While many of us grow to enjoy visiting the gym, our primary motivator is usually some fitness-related goal. We want to lose weight or build muscle, of generally tone up. That is to say that we visit the gym with a purpose. The question then becomes how we make the very most of our workouts. Sure, we need to exercise smart and eat right – but are there other ways to improve our gym performance? As it turns out, there just might be…
Scientists have shown that exercising when dehydrated can reduce both aerobic and anaerobic performance. What is interesting is just how little moisture needs to be lost through sweat and respiration before impaired performance arises. Research suggests that the loss of just 2-3% of your body’s water content can start to impact performance. Interestingly, this is below the level at which the sensation of thirst kicks in, suggesting that many gym-goers may be underperforming even when they feel fine.
Must Read: 35 Proven Health Benefits of Drinking Water
On the flipside, it is also possible to drink too much water. This can lead to discomfort and stomach cramps. In more extreme situations it can even temporarily thin the blood, therefore having a negative impact on exercise performance.
So what is the solution? Experts suggest that our goal should be to complete our workout at the same weight as where we started. If in doubt, try weighing yourself before and after a workout; the difference will indicate how much water you have lost and provide guidance on how much you should consume next time around. This is sometimes known as the “zero percent dehydration” doctrine.
The body needs fuel to exercise, and a number of studies have tried to decide what fuel works best and when it should be consumed.
Cyclists undergoing testing have shown that consuming a carbohydrate-rich meal five minutes before exercise resulted in improved exercise performance, with particularly favourable results seen towards the end of an intensive sixty-minute ride.
Elsewhere, studies have tried to compare the impacts of eating before or during exercise. The results indicate that cyclists consuming carbohydrates during exercise achieved considerably higher performance than those just eating beforehand. Indeed, other researchers have found that consuming carbohydrates during exercise increased output by between 19 and 46%, while the time of exhaustion increased by up to 44%.
The evidence suggests that to get the very most from your workout you should consider consuming carbs before and perhaps even during your workout. As it turns out, those individuals with their sugar-filled gym drinks might just know what they’re doing.
Listen to Music
A group of rowers were asked to perform 500-metre sprints either listening to slow music, fast music, or no music at all. The experts found that while any kind of music seemed to boost performance, the music with a faster tempo had a far more significant positive impact. In conclusion, they theorized that “fast music acts as an external psyching-up stimulus”.
This is far from the only study to have found such results. In another study, volunteers were asked to run on a treadmill while listening to different types of music. Significant correlations were found between both the tempo and volume of the music and the running speed of the participants. They concluded that “fast, loud music might be played to enhance optimal exercising”.
That said, it is interesting to point out that the vast majority of these studies of music on exercise performance have looked at aerobic exercise – rowing, swimming, jogging etc. Very little research has been done on resistance training. In the few studies that have been completed, little or no impact has been found on weight lifting capabilities. A few have even found a negative correlation, suggesting that participants may be focusing too much on the music and not enough on proper lifting form.
The evidence seems pretty clear. If you’re carrying out aerobic exercise then grabbing your mp3 player and listening to fast-paced music can help to boost your exercise performance. When it comes to resistance training, however, the jury is still out.
Many of us rely on a cup of coffee to kick-start our morning, and the same energy-boosting impact can also help in the gym. As an example, several studies by sports scientists have demonstrated that caffeine can increase speed and/or power output when taken by athletes.
Research suggests that caffeine can also reduce feelings of pain or perceived exertion during exercise, which can lead to higher performance during exercise. This ability to reduce feelings of fatigue makes it particularly useful for endurance sports, such as longer-distance cycling, marathon running or competitive rowing.
The one problem with caffeine is that the body can become accustomed to it. When this occurs, its performance-enhancing properties can decline. With this in mind, it has been suggested that caffeine use may be a case of “less is more”. If you opt to use it to enhance your gym performance then consider keeping it just for exercise sessions, while avoiding it at other times of the day. For the greatest impact, research suggests that abstaining from caffeine for four days before a big event is long enough to magnify the effects of caffeine on the day.
Creatine is a natural substance found in the body, used to create the energy needed for intense workouts. Studies suggest that supplementing with creatine may help to improve workout intensity and performance.
In one study participants were either provided with creatine or a placebo before being asked to complete bench press and squats. According to the experts monitoring the results “creatine supplementation resulted in a significant improvement in peak power output” and that furthermore it “enhances muscular performance”.
Acetyl l-carnitine is another supplement that is popular among more serious gym goers. In brief, it helps to transport fatty acid molecules into cells to be used as energy during exercise. As a result, some experts believe that it results in improved exercise performance and reduced perception of exhaustion. But what does the science say?
Firstly, it’s important to highlight that any kind of intensive exercise can result in soreness, microscopic damage to muscles and an increased risk of free radical damage. The key is to provide your body with the resources necessary to recover swiftly. Evidence exists to suggest that acetyl l-carnitine does just that.
There’s more. In one study participants were provided either with acetyl l-carnitine or a placebo before taking part in a cycling exercise. The intensity of the exercise was increased every three minutes until the cyclists couldn’t continue. The scientists found that “treatment with l-carnitine significantly increased both maximal oxygen uptake and power output”.
Elsewhere athletes were prescribed with acetyl l-carnitine before exercise, which the researchers found to reduce muscle pain by 27% as well as reducing mental and physical fatigue.
In brief, the evidence so far seems to suggest that acetyl l-carnitine has the potential to boost exercise performance in a range of ways. For example, it may reduce feelings of fatigue, increase power output and speed up recovery time after exercise.
We know more than ever before about how to boost workout performance, helping you to achieve more in the same period of time. And who wouldn’t want that? The evidence suggests that you should take a shot of carbohydrate before (or even during) your exercise sessions, and listen to fast-paced music. Consume water to avoid water loss and consider supplements like caffeine, creatine and acetyl l-carnitine and you’ll soon be getting the most out of your sessions at the gym.
This is a guest post written by Simply Supplements. You can find out more about acetyl l-carnitine on their website.