what to eat before a workout

Photo: baibaz/iStock/Thinkstock

A Hearty Bowl of Fortified Flakes
Women who were given iron supplements were more efficient and had a lower heart rate when performing a given exercise, found an analysis by researchers at the University of Melbourne. The effect was strongest in women who were iron-deficient or anemic, as well as in elite athletes.

The workout hack: Make sure you're getting 18 mg of iron per day (27 mg if you're pregnant); many fortified cereals have 100 percent of the RDA, confirming that they are, indeed, the breakfast of champions. Note: Even though women—especially vegetarians or those with heavy periods—are more likely to be iron-deficient,an excess of the mineral can be toxic, so talk to your doctor before heavying up with supplements.
how to get ready to workout

Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Thinkstock

A Warm Up That Starts With Your Retinas
You know that exposing yourself—especially your eyes—to light in the morning helps your brain feel more alert, but it can wake up your muscles, too. Research has found that exposure to light for 30 minutes before waking (and additional light upon getting out of bed) can increase oxygen flow to muscles, boosting physical as well as cognitive performance.

The workout hack: A dawn-simulator clock like this one by Lumie wakes you up by gradually filling your room with light.
foods that help you recover after a workout

Photo: gojak/iStock/Thinkstock

A Fruity Drink to Help You Recover
Even if you were on fire at the CrossFit box today, your burning muscles will prevent you from doing much of anything tomorrow. Watermelon, beloved by athletes as a thirst- quencher, has also been shown to lessen post-exercise muscle soreness and thus spur recovery. Exercisers who drank the antioxidant-rich juice an hour before exercise reported less discomfort than those who had a control drink, an effect the researchers attributed to the amino acid L-citrulline.

The workout hack: Drink a bottle of real watermelon juice (not flavored sugar water) or eat a few slices of the fruit before a hard workout.
why you should go to the gym with friends

Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Thinkstock

A Faster, Stronger, Tougher, Bendy-er Friend
Sweating with a pal can make any workout seem to go by more quickly, but if you choose the right friend, the effect can be even greater. A partner who you perceive to be better at that activity could help increase your workout time and intensity by as much as 200 percent, found Brandon Irwin, a Michigan State University researcher. He told the American Council on Exercise that "feeling inadequate may be a potential key to motivation in exercise."

The workout hack: If you can't work out together in person, you can compete online using apps like Fitocracy, MapMyFitness, RunKeeper and Strava.
how peppermint affects workouts

Photo: YelenaYemchuk/iStock/Thinkstock

A Pre-Workout Pepper-Upper
While inhaling the scent of peppermint has been shown to decrease anxiety and fatigue and improve focus, this bracing scent didn't seem to have much of an effect on physical performance. But when researchers asked people to drink a solution of water peppered with a few drops of peppermint essential oil, they found that the exercisers didn't fatigue as quickly during workouts. They also had a lower heart rate and systolic blood pressure. This is probably because the peppermint opened up their lungs and improved oxygen flow to the brain, the researchers posited in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

The workout hack: On the way to the gym, pop a few candies made with real peppermint oil.
make your workout more effective

Photo: julie514/iStock/Thinkstock

A Sweaty Recollection That Makes You Smile
Students who were prompted to recall a positive memory about exercise reported higher levels of motivation to work out as well as better follow-through than a control group, found psychologists at the University of New Hampshire. This may be due to the fact that remembering a positive memory may activate positive feelings about the self as it relates to exercise, making people want to do more of what makes them feel good.

The workout hack: Close your eyes and think back to the race where you met your running buddy, the day you discovered SoulCycle or the yoga class that basically cured your backaches.
sports drinks help you exercise longer

Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Thinkstock

The Sports Drink You Don't Need to Drink
Just the sight of a sports drink incited people to exercise longer, found a study published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal, and it seemed to have an even more powerful effect than the sight of a bottle of water. This surprising effect could be a testament to the power of branding: The study authors think that having a performance drink in view makes us think that we, too, are as tough as Serena Williams.

The workout hack: Invest in a hydration bottle fit for the pros and keep it in view (regardless of what's inside).
how to find the right sports bra

Photo: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Thinkstock

A Bra That Fits
Seventeen percent of women interviewed by the University of Portsmouth in the UK said that their breasts were one of their primary barriers to exercise. Breast pain—and breasts in general, really—were one of the main things keeping women off the track and out of the gym (this complaint came in behind lack of motivation, time constraints and health issues). No wonder: These same researchers have also found that during high-impact activities like running, breasts move not just up and down but also in a repetitive figure-8 pattern that is barely controlled by most standard sports bras. It sounds perverse, feels miserable and leads to chafing, discomfort, weakened breast tissue and even an unstable stride.

The workout hack: To minimize pain and discomfort, find a bra with optimal support, like these from Shock Absorber or Panache—both of have been found in lab tests to significantly reduce bounce.
music that motivates you to workout

Photo: Fuse/Thinkstock

A Sonic Boom
Behind the motivating lyrics of Katy Perry's "Roar" and Kanye West's "Stronger" lies another key reason they belong in any good workout mix. Recent research shows that a thumping bass line stirs feelings of power, which makes listeners want to assert themselves. In one study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the more the researchers pumped up the bass, the stronger the listeners' reported feelings of power and control.

The workout hack: Maximize your power by playing bass-heavy beats when you're lifting weights or muscling uphill.