Today, we’re breaking down some myths.
E032 | What is Your Pre-Workout Routine? – Fuel Your Freedom
When I first started in the health and fitness industry, cardio killing your gains was a deeply held belief for many people who lifted weights. To be honest, I’m not sure where this myth first started. So, I did a quick Google search.
While I couldn’t find the first published thought of it, the idea originally stems from the fact that cardio burns the remaining calories that should be used for muscle repair and growth following a strength training session. Essentially, the thought was that cardio paused this repair system and prevented the body from achieving the progress that should have been gained from the strength training session.
Now, this myth has been busted quite a few times.
While there are still some steps we can take to promote muscle growth and repair, the idea that any and all cardio kills your gains has been largely debunked.
Why should we do cardio?
Sure, if you’re training for a race or want to accomplish a big adventure, you’re going to have to add some cardio into your training program. But, beyond that, we have to look at the world of health and fitness. Health is first. Cardio likely should be prioritized for health reasons above and beyond those fitness goals we may have.
As we add in movement, we want to make sure one of those movements is cardio. Our heart is a muscle just like others. While we can train our arms, legs, and core with dumbbells, cardio trains our heart. What is “cardio”?
Let’s break it down. While it’s used as a single term, there are many ways we can incorporate cardiovascular activity into our life.
For the context of this article, we’re going to focus on two variables: intensity and duration.
Intensity exists on a scale from low to high and duration on a scale from short to long. Traditionally, a low intensity session would be paired with a long duration and a higher intensity session would be paired with a shorter duration.
Low intensity, longer duration sessions are typically best incorporated into a training program as a separate session from a strength training workout. But higher intensity, shorter duration sessions may be included during that same session. We’re not going to dive into what the specifics of these sessions look like – that depends entirely on your goals, training history, etc. But let’s use this as a general guideline as we dive into how to separate your cardio and strength training.
When we look to combine cardio and strength training there are two approaches in the research: last training stimulus and by priority.
Last training stimulus means that the one you do second would be the one you want your body to “remember” the most. For example, if you wanted to improve your lifting or strength, you would lift second. (More on this later!) Priority means, you would do whichever is a greater priority for you first, so you’re more recovered for that session of the day. Neither is better or worse – they’re just different!
While there has been some negative effect that has been found in studies when comparing these two strategies (“cardio killing gains”), this can largely be offset by (re)fueling and recovery in between sessions. I should also note that there is also benefit found to each as well, and evidence is mixed.
So, which is better?
The one that fits both YOUR goal and YOUR lifestyle the best and the strategy that you can execute to the highest level. Evaluate your priorities and choose a strategy that fits…But you might just want to keep reading before you tie yourself to the program.
I’ve mentioned it a few times, but let’s talk about fueling.
When the old-school myth talks about “doing too much cardio” and how it destroys any strength progress, they’re really talking about doing more cardio than you have the energy to perform. If you don’t have the nutrition intake to match (or exceed) the activity you’re performing, the body will find fuel somewhere. First, it will exhaust the glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. Then, it will either utilize fat stores or muscle, depending on the type of activity you’re performing.
But, there’s another option. If you refuel with the appropriate amount of carbohydrates and protein, the body will utilize the protein to repair the muscles and carbohydrate to fuel further activity. If you’re eating enough, the body will have plenty of energy to perform.
If you have a strength training + cardio session, make sure you’re eating enough pre-workout, perhaps incorporating an intra-workout carbohydrate, and getting in a meal or shake post-workout. If you have two separate sessions, make sure you have time to get in a solid meal that is carbohydrate and protein-focused in between each session.
So, does cardio kill your gains? Short answer: nope. Long answer: there are some underlying truths to this myth, but they can largely be prevented with a smartly organized training program and fueling your body properly.
Cardiovascular activity is important for more than just fitness goals; it’s important for health. Are you incorporating cardio into your training? We should at least be striving to hit the bare minimum and meeting the ACSM guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. This can be as simple as walking or a more detailed program, if you’re training for a race. Evaluate your cardio activity this week. Do you need to add more? How and where can you add this activity into your week? Take small steps to add this activity into your week.