If you’re an athlete that religiously goes to the gym week after week, month after month, and year after year – congratulations, you deserve every ounce of muscle and progress to reflect the hard work you put in.
But if you’re like the millions of hard-core athletes that target highly productive workouts, your trusty preworkout supplement deserves kudos as well.
Not sure why a preworkout is so important to many of the most successful athletes? Here are a few quick reasons:
Enhances Energy Levels
The vast majority of preworkout supplements contain stimulants and/or generous amounts of B vitamins, which play a critical role in the generation of energy. If you know the feeling that accompanies drinking a cup of coffee brings about, then you understand what we mean.
Improves Mood And Sense Of Well-Being
A productive workout in the gym is just as much mental as it is physical. Arguably, entering the gym without the correct mindset is equivalent to only giving 50% effort, if that much. Many athletes worship the shrine of their favorite preworkout, as nothing else on this planet brings them closer to the God-like feeling that comes about from a surge of endorphin release which follows consumption.
Improves Mental Sharpness
Have you ever tried to work out and you feel sleepy, or just mentally fatigued? Most of us have at some time or another, and boy is it not conducive to a kick-ass workout. In addition to feeling like you might drop the bar at any time, your motivation is generally suppressed as well, since there is no underestimating the influence of sleep on your body.
Pre-workouts loaded with stimulants act like the magic bullet you might expect – drowsiness vaporizes in a matter of minutes, and you are ready to brutalize heavy plates that lay henceforth.
Improves Work Capacity
Stimulants positively influence power generation and resistance to fatigue, both of which translate to more productive workouts where you are able to accomplish all that you set out to do, and even beyond that.
The stimulants contained in preworkouts can also work to improve respiratory rate, allowing for greater oxygen delivery while working out and faster removal of metabolic byproducts produced as a result of muscle contraction.
The Problem With Stimulant Based Preworkout Supplements
The first time you downed that initial scoop of preworkout mixed with water probably felt insane, to say the least. You experienced what felt like endless energy, massive pumps and aggression that can only be compared to the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which is incidentally the name of a crazy strong preworkout formula) scenario, or more recently Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
Regardless, it opened your eyes to the wonderful world of stimulants, causing you to immediately feel like there was no going back from this point on. Incidentally, you probably never went back to the gym without first having your daily ritual of preworkouts, since your productivity soared, shattering limit after limit.
But herein arose your very first problem. To understand the way stimulant pre-workouts operate, basic knowledge of their interaction inside the body is a worthy investment in time.
Caffeine and other popular stimulants interact with adrenergic receptors in the body (alpha and beta subtypes), causing an increase in the neurotransmitter/hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and causing blockade of adenosine receptors in the brain.
The increased production of norepinephrine subsequently enhanced the rate of lipolysis and energy production from free triglycerides, and also stimulation of the nervous system which results in the wakefulness promoting properties you are accustomed to.
This effect of consumption persists for a period of time, at least until the body starts adapting physiologically in an effort to compensate for normal processes. For example, adenosine receptors in the brain are very important for initiating sleep. When they are blocked under the influence of caffeine and other stimulants, sleep is prevented until they begin to be cleared from the body.
Within a matter of weeks, the body starts to compensate by up regulating the adenosine receptors in the brain, or increasing their number, so that the usual dose of caffeine you’re accustomed to is no longer sufficient to prevent the desire to sleep. So what do you do? You take more caffeine of course!
And this goes on, getting worse little by little the longer you continuously consume the stimulant. This is what is known as stimulant tolerance and should be considered a mild form of addiction and drug dependence.
So how do you go about preventing this slippery slope of stimulant tolerance? Luckily, given that you aren’t using an unregulated pre-workout supplement (that contains highly potent or questionable stimulants), you can reverse the effects and get the most out of your pre-workout again – yes, even if they still contain stimulants.
