Improve Your Pump│Q & A

I love the questions that we’ve been getting recently – keep them coming!

Here’s one which I particularly liked:

“Hi there. When I’m training I find it very difficult to get a pump. When I do, it doesn’t last that long. Any advice? Thanks.”

Thank you for your question. You can read my response after the cut.

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Before I answer your question, I think it’s important that you gain an understanding of the pump, and the significant role it plays within your workouts. Scientifically known as hyperaemia, “The Pump” occurs when a muscle is trained. In order for the working muscle to perform optimally, your brain instructs your body to supply it with oxygenated blood, which is then pumped and pooled within the muscle. If the delivery of oxygenated blood is insufficient, your muscle will experience a build-up of lactic acid which you may experience as a burning sensation. In such cases, your body will release a combination of hormones and signalling factors (nitric oxide) which will assist the pump by encouraging the capillaries (small blood vessels) within the muscle to dilate, further increasing the inflow of blood. I’m sure you’ll agree that the psychological and physiological benefits of the pump really motivate you in your workouts – there’s nothing quite like it! That said, I probably wouldn’t go as far as Arnie:

There are many factors which can influence the level of pump you experience. Below are 5 tried and tested ways that can help improve hyperaemia.

Drink more water

Your body is approximately made up of two thirds water, much of which is found in your blood plasma. Can you see where I’m going here?

The more water you drink, the more voluminous your blood becomes. Therefore, drinking more water will increase the build-up of fluid within your muscle i.e. a better pump!

Right now, I’m drinking between 4 and 6 litres, which I spread evenly across the day.

Eat carbohydrates before and after your workout

As I have mentioned numerous times, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. But did you know that carbohydrates are also hydrophilic – they have an affinity for water? Indeed, 3 grams of water is drawn for every gram of carbohydrate your body stores as muscle glycogen. This gives your muscles a fuller appearance. What’s more, eating carbohydrates triggers the release of insulin – a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and moreover, stimulates nitric oxide production thus encouraging blood flow.

My pre-workout meal includes complex carbohydrates such as brown rice or sweet potatoes. I combine this with a protein, say chicken or veal, and mixed greens.

Unlike my pre-workout meal, my post-workout meal contains simple, fast-acting carbohydrates such as waxy maize starch and a banana, which I combine with whey protein. For more information on the importance of the post-workout meal, please click here.

Increase sodium – slightly!

Besides increasing blood pressure, sodium (often referred to as salt) causes your body to retain water and for those reasons, salt has a bad rap. But what if, because of this, you’re not getting enough salt in your diet? Then this could the reason behind your lacklustre pump!

Since sodium encourages water retention, it also has impact on blood plasma volume and for that reason, will also help increase the build-up of fluid within your muscle.

Build a mind-muscle connection

Instead of going through the motions, think about the muscle you’re training. In other words, visualise the motion; imagine tearing down your muscle tissue and as a result, the influx of blood. In doing so, you’ll experience stronger contractions and even strength gains! This is because, your brain instructs your muscles via the central nervous system.

Simply put, a stronger contraction will invite blood flow to the working muscle, the result of which is a better pump!

Supplement with L-arginine

L-arginine is an amino acid which is known to encourage the production of nitric oxide in the body. While I won’t go as far as making any recommendations, there are many supplement companies out there promoting pre-workout “NO boosters”. If you look at the ingredients of these supplements, you’ll notice that many of them contain L-arginine.

As with any supplement, only invest if you’re certain that you’re dieting well and training hard. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money.

I hope I have sufficiently answered your question – good luck!