Do you find yourself losing steam halfway through your workout or wrapping up a gym session feeling completely wiped out? Or are you just not completely satisfied with the physical results of your workouts to date? Well, what you eat or drink before your workout may be the culprit—as well as the fix.
Without a doubt, one of the top ways to optimize your fitness is to be intentional about what you put in your body before you even set foot inside the gym, and there are specific foods and supplements that have been shown to provide an all-natural energy boost to help you power through your workout while also maximizing lean muscle gains and aiding in post-workout muscle recovery.
In recent years, many nutrition companies have developed their own pre-workout supplements, but the problem with many of them is that they are loaded with sugar, genetically modified ingredients, and other chemicals. The good news is that making your own supplement DIY-style is very simple; start with a handful of your favorite frozen fruit, a banana for creaminess, chia or hemp seeds for fiber and protein, and then add the following:
1. Vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is extremely important to overall health but is especially crucial for a successful workout. B12 not only helps to convert carbohydrates into usable glucose in the body, but it's a must for the creation of new red blood cells and the repair of cellular damage. Additionally, vitamin B12 is a critical component of the neurotransmitter signaling that helps your muscles contract and gives you energy to go about your normal day and get through a workout without feeling tired and run down. In fact, studies have shown that people who exercise regularly with subpar levels of B vitamins can lower their ability to work out at a high intensity. I love including B12 in my pre-workout drink (I just empty a capsule right into the blender) because I know it helps me get through my workout and also helps with muscle repair and overall recovery when I’m done.
Coffee has been shown to benefit brain, heart, and liver health—and it may even help you live longer—but did you know that is can also help serious athletes train harder and longer? One 2013 report, published by the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Birmingham, found that athletic performance times were significantly faster among adult men who drank caffeinated drinks and coffee prior to exercising compared to placebo and decaf groups. The average power exhorted by the caffeine-drinking subjects was also higher when compared to the placebo and decaf-drinking groups. Overall, the research revealed that consuming coffee an hour before a workout can significantly boost endurance.
If you like to exercise first thing in the morning, I recommend starting with a cup of coffee and then following up with your pre-workout smoothie. Or you can have your coffee and smoothie together by using coffee as all or part of the liquid in your blender.
Exercise is awesome for you, but science has also shown that excessive exercise can cause free radicals to be produced in the body, along with short-term oxidative stress to bodily tissues. Overtraining can often happen by accident or on purpose, but either way, there are several natural ways to fight free-radical damage in the body, and one of my favorites is loading up on green foods.
Green foods like spinach, kale, and broccoli are loaded with detoxifying and oxygenating chlorophyll; energizing amino acids; minerals including potassium, magnesium, and calcium; beta-carotene; and vitamins C, D, E, and K. In fact, antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E can actually prevent free radicals from causing cellular damage to the body. So grab a handful of your favorite greens (or green tea!) and throw them into your smoothie.
You obtain electrolytes through food and fluids, and you then lose them through exercise, sweat, and urination. Typically, this cycle maintains itself, but a poor diet, or too little or too much exercise, can cause an electrolyte imbalance. But there’s an easy fix: Coconut water is often referred to as "nature’s Gatorade" because of its impressive electrolyte replacement abilities. In fact, it has even been used for IV hydration in emergency situations. Going into a workout with just enough or too few electrolytes is a recipe for poor performance, dehydration, and exhaustion. Try using coconut water in your pre-workout smoothie, or making your own coconut water kefir, to boost electrolyte and probiotic levels before your workout.
5. Adaptogen herbs.
When it comes to boosting your stamina and endurance, I love using adaptogen herbs, and one of my favorites is ashwagandha. Studies have shown that ashwagandha can boost endurance during physical activity by sharpening brain function and reducing bodily pain. That’s because adaptogens don’t target a specific body part—instead, they help your entire body gently cope with stress and fatigue.
One study found that when animal subjects were given ashwagandha, they were actually able to swim about twice as long compared to the subjects that were not given the supplement. Researchers believe that similar effects take place in humans due to the herb’s ability to balance adrenal hormones that are involved in physical activity. By including ashwagandha in your pre-workout drink, you can help yourself feel more focused as well as less exhausted during and after your workout.
Consuming the right ingredients before working out will give you the energy to give 100 percent during every session, which will equate to better and quicker results—not to mention more motivation to keep up with your exercise routine long-term.