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Should You Use Pre-Workout Before Cardio?

Should you use preworkout before cardio
Written by Connor Sellers
Last Updated on

Pre-workout supplements are known to improve anaerobic strength [1] and most bodybuilders and power sports athletes can attest to this.

However, its effects on endurance and aerobic performance isn’t as clear cut, and I still get a lot of questions from clients if they should use a pre-workout or not if they’re exclusively doing cardio exercises.

Without further ado, let’s dive into this topic and lay out the potential benefits of taking a supplement before your cardio routine.

Does Taking Pre Workout Improve Cardio?  

Yes, pre-workout supplements can improve physical performance [1] and help with cardio training. 

They can help you max out your HIIT training, and they can improve focus and endurance for slower, steadier exercises like running or swimming.

The ingredients in a good pre-workout supplement can help with any form of athletic activity and can help you get the most out of your cardio workouts.

The main goal of pre-workout supplements, based on the research but contrary to most pre-workout claims, is to enhance the feelings or perception of a superbly charged workout,

Jim White Registered Dietitian and Certified Health Fitness Instructor

Is Taking Pre-Workout Before Cardio Bad For You?

Taking pre-workout before your cardio workout is not bad for you if you have no underlying health issues and lead an active life with a proper diet. [2]

A pre-workout is meant to be used for anaerobic workouts such as weightlifting or strength training.

Using it for aerobic exercises such as running does not make it harmful, but you may want to weigh the pros against the cons.

 This detailed write-up talks about its potential side effects.

man with tumbler

Excessive caffeine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, causing cardiac issues. If you take creatine before a workout, chances are you are just irritating your gut, which ultimately may be costing you,

Katie Woeckener Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator

How Does Pre-workout Impact Different Types Of Cardio?

Using a pre-workout before doing a cardio exercise will have a different effect, depending on whether it is an anaerobic or aerobic routine. T

These two types of workouts ask different things of your body. They will benefit differently from a pre-workout supplement.

Anaerobic

weightlifting

Anaerobic exercise is what pre-workout was made for.

This consists of activities such as weightlifting and strength training. It also includes any form of HIIT training or any exercise that requires bursts of maximum effort and then a short rest.

Pre-workout supplements can help you to deliver your best performance in anaerobic activity by improving your energy levels, heart activity, blood flow, and recovery time.

Aerobic

Aerobic workouts such as swimming, yoga, or running are what we typically think of when we cardio comes to mind.  Workout supplements can help with this too, but it’s not what it was technically designed for.

The problem with aerobic exercise is that our body can quickly become used to the intensity of effort that we put into it.

This means you’ll stop feeling the benefits of your exercise routine more rapidly, and pre-workout can help with the focus and energy to step it up a gear.

Does Pre Workout Help More With Anaerobic Or Aerobic Exercise?

The terms anaerobic and aerobic are commonly associated with the HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) and LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) acronyms.

But what specific effects does a pre-workout supplement have on these two types of cardio training?

HIIT

When you take pre-workout before high-intensity cardio exercise, the main effects that you’re looking for as follows:

  • Extra energy usually sourced from creatine and caffeine.
  • An increase in your heart rate and blood flow usually provided by caffeine.
  • Improved recovery times and endurance offered by beta-alanine and amino acids.

LISS

If your cardio pre-workout activity falls into a more sustained and steady category like cycling or running, then most of the effects are either unnecessary or severely lessened:

  • Unless you’re looking to push yourself to the next level, you may not need the extra energy.
  • Too much caffeine pre workouts can be a bad thing as it increases your heart rate more than what is needed.
  • Recovery times for LISS exercise are usually slower, so amino acids are less necessary.

What Are The Main Reasons For Taking Pre-Workout Before Cardio? 

Here are some of the main benefits of a typical pre-workout and how they may assist you in your training.

Note though, that the benefits and side effects of using pre-workout with cardio will depend on the specific type of exercise you’re doing.