Ways To Deal With Stimulant Tolerance
Before booking your first meeting to S.A (stimaholics anonymous), you should know that you can effectively defeat stimulant tolerance on your own, given that you do have a little willpower. Here are some great ways to go about earning your chip:
Only Use Stimulants On Workout Days
While you may be thinking “hey, I already do that!” There are many other people whose tolerance has gotten so bad, that even though they only use stimulant pre-workouts on gym days, they still do heavily consume stimulants on a day-to-day basis.
This is partially due to the effects stimulants have on overall productivity. A point is reached where that individual feels as if they are incapable of leading productive lives without first consuming their stim of choice. This may seem as innocuous as that morning cup of Joe, but for some people it’s a cup of Joe scheduled every 2 to 4 hours. Now can you see the scope of tolerance?
Actively limiting stimulants to the days that you lift weights are a great place to start, and if you haven’t developed a tolerance yet, it’s better to keep it that way.
Quit Stimulants Cold Turkey
This isn’t easy. It’s especially difficult if you attempt it when leading a normal routine, as day-to-day tasks become difficult and your drive and productivity in the gym plummet. But hands-down, cessation of stimulant products is the best way to regain your sensitivity to them.
Be warned – you will experience withdrawal like symptoms if you quit cold turkey, characterized by skull splitting headaches, irritability, mental cloudiness and lack of motivation. But looking back two weeks later in retrospect, you will be happy you did.
Our recommendation for quitting cold turkey? Do it the same time you schedule your annual vacation. That way, you have no pressing responsibilities at your job and can actually sleep in if you need to alleviate the discomfort of missing your fix.
No, we’re not referring to the bike kind here, but rather cycling the usage of stimulants. You have probably tried multiple pre-workouts before settling on your favorite (which coincidentally, is very likely to be stimulant based), but it is a good idea to mix things up from time to time, in an effort to prevent/alleviate stimulant tolerance.
For instance, different products may have varying amounts of stimulant ingredients, different ingredients altogether, or utilize non-stimulant means to increase energy and focus. Many adaptogens (think of ginseng for instance) and newer nootropic supplements fit the bill nicely here and can help prevent the development of tolerance.
Do it like this: choose three products that are significantly different in what they contain, and cycle one product per month. This way, you can keep your energy and focus up, but without heavy reliance on solely stimulants.
A slow taper is a much more realistic way to achieve stimulant cessation, or reduce the impact of stimulant tolerance. All it involves is gradually reducing the consumption of stimulants to a point that can be considered acceptable, or to zero altogether.
For instance, if you’ve been consuming 600 mg of caffeine religiously for the past six months and feel like you can’t function without it, try reducing the daily consumption to 550 mg. It’s unlikely to be noticeable, and will allow you to further reduce to 500 mg in a week or two.
Make it your aim to reduce 50 mg to 100 mg every two weeks. That way, your receptors will respond in like manner, usually restoring homeostasis.
Sleep More And Wake Up With Cold Showers
One of the reasons you probably became so reliant on stimulants in the first place (when you’re not working out, that is) was to offset sleep, and work for a greater number of hours. This of course, came at the expense of your sleep. When trying to reduce your dependence on stimulants, the desire to sleep is immense and all encompassing. What should you do? Take it. Sleeping will help to reduce your need for the stimulants, and will result in faster restoration of normal receptor function.
On that note – if you lack of motivation to work out or do anything in particular while trying to wean off of stimulants, cold showers can be invaluable. Studies have shown that a short period of extremely cold water stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain, with this neurotransmitter being extremely important for overall drive and ability to get things done. Cold showers are actually one of the most closely guarded secrets of the world’s most elite entrepreneurs, who start their mornings working at 5 AM, following a cold shower.
In Summary – Defeating Stimulant Tolerance
If at this point in time you are dependent on stimulants for what should be normal function, you need to actively attempt to reduce the need for them. If it is mandatory that your performance be high at this interval in time, start with a slow taper.
If, however, you can afford to take some time off, go all out and quit cold turkey. To be quite clear, we are not against the use of stimulants in any form or fashion, or advising you to avoid them. Heck, they are likely to work like gangbusters the first time you use them back after going stim free.
Just be sure to use them sparingly, and judiciously.