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Do pre-workout supplements boost energy levels?

Good nutrition can have a positive influence on how much energy you have for both endurance activities such as running, cycling and swimming – and weight-training/resistance activities – but supplements can also support you.

Before exercise

The key requirements are that you consume enough fuel for your energy and nutritional needs. Doing this will help you perform during the workout as well as protect you against injury and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

The basics

Eat two to three hours before your workout:

  • Eat carbs for endurance: If you're doing an endurance-based workout such as a run or bike ride, opt for a carbohydrate-heavy breakfast, e.g. porridge with banana, or at other times sweet potatoes, wholegrain rice, pasta or bread as the focus of your meal, with vegetables and fruit.
  • Tuck into carbs and protein for weights and strength work: Go for meals which combine protein and carbohydrates such as: poached eggs/avocado on wholegrain toast; a healthy omelette; lean chicken/fish with wholegrains (bread/grains); sweet potato, tuna and feta cheese. A combination like this can help sustain energy levels, preserve muscle mass and speed up recovery.

More golden rules

  • Eat protein with every meal: Include protein sources such as lean meat, fish, eggs, lentils/quinoa with every meal. Protein supplements (powders) are an easy, convenient way to recover quickly from and support your training. After exercise, protein will provide amino acids for the building and repair of muscle tissue.
  • Time your carb-consumption: Save carbs for two hours before, or just after a workout; that way you'll burn the fuel whilst your metabolism is fired up. A good analogy is to think of your metabolism as an open fire. When you finish exercising, the flames burn brightly, so you can add fuel in the form of carbs and they will burn off quickly.
  • Snack healthily: Opt for protein snacks such as nuts and seeds, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Stay hydrated: If you train regularly it's important you stay well-hydrated. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommendation is 2.5 litres of fluid for men and 2.0 litres of fluid for women per day. Note 70 per cent of this fluid should come from drinks and the rest from food. For every 45 minutes of exercise you should take on around an extra 200ml of water.
  • Choose a sports drink for longer endurance events: If you're competing in an event lasting longer than two hours, for example a half or full marathon, you'll need a sports drink to keep your glycogen, (the carbohydrate fuel you run out of when you hit the 'wall'), topped up.
    A typical 500ml sports drink contains 32g carbohydrates which will replenish glycogen for between 30 minutes and one hour (depending on your ability/level and the intensity you're working at).
  • Non-sugary drinks for the gym: You can avoid the sugar and still get the benefits of essentials such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium to help correct electrolyte balance and reduce tiredness and fatigue. Ideal for a gym workout or for extra hydration on the run or bike. Some products have added caffeine which will further boost your alertness and attention as well as energy.

Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.

See more of Jo Waters' work.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.