Pre-Workout Before Cardio (Is It a Good Idea?)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: January 17, 2024
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Taking a pre-workout before engaging in cardio can boost your performance by increasing energy levels, focus, and anaerobic strength.

However, its impact on endurance and aerobic performance is not clear. Many clients inquire about the suitability of pre-workouts for exclusive cardio workouts, prompting me to conduct extensive research.

Continue reading to learn the potential benefits of taking a pre-workout supplement before your cardio routine.

Quick Summary

  • You should use pre-workouts before engaging in cardio exercises because they can enhance both mental and physical performance.
  • Taking pre-workouts prior to cardio workout can elevate energy levels and focus, particularly advantageous for high-intensity exercises.
  • It is advisable to consume your pre-workout approximately 30 to 45 minutes before your cardio session to allow sufficient time for the ingredients to take effect.
  • In my opinion, opting for a caffeine-free pre-workout might be ideal when aiming to enhance your cardio workout with a supplement.

Does Taking Pre-Workout Improve Cardio?

Close up shot of a clock with a dumbbell on the side

Taking pre-workout supplements can help improve cardio performance by increasing strength, energy, and focus, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition [1].

Additionally, top-notch pre-workout ingredients contribute to comprehensive athletic enhancement, ensuring maximum benefits from high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Over the years, using a trusted supplement has optimized our team's workout performance, delivering a boost that has positively impacted our overall training experience.

You can also check out which are the best pre-workouts for cardio training.

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?

man with tumbler

Taking pre-workout before cardio isn't necessarily bad, but it's important to understand its suitability and potential effects on aerobic workouts.

It's important to note that pre-workouts are designed for anaerobic workouts like weightlifting or strength training.

While using them for aerobic exercises such as running isn't inherently harmful, it's advisable to consider the pros and cons.

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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 Cardio?

Pre-workout impacts cardio with varying effects, depending on whether the workout is anaerobic or aerobic in nature.

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.

Furthermore, it 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 It Help With Anaerobic Or Aerobic Exercise?

Pre-workout supplements are more helpful for high-intensity cardio (HIIT) than for low-intensity steady-state (LISS) exercises.

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.

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

Numerous pre-workouts act by inhibiting adenosine receptors, promoting the release of adrenaline. According to WebMD, this release aids in enhancing energy and mental concentration. This proves particularly beneficial for weight lifters, enabling them to push further and recover more quickly. Similarly, it can propel a runner to cover more distance at a faster pace [2].

Improving Vasodilation

Effective pre-workouts can enhance muscle oxygenation by improving blood flow. Research from the National Institute of Health suggests that improved circulation can aid bodybuilders in achieving a better pump, enhancing muscle performance, and expediting recovery in athletes [3].

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

For optimal results, take your pre-workout supplement approximately 30 to 45 minutes before your cardio session to experience its energizing effects. 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?

Close up shot of a scoop of BCAA on a wooden bowl with a dumbbell on the side

Whether you need a pre-workout for cardio primarily depends on the specific ingredients you're looking for, as different ingredients can have distinct effects on your body. 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.

Learn More: HTLT Pre-Workout 2.0 Review

Beta-Alanine

According to research from the National Institute of Health, beta-alanine, a non-essential amino acid, acts as a fatigue buffer. Furthermore, this ingredient in pre-workouts enables more intense and frequent workouts for improved health and fitness goals by increasing carnosine levels in muscles and reducing lactic acid buildup [4].

Caffeine

Research from the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggest that caffeine in pre-workouts can help enhance energy and focus, and suggesting benefits for endurance, speed, muscle performance, and weight loss. For cardio, individuals with a high resting heart rate should consider a caffeine-free pre-workout to avoid additional heart activity [5].

Creatine

Creatine is renowned for its ability to enhance muscle power by aiding in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). According to the National Institute of Health, ATP is the energy source for muscle contractions. However, its impact is more focused on muscle pumps and may be less crucial for HIIT or LISS cardio [6].


L-Citrulline

L-citrulline is a pump-focused ingredient that may not be a primary concern for a cardio-focused routine. Research from ScienceDirect suggests that it's an essential amino acid that the body utilizes to produce l-arginine, a building block of nitric oxide, contributing to the maintenance of healthy blood vessel function [7].

Here you can find the best pre-workouts for better pumps.

BCAAS

Another study from ScienceDirect suggests that branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) aid in reducing protein breakdown during your workout, minimizing post-exercise fatigue and wear and tear. This enables you to exercise for a longer duration with reduced discomfort [8].

Also read:

FAQs

Is Pre-workout Good for Swimming?

Yes, pre-workout is good for swimming. However, it's important to choose a supplement that aligns with the intensity and duration of your swimming session, and to be cautious of any potential side effects like increased heart rate or jitteriness, which might be uncomfortable during swimming.

Is Pre-workout Good for Football?

Pre-workout can be good for football by boosting energy, focus, and endurance. However, it's important to choose a suitable supplement, take it at the right time, be cautious of stimulants, stay hydrated, and consult a professional, especially if under sports regulations.

Should You Take Pre-workout Before Riding a Bicycle?

You can take pre-workout before riding a bicycle as it can boost energy and endurance, beneficial for intense or long rides. However, be mindful of caffeine sensitivity, stay hydrated, and consider your body's reaction to the supplement.

References:

  1. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-016-0138-7
  2. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-to-know-adrenaline-rush
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27139812/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4501114/
  5. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/11/681.full
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1842855/
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/citrulline
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/branched-chain-amino-acid
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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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