Pre-Workout vs. Post-Workout Supplements
Pre-workout and post-workout supplements can be a valuable tool to enhance your fitness regimen. Supplements offer a convenient way to provide the fuel your body needs to maintain energy levels, build mass muscle, boost endurance and more. They're not a substitute for proper nutrition, but they can be used to help enhance your overall commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
If you're planning to engage in weight, interval or endurance training that lasts for 45 minutes or longer, a pre-workout or post-workout supplement is well worth considering. However, choosing a supplement can often seem like a daunting task. This article will outline some of the key criteria you'll need to look for when picking a supplement that best fits your needs.
What Are Pre-Workout Supplements?
The term pre-workout supplement simply refers to a product that is taken before exercising. In most cases, this is a powder mixed with water you drink about 30 minutes before your workout.
Pre-workout supplements can:
- Boost energy so you have the pep you need to get through your workout
- Increase endurance so you’re not tired quickly
- Burn off body fat
- Enhance your strength
- Promote muscle growth
Pre-workout supplements are most beneficial for those with a performance-focused approach to their workouts, such as competitive athletes or men on a dedicated mass gain protocol.
What Should I Look for in a Pre-Workout Supplement?
There are many different brands of pre-workout supplements, but you’ll see the same basic ingredients popping up in most of them. Common ingredients in pre-workout supplements include:
- Protein: Protein is a key component in any pre-workout supplement. When an athlete consumes the right amount of protein before a workout, this aids in building muscle and fueling the body. It also helps ensure the body has enough fuel left after a workout for muscle repair. Protein powders are a common source of protein for avid athletes. Many protein powders contain whey, soy, eggs or meat products. Ideally, a protein powder pre-workout supplement should be taken half an hour before your workout. This gives the protein time to break down into amino acids that help give your muscles fuel for the upcoming workout.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates refuel your muscles and get stored in the body as glycogen. A pre-workout supplement with carbohydrates adds "fuel" to your body's gas tank, giving you the energy you need to power through your workout.
- Glutamine: Glutamine is another type of amino acid that is useful in a pre-workout supplement because it stimulates the pituitary gland to increase plasma growth hormones. In food, glutamine is found in beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products. An excess of glutamine in the body will go to waste, so a supplement with glutamine isn't needed if you're working out to maintain your current weight or are bulking. If you're cutting, however, a pre-workout supplement with glutamine is ideal.
- Beta-Alanine: A building block of carnosine, a molecule that helps buffer acid in the muscles of your body, beta-alanine can help improve exercise performance. A study in the April 2009 issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that beta-alanine increased sprint performance for endurance cyclists at the end of high-intensity workouts.
- Citrulline Malate: This byproduct involved in the urea cycle helps circumvent the buildup of ammonia and lactate in the muscles, which can cause soreness after an intense workout. Citrulline malate can also help regulate nitric oxide, the cell-signaling molecule in your body that helps play a part in oxygen delivery, regulates blood flow and levels glucose uptake. In food, citrulline malate is most commonly found in watermelons and apples.
- Creatine Monohydrate: Creatine monohydrate helps your body produce cellular energy, which increases total power output for high-intensity interval training. However, creatine supplements can cause gas and bloating for some individuals. The effects of this can be reduced by drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and by choosing a high-quality product that is free of fillers and sugars.
- Caffeine: In moderate doses, caffeine can provide a temporary energy boost that will get you fired up for your exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine's research has shown that athletes who consumed approximately 3-9 mg of caffeine per kilogram of their body weight an hour before exercising increased their endurance during spinning and running tests. However, when taking a pre-workout supplement with caffeine, you'll need to limit your consumption of coffee and other caffeinated beverages. Additionally, if you exercise in the afternoon or evening, a supplement with caffeine could potentially interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night. Remember that getting the rest your body needs is just as important as hitting the gym on a regular basis.
- Antioxidants: Some supplements contain antioxidants such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E and grapeseed extract, based on the theory that this supplementation will protect muscle tissues from oxidative damage during exercise. Unfortunately, the research into the effectiveness of this approach has shown mixed results. Antioxidants are unlikely to be harmful but aren’t a crucial component of your pre-workout supplement.
- Electrolytes: In most cases, healthy people don't need an electrolyte supplement before exercise. Drinking plenty of water and eating potassium-rich foods regularly is enough to prevent dehydration. That being said, electrolyte supplements may still be appropriate if you're exercising in a hot or very humid environment.
What Are Post-Workout Supplements?
A post-workout supplement is taken within 45 minutes of exercise. Post-workout supplements can:
- Help avoid dehydration by replacing fluids lost through sweating
- Provide protein and carbohydrates to fuel protein synthesis and limit protein breakdown
- Take advantage of the 45-minute window after working out where muscles will take in higher levels of nutrients
Although many of these goals could be accomplished with a carefully prepared meal or snack, many athletes aren't up to tackling time-consuming food prep after their workout or exercise in a location that doesn't offer easy access to a kitchen. In these cases, a supplement offers a more convenient way to get the fuel the body needs.
Another important benefit of post-workout supplements is that liquid shakes tend to be better tolerated after a workout. It's common for athletes to not be hungry after a strenuous workout. Forcing yourself to eat when you're not up to it can be a recipe for stomach upset, but drinking a shake is a more manageable alternative method of meeting your nutritional needs.
What Should I Look for in a Post-Workout Supplement?
There's a fair amount of overlap in the contents of pre-workout supplements vs. post-workout supplements, which means you must read labels carefully if you're taking both supplement types to avoid accidentally ingesting too much of any particular ingredient.
