This week we’re talking about “pre-workouts” – those supplements you see advertised mostly for guys to “elevate performance” and otherwise activate beast mode. Are they for chicks, too? Plus my training update is at the end of this post.
Q: I have seen on social media more women saying they are taking pre-workout supplements before a session, which I always thought was more of a male thing to do. What’s your take on pre-workouts, are they really needed?
A. I get it – when you see other women, particularly fitness competitors, taking supplements to boost energy and burn fat, you wonder if it’s actually legit. And when you see the persuasive ads for pre-workouts, you question whether you, too, could maximize your gainz by using them.
But there ain’t shortcuts, ladies. Guys and gals build muscle the same way – with consistent, progressive strength training and the right nutrition. If you’re getting enough sleep, allowing for adequate recovery, eating enough high-quality protein and veggies, and fueling up before your workouts, you will be able to push hard enough in your workouts to see results.
The fact that you do not need pre-workout supplements to lose fat and/or build muscle is only part of the reason why you shouldn’t use them. Here’s a few other reasons:
- Pre-workout supplements in the U.S. are not regulated by the FDA, and the safety of the ingredients is not always clear. Many contain cardiac and central nervous system stimulants, which elevate your heart rate and can make you pretty damn jittery (let’s work OUT!). Do you know and understand all the ingredients used in these products? Probably not, because like most people, you don’t read and interpret all the latest research.
- Swolemates may swear by this pre-workout high, but there are reports of dependence, heart issues, and a built-up tolerance that requires increased serving sizes. There’s no reason to be alarmist, but ingredients like -3 dimethylamylamine (DMAA), a synthetically derived amphetamine-like molecule, aren’t something I want to fool around with. Plus, does this stuff build up in your tissues over time? Who really knows at this point?
- This brings me to the main reason not to use advertised pre-workouts: These chemicals are simply not part of a clean-eating lifestyle.
- Getting super stimulated before every workout can lead to overtraining. You shouldn’t push to the max every session – it’s just not healthy for your joints and soft tissues.
With that said, the following low-cost supplements can be beneficial (but they’re not required!). These recommendations apply to men and women. And you don’t need a lot of post-workout supplements either – just a good meal with protein and slow-digesting carbs or a protein shake and a piece of fruit (plus see my note about BCAAs).
I have no qualms with caffeine before some workouts if you like an extra shot of energy for lifting that makes you push harder. But if you’re addicted to a pre-workout stimulant, I challenge you to try doing without sometime. If you eliminate the artificial stimulation and let your body normalize, you might find out you’re really not getting enough sleep, or that you need more iron, carbohydrates, or another nutrient.
Cycling in creatine has a place for women who are serious about muscle building. You can learn all about creatine and how to take it HERE.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
BCAAs are essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), meaning they are not manufactured by your body. BCAAs may help with muscle recovery and exercise performance, among other possible benefits. If you’re over 35, BCAA supplements may help with recovery between workouts. BCAAs may also help you to retain muscle during a calorie deficit.
However, there is evidence that if you’re getting enough protein through diet (meat, dairy, legumes), BCAA supplements are unnecessary. If you choose to take BCAAs to aid in recovery and maintain muscle mass, follow the instructions on the packaging (I personally take BCAA capsules before and after my workouts).
The main benefits of whey protein powder are that it’s (1) fast-digesting, which some say is important pre- and post-workout, (2) convenient and portable, and (3) can be part of a clean-eating diet if it has a short ingredient list with no or minimal sugar, fat, and fillers (look for natural powders). But you can also get protein through diet, obviously.
Whenever you find yourself tempted to supplement, ask yourself: Do the ingredients in this product fit into my clean-eating lifestyle? Am I trying to cover up some other deficiency, like a sleep deficit or junky diet? Then you’ll have your answer about whether to take pre-workout supplements (or any supplement).
I was on vacation for the last five days in Crested Butte and Telluride, Colorado, and as usual, it was a seriously active vacay. We hiked more than 15 miles and climbed over 2,300 feet in elevation, all while enjoying epic mountain scenery. I love these types of getaways because my water weight vanishes with cardiovascular exercise, which I loathe doing indoors. I even took this picture of my abs, which have been on hiatus since my last surgery!
Next week I’m off all post-surgery restrictions, so I’ll slowly begin training upper body again. I’m already on a lower-body routine that I’ll also continue to progress slowly – I don’t like being so sore I can’t walk, ya know? I’m nervous-excited to be sure, but will continue to TRUST the process and my ability to progress myself at the appropriate speed. I’ll show you just how I get back to my previous condition, so stay tuned!
It’s one adventure I can’t start soon enough.
Til next time,
This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.