Studies show what you eat or drink just moments before training can have a profound impact on your performance. This is why pre-workout nutrition is one of the most trialled and tested fields in sports nutrition as sports scientists look at what amino acids, extracts and nutrients will produce the greatest improvement in speed, strength and endurance. But nowhere is this quest for pre-workout perfection more hardly fought than at TPW™ HQ. This is because the resident scientist-athlete hybrids that live in THE PROTEIN WORKS™ Lab don’t just live and breathe sports nutrition, they eat and drink it too! Allow us to explain by taking you on a Pre-Workout Pilgrimage that starts with 30 marathons run in 30 days from a treadmill in the kitchen, goes via the historic Cambridge University Rowing Boathouse and ends with a sledgehammer circuit super-set with weighted vest muscle up whilst wired on our latest formula (yes, this is as odd as it sounds).
When it comes to pre-workouts it’s important to first and foremost understand the body’s 2 energy-yielding macronutrients: carbohydrates and fats. This is because these will be used to fuel every swim, run and gym session you ever do. In extreme conditions yes, the body is able to use protein as an energy source. But these are “extreme” conditions and 99% of people won’t tap into the state needed to actually do this. Instead understand that carbohydrates are our body’s primary fuel source. This is because they contain 4 calories per gram and come from foods like rice, bread, fruits and vegetables which are stored as muscle glycogen and used when we need them. Fats contain 9 calories per gram (so more energy dense) and research published by Nutrition Focus New Zealand Limited encourages us to harness the power of dietary fat for those longer endurance-based events. They state, "The number of gruelling events that challenge the limits of human endurance is increasing. Such events are also challenging the limits of current dietary recommendations (solely relying on carbohydrates).” They continue to add, whilst many have favoured carb-loading before training or competing for years, "There are some situations for which alternative dietary options (adding fat to the diet) are beneficial." Something our resident athlete adventurer Ross Edgley learnt when he ran 30 marathons in 30 days from a treadmill in his kitchen
(Only) Once you have your 2 energy-yielding macronutrients in check, can you then look into the power of pre-workouts. Usually created from amino acids, extracts and nutrients the most tried and tested come in the form of creatine and beta alanine. What is Beta Alanine? Beta Alanine is an amino acid that is produced by the body and small amounts can be found within the average diet. Beta Alanine is taken up by muscle fibres and combined with another amino acid - Histidine - to form Carnosine. What is creatine? Creatine is also found in small quantities in the average diet and produced naturally by the body. When Creatine reaches the muscles it is converted into Phosphocreatine, which is used to replenish the muscles energy reserves (ATP). Essentially, Creatine supplies energy to the muscles. Why is this important? Because at Florida Atlanta University it was found that Beta Alanine and creatine improved the endurance, strength and aerobic capacity of athletes after only 4 weeks of supplementation. Researchers believe its Beta Alanine’s ability to positively affect a substance called carnosine in the muscles which produced this improved performance since a similar study at the University of Tsukuba found that high levels of carnosine could help to reduce lactic acid build up in the muscle (the burning sensation you get in the muscles when you’re running hard.) Something we researched from the iconic Cambridge University Rowing Boathouse before the Boat Race this year.
Most athletes will know the fine line between ‘hard training’ and ‘over training’ and whilst there are the more obvious physical problems associated with over training, there are also psychological implications that can be just as important. Here we look at the effect over training can have on the body’s neurotransmitters and ultimately concentration and motivation during training. No doubt you will have experienced that ‘stale’ sensation in the gym, where your body is recovered but you’re just not that motivated to pick up that weight or jump on the treadmill, essentially the body is willing but the mind just isn’t. Often people think they are just being lazy, but research shows it could be more to do with your neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals from a neuron to a target cell across a synapse within the body. They regulate a number of physical and emotional processes such as mental performance, emotional states and pain response and when they're not "firing" you probably feel sluggish, unmotivated, lose focus easily and ultimately feel more stressed. Which is something the Head of Strength and Conditioning at Everton Football Club (Matt Taberner) understands better than anyone. This is because when players are suffering from tired legs he knows caffeine could be the answer thanks to researchers at Yale University who found that caffeine actually helped increase your resistance to fatigue by stimulating the production of the neurotransmitter beta-endorphin, which studies show can reduce pain and perceived fatigue.
Remember how carbohydrates are our body's primary fuel source? Well, too few people understand how carbohydrates and caffeine can work in synergy. Firstly, a study conducted at Loughborough University in England found that runners who consumed a high carbohydrate diet 7 days before a 30km treadmill time trial were 10% quicker than those who didn’t ‘carb load'. The reason being athlete's energy reserves (in the form of muscle glycogen) was fully topped up so they were able to maintain their maximal speed for longer. An idea echoed by A. Bean et al, 2003 who in ‘The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition’ states marathon runners need 5-7g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight or 60 per cent of your daily calorie intake from carbohydrates. But what many athletes don't know is the impact caffeine can have. This is because caffeine has been shown to spare your muscle glycogen stores by encouraging your body to burn stored fat as fuel, essentially saving your muscle glycogen for later on in the session, swim, row or marathon. This all takes place early in the exercise, according to Dr. Mark Jenkins of SportsMed Web, you may use as much as 50 percent less glycogen during the first 15 minutes. But this leaves larger stores intact for the rest of your event, delaying the point of exhaustion.