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Pre-workouts- What You Need To Know

Pre-workouts- What You Need To Know

November 8, 2018

As it should, the importance of proper nutrition and exercise has become more popular in mainstream media.  At Catalyst Fitness, we are here to empower and aid you in all your health and fitness related goals.  Being a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, I have helped thousands of people with nutrition and exercise.  One of the most frequent questions I get asked is: “what supplements should I be taking?”  Supplements are used for the exact meaning- to “supplement” - and NOT to be used as a replacement for proper nutrition and training.   Today I want to talk a little on one of the most popular supplements: pre-workouts.  

What They Are + What They Do

Pre-workouts are taken before a workout to give an extra boost of energy before you exercise.  It is sometimes hard for people to find the energy to workout after a long day of work or get up at the crack of dawn to get a lift in before they head to work.  Pre-workouts give us more energy and focus to get our workouts done.  When considering pre-workouts, I encourage you to look at what the formula has to offer you.  Many pre-workouts are loaded with all kinds of ingredients, but you need to think about your goals and what types of exercise you will be doing before opting to use one.  Look at individual ingredients that can supplement and aid in the performance of your exercise regiment.  

Ingredient Breakdown

Here are some of the ingredients you may find in preworkout supplements and ones that have been studied and tested to be effective:

Caffeine:  Caffeine is a natural molecule found in teas, coffee, and certain other foods.  Caffeine stimulates parts of the brain to increase alertness and thus make you feel less tired.  It can increase power output, meaning you can produce force quickly.  Studies have found that it can improve performance in long duration endurance exercise along with intermittent (stop and go) activities.  The recommended dose of caffeine for performance exercise is around 1.4-2.7mg/pound of body weight.  For someone weighing around 180lbs, that would be in the ballpark of 250-485mg of caffeine.  Doses of 4mg/lb of bodyweight has shown increases in sweating, tremors, and dizziness.  Caffeine does produce short term increases in blood pressure along with increases in restlessness.  Everyone responds differently to caffeine so it is important to start low and assess how your body responds.  Because caffeine can cause anti-sleep effects, limit your intake to earlier in the day.  

Creatine:  Creatine is another ingredient used in most pre-workouts.  This molecule is present in your cells and is an important part of the energy production systems.  If your cells have more energy when you work out, you may perform better and see greater improvements over time.  Creatine is considered by most to be the number one supplement to help with strength and power.  It has been shown in numerous studies to aid in strength, muscle mass, and exercise performance.  If your main goal is to increase muscular strength, then creatine may be the best supplement for you to consider.  Years ago it was suggested that if supplementing with creatine you needed to do a loading phase of 20 grams a day for a few weeks.  Today we realize this is unnecessary and I recommend anywhere from 5 to 10g per day and can be broken up into multiple doses.  

Beta-alanine:  Beta-alanine is an amino acid that combats muscle fatigue.  This amino acid has been shown to help improve performance during intense exercise that lasts between one to four minutes at a time.  It may not be effective for exercise lasting less than this so if you are performing sets that last under a minute, this may not be beneficial.  The recommended dose for beta-alanine is between 3-6 grams per day and can also be taken in divided doses.  Side effects of beta-alanine include tingling or “pins and needles” feeling on the skin.

Citrulline:  Citrulline is also an amino acid produced naturally in the body.  Increased levels of citrulline through foods or supplementation can cause an increase in blood flow.  This may help supply your exercising muscles with oxygen and nutrients they need,which can increase performance.  Some studies have found that citrulline can increase time to exhaustion with endurance exercise and increased repetitions with weight training.  Citrulline has also been noted to reduce muscle soreness in the days after exercise.  The two main forms of citrulline found in supplements are L-citrulline and citrulline malate. Most research on endurance exercise recommends L-citrulline at a dose of 6 grams while weight training exercise recommends citrulline malate at 8 grams.  

These four ingredients have been examined for safety and effectiveness through numerous studies, so if you decide to use pre-workout formulas, check the label for ingredients and dosages.  Use ingredients that are specific for your goals and do not ingest more than the recommended amounts.  And remember, these supplements do just that- supplement. There is no replacement in the world for eating clean whole foods that fuel your body naturally!

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How To Maximize Your Rowing Workout

November 8, 2018

Rowvember Is Here

Why To Row:

Rowing offers anyone the ability to get a complete, total body, aerobic workout that hits all the muscle groups and gets your heart rate up quicker.  Rowing forces you to push with your legs, activate and tone your core, and pull in with your arms.  This activates your glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, core, lats, shoulders, and arms all in one motion.  As all of these muscles are working at the same time, your heart rate will get up quicker and you’ll get a better workout.

How To Row:

Proper technique is very important with rowing, so ensure proper form to get the most out of the motion and to prevent injury.  Start with your legs all the way back, leaning back in your torso, and the handle pulled into your sternum.  This is called the “finish” of the stroke.  First, extend your arms forward.  Then, pivot forward from your hips to reach forward and keep your back strong and supported.  Then, slide up by using your hamstring to pull yourself towards the fan.  This is called the “catch” because if you were in a boat, you’d put your oar in the water to get ready to take the next stroke.  Then, push from your legs to get the momentum going.  Once your legs are extended, then swing your torso, and finish off the stroke by pulling into your sternum.  To review, from the “finish,” pull yourself forward with arms, back, legs.  From the “catch” to take the next stroke, push back with the legs, back, arms.

When you get on the rowing machine, set the resistance to a 3 out of 10.  This might seem light, but a 3 best mimics the resistance that you’d feel on the water.  Even Olympic-level rowers do all of their training with the resistance on 3!  Adjust the shoe straps so that when you are at the “catch” of the stroke, the strap is over the ball of your foot so you can push off strongly to activate your legs.  Focus on being as long as you can per stroke, really try to reach forward and touch the machine with the rowing handle to get the most length per stroke, “ass to ankles” as the coxswain might say.  Try to keep your strokes per minute fairly low to focus on getting full length, somewhere between 22-30 strokes per minute.

Row Variations:

Rowing offers you the ability to do lots of different kinds of workouts, from long steady state, all the way leg-busting to 100-meter sprints.  

For a good steady-state workout, try doing 3 x 7 minutes, with 4 minutes at 24 strokes per minute, focusing on pushing hard with your legs and getting full length per stroke.  Then two minutes at 26 strokes per minute, and 1 minute at 28 strokes per minute.  Rest for 4 minutes in between.  

For a hard sprint workout, try a “Tabata” workout.  Try 8 sets of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off at full gas, making sure you stay long and get the most out of each stroke.

Next time you’re at Catalyst, give the row machine a shot! After all, Rowvember only happens once a year but this is a sport you can grow with constantly.


Catalyst Fitness member James Thompson is a 4-time National Championship- winning rower who competed for the Canisius High School, West Side Rowing Club, and Cornell University teams. He currently competes as an elite level cyclist with the Shickluna Bikes/Catalyst Fitness cycling team.

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