Get better results from your workout by fueling your body and brain before training. With these 11 tips, you will be more focused and feel awesome so that you get more out of every rep, set, and exercise. Make your hard work count!
Tip #1: You Can’t Out-Supplement Lack of Training Effort
Just as you can’t out-train a bad diet, you can’t out-supplement a lack of training effort (or no training effort!). This guide assumes you have the basics of nutrition taken care of: You don’t eat processed or refined foods, are smart about carbohydrate intake focusing on vegetables and limited whole grains, get high-quality protein at every meal, and eat a nice dose of smart fats daily.
That said, workout nutrition is the second step to getting more from training because first you have to make working out a lifestyle habit. Then you can focus on shaping your nutrition and supplementation so that you burn more fat, have more energy, and optimize lean body mass gains.
Tip #2: Ensure You Aren’t Deficient in Zinc, Magnesium, Omega-3s & Vitamin D
The majority of the population is extremely deficient in one or all of the nutrients listed above. Lack of any one of these nutrients can make you fatter than you should be, impair your health and well being, or compromise results in the gym. Consider supplementing with each one separately because you daily need for each one is so great.
For example, zinc plays a role in DNA synthesis and cell division, so if you don’t have enough, you won’t gain muscle as you should, recovery from injury will delayed, and reproduction can be compromised. Magnesium is necessary for muscle contractions making it a must have during hard training, but it also calms the nervous system and having adequate levels will ensure you can sleep well. Omega-3 fats are found in fish oil and are the most important kind of fat because they support optimal energy use and cellular health. Finally, low vitamin D plays a role in at least 25 disorders, is essential for body composition, and it interacts with every single cell in your body, ensuring that each one replicates properly.
Tip #3: Use Pre-Workout Motivators
Get the most out of your time in the gym by taking pre-workout supplements that help motivate you and elevate fat burning and muscle building. Everyone can benefit from a little extra push to get the work done in the gym on occasion, and these are excellent for those of you who tend to procrastinate about your workout. Plus, they’ll help your perform better at work—many of these supplements are used for improving brain nutrition, meaning they’ll improve your focus and cognitive ability.
For best results, work out and use these supplements in the morning or at least before noon. If you are not able to work out in the morning, you may still benefit from these supplements, but be aware that they stimulate the brain and may be contraindicated in the afternoon or evening.
Tip #4: Take Acetyl-Carnitine with Alpha Lipoic Acid
Take a mixture of Acetyl-l Carnitine and Alpha-Lipoic Acid to help energize you and boost your brain. Carnitine is one of my favorite brain supplements (it needs to be taken with omega-3s for best results) because it works wonders on motivation and self-initiative by supporting dopamine levels and elevating energy. It also helps burn fat and moderate hormone levels—particularly elevating low testosterone, while modifying cortisol to bring it up if it is low in the morning, or down if it is too high.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that can pass easily into brain cells to restore brain function and tissue. It helps the carnitine and omega-3 DHA fatty acids work their magic. The lesser known nutrients benfotiamine and biotine can be taken with ALA because they all work together to get you ready to train.
Tip #5: Balance Androgens with Folic Acid
Imbalanced androgen hormones, such as too much estrogen and too little testosterone, is a major pitfall to getting results in the gym. Methylated folic acid helps clear excess estrogen from the body and restore androgen balance. This is important because everyone is bombarded with chemical estrogens that are found in many plastic and petroleum products and even certain forms of natural estrogen will cause tissue damage. Too much estrogen in both men and women can affect the growth and health of cells, especially, prostate, breast, and uterine cells. Balancing the androgen hormones will make you more anabolic, which leads to better muscle building and supports a leaner physique.
Tip #6: Focus Your Brain and Lower Cortisol with Phosphatidyl-Serine (PS)
Phosphatidyl-serine (PS) will lower cortisol—the stress hormone that, if you have too much of it, will create a catabolic, lean tissue-degrading state. PS is especially useful for overstressed, overweight individuals because along with calming cortisol, it increases neurotransmitters that keep your brain sharp. PS also enhances glucose metabolism in the brain, and is proven to allow individuals to score better on brain tests.
One study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that individuals who took PS and then completed a cognitive function test increased speed of calculation by 20 percent, decreased the number of mistakes made by 39 percent, and increased the amount of correct calculations by 13 percent. Researchers found that PS produced a more relaxed state in subjects, allowing for better brain function prior to an anxiety-producing exercise trial.
