Almost everybody who is active knows how important it is to supplement with a fast-uptake protein immediately after working out. This is probably the most well-know supplementation advice there is out there, in fact. But did you know that what you take before and even DURING your workout is just as important — maybe even more so?
The whole idea of supplementing around your workout is to not only help your body recover as quickly as possible — rebuilding muscle fibers stronger as they’re torn down — but to help it perform at its best. This applies to strength, endurance, power and even fat loss. What you eat (or don’t eat) before a workout plays a huge role in just how much success you will see. There are a million options out there, with a ton of different theories on what works and what doesn’t. Most are bunk. Luckily, we’ve made it easy and put together the ultimate pre-, interim- and post-workout plan for you. We’ll explain why certain supplements are best at certain times, and show you how you can use that knowledge to your benefit.
Your workout performance doesn’t start when you walk in the gym door — it starts in your kitchen, up to 2 hours before you ever lift a single weight or run a single step. As you exercise, you burn massive amounts of calories compared to what you might expend throughout the course of the day — and a giant spike in calorie-burning requires those calories to come from somewhere. The ultimate goal is to get your body to use fat to do this, but fat is option No. 3 on the body’s natural preference list when it comes to energy sources. Nos. 1 and 2: Blood sugar and proteins (in the form of muscle tissue!).
The less available those are, the more your body will turn to fat. You can see, then, that it’s not a good idea to have any carbohydrates pre-workout: Carbs are quickly converted to blood sugar (glycogen) for energy, and what’s left over is stored as fat. The result is a workout that doesn’t burn any body fat, because the body had sufficient blood sugar to use.
And don’t worry, we didn’t forget option No. 2. Muscle is what we call “calorically expensive” in the body, meaning that it takes a great deal of energy to maintain muscle tissue. The body wants to run a bare-bones operation, being as efficient as possible, and large excesses of muscle mass are incredibly demanding of energy (this is why anybody trying to add mass must eat a surplus of calories). The system responds to muscle surplus in a very efficient way: It catabolizes, converting muscle tissue and the amino acids that form it into blood sugar for energy consumption. Without proper supplementation, THIS WILL HAPPEN.
The answer: Load up on extra amino acids — BCAAs — to supply your body with an alternative energy source while maintaining and building muscle tissue at the same time. In turn, your muscles will be saved and the body will have to turn to visceral fat. BCAAs are actually becoming one of the most popular and well-researched supplements available. One landmark study by the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found that BCAAs are responsible for myriad benefits:
Ingestion of a supplement containing BCAAs while following an 8-week resistance training program resulted in a greater decrease in percent body fat, an increase in lean mass, and 10-RM strength gains on the bench press and squat vs. ingestion of a whey supplement or a sports drink. — JISSN, 2009
But pre-workout supplementation doesn’t stop there. A sophisticated, non-stimulant-based pre-workout drink can also bring huge benefits. The best ones you can get will usually include a blend of arginine, beta-alanine and citrulline (malate or nitrate). Each is known to have great properties, including increased ATP production for more cellular energy and thus more strength and power, improved muscular endurance thanks to conversion of lactic acid to energy, and vasodilation — the expansion of the blood vessels to deliver nutrients and oxygen.
Studies have shown that beta-alanine directly affects intramuscular levels of carnosine, another amino acid that serves to provide a pH “buffer” in the muscle against lactic acid, which forms as a result of low oxygen. This keeps the muscle stronger for longer, with the end result being better endurance of strength.
Our best non-stimulant-based pre-workout: ForzaOne’s NOX-P3.
And, as we mentioned, blood flow is critical to athletes during their workouts. Nutrient and oxygen delivery are of utmost importance for strength and endurance, as well as immediate repair of muscle breakdown. Blood flow has a direct correlation to just about every facet of the workout: Nutrients in the blood help grow and repair the muscles, while oxygen and amino acids in the bloodstream provide energy and endurance. On top of all that, better blood flow means a quicker recovery time for muscle tissue, which we know is torn down with microscopic tears during intense resistance exercise. This helps reduce soreness, while increasing the phenomenon known as “the pump.”
All of these things can be achieved by increasing the body’s nitric oxide (NO) production. The system will release this compound as a means to better provide the muscles with the nutrients they need. This is why an arginine-based nitric oxide booster is important. You might be wondering why Arginine Nitrate is important, or what it does. First, we’ll start off with pure L-Arginine, an essential amino acid that plays a big part in many important bodily functions, including immune function and muscle building. But it’s also an immediate precursor to nitric oxide, and as a peer-reviewed article in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy points out, this makes it crucial when vasodilation — the expansion of blood vessels for better blood flow — is needed. Bonded with a nitrate, this provides improved blood flow to and from the heart, maximizing that sought-after pump and vascularity.
Our best NO booster: ForzaOne’s ANX-P3.
And last but not least, the most-researched nitrogenous acid out there: Creatine (don’t worry about what “nitrogenous” means. It won’t be on the quiz). Well-known for its ability to help add muscle mass, its benefits don’t stop there. Creatine has a direct effect on ATP synthesis, the creation of cellular energy that helps boost strength and muscle cell volume. However, for years, many incorrectly assumed that creatine was best taken post-workout ONLY. Creatine IS great for muscle recovery and development via protein synthesis, but more results can be found by splitting creatine intake around the workout — before and after. Because of the significant gains that can be seen in strength, as well as the pump effect, creatine really is a great pre-workout product as well.
Our best creatine: CellShock’s N’FUZE.
Stay tuned throughout the week, as we detail the best supplements to take during and after your workout!