For fitness and health fanatics, pre-workout supplements are not foreign. Pre-workout is known to help build strength, gain lean muscle, increase endurance during workouts, and boost the effectiveness of a workout.
However, many people don’t think about the impact of pre-workout for cardio-focused workouts. Could pre-workout supplements be just as useful to a cyclist, runner, or jazzerciser as it is to a bodybuilder or strength trainer?
Let’s look at pre-workout to see how these supplements can affect cardio training, not just muscle building.
What is Pre-workout?
Pre-workout supplements are typically tablets or water-soluble powders that are designed to increase the benefits of exercise by improving performance or endurance during workouts.
The supplements are consumed before workouts, and their effects peak during a workout.
Pre-workout supplements attempt to keep energy levels up during workouts and make individuals work harder during exercise.
For complete information about pre-workout supplements, check out our detailed guide on what pre-workout supplements are. This guide will give you an in-depth look at what pre-workout supplements are and how they are used.
How Do Pre-workout Supplements Work?
Pre-workout supplements use one to several active ingredients that target the body in specific ways. Some active ingredients include caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, and amino acids.
Each ingredient works with the body to improve performance during workouts. For instance, caffeine works to focus the body and increase adrenaline.
Supplements contain different ingredients that improve various aspects of exercise performance. You can browse our definitive guide to read more about how pre-workout supplements work and how the ingredients affect the body.
What is Cardio?
Cardio, or cardiovascular exercise, is considered exercise intended to increase your heart rate and burn calories. Often, people associate aerobics with cardio: aerobics and cardio are nearly the same things.
You can think of cardio as any activity that works your heart, lungs, and blood vessels over a long period.
Since cardio spans longer periods of time, it is specifically associated with activities that require endurance or stamina.
Think about running or cycling to get a mental picture of cardio when you cycle, your heart rate increases and pumps blood to your muscles, especially those muscles in the legs.
To keep the bicycle moving, you must sustain your increased heart rate, breathing, and pedalling. If you don’t maintain your heart rate and cardio activity, then the activity stops.
What is the Difference Between Anaerobic and Aerobic Exercise?
Most often, when people use the word cardio, they associate it with aerobic activity – however, both aerobic and anaerobic fall under the umbrella category of cardio. Yet, the two are distinctly different and require the body to perform in different ways.
Aerobic exercise is thought of as sustained cardio activity. During aerobic activities, heart rates increase along with rates of breathing. Therefore, the heart must continuously work harder to raise your heart rate and maintain that higher heart rate.
During cardio, the heart must send more oxygen-rich blood through the blood vessels to the muscles being worked.
Some aerobic activities include hiking, dancing, swimming, running, or cycling. You must keep up your heart rate and breathing to continue these activities.
In a simplified way, aerobic activity is continuous.
Anaerobic exercise is a very different form of cardio. Unlike aerobic exercise, anaerobic activity increases heart rate but only does so for a short time. As a result, anaerobic exercise cannot be sustained and only lasts for short bursts. Think of weightlifting as a prime example of anaerobic activity.
To return to simplification, anaerobic activity is repetitious.
The kind of cardio you use depends on the activity you do. While both work the heart and the cardiovascular system, aerobic activities require you to sustain exercise over time. Therefore, those who do anaerobic cardio will find themselves running out of breath quicker than those doing cardio.
What are the Different Types of Cardio?
There are two major types of cardio training:
- low-intensity steady state (LISS) cardio
- high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
The names are descriptive and truly demonstrate the differences between the two types.
LISS cardio has low to moderate intensity. Instead of reaching and maintaining a maximum heart rate, LISS only reaches 45-65 per cent of your maximum heart rate. As a result, LISS causes less strain on the joints and reduces the chances of injury. In addition, LISS cardio has minimal recovery times, which means you can exercise more and you can exercise more often.
LISS cardio more often consists of aerobic activity.
A downside to LISS is that the body adapts to the workout over time. Therefore, if you cycle leisurely for 30 minutes a day, your body will adjust to that form, speed, and intensity of cardio. Therefore, you will need to increase the time or intensity of your cardio activity to continue feeling its effects.
HIIT cardio requires you to alternate between 25-60 seconds of full-bodied effort followed by rest. During this cardio, the body reaches 75-90 per cent of your max heart rate.
HIIT may burn more calories quickly, but these kinds of workouts have higher rates of injury – they can be dangerous to those not in top physical condition.
HIIT more often requires anaerobic activity.
Both types of cardio workouts have their benefits and drawbacks. LISS activity is steady, and it effectively burns calories. Aerobics are great for beginners. The downside is that it can take longer amounts of time, require increased intensity, and focus primarily on burning fat.
HIIT is quick and allows for shorter workout times. The negative of HIIT is that it has a higher chance of injury, can be uncomfortable, and can lead to overtraining or burnout. HIIT is not for fitness beginners.
What is Cardio Good For?
Cardio has numerous health and fitness benefits. By working the heart and lungs, cardio strengthens the cardiovascular system and improves the heart’s ability to pump blood. Exercising the heart during cardio also lowers blood pressure and increases endurance during workouts.
