Pre-workout supplements have become a training staple on a par with protein powder, and with good reason—they’re effective and easy to use. So easy to use, in fact, that the very name tells you exactly when to take it.
In light of that See-Spot-Run simplicity, how could someone mess up their pre-workout? You’d be surprised. Make sure you’re not making any of these mistakes when it comes to this popular supplement category.
Mistake 1: Your Timing is off (Seriously)
I often see people drinking their pre-workout as they’re walking into the gym. Most of the active ingredients in your pre-workout drink take 30-60 minutes to reach peak levels in your blood. If you wait until you reach the gym to take it, you’ll be well into your second or third exercise before the full effects kick in.
And if you think taking your pre-workout too early will leave you short on energy halfway through your workout, think again. Most pre-workouts are stimulant based, and that stim is usually caffeine. It takes your body 3-5 hours to cut the concentration of caffeine in your blood in half.
So if you have it anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour before your workout, you’re getting the full benefit from it. A bigger concern should be whether you’re taking it too late, especially if you work out in the late afternoon or early evening, If you do, you may have trouble falling asleep afterward.
Mistake 2: You’re Taking it on an Empty Stomach
If you ever drink coffee on an empty stomach, you know the feeling: light-headed, jittery, and sometimes even nauseous. If you drink a pre-workout with 200-300 milligrams of caffeine without eating anything, you can feel exactly the same way.
Having a small meal 30-60 minutes before you take your pre-workout can help minimize side effects like these—plus, those extra nutrients will help you push through your workout.
If you’re concerned that taking pre-workout on a full stomach will reduce its potency, don’t eat a meal with a lot of fiber in it. Avoid whole grains, raw fruit, nuts and seeds, and raw vegetables.
Mistake 3: Your Pre-workout is Missing Some Basic Ingredients
There are lots of great pre-workouts to choose from these days. There are also lots of less-than-great pre-workouts—often the ones with more ingredients than you can count on your fingers. A long list of ingredients probably includes fillers, or such small quantities of important ingredients that a single dose won’t do you much good.
My advice is to stick with basic ingredients. Whether you pick your pre-workout based on flavor, label, or brand name, just make sure it has the following ingredients:
- Caffeine: for the extra energy you need to crush your workout and fight fatigue for one more rep!
- Citrulline malate: for getting oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, and providing extra energy to boost your performance.
- Creatine monohydrate: to boost muscle mass and strength gains. Creatine can be taken at any time of day, but making sure it’s in your pre-workout is a great way to get at least one dose in each day.