Q: Should I do cardio or strength training first in my workout? – Josh S.
A: Strength training should be done before cardio to increase the effectiveness of the total workout. That’s because you want to make sure the movement you will be performing with resistance are done correctly. The greater the loads used while doing strength training, the more effective the workout. Performing each movement correctly, and with the maximum amount of muscle involvement, increases the quality of the workout. Cardio can wear you out and deplete energy stores if done before strength training.
The energy primarily used during your workouts is called glycogen, and it’s stored in all of your muscles and your liver. Glycogen comes from the carbohydrate you eat from 0-24 hours before the intense activity. As soon as you start exercising, glycogen stored in the muscle and liver starts to be depleted. Low or depleted glycogen stores will decrease exercise intensity and time ’til exhaustion, and can make you feel tired. If glycogen isn’t available, the body depends protein and fat to provide the energy your body needs, and they are not very efficient sources of energy.
Breaking down protein and fat to provide you the energy for your strength training workout will make you feel sluggish and tired. And you don’t want to break down protein because that means you aren’t going to have the protein to maintain or build that lean muscle mass you’re working so hard to create.
Strength training should be done first to make sure that you have as much glycogen as possible to perform the movements effectively. If cardio is done first, it will deplete glycogen stores and leave your body to depend on protein and fat – decreasing the quality of your workout, and limiting your body’s ability to create lean muscle mass. Cardio can be done at the end of a strength training workout, but needs to be completed by the end of 90 minutes of working out. Glycogen stores are completely depleted after 90 minutes of medium to high intensity workout.
Eating within two hours before your workouts will help keep glycogen levels high during the workout. That meal can be a protein shake with a 4:1 carb to protein ratio. The protein shake will ensure that those carbs are available and give you the advantage of having protein available at the end of the workout to start rebuilding muscle. Remember, simple carbs are ok to eat before a workout because they will get into your bloodstream faster than complex carbs, and they’ll be used up by the end of a good session.