Overcome Stimulant Addiction! Here's How...
Pre-workout supplements are without a doubt the most popular bodybuilding/fitness supplement on the market. Assuming you’ve at least tried one before I’m sure you can see why too… immense levels of energy, laser-like focus and determination and a burning desire to obliterate every exercise, set and rep you’ve got planned for your workout. Half an hour after you’ve drank the neon coloured concoction from your shaker you begin to feel like a god as you enter the gym.
I love the feeling as a strong dose of pre-workout kicks in, the focus from the large dose of caffeine, the tingles from the amino acid beta alanine and the vascularity and pumps that come along with the vasodilator – citrulline malate.
It isn’t always positive though.
The biggest issue with pre-workouts supplements is the dependency that is built upon them once a gym-goer has added them to their supplement stack, this is more of a psychological and mental barrier than anything else. Stimulant addiction is not healthy, nor sustainable.
The best pre-workout supplement in the world is your mind. Sustainable high levels of intensity, strength and the focus to grind through the ridiculously heavy weights you need to lift in order to keep your progressive overload going strong is your mind. No chemical, powder, potion or supplement will ever be able to replace the determination and will-power of a disciplined, results oriented mindset.
The law of diminishing returns is all too apparent when it comes to pre-workout supplements too, the more often you take your pre-workout supplement the quicker your tolerance begins to build, the quicker your tolerance begins to build the larger the dosage you’ll need to feel the same rush and focus.
After months of use it’s not uncommon to get to the point of requiring 3 or more scoops of your pre-workout supplement in order to get the same level of focus as when you were taking half a scoop in the very beginning.
My Strategies To Quit Pre-Workout Supplements (Try These!)
Drink A Litre Of Water Upon Waking
This is particularly important if you train in the early hours of the morning like I do, after 8~ hours with no fluids or nutrients drinking a litre of water as soon as I wake up, about an hour before heading to the gym has made a definite difference to my energy levels and feeling of well-being.
Slowly Taper Off The Dosage
If you’ve been taking pre-workout supplements for months and have ramped up to a relatively large dose over that time (multiple scoops) I’d recommend spending a week or at least several days tapering off your dosage – going straight from 3 scoops to zilch will more than likely result in withdrawal symptoms as I’ve experienced first-hand.
If you’re currently taking 2 scoops I’d taper to 1.5 scoops, several days at 1 scoop before finishing off the taper with one or two days using half a scoop of your pre-workout supplement before quitting it completely.
Replace Your Pre-Workout With An Espresso
This can be used in-place of the above tapering strategy. Switch out your commercial pre-workout supplement for a coffee – although still a stimulant a shot of espresso which rarely fails to energize me contains 80mg of caffeine, while a typical pre-workout contains anywhere from 300mg – 600mg.
Use Stimulant Free Pre Workout Supplements!
When we’re talking about quitting pre-workout supplements and reliance on pre-workout supplements we’re essentially talking about one ingredient in the supplement – caffeine. Creatine, beta alanine etc. are of no concern when it comes to burning out our adrenal glands, inducing anxiety etc. which often result from the ongoing use of high dosages of caffeine.
Taking a stimulant free pre-workout definitely doesn’t have the same appeal as a traditional pre-workout supplement which is based around caffeine however they definitely do help – beta alanine, found in the majority of commercial pre-workout supplements along with the DIY pre-workout supplement guide I have created does work well on its own and is extremely cheap to buy by itself. If you’re tapering off your pre-workout give some standalone beta-alanine a try.
Why Take Pre Workouts? (What's Your Answer?!)
Like I said, after prolonged use of pre-workout supplements a dependency is formed, instead of supplementing in the first place the majority of the time the reason you feel you need these supplements can easily be fixed by making a few changes to your daily routine or habits.
Instead of throwing money at overpriced supplements to get you through your workouts when you’re exhausted I recommend the following:
Get More Sleep
Depriving yourself of sleep and expecting to be able to maintain your strength and continue to grow by dosing pre-workouts on the daily works for only so long, it isn’t sustainable (or good for your health!).
If you’re sleeping 6 hours or less a night you’ll find that getting an extra couple of hours sleep per night will make a huge difference to your performance and your recovery times. Large dosages of caffeine can be used for a sleep deprived athlete to perform at their normal level, however if you’re not sleep deprived in the first place you’re going to perform better consistently (and when you do choose to use stimulants your strength and performance will be beyond).
Train At A Different Time Of The Day
Find what works for you, I know gym-goers that are stronger and train far more intensely in the afternoon than they ever can in the morning; I’m personally quite the opposite. If you’re forcing yourself to train in the morning (and rely on a pre-workout supplement to do so) why not try training at a different time during the day e.g. the afternoon or evening without any supplementation? Find what works best for you.
Get A Training Buddy!
Getting your rest time between sets to the bare minimum and trying to get those one or two last reps are the 2 main benefits I attribute to my time using pre-workout supplements – they don’t make you stronger, they just make you focus and try harder. Stimulants aren’t magic.
Training with another gym-goer around the same strength level as you can give you these exact same benefits, motivation and a spotter to push through those last few reps (and getting assistance with forced reps if need be).
“Champions come in pairs of two because they battle themselves to perfection.” – Greg Plitt
As I discussed in my guide to finding the perfect training partner if you do decide to follow this recommendation ensure your training partner is at least as dedicated and determined as you are, if not more. Having a slacker for a training partner that doesn’t show up, shows up late or doesn’t try to push you or themselves throughout your workouts is going to be more of a liability than an asset – in which case you’re better off training on your own and using the other techniques for overcoming stimulant dependency.
Have A Cold Shower (It'll Build Discipline Too!)
I’m a big advocate of cold showers – not only for the immediate energy they provide but also the long term health benefits such as increased testosterone levels, mitigation of depression, better looking skin and hair (you can read more about cold showers and why you need to start taking them immediately in my article here).
The discipline it takes to stand in the shower, willingly crank the faucet as far to the cold side as possible and stand there for 3 minutes is character building. Every other task you’re not looking enthusiastic to do that day suddenly becomes that much easier.
If you’re training in the morning like myself a cold shower will, without a doubt wake you up before your workout – no stimulants required…
Deload Or Rest!
If you’re using a pre-workout supplement to push through and overcome ongoing aches, pains, any form of injury or a demotivated mindset and a feeling of being ‘burned out’ it’s more than likely time to take a rest or deload week.
If this is the case for you I recommend taking 1 week off your training (keep your diet strict during this timeframe) or deloading and lifting between 50 and 60% of the weight you would normally lift during your workouts. Should you choose the later do not lift until failure on any of your sets – focus on your form and allow your body time to recover.
This method is often dismissed by the majority of gym-goers as they assume they’re going to lose their gains and that lifting lighter is a waste of time (lifting in the higher rep ranges is a waste of time, yes but a deload/rest week is a strategic recovery method) however chances are you’ll come back not only more motivated after your deload or rest week, but stronger too.
Up The Intensity With Whatever It Takes
The motivation to train hard, lift heavy and stay consistent comes through different means for everyone. Do whatever it takes for YOU to stay motivated and obliterate your workouts without supplementing those mammoth doses of stimulants.
Watching a motivational video before your workout, compiling a gym playlist and getting a decent pair of new headphones. The above are my ideas and what works for me, if you’ve got any other ideas give those a go too.