Tip #7: Increase Motivation and Focus: Ginkgo, Bacopa, Huperzine
Ginkgo biloba, bacopa, and huperzine are a fantastic trio of herbs that will elevate focus, memory, and neural drive for a greater training effort. Individuals who are new to my pre-workout nutrition suggestions are often surprised and skeptical about my focus on brain nutrients, but consider that one of the primary obstacles that people face regarding exercise and weight loss is motivation and drive to work physically hard. Even the most committed trainees and athletes can occasionally benefit from better focus when training, and when you realize that many of these brain nutrients favorably modify hormone levels, I hope you’ll be convinced of their benefit.
Ginkgo has the greatest track record (over 4,000 years) for enhancing memory, and it helps detoxify the brain and fight stress , as does bacopa—it is not only an antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory and will slow the natural cognitive decline that comes with age. ?
Huperzine also has antioxidants that help restore connection and balance in the brain, which is necessary because one of the major inhibitors to optimal brain function is oxidative stress and inflammation. This is a major component of dementia and Alzheimer’s that you want to avoid. Plus, huperzine is the best herb for supporting acetylcholine—remember it is the neurotransmitter that is necessary for muscle contractions, so naturally, the more, the better when you’re training.
Tip #8: Support Muscle Building by Boosting Growth Hormone: Alpha GPC
Alpha GPC helps boost growth hormone when training, which is essential for muscle building and to optimize the fat burning effects of your workout. It’s particularly effective for older individuals, and along with making you more anabolic, Alpha GPC also raises acetylcholine and other growth factor hormones.
For practical purposes, you may want to try it because it will improve your mood too. It also boosts focus and can increase training drive because alpha GPC is very energizing. I take it to overcome jet leg, and have no doubt that if you try alpha GPC, you’ll feel the positive effects.
Tip #9: Consume Caffeine Pre-Workout to Get Psyched to Train
Consuming caffeine pre-workout, either in supplement form or from organic coffee or green tea is an excellent way to improve vigor, training drive, and work capacity. I encourage you to take a supplement that includes supportive amino acids, such as tyrosine and L-phenylalinine, as well because they can prevent a “crash” feeling. If you feel jittery, or want to clear the caffeine so that you can nap, take 2 grams of vitamin C post-workout to accelerate caffeine metabolism.
There are numerous studies that support the use of coffee for everything including greater endurance ability, cardiovascular health, less delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from eccentric training, and fat burning. New evidence published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research was the first study to show caffeine can improve motivation and work capacity when weight lifting. After ingesting a caffeinated energy drink (179 mg of caffeine and added vitamin B, tyrosine, and taurine—notice the amino acids thrown in to counter anxiety and the jitters that can come with caffeine) participants completed significantly more work, had a lower rating of perceived exertion than a placebo trial, and reported feeling more motivated.
Tip #10: Drink Green Tea to Elevate Fat Burning and Get Antioxidants
Consume green tea for an alternative caffeine source that provides an amazing number of antioxidants and has many health benefits including lowering chronic inflammation. The caffeine and the natural chemicals in green tea make it a stimulant, but it also manages anxiety, making it a useful anti-fatiguer. Green tea improves the potency of carnitine, which I reviewed above as acetyl-l-carnitine.
If you are skeptical about taking a caffeine supplement, try making it a habit to drink organic green tea pre-training. Once you feel the benefits you may want to consider a green tea supplement because this will provide a greater concentration of catechins, which are the really excellent antioxidants in green tea—they’ve been shown to improve heart and periodontal health—yes, better teeth with green tea!
Tip #11: Eat Protein and Fat… Meat & Nuts is the Best
It’s absolutely essential that you eat protein prior to your workout and that you leave enough time to digest it. I suggest food versus protein shakes for your pre-workout meal because if you eat right, you’ll get better sustenance and be able to train harder. For example, I am not big on using whey protein pre-workout because it’s not nourishing enough—great for after training, not before.
Meat with nuts or low-glycemic fruits or vegetables are the best bet for a pre-workout meal. The reason for the nuts is to provide good fatty acids and slow digestion to improve insulin sensitivity. The meat provides the protein and helps you set the neurotransmitters up for optimal brain and physical production during the day.
For vegetarians or individuals who prefer to avoid meat in the morning, the challenge is to get a potent amount of food protein, while avoiding soy because it is almost always genetically modified (not a good thing for those of you who are new to the readership) and has been linked to risk of breast and prostate cancer. You’re on your own for overcoming this challenge.
To read more about pre-workout nutrition, check out Pre-Workout Breakfast Nutrition for 9 to 5ers