A pre-workout energy drink almost killed me. Okay, it wasn’t going to kill me, but it did send me to the hospital in an ambulance (because I thought I was dying.)
I was young, I was naïve, and I was always exhausted. I was on a national tour of a musical adaptation of THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF PAUL REVERE. Our schedule was grueling; my days were spent travelling the country stuffed into a cargo van with my five co-stars and our stage manager, my nights were spent in Red Roof Inns and Super 8s across our great land. We were young, hungry artists, working actors living the dream. We weren’t starring on Broadway or “coming soon to a movie theater near you,” but we were earning entry into the actor’s union, Actor’s Equity, with this gig and, after paying our dues on this less-than-glamourous assignment, the world would be our oyster.
And it was challenging, and tiring and, even though we weren’t playing stadiums or arenas (we did perform at a horse stable in Lexington, Kentucky), we still partied like rock stars at the end of the work day.
But I would be damned if I let life on the road take a toll on my progress in the gym. (Nothing’s gonna mess with my gains, bro.)
So, I started using a pre-workout energy drink before my workouts. And it helped. I was able to work harder for longer and they made me feel like I could do anything.
I was killing it in the gym… until I wasn’t. So, I started searching for pre-workouts with more caffeine per serving. And I was able to keep crushing my workouts. Until, I wasn’t. So, I started doubling up on my pre-workout drinks.
And I started crushing again until…
I almost died.
After an especially-challenging, energy drink-enhanced, chest workout, I found myself spending the night in an emergency room in East Lansing, Michigan, hooked up to an IV drip of Ativan.
My heart was beating out of my chest, I was having trouble taking a deep breath, I was sweating uncontrollably. I was freaking the F- out. I was having a full-on panic attack precipitated by over-doing it with my pre-workout.
I spent the night in the hospital and the next morning, our stage manager picked me up in the aforementioned cargo van, where I went on and performed the entire show on a sedative-induced 7-second delay.
So, naturally, that was the last time I ever used a pre-workout or energy drink to get through a workout. Right?
I’m going to be honest with you. Sometimes I need a little something extra to make sure I get my workout in. In an ideal world, we would all sleep a perfect 7-9 hours with the perfect number of complete REM cycles to leave us feeling fresh, sharp, energized and ready to seize the day (and crush our workouts!) But we don’t live in an ideal world and, when it comes to exercise, consistency is EVERYTHING.
So, what steps can be taken in order to avoid using or, worse, relying on pre-workout energy drinks to make sure you get your workout in? And, short of that, if you do need an occasional boost, what can you do that won’t prompt a trip to the emergency room?
REALLY, REALLY, REALLY TRY TO GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Don’t look at your phone in bed. Give yourself a solid 30-45 minutes extra time to lie in bed winding down before your sleep time. You’ll remove the math anxiety of your scheduled alarm the next morning. (“If I fall asleep now, I’ll get exactly 7 hours and 32 minutes before my alarm goes off.
Don’t hit snooze. In fact, you know when you wake up 10 or 12 or 14 minutes and 37 seconds before your alarm is scheduled to go off? Get up. Seriously, if you let yourself fall back into sleep, your alarm is likely to go off just as you drift into the deepest part of a new sleep cycle. When you find yourself in this predicament, dig deep down inside and find the fortitude to just get up and start your day, even if it’s 9 minutes and 26 seconds earlier than intended.
IF IT’S POSSIBLE (AND IT VERY WELL MIGHT NOT BE) SNEAK A POWER NAP INTO YOUR DAY
You know that book, EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN? It’s a nice sentiment, and I don’t know how accurate it is, but when it comes to nap time, we as adults are missing out.
A power nap, 10-20 minutes of eyes closed, uninterrupted chill time is the antidote for a less-than-stellar, night’s sleep.
I have had so many people tell me, “I can’t nap. It just makes it worse.” It’s not a nap-nap, as in a mini-night’s sleep. It’s a power nap.
The key to a successful power nap? You have to cap it at 20 minutes. You might feel at that point, “man, I’m just getting warmed up, I could do this all day.” Well, you could do it all day, and that’s why at 20 minutes, you need to get the f- up and get on with your day.
Another key to becoming a skilled power napper (and it is a skill that can be learned), is to remove the obligation to fall asleep. If you close your eyes and simply stop moving, pause your day, even if you don’t lose consciousness, you will find yourself re-charged at the end of your 20-minute session.
BEFORE YOU GO TO THE HARD STUFF…
Before you hit up the GNC for TURBO-ULTRA MEGA BEAST JUICE loaded with BCAAs, Arginine, Guarana and 500 mg of Caffeine per serving (or something like that), try a tea, a coffee, an espresso, hell, get crazy, a double espresso.
AND IF IT’S AN ABSOLUTE EMERGENCY, AND YOU MUST PULL OUT THE BIG GUNS…
If you have a photo shoot or a wedding or a race or, you are working insane hours at your job, and you are missing too many workouts and just need to get this one in in order to get back on track, and you absolutely must use a pre-workout…
I get it. I shouldn’t condone it as a fitness professional, but, I am not only a fitness professional, I am also a person, and as a human, I get that sometimes you just might need a little something extra to give a little something extra.
If that is the case, here are the rules you should abide by:
1) Don’t make it a habit. The more often you use pre-workouts, the more likely you will become to need to use them before every workout. Your body will build up a tolerance. Limit your pre-workout use.
2) You don’t need 500 mg of caffeine in a serving at one time. Ever. Under any circumstances. Try to cap the caffeine per serving at 150/ 200 mg tops.
3) Don’t exceed a single serving. Check the bottle. Is it a one-serving bottle or 2- 2/12 servings per bottle? Knowledge is power. Your nervous system thanks you in advance for being informed.
4) Watch the sugar. Red Bull says it gives you wings but the regular (as in not “sugar free”) version might also give you Type-2 Diabetes. You don’t want to drink your calories and you don’t want to rot your teeth out.
And that’s all I have to say on that, right now.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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