It’s hard to get to the gym when you feel lazy, especially after a long day at work. And while you should definitely let your body rest when it needs it, there may be days when you just need a little motivation to get to that workout class you’ve been wanting to try. In these cases, a pre-workout supplement can be helpful.
To learn more about the best supplements to take before a workout, we spoke with sports nutrition and dietetics expert Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD author of The Sports Nutrition Handbook and a member of our Medical Expert Council
According to Goodson, the best thing you can consume before a workout is actually not a supplement at all, but food! “Carbohydrates are your body’s first choice of energy to fuel exercise– it fuels your body to run, jump, lift weights and more, so fueling your workout with a granola bar, banana or whole grain bagel is a fantastic way to give your body the energy it needs to give the best of themselves.
However, if you’re specifically looking for a supplement to give you a pre-workout boost, Goodson says you can benefit from caffeine.
“Research tells us that caffeine can help provide energy for exercise, so if you’re choosing a supplement, a little caffeine paired with a snack might help,” says Goodson.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) conducted a critical assessment of research related to caffeine and exercise performance and concluded that, overall, caffeine consumption may be helpful for your exercise performance.
According to the ISSN, caffeine supplementation may help with endurance, muscle strength, sprinting and jumping, and many other sport-specific aerobic and anaerobic movements. They also note that the greatest caffeine benefits can be seen in those who do aerobic endurance exercise, which includes activities like jogging, bicycling, and swimming.
While caffeine can be a useful pre-workout energy boost, it’s also important to consider how your body feels when you consume it. The ISSN mentions that higher amounts of caffeine can have negative side effects, and Goodson certainly agrees.
“Caffeine affects everyone differently and because it’s a central nervous system stimulant, it’s important to know how caffeine affects you,” Goodson says. “Also, caffeine and exercise cause an increase in heart rate, so starting with a small amount is always ideal.”
Another solution is always to pair your caffeine with a light snack. Goodson suggests something like a cup of coffee with a protein bar because “vsConsuming caffeine with food will help stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels and ideally help prevent caffeine from negatively impacting your energy.”
Ultimately, Goodson is still an advocate for eating healthy carbs before exercising as your first choice because “fRunning a workout with a carb, a little protein, and a little water” will always go a long way.
For more healthy workout tips, check out 7 Best Protein Powders for Stronger Muscles, Dietitians Say.