Can drinking a preworkout before running improve your performance?
Have you ever had a workout planned for after work, but as it becomes time to clock out and head to the track you feel too tired from the long day at the office?
Or maybe you planned a long run but you were up all night with a sick kid or a fun night at the bar?
In such cases, your energy to run might be lacking and you have reason to believe you just won’t bring your “A-game” to your workout.
You could postpone your run for another day, try an espresso or energy chews with caffeine, or you could use supplements like a preworkout for running.
They’re designed to help optimize your workout, but does taking a preworkout before running actually help?
In this guide, we will explore the benefits of using a preworkout for runners and help you determine whether they are a useful supplement to add to your nutrition routine.
We will cover:
- What Is a Preworkout for Running?
- How Do Preworkouts for Running Work?
- When Should Runners Take a Preworkout?
- Downsides of Preworkouts for Running
- What to Look for When Buying a Preworkout for Running
- Should Runners Take a Preworkout?
Let’s get started!
What Is a Preworkout for Running?
A preworkout for running is a type of sports supplement taken before you run or work out, designed to boost your energy and optimize performance during your workout.
Unlike a specific performance supplement like BCAAs or creatine, “preworkout” is more of an umbrella term for a category of supplement, which can contain lots of different ingredients, vitamins, and minerals.
The specific formulation varies between preworkout supplements, as does the form of the supplement itself. For example, there are preworkout drink powders, pre-made drinks, chews, capsules, gels, etc.
It typically comes as a powdered supplement that you mix with water.
Though the specific ingredients and form differ somewhat, any preworkout for running is designed to increase your energy and focus, prevent glycogen depletion, and boost athletic performance.
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How Do Preworkouts for Running Work?
While the ingredients vary somewhat from product to product, a preworkout for running usually contains caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, B vitamins, electrolytes, and/or branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), among other less common ingredients like ginseng, various adaptogens, and Co-Enzyme Q10.
These ingredients are designed to provide a near-immediate boost of energy that can then be sustained over the duration of the workout, unlike a spike and then dip in blood sugar from simple carbohydrates.
They may also work to enhance circulation, stamina, muscle repair, and mental alertness and focus.
The following are some of the most common ingredients in a preworkout for running, along with their intended purpose:
Caffeine is a stimulant often attested to increase alertness and energy.
Any preworkout for running will likely contain at least some caffeine, and most have somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-300 milligrams per serving, which is the equivalent of about one to four cups of coffee, respectively.
Caffeine may also increase your stamina and/or time to exhaustion during endurance exercise.
For example, one study found that ingesting 2.5 mg/kg of caffeine increased time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise (11.2 minutes with caffeine versus 7.9 minutes without).
Green Tea Extract
Green tea extract is not only a source of caffeine, but is also thought to enhance fat oxidation during exercise.
This means that green tea might potentially delay glycogen depletion during long runs by shifting the body towards using fat for fuel at higher intensities, sparing your limited glycogen store somewhat.
Creatine is used as a substrate in the most rapid energy-generating pathway in the body, which is used by your muscles during powerful, forceful contractions.
Providing your muscles with an ample supply of readily-available creatine helps ensure that ATP (cellular energy) can be rapidly generated without any delays, preventing waiting for it to be synthesized or shuttled to the muscles for usage.
B vitamins, especially vitamin B12 and niacin, also play a key role in energy production and metabolism.
This is because our bodies use B-Vitamins to convert carbohydrates and proteins into usable energy, while also playing a key role in cell production and repair
Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
They have a unique chemical structure that enables them to bypass digestion in the liver and go straight to the muscles where they can be immediately used for energy.
BCAAs have also been shown to support muscle protein synthesis, helping you repair and build muscle after a hard workout.
Finally, BCAAs may reduce fatigue during exercise. For example, studies show BCAAs can reduce the level of perceived exertion, preserve glycogen stores during endurance exercise, and decrease lactate production, increasing the time to exhaustion.
The recommended daily intake of BCAAs for athletes over 150 pounds is 5-10 grams, whereas smaller runners are best served with a daily dosage of 3 grams.
Beta-Alanine and Carnosine
Beta-alanine is another amino acid, though it’s non-essential, which means your body can produce it endogenously. That said, it can be beneficial in preworkouts because it increases the levels of carnosine in your muscles.
Carnosine helps buffer the pH levels in your muscles, which is key to minimizing metabolic acidosis during a hard workout – think burning, tired legs, or what people used to think was “lactic acid buildup.”
While it’s not actually lactic acid causing this performance-limiting fatigue, your muscles do produce hydrogen ions (acid) during intense exercise in the absence of sufficient oxygen (i.e. when you’re breathless), and this acid accumulation hinders how fast you run.
Carnosine helps buffer this acid buildup, helping to keep the pH in your muscles more alkaline.
This enables you to keep pushing the pace without contending with burning, leaden legs. Some preworkouts for running contain carnosine itself, while others contain beta-alanine to stimulate the production of carnosine.