Common ingredients in post-workout supplements include:
- Whey Protein: Whey protein is the ideal choice for a post-workout supplement because it is delivered to your muscles faster than other protein types. If you're working out regularly and eating a diet full of lean protein, fruits and veggies and high-quality carbs but are not getting the results you want, supplementing with whey protein is a smart choice. Benefits of whey protein include increasing size and strength, losing fat, preserving muscle and reducing hunger.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are another popular addition to a post-workout supplement, as they help replenish lost glycogen stores to keep you from becoming fatigued and grumpy after you exercise. However, to determine your ideal carbohydrate intake in a post-workout supplement, you should consult a sports nutritionist who can offer advice relevant to your specific training routine and fitness goals.
- Casein: Adding casein to your post-workout supplement enhances muscle growth by prolonging the protein synthesis spiked by an intake of whey protein.
- Creatine: Keeping your body's creatine levels high after your workout promotes optimal strength and energy.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): The BCAAs — leucine, isoleucine and valine leucine — are critical for muscle growth. Leucine is particularly important, as it starts the body's process of protein synthesis. In food, BCAAs are commonly found in meat and eggs.
- Beta-Alanine: An amino acid critical for maintaining muscle strength and endurance, beta-alanine boosts the benefits of creatine.
- Tart Cherry: The effects of this post-workout supplement are similar to that of ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). It can be used to control pain or as a chronic anti-inflammatory, as well as to heal muscle damage. A 2010 study conducted by the School of Psychology and Sports Sciences at Northumbria University showed that marathoners recovered quicker and experienced less inflammation after drinking tart cherry juice twice a day before and after their race. Supplements with tart cherry powder are thought to offer benefits similar to that of the juice itself.
- Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12: Many athletes are slightly deficient in vitamin B6, which helps the body form red blood cells and get energy from food. Vitamin B6 can also be useful in reducing inflammation, promoting healthy sleep patterns and regulating mood. Clinical deficiencies in Vitamin B12 are uncommon, but supplements with Vitamin B12 may help boost energy and reduce post-workout fatigue.
What Should I Look for When Buying Workout Supplements?
When purchasing a pre- or post-workout supplement, it's important to make sure your supplement is from a trusted supplier with strict quality-control practices. Your supplement should be clearly labeled with the percentage of daily value and the amount per serving for each vitamin and mineral, so you know exactly what you're putting into your body.
Manufacturers of dietary supplements are not required to obtain FDA approval to begin selling their products. This means the FDA does not keep a centralized list of supplements and their ingredients. If you have questions about a product, you must contact the manufacturer directly.
The legal responsibility for the safety of pre-workout and post-workout supplements rests with the manufacturer. Ethical manufacturers hire third-party agencies who can verify the quality of their products to ensure customer safety and to make sure their manufacturing facilities meet or exceed all applicable industry standards.
How Can I Be Sure I Am Using Supplements Safely?
Dietary supplements can be an effective way to enhance your workout routine, but only when they are used as directed. Read product labels carefully before choosing a pre-workout or post-workout supplement to make sure you understand the proper serving size and when the supplement should be consumed. For example, if you are taking a supplement with caffeine, it's important to avoid consuming coffee or caffeinated soda while using the product. Some supplements should be taken with a meal to prevent stomach upset, but others are best taken on an empty stomach.
Supplements often carry warnings about who should not use them. For example, many supplements are not for women who are pregnant, nursing or actively trying to conceive. Supplements are also generally not recommended for people under the age of 18, as a teen’s developing body has nutritional needs that are different from that of an adult’s.
People who suffer from food allergies must also be cautious about certain workout supplements, as many products are manufactured in facilities that process milk, egg, wheat, soy and shellfish. This creates a potential for cross-contamination that could cause an allergic reaction.
If you suffer from a medical condition such as heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, glaucoma, prostate enlargement or a seizure disorder, it's important to discuss your workout supplement use with your doctor. Although supplements are not regulated in the same way as prescription medications, it's possible for certain supplements to cause adverse interactions or to decrease the effectiveness of other medications you might be taking.
When you begin taking a new workout supplement, pay close attention to how you are feeling. If you experience symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath and/or a severe headache, discontinue the product use and consult your doctor immediately. These symptoms could indicate an allergic reaction, an adverse drug interaction or a sensitivity to the product’s ingredients.
What Supplements Are Best for Women?
Although products advertised to male athletes make up the bulk of pre-workout and post-workout supplements, there are a growing number of manufacturers creating products designed specifically for women who want to lose fat and/or build muscle. For example, Fit Miss Ignite is sold in convenient stick mix packs that can be added to water and consumed 20 to 30 minutes before exercise to help convert fat into energy, improve endurance and promote a healthy body composition. Hit Supplements Igniter Extreme Women Only is another example of a popular product designed to meet the specific needs of women in search of pre-workout nutrition.
Aside from gender-specific products, adding whey protein as a pre-workout or post-workout supplement is generally considered beneficial for a female athlete. Since women tend to eat fewer meat and dairy products than men, it's common for women to be consuming less protein than what is necessary for optimal health or nutrition.
Find the Supplements You Need at TrueCore Supplements
TrueCore Supplements provides fitness enthusiasts over 6,000 different types of sports nutrition supplements, including a wide range of pre-workout and post-workout supplements. This includes products from brands such as ProSupps, MET-Rx, BioRhythm, Beast Sports Nutrition, Inner Armour, Optimum Nutrition and more. If you need assistance selecting the right supplement to help you reach your fitness goals, please call us at 844-MY-TRUECORE.