A pre-workout formula is designed to give you the boost of energy and mental focus you need to make it through the toughest workouts, while also supplying your body with the vitamins, amino acids and other vital compounds it uses to rebuild stronger afterwards.
It’s most common to see people taking pre-workout in the gym before a weightlifting session, and the benefits it gives are massive.
But can the things that make a pre-workout so effective for lifting also give you the same benefits when you’re doing cardio?
Below, we’ll answer the question: Can you use pre-workout for cardio?
Table of Contents
What’s In a Pre-workout
While there’s hundreds of pre-workout brands out there, they all promise the same thing: Increased focus, immediate energy, Increased muscular strength, and more endurance.
Better long term recovery and the ability to work harder, day after day.
While there are differences between brands, almost all pre-workout formula are going to contain some amount of the same four compounds:
The most widely used legal stimulant in the world, caffeine boosts energy and focus, and has been proven to help with muscular endurance and high-intensity exercise performance.
Acting as the fuel for your muscles, creatine is naturally produced by your body and boosted by a good diet, but supplementing creatine can aid in longer workouts, higher endurance, and also making muscles look and feel bigger, the all important ‘pump’ that many people pursue.
Related – Creatine FAQs
Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Amino acids are compounds which form into the proteins that make up every muscle in your body. BCAAs are three essential amino acids, which build and repair your muscles, helping to increase muscle growth, strength gain and recovery after exercise.
Another amino acid, beta-alanine increases muscular endurance, and helps you work out for harder and longer.
Can You Use Pre-Workout for Cardio?
The simple answer is yes, you can use pre-workout for cardio.
The benefits of a pre-workout aren’t just useful for weightlifting and other heavy, compound exercises. Taking a pre-workout before any kind of exercise can help you with your performance through a boost in energy, endurance, and mental focus.
But how a pre-workout is going to benefit you depends on what kind of cardio you’re doing, and what you expect to get out of it.
The Two Main Types of Cardio
Cardiovascular exercise can be broadly divided into two schools. Steady state cardio, examples of which are cycling and jogging, and high intensity interval training, with examples like tabata workouts and hill sprints.
Related – Can you do HIIT and LISS on the same day
Steady State Cardio
Steady state is any form of cardio categorised by long, continuous exercise at one low to medium level of effort. Running, cycling, cross trainers and rowing are all steady state forms of cardio.
The main gains when training steady state cardio are burning calories, and the cardiovascular system itself. Consistent training will increase lung capacity and strength, as well as heart health.
Steady state cardio isn’t as taxing on the muscles in the short term, relying more on slow twitch muscle fibres, so the immediate gains of a pre-workouts that are designed for intense bursts of high strength output won’t be as useful.
But that doesn’t mean that you won’t see any benefits of taking a pre-workout before you go for a run?
Taking a Pre-workout for Steady State Cardio
- The boost of energy a pre-workout gives can be exactly the motivator to get started.
- Increased endurance and muscular strength makes completing sessions easier.
- Long term recovery and strength gains.
- Taking too much pre-workout can give you a buzz that makes it harder to focus and relax, which can interfere with some of the mindful, meditative aspects of steady state cardio.
- The sugars and calories in a lot of pre-workout formulas can invalidate the calories you burn doing the exercise.
- It can be expensive and unnecessary.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
A HIIT workout mixes periods of rest, or low intensity, with periods where you’re pushing yourself to near maximum. A good rule of thumb for HIIT is around 90% work capacity, otherwise what you’re doing is just normal cardio.
A good example of this is interval sprints: short sprinting sessions interwoven with jogging or walking back to your starting point, or with fixed rest sessions.
HIIT is much more intense than steady state cardio, and puts a lot more stress on the body in the short term. The effect on your muscles, and the muscle fibres involved, are also a lot closer to lifting weights.
See also – HIIT before or after weights
You’re more likely to feel the same burn from rapid lactic acid build up, and HIIT routines tend to be much shorter but more intense.
The active compounds in a pre-workout are perfect for this, balancing energy to push you into explosive exercises, as well as everything you need for fast, effective recovery after you’re done.
These facts make a pre-workout ideal for high-intensity interval training.
Taking a Pre-workout for HIIT Cardio
- Boosted energy, higher strength and focus to get you through hard workouts
- Higher work capacity and muscular endurance
- Better long term gains and quicker recovery
- Taking too much pre-workout can cause negative side effects
- Dependence on pre-workout for the same buzz
- The energy slump that comes a few hours later
Pre-workouts have rapidly become a vital tool for anyone concerned about their fitness and physical performance in the gym. But as this article shows, a pre-workout formula is useful for anyone who’s planning on taking part in any strenuous physical activity, cardio included.
If HIIT is a regular part of your exercise routine, for example if you’re a Crossfitter, and you want to push your limits and work as hard as possible, a pre-workout almost seems like it should be an essential part of your toolkit.
And while pre-workouts aren’t quite as important for slow, steady state cardio like running, you’ll still see benefits from the increased amount of focus, better muscular endurance and improved recovery a high quality pre-workout formula brings.