This amino acid is used by the body to form L-arginine, another amino acid that forms an important building block of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow to your muscles to enhance oxygenation and nutrient delivery while you run.
Beetroot powder is another common ingredient in preworkouts for runners because like L-arginine, or increases the production of nitric oxide, which enhances blood circulation.
Another amino acid frequently found in preworkouts for runners is L-glutamine.
Research has shown that when taken before a workout, L-glutamine may help reduce muscle soreness after exercising, as well as increasing the rate of recovery by repairing microtears in the muscles.
Although L-glutamine is found in quite a few common foods, such as eggs, chicken, nuts, seafood, tofu, and dark leafy greens, a more potent dose before a workout might enhance the post-workout recovery benefits.
Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium support nerve conductions, and skeletal muscle and heart contractions. They also help maintain fluid levels in the body and can increase the absorption of water to enhance the effectiveness of hydration.
When Should Runners Take a Preworkout?
Runners who do want to try a pre-workout should take it approximately 30-60 minutes before their workout.
In case you react poorly, as with trying new foods, shoes, or gear, it’s always best to try something for the first time in training, not on race day.
Downsides of Preworkouts for Running
As with most supplements, there are some potential downsides to preworkouts that runners should be aware of:
- Preworkouts can cause GI distress in runners: Cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and bloating can occur from some of the ingredients used in preworkout supplements for running, especially if they have artificial sweeteners or high levels of caffeine.
- Preworkouts may make you jittery: If you are sensitive to caffeine, preworkouts may make you feel jittery or anxious.
- Preworkouts may not be necessary: Sometimes, single-ingredient products are a better way to go so that you get just what you need and nothing you don’t.
What to Look for When Buying a Preworkout for Running
As preworkout supplements aren’t particularly well regulated in terms of what they can and can’t contain, it’s best to start with simple products with just a couple of ingredients.
This will be easier on your body and help you determine if the preworkout agrees with your body and works well for you.
It will also help you dial in the dosage that suits you best. If you jump in with a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement with a bunch of different things in it, it’s hard to tease out the culprit if you react poorly.
Wherever possible, also look for FDA-regulated products, organic ingredients, clear dosing instructions, transparency in labeling and ingredients, and pre-workouts with no artificial colors, sweeteners, or chemicals.
Recommended Preworkouts for Running
Some of the best preworkout powders for runners include:
Shifted Maximum Performance Pre Workout
SHIFTED puts a ton of research into their products, and this formulation is science-backed to improve performance while being safe.
This Shifted Premium Formula Pre Workout is high-performance fuel, offering 20 to 40 servings per jar. Packed with easily absorbed nutrients, each carefully selected to help runners go further and get stronger faster.
We just love Gnarly products! Not only does this blend taste great, but it also features 180mg of caffeine from green tea leaf and 150mg of ginseng to give you an all-natural energy boost during your runs.
Oh, and if you’re sensitive to caffeine, they’ve got you covered, with this preworkout mix also available in caffeine-free.
This is a clean product with complete transparency in the labeling to let you know what ingredients you’re getting and at what doses. It also tastes great!
Run Fit Runner’s Performance Mix
Keto friendly, low carb, low calorie and packed with vitamins, BCAAs, caffeine and more, Run Fit’s performance mix is perfect to boost the energy of those who are running to lose weight.
All in all, this is a comprehensive, multi-ingredient product with a formulation specially designed for runners – can’t go wrong!
6AM RUN Marathon Pre-Workout Powder
This preworkout for marathon runners is designed to increase endurance, so it’s ideal for distance runners.
This unique blend provides runners with a clean preworkout energy boost, improving performance and endurance. Crafted with a delicate mix of natural stimulants, it boosts you up without causing jitters.
It’s also non-GMO, gluten free, keto and paleo-friendly, and made right here in the USA.
Oh, and even better, 6AM Run offer an 100% money back guarantee if you’re not happy with the product!
Garden of Life Sport Organic Plant-Based Energy + Focus Vegan Clean Pre-Workout Powder
Built on only naturally sourced ingredients, we love that Garden of Life has managed to make an all-organic, clean and synthetis free pre workout.
Packed full of vegetable powders, exotic plant extracts, vitamins and minerals, the health benefits of the blend make this pre workout a great addition to the diet of runners and non-runners alike!
Conclusion: Should Runners Take a Preworkout?
In summary, supplements like a preworkout for running can only do so much.
You’ll see and feel far greater and longer-lasting benefits by optimizing your training, nutrition, hydration, sleep, and recovery than the benefits you’ll reap from any preworkout supplement.
However, if you’re already pretty dialed into taking care of the basics, a preworkout for running can potentially give you a little energy boost for those days you’re really not feeling the pep in your stride you’re hoping for.
From Preworkout Before Running To Creatine For runners . . .
Is creatine for runners actually effective or is it all just clever marketing?
Find all the answers here: Creatine For Runners Explained
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