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Should You Use Pre Workout Before Cardio?

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Get a good pre workout supplement in your routine and you’ll notice some big differences in your strength training.

You’ll feel stronger, your muscle pumps will be insane and your time to fatigue increases so much you’ll be wondering if you’ve got superhero blood coursing through those veins.

Maybe you’re the distant relative of Kal-El after all?

But could pre workout be just as effective for cardio? Or is it designed just for strength training? 

In this article we take a look. Here’s what we’ll cover…

  • What do we mean by cardio?
  • What are the benefits of cardio training?
  • Is pre workout really just for weight training?

What Do We Mean By Cardio?

Cardio is a bit of a catch-all term for any physical activity that challenges your cardiovascular system – your heart and blood vessels.

Cardio involves any activity that raises your heart rate for an extended period of time, elevates your body temperature and increases both the amount of blood that is pumped from your heart and the volume of air taken in by your lungs.

It is often referred to as aerobic activity because cardio is typically performed at a moderate to high intensity and involves energy pathways that rely on oxygen to break down fat and glycogen in your body for fuel. 

What sort of activities are classed as cardio?

By definition, it involves anything that focuses on endurance and stamina. So that includes running, cycling, swimming, dancing, skateboarding, sports, aerobics, rowing and so on.

Traditionally, cardio involves exercise that is continuous, rhythmical and often involves ‘closed loop skills’ where the same movement is performed over and over.

The difference between steady state and HIIT

One aspect of cardio that you need to know about is that there are two main types. These are low-intensity steady state (LISS) and high-intensity-interval training (HIIT).

LISS is more moderate in intensity and has a big focus on duration. Current guidelines suggest that for steady state work you should work out at around 70% of your max heart rate for anything from 20-60 minutes – even longer if you can.

HIIT is different. It focuses more on intensity then duration and involves repeated bouts of high to maximum intensity (80-100% of max heart rate) with mini recovery periods.


Why Should You Do Cardio?

Fat loss – cardio burns calories making it a great way to achieve a calorie deficit, particularly when combined with a healthy approach to eating. And as much as strength training can be great for fat loss too, cardio is your best calorie burner on a minute-by-minute basis.

Fitness – because it targets your cardiovascular system the main adaptations relate to increased efficiency of your heart, lungs and circulation.

Health – cardio helps to reduce a number of risk factors for long-term health complications. Those that take part in regular cardio show improvements in blood sugar, cholesterol profile, brain health and sleep quality. It reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, a range of metabolic disorders and some types of cancers too.

Sports performance – a number of sports rely on a strong aerobic base. Many high-level sports coaches still insist on their athletes performing cardio to help with overall conditioning, endurance, stamina and also recovery.

Quality of life – there’s a strong correlation between those that participate in cardio and markers of life quality – goal setting, motivation, mood and self-confidence for example.


Male runner doing a fell run through the woods and checking his heart rate monitor

Key Point: Cardio helps to burn fat, keep you fit and improve your overall quality of life and health status.


Why Use A Pre Workout?

Pre workout supplements are specifically designed to boost athletic performance. And they do this by targeting a number of physiological pathways.

  • They help to ramp up energy and endurance by stimulating the release of adrenaline and inhibiting adenosine receptors.
  • Some pre workout supplements boost blood flow by increasing vasodilation. This leads to better muscle pumps and increased perfusion (nutrient delivery).
  • You’ll find that some pre workouts help to increase your strength and high-intensity workload by increasing production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
  • Pre workouts often contain nutrients that stimulate production of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), helping to keep you alert and focused.

Can You Take Pre Workout Before Cardio?

If you look at the benefits of pre workout supplements in detail, you’ll notice that many of them relate to improving performance of intense workouts. They improve maximal strength, time to fatigue at high intensity, your speed and power for example.

But could they also help you with more moderate intensity workouts such as cardio too? 

Are they only for strength training?

These are the sort of questions we receive on a regular basis.

Here’s what we think…

HIIT cardio and pre workout

There’s an absolute ton of research showing that pre workout nutrients can boost the results of high-intensity cardio sessions.

A study published in the prestigious journal JISSN [1] found that when a group of 24 trained athletes used a pre workout containing nutrients such as caffeine, citrulline malate and creatine over a 3-week period, their maximum oxygen consumption, running speed at high intensity and lean body mass all improved when combined with HIIT training.

Another study, this time published in Nutrition and Metabolism [2] found that a supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, creatine and other nutrients helped to improve both time-to-fatigue during endurance exercise and perceived feelings of fatigue too.

Steady State cardio and pre workout

By definition, LISS cardio isn’t super intense – remember we’re talking about moderate intensity here, not bust-your-balls until you throw up cardio.

So does a pre workout help at moderate intensity exercise?

It’s probably not as essential as for your strength or HIIT sessions, but taking a pre workout before LISS cardio can still help with duration, productivity and focus.

The main reason you’re doing LISS is probably to burn fat. And there’s lot of research to show that nutrients such as caffeine can increase metabolic rate- it boosts lipolysis, even at lower exercise intensities.

A large review paper published in the high-ranking journal Sports Medicine, suggested that caffeine-based supplements (such as pre workouts) had a performance-enhancing benefit on endurance exercise [3]. Not only that, but that they could spare muscle glycogen and increase fat burning as well.

And another study reported that combining caffeine and creatine (two popular pre workout nutrients) helped to improve not only strength and muscle contractions, but endurance performance too [4].


Young woman working out in the gym on a bike doing cardio

Key Point: Pre workout supplements can be used for any type of cardio, whether it’s steady state or HIIT.


Summary

Pre workout supplements are designed with one aim in mind – to improve your sports performance. Although they’ve become synonymous with strength and weight lifting they can also be used for cardio too.

So if you want to improve your endurance training, boost your time to fatigue and overall conditioning then give it a try.


Smash Your Workouts With 4 Gauge

4 Gauge is an exhaustively researched, all-natural pre workout designed to rip the lid off your gym sessions, sports games or workouts.

Packed with performance-enhancing nutrients such as caffeine, L-theanine and creatine, 4 Gauge will take your training to a completely new level.

  • Smash your workouts – feel your nervous system firing on all cylinders
  • Cell-splitting muscle pumps – harness the power of vasodilation and deliver more nutrients to your muscle cells
  • Determination like never before – feel unparalleled focus and motivation
  • Relentless energy – train for longer without fatigue

References

  1. Smith, AE et al. The effects of a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids during three weeks of high-intensity exercise on aerobic and anaerobic performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010; 7: 10
  2. Spradley, BD et al. Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2012; 9: 28
  3. Tarnopolsky, MA. Caffeine and endurance performance. Sports Med. 1994; 18(2): 109-125
  4. Tarnopolsky, MA et al. Nutritional needs of elite endurance athletes. Part II: Dietary protein and the potential role of caffeine and creatine. Eur J Sport Sci. 2005;5(2): 59-72

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