It’s hard getting yourself to the gym when you’re feeling sluggish, especially after a long day of work. And while you should definitely allow your body to rest when it needs to, there may be some days when you just need a little boost of motivation to get yourself to that workout class you’ve been wanting to try. In these cases, a pre-workout supplement may be helpful.
To learn more about the best supplements to take before a workout, we talked with an expert in sports nutrition and dietetics, Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD author of The Sports Nutrition Playbook and member of our medical expert board
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 for fueling exercise—it fuels your body to run, jump, lift, 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 perform its best.”
However, if you’re specifically looking for a supplement to give you a pre-workout boost, Goodson says you may benefit from caffeine.
“Research tells us that caffeine can help provide energy for exercise, so if you are going to choose a supplement, a little caffeine paired with a snack might help,” says Goodson.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) conducted a critical evaluation of research related to caffeine and exercise performance and concluded that overall, consuming caffeine can be helpful to your fitness performance.
According to ISSN, caffeine supplementation can help with endurance, muscle strength, sprinting and jumping, and many other aerobic and anaerobic movements specific to certain sports movements. They also note that the biggest benefits of caffeine can be seen in those doing aerobic endurance exercises, which include things like jogging, biking, and swimming.
While caffeine can be a helpful pre-workout energy boost, it’s important to also take notice of how your body feels when you consume it. ISSN mentions that higher amounts of caffeine can have negative side effects, and Goodson certainly agrees.
“Caffeine affects everyone differently and because it is a central nervous stimulant, it is important to know how caffeine affects you,” says Goodson. “Also, both caffeine and exercise cause an increase in heart rate, so starting with a small amount is always ideal.”
Another solution is always pairing your caffeine with a light snack. Goodson suggests something like a cup of coffee with a protein bar because “consuming caffeine with food will help stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels and ideally help keep caffeine from having a negative impact on your energy.”
At the end of the day, Goodson is still an advocate for eating healthy carbs before exercising as your first choice, because “fueling a workout with a carbohydrate, a little protein, and some water” will always go a long way.
For more healthy workout tips, check out 7 Best Protein Powders for Stronger Muscles, Say Dietitians.