It’s Time to Optimize Your Pre-Workout Rituals – Here’s What You Need to Know
The list of pre-workout rituals that people swear by could go on longer than a CVS receipt for one packet of gum. You’ve surely heard it all, from this week’s best exotic supplement to the holy grail of protein powders to all the misguided suggestions on the proper way to warm up before you hit the rack.
While a lot of this advice might not kill you, technically, some of it very likely is not making your workouts much better. In fact, some of the most well-intentioned pre-workout advice might even be hampering your workouts and preventing you from hitting your fitness goals! You also might be spending your hard-earned cash trying to eat the “right” foods or take the “right” supplements before your workout when, in reality, you may be better off saving those dollars for your gym membership or an upgrade to your home exercise equipment.
That’s why we spoke to a few experts to get the low-down on all the pre-workout mistakes you’re making, and how you can fix them before your next sweat session.
Mistake #1: You’re Lifting on an Empty Stomach
"The first mistake men tend to make is lifting on an empty stomach thinking that they will burn more fat, but it’s the reverse that actually occurs," says Daniel Sullivan, certified personal trainer and founder of The Diesel Physique.
He goes on to explain that this causes the body to go catabolic faster, which means it will target the largest source of energy. Unfortunately, this source is not fat, but muscle.
Frank Dennison, AAFA- and NASM-certified personal trainer and RockBox Fitness’ Product Manager agrees, noting that you should never workout without eating if you are trying to build muscle.
Solution: Rather than going into your workout with a grumbling stomach, Sullivan recommends a light pre-workout meal. For Dennison, this could mean a pre-workout supplement with BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, to give your exercise performance a boost and enhance muscle growth, as well.
“If you train early in the morning, ensure you are hydrated and have some BCAA’s to protect your muscles from being used for energy,” Dennison recommends. “This will keep your body from being catabolic.”
Mistake #2: You’re Careless With Your Pre-Workout Supplement
Though you don’t want to lift on an empty stomach, you’ll also want to be careful about any pre-workout supplement you shake up before your sweat sesh. Vincent Nguyen-Bui, a personal trainer on The Bright App, warns of a few common mistakes you may be making, especially when it comes to timing, portions, and dehydration.
“If you take a pre-workout supplement when you’re not properly hydrated, you’re probably going to feel too tired to get motivated,” he says, adding that poor timing and improper serving size can also cause issues. “Taking too little might do nothing [to help your workout]. On the other hand, if you take too much, you risk experiencing side effects such as nausea or trouble sleeping, especially if you tend to workout in the evening."
Dennison echoes this sentiment and specifically cautions against trying out a brand new pre-workout supplement right before your sweat session.
“Often, they are full of caffeine that can cause jitters and other ingredients that may not agree with your body,” he says. “Some pre-workouts can even cause an upset stomach and headaches.”
Solution: Take the suggested serving size of your pre-workout supplement about 30 to 45 minutes before your workout. Nguyen-Bui notes that taking the right serving amount of a pre-workout supplement at the right time will allow you to feel the benefits right as your workout begins.
Dennison also recommends being cognizant of the amount of caffeine in your pre-workout supplement, and consider how much additional caffeine you plan to consume beyond that, such as in coffee or tea. Depending on when you workout, you also want to make sure that you’re not ultimately going to disturb your sleeping pattern.
“If you are trying a new supplement, read the label and do some quick research,” Dennison suggests. “Try a half serving of a new product instead of a full serving to see how your body will react.”
If you’re not even sure what’s in your supplement, New York City-based personal trainer Karina Krepp suggests giving your supps a more careful look. She recommends utilizing Examine.com as a resource to let you know about potential side effects, product quality, and what other users are saying.
Mistake #3: Your Pre-Workout Meal Is Too Heavy
While working out on an empty stomach can really hinder your muscle growth, you also don’t want to eat something too heavy before you set out to break a sweat.
“[A heavy pre-workout meal] can cause nausea, acid reflux, cramping, and slowed down performance,” says Dennison “Also try to avoid eating foods with high fat content, which can slow down digestion.”
Aside from the potentially uncomfortable effects, a full stomach could also prevent your body from immediately burning fat for fuel, which is pretty counterproductive especially if your current goal is weight loss.
Solution: Dennison suggests eating fruit before your workout, such as apples, bananas, and even raisins, noting that they have been shown to increase endurance. He also recommends incorporating a low-sugar endurance formula with 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates, BCAAs, and a built-in electrolyte formula to keep your muscles hydrated.
Prefer to go a little more natural with your pre-workout fuel-up? Krepp has some tips.
“I prefer whole foods to powdered supplements [because it’s] less taxing on the kidneys and liver,” she says. “Depending on your goals, you may want to add exogenous amino acids and a sip or two of caffeine before you start your burn.”
If you do opt for powdered supplements, however, Krepp recommends cycling through different trusted options to give your organs a processing break.
Mistake #4: You Rely on Static Stretches
Simply put, static stretches are just not enough to warm you up before your workout. (You are warming up, right?) In fact, they can even diminish your performance!
“Contrary to popular belief, static stretching can actually decrease your strength and raise the risk of pulling or straining a muscle,” warns Dennison.
These stretches involve holding a single position for an extended period of time without movement, which can really tire your muscles out. They’re actually great for increasing blood flow and improving flexibility when done at the end of your workout, but they’re just not good for warming up.
Solution: Instead of static stretches, Dennison suggests dynamic stretching for your pre-workout warm-up. These are stretches that allow your joints and muscles to experience their full range of motion so there are no surprises when you jump into your workout.
“Or, do some light cardio for three to five minutes to warm up,” Dennison says. “And if you are training and isolating muscle groups, you can also use exercise bands with higher reps to pump blood into the desired muscle group.”
Mistake #5: You Went Hard on the Alcohol Last Night
Not only does alcohol consumption lead to dehydration the next day, but Dennison warns that it could affect your motor skills and coordination, and ultimately lead to workout injuries, especially if you’ve still got a little buzzing through your system. Krepp agrees, noting that if you’re overtired, you should just shift your scheduled workout to the next day instead.
Solution: The fix here is simple, according to Dennison: “Enjoy your drinks responsibly and leave the workout for another day!”
Krepp says the same, noting that trying to push through the hangover and causing yourself injury can cost you weeks in the long run, rather than just the one day.
But, if you’re truly hesitant to skip your workout altogether, she suggests engaging in movements that fit your mental ability to focus and your physical ability to safely execute in your hungover state. Or, if that doesn’t seem feasible, try going for a long hike instead. At the very least, some fresh air should do your body good. Just remember to bring along some water or electrolytes to keep yourself well hydrated after all that imbibing.
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