Doing cardio training can also improve stress levels. Working out releases endorphins. Since cardio requires sustained workouts, the body experiences higher, sustained levels of endorphins.
Another benefit of doing cardio is it also improves physique, so those who do cardio may experience higher levels of body positivity. In addition, studies in the British Journal of Sports Medicine show that aerobic, cardio exercise decreases depression.
Cardio is also important for preventative health. For example, cardio can prevent heart diseases and some cancers, including colon cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer. Cardio can also reduce the chances of contracting osteoporosis, but cardio can also assist in managing this bone disease.
Here is a list of some of the benefits of cardio exercise:
- Strengthens Heart
- Strengthens Lungs
- Lowers Blood Pressure
- Reduces Feelings of Depression
- Increases Body Positivity
- Burns Fat
- Reduces Risk of:
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Colon cancer
- Improves Muscle Performance
- Improves Mental Function
- Helps Maintain Weight
- Helps Maintain Blood Sugar
- Helps You Sleep Better
Does Cardio Help Control Weight and Body Mass?
Cardio is a great way to lose weight, manage a healthy weight, and change body composition. In addition, aerobic cardio is an assured way to burn calories.
The number of calories you can burn is dependent on your weight. For example, an individual weighing 150 pounds will burn about 300 calories in an hour when cycling outdoors.
Since cardio gets the body moving, the muscles working, and the heart pumping, cardio activities specifically burn fat by expanding calories.
Some people may be concerned that they will lose the muscle mass they’ve gained or worry that cardio prevents them from gaining muscle mass.
Cardio helps you lose fat, but it adds lean mass at the same time. For those worried about losing muscle mass, cardio coupled with strength training will maintain healthy body compositions while retaining strength. Specific kinds of cardio can even help build muscles.
Does Pre-workout Improve Cardio?
Pre-workouts can improve cardio in certain situations, but they may not improve all cardio activities or workout situations. Most supplements are designed for anaerobic exercises, such as weightlifting. However, this does not mean that supplements cannot work for cardio.
Since some supplements are designed to increase mental focus and improve endurance, these supplements may help improve energy levels during cardio. In addition, supplements can improve cardiovascular activity, which will improve performance during cardio.
Pre-workout users that do cardio need to be especially careful when taking pre-workout. A common active ingredient in pre-workout is caffeine, which increases blood flow and heart rate.
Since cardio aims to increase heart rate already, the combination of the caffeine stimulant and the heart-pumping activity could put excessive and undue strain on the heart.
The same strain that can occur on your heart also occurs with your blood vessels. Since blood is already pumping at an increased rate from cardio, the pre-workout supplement may further increase blood pressure during a cardio session.
Those who do cardio, such as runners, swimmers, and cyclists, may want to find a pre-workout supplement that does not contain caffeine.
Since pre-workout has positive and possible negative effects before cardio training, knowing the ingredients in your pre-workout is always beneficial. In addition, some ingredients may be aimed at weightlifters.
Does that mean you should not consume pre-workouts for cardio activities? That’s not at all what we are suggesting.
While the ingredients in your pre-workouts may assist in a cardio workout, they may not be as helpful as others that can be consumed. Therefore, pre-workouts can improve cardio, but the effects may not be as effective depending on the supplement consumed.
How Long Before Cardio Should You Take Pre-workout?
Most pre-workout supplements should be taken 30-45 minutes before your workout.
The body needs this amount of time to absorb the supplement and feel the effects of the ingredients. Therefore, you should always keep track of your body’s reaction to a pre-workout supplement.
Some individuals may experience the effects of pre-workout quicker than others. If so, adjust the time you take the pre-workout.
Can You Take Pre-workout for Cardio Training? – The Bottom Line
Cardio is a great way to work the body because it can take many different forms, and those forms are entirely dependent upon your tastes, preferences, and abilities. Cardio can range from cycling to running to swimming.
Understand that you are always in control of the exercise that your body can handle, and you can always choose activities that make you happy.
Pre-workout supplements can help you improve your performance during cardio activities, but it is important to research what supplements will work for your body and your routine.
Not all ingredients will help you during cardio, so find the supplements that will complement your health and activity.
Also, keep in mind that cardio already works the body, and some ingredients stimulate the body further to increase performance. Be careful when taking caffeine-based supplements because they can put extra strain on the heart and cardiovascular system.
Be aware of your own body, what it needs, and how much you can push it.
Most importantly, do the cardio activity that is both fun for you and pushes your body. If you like the outdoors, go cycling or running outside. Find a pool or lake for swimming. Of course, you can do many of these activities inside too! If you like music, then find a dance class.
There is always an activity out there, so find one that makes you happy and push yourself and your body to do its best.
- Felipe, A. R., et. al. “Effects of Aerobic Training. . .” Chest, vol. 138, no. 1, 2010, pp. 331-37. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001236921060414X
- Yeager, Selene. “Cardio vs. Weights. Which is Better for Weight Loss.” CNN, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/06/health/cardio-lifting-weight-loss-partner/index.html
- Hoven, Paul. “Is Cardio Really the Secret to Fat Loss?” International Sports Sciences Association, https://www.issaonline.edu/blog/index.cfm/2016/is-cardio-really-the-secret-to-fat-loss.