Shake It on the Go

A guide for buying pre- and post-workout shakes

Working out is hard. Dragging yourself to the gym is hard. Forcing your body to do stuff it may not feel like doing is hard. Trust me, I’ve been there. I know. You are not alone in this plight. That’s why there’s a multimillion-dollar nutritional supplement industry with literally thousands of different things you can take to help maximize your workout. But when you really think about it, it’s a daunting task trying to find the right shakes for you.

Here’s what you need to know about buying a pre-workout mixture

They usually contain some variation of caffeine (energy), creatine (strength), beta-alanine (strength), nitric oxide (pump) and arginine (pump). When taken properly, they can really elevate your workout to new heights.

Jackie Luell, a sports dietitian for Ohio State Sports Medicine and consultant for the school’s athletic department, said if you’re an athlete for a school or professional organization, you need to be cognizant of what you’re ingesting, as different institutions have different rules for what you can and cannot take.

Rule of thumb: Caffeine will help give you that boost you’re looking for, but don’t overdo it. You’re the only person who knows your tolerance level, but more than 200 milligrams per serving is typically going to make you feel jittery. Also, be aware that things like beta alanine and niacin – which are often found in pre-workout shakes – can make you feel tingly or itchy for a little while.

Drink plenty of water. Pre-workout shakes are loaded with things that dehydrate you, namely caffeine.

Take it 30-45 minutes before your workout.

Here’s what you need to know about buying a good post-workout shake 

Unlike a lot of pre-workout shakes, the post-workout variety comes in ready-to-drink form.

Most post-workout shakes contain of one of two things: protein or creatine.

If you’re engaging in heavy lifting or trying to build muscle, you’ll want a drink that’s got at least 30 grams of protein or five to 20 grams of creatine.

Both are designed to make you stronger and build up your muscles after tearing them down. In particular, though, creatine’s become especially popular in post-workout shakes because of its ability to expedite results. It can help with high-intensity, explosive exercise (like sprinting or power lifting), and because it retains water in the muscles, it’ll make them look bigger, too.

But protein also gets the job done. Just be careful: A lot of protein shakes are high in fat and sugar to make it taste good. 

Luell said balance is key: “Post-workout [shakes] would have about 40-60 grams of carbs with about 20-30 grams of protein depending on the activity and goal of the recovery.”

They can also act as meal replacements, but it’s usually good to eat something else for building muscle and recovering properly.