair and rehabilitate while the workout is underway. An ideal pre workout meal will contain approximately 40 grams of slow release complex carbohydrate and 30 grams of protein. (2) 

Whether to take your pre workout meal in the form of a smoothie as opposed to whole food is often a matter of convenience. A busy person who’s struggling just to fit in their workout often doesn’t have the time to sit down and eat a well planned, carb and protein balanced meal an hour or two before their workout. For them, the ease of being able to blend up a nutritious, delicious drink that ticks all the boxes in terms of their pre workout meal requirements is a no brainer. If you do opt to go the smoothie route, find a powder that has a carb / protein ratio of 4:3. You’ll also want to ensure that you don’t have more than one smoothie a day. 

The busy pace of life today often results in convenience food and supplementation and pre workout preparation is no different.  If you cannot consume the required fuel to prepare you for a workout and don't have the time to prepare a pre workout drink yourself there are several preprepared options available.  There are multiple options available,  such as powders, pills, pre-mixed drinks and snack bars high in protein and carbohydrates.  There are also multiple brands of pre-blended pre workout supplements called 'stacks', and with so many on the market its important to do your research as like with all types of medical supplementation – they don't work the same for every person.

2. Pre-Workout Supplements

The market is saturated with a plethora of pre workout energy boosters, each one promising to be the key that will ignite your workouts. Some of them are simply hype. There are a few, mostly natural, compounds, however, that have stood the test of time, both in terms of scientific research and real world usage. Here are 3 pre workout supplements that are definitely worth experimenting with to assess whether they’ll aid your workout performance:

Caffeine

Caffeine is a natural compound that is present in more than 60 species of plant. It is a stimulant that acts in a number of ways to enhance energy and is a smart choice for anyone looking to get a great pre workout booster. It has a glycogen sparing action that allows us to sustain our performance as well as increasing mental awareness and the reduced effects of fatigue. Caffeine also stimulate the release of dopamine and catecholamine, which contribute to it’s energy boosting ability. There have been a huge number of studies that have documented the beneficial effects of caffeine supplementation as a pre workout energy booster for gym goers, sports people and athletes. (3)

The ideal pre workout dose of caffeine is around 10 mg per pound of bodyweight, which equates to 3 or 4 cups of brewed coffee. Rather than drinking it, though, look out for a pre workout energy supplement that includes enough caffeine to do the job for you.  The ProLab Caffeine Maximum Potency 200mg Tablets, 100-Count tablets are by far the cheapest and most popular caffeine supplements online.  Get the buzz and the energy preworkout without the calories of a smoothie or pre workout drink.

Taurine

Taurine is one of the 11 non-essential amino acid. It is, in fact, is the most plentiful amino acid in the body, and can be found in our muscle and organ tissue. Extra supplementation with Taurine has been shown to boost workout energy. It is found naturally in both red and white meat as well as in fish. Taurine works to give us an energy lift by increasing the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. This allows for greater actin and myosin interaction, thus improving muscle contractibility and force production. It also lessens the effect of oxidative free radicals that are produced during exercise. Supplementing with Taurine before the workout will delay fatigue and improve performance by improving strength and power during muscle contraction. (4)

The ideal pre workout dose of Taurine is 1-2 g.

Polylactate

Polylactate is the name given to a mixture of organic amino acid salts combined with inorganic lactate salts. It is taken as a pre workout energy drink. The body uses lactate as it’s key energy source during strenuous exercise. Supplementation with polylactate increases our energy reserves by storing our glycogen stores, and, thereby, allowing more lactate to be used for energy instead of for glucose formation. Polylactate also acts as an inhibitor of lactic acid build-up, warding off the burn feeling that can slow us down. (5)

The ideal pre workout dose is to take polylactate as a 7% solution in glucose polymer or water 5 minutes before your workout. 20 minutes into the workout have another drink to power you through the remainder of your session. CytoSport Cytomax Sport Energy Drink, Cool Citrus, 4.5 Pound is one of the most popular polylactate mixes on the market, with a patented blend for this purpose. Don't drink standard energy/hydration products from the supermarket – they are not the same thing.

Each human is unique. What works to boost the performance of one person may do absolutely nothing for the next person. That is why it is important to experiment with supplements to ascertain whether or not they are having a beneficial effect on your training. To do so, you need to give the supplement a decent trial – 6 weeks is about right. Keep a diary and record your energy levels and workout performance while using the supplement. If it’s working, stick with it – if not, ditch it and try one of the others mentioned above.

3. Mental Preparation

The scientific community are just beginning to understand the power of visualization, both in terms of increasing performance in it’s own right, and enhancing future performance. By mentally rehearsing your workouts before you even enter the gym, you will be able to sharpen your focus like a laser beam. See yourself training with killer intensity, performing each movement with optimum technique and powering into your cardio sessions with enthusiastic energy. Picture yourself lifting more than before, managing an extra rep and high-fiving your partner after an awesome workout. (6)

Initially your visualization sessions may seem unnatural. But the more you persevere, the more natural, and realistic, they will become. Make workout visualization a daily habit and you will be doing two things: programming your subconscious for automatic follow-through and training your mind to focus on an awesome workout every single time you step into the gym. After all, you’ve already had the workout in your head. All that’s required now is the follow through.

4. Rest and Recuperation

Rest and RelaxWorking out is challenging. During a hard weights or a high intensity cardio session the body is breaking down. Unless you allow sufficient time to repair and rebuild our muscles, you will find yourself in a state catabolism, which will actually lead to loss of muscle. In order to prepare for a great workout, you need to ensure that you have given your body sufficient rest from the last session. Each body part should be allowed a minimum of 48 hours between being directly worked again. Intense cardio sessions should also be staggered to allow for full recovery. Make sure also that you’re getting a minimum of six hours of sleep each night. While you’re sleeping your body is doing the majority of it’s work  to recover from the last workout session. If you don’t give it the time to do so, then each session will negatively compound upon the last to put you further and further into a state of catabolism. Get to bed early and avoid that danger.

Bringing It All Together

Individually the four factors mentioned above will take your workouts up a notch. Together they will act synergistically to allow you to perform workouts that will have the other gym goers standing in awe. They may even ask you what you’re on – and probably won’t believe you when you reply that you’ve been ingesting a healthy dose of common sense and some good old fashioned, scientifically sound pre workout training logic. No matter -leave them to scratch their head as you move on to your next super intense, killer workout session.

References:

(1) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Nutrient Timing Revisited Aragon & Schoenfeld, Jan, 2013

(2) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: The effects of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy. Schoenfeld, Aragon & Krieger, Dec 2013

(3) Journal of Applied Physiology: Comparison of caffeine and theophylline ingestion.Greer, Friars, Graham, June, 2000

(4) Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism: Changes in Cortical Extra-Cellular Levels of Energy Nilsson, Hillered, Ponten & Ungerstedt, June 1990

(5) Cyto Sports Science: What is a polylactate and what does it do?Brooks Sep 2003

(6) Peak Performance: Mental Training Techniques of the World’s Greatest Athletes. Garfield Sept 1985