Adrenaline Release

Many pre-workouts inhibit adenosine receptors to encourage the release of adrenaline. This increases energy levels and endurance, which can assist weight lifters to dig a little deeper and recover faster. It could also boost a runner to go a bit further a little faster.

Improving Vasodilation

Great pre-workouts can improve oxygenation in your blood vessels by increasing your heart rate. This can assist bodybuilders in achieving a better pump, but for all athletes, it can improve muscle performance and nutrient delivery.

Focus

Your brain is just as much a part of a good workout routine as the muscles you’re working on. When fatigue begins to set in, you need the mental acuity to know when to quit and when to push through. 

How Long Before Cardio Should You Take Pre Workout?  

man with watch

Take your pre-workout around 30 to 45 minutes before your workout, which gives ingredients time to start working. This allows you to hit your cardio with the explosive energy or determined focus that you need.

Different metabolisms and pre-workout supplement doses will work differently, so to get a more fine-tuned time estimate will be a case of trial and error.

Do You Need A Pre-Workout For Cardio Or Just The Specific Ingredients?

Depending on the exercise you are doing, you may only want specific ingredients to cause specific effects.

The ingredients in pre-workouts are formulated to deliver the complete package for those usually focused on strength training. This means that if you wanted to use it for cardio, there might be a fair amount of filler that you don’t need.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common ingredients and their effects on your body.

Beta-Alanine

It might be a non-essential amino acid (meaning your body can make it on its own), but the role it plays in your workout is essential. Beta-Alanine effectively acts as a buffer between you and fatigue. If you can work out harder and more often, it will be massively beneficial to your health and fitness goals. Beta-Alanine can also increase the levels of carnosine in your muscles, which reduces lactic acid build-up.

Caffeine

Caffeine is mainly included in supplements as a way to boost your energy levels and focus. However, more studies are coming out now, which state that caffeine may have more benefits for your body than just that. [3] It has been linked to an increase in endurance, speed, and muscle performance, and it can also aid in weight loss.

When considering its use for cardio, those with high resting heart rate should consider that caffeine may further increase the heart activity and might want to choose a caffeine-free pre-workout instead [4].

Creatine

Creatine is known to be the ultimate ingredient for boosting muscle power. It works by helping your muscles create adenosine triphosphate, which provides energy for processes like muscle contractions. I would consider this a fairly pump centric effect though, and the ingredient would be less critical for HIIT or LISS cardio.

L-Citrulline

L-citrulline is another pump focused ingredient that you don’t need to worry too much about for a cardio-focused routine. It is an essential amino acid used by the body to produce l-arginine, a building block of nitric oxide, which assists in maintaining healthy blood vessel function.

BCAAS

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) help your body reduce the amount of protein breakdown that occurs while you’re working out. In simpler terms, it lessens the wear and tear or fatigue that you will feel after your workout. It also means that you can go longer while feeling less of a burn.

Conclusion

Pre-workout is designed for maximum strength and performance, and this is just as good when used for cardio. It can help you push yourself to your limits and set new personal bests.

Some of the ingredients are not as necessary, and there are more considerations to be made so you can find a pre-workout that fits you and your routine perfectly. 

If you need help finding one for your cardio workout, why not start with our handy list? Read here for our top recommendations.

References:

  1. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-016-0138-7
  2. https://aaptiv.com/magazine/pre-workout-drinks
  3. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2019/03/29/bjsports-2018-100278.full?int_source=trendmd&int_medium=cpc&int_campaign=usage-042019
  4. https://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/jared-bunch-rhythm-of-life/caffeine-your-heart-and-exercise/
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About the author

Connor Sellers

Connor Sellers is a personal trainer and senior coach at Total Shape. His mission is to inspire people to relentlessly pursue their fitness and lifestyle goals. He believes staying fit has an overall positive effect on one’s body, mind, and spirit. Read more more about us here.

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