Doesn’t matter if you’re new to the pre-workout game or you’re a huge advocate of workout supplements, there are still tons of questions regarding pre-workout like does it actually help with muscular endurance? How long does pre-workout last? And what are the downsides of using pre-workout? Lucky for you, we have all the answers and everything you need to know about pre-workout right here in this article.
- 1 What is a pre-workout?
- 2 How long does pre-workout effects last?
- 3 What are the different types of Pre-Workout?
- 4 What are the main ingredients of a pre-workout?
- 5 When To Take Pre-Workout
- 6 How to take a pre-workout?
- 7 How Often Should You Take Pre-Workout?
- 8 Should You Really Take Pre-Workout?
- 9 Are pre-workout supplements safe?
What is a pre-workout?
A pre-workout supplement is a specific type of dietary supplement used prior to physical activity in order to enhance athletic performance and increase energy levels.
Pre-workout supplements are in a category of dietary supplements designed to enhance your workout drive through increased energy, work capacity, and mental performance with the potential for athletic performance. Their purpose is to increase the blood flow to and from your muscles, with ingredients that dilate your blood vessels as well as caffeine to increase your energy levels.
How long does pre-workout effects last?
It depends on the ingredients, if it’s caffeine free or not, and the length of the workout, but on average, the effects of a pre-workout last between 30 minutes to 2.5 hours, from the time it kicks in to the time it’s out of your system and you can’t feel its effects anymore. It also depends on different other factors.
Factors that impact how long your pre-workout lasts
The real influence on how long the pre-workout effects will last depends on a few things like:
The potency of the pre-workout
Not only potency but also how much you take can severely change the duration of time your supplement will last. For instance, taking a single dose vs. two will change everything.
Your tolerance to stimulants
Tolerance has a huge negative effect when it comes to pre-workout. If you take double or even three times the amount that’s recommended just to feel a little more energized then you could potentially cause other health effects and outweigh the positive effects of pre-workout as well as the time it’s effective. Or if you’re extremely caffeine sensitive then your pre-workout might last longer than anticipated.
Your body composition and training regime
Your body mass size and training can affect the amount of time you’ll feel the pre-workout at its peak effect too. Like if you’re a smaller person and you’re doing a lot of full-body, strenuous exercises then you’re more likely to feel the effects of pre-workout for longer than a larger person who is doing the same body workout.
What are the different types of Pre-Workout?
Pre-workouts typically come in powder form, ranging in all different colors. This makes storing and transporting much easier since when you’re ready to take it all you have to do is mix the supplement with water or juice and it’s ready. Although, don’t be surprised if you see some pre-workouts being sold as capsules, canned, and bottled drinks. Depending on the ingredients, there are different types of pre-workout supplements.
Strength pre-workout supplements
These supplements are mostly used by bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen, and calisthenics athletes. Their ingredients aim to relatively improve exercise performance by improving strength, reducing the rate of perceived exertion, improving blood flow, and elevating energy levels.
Endurance pre-workout supplements
These pre-workouts consist of ingredients that increase cardiovascular and muscular endurance levels, aerobic capacity, and delay muscle fatigue. They’re mostly used by runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathlon athletes, and generally by athletes of endurance sports, meaning that a race or workout can range from 20 minutes to a few hours.
Nootropic pre-workout supplements
Nootropic pre-workouts are a specific category of pre-workouts, targeting the brain and Central Nervous System. Depending on the ingredients they’re used by all sorts of athletes, from bodybuilders and powerlifters to shooters and archers. They aim to reduce the rate of perceived exertion and improve focus, mental clarity, and accuracy. Some are also used to reduce stress levels and heart rate.
Non-stimulant pre-workout supplements
These pre-workouts may look like all of the above, but they’re missing ingredients that stimulate the CNS like caffeine, making them suitable for athletes that train close to bedtime but still need an energy boost. Non-stimulant pre-workouts are considered milder than others, thus they can be taken for longer without experiencing diminishing effects, something that usually happens with stimulants such as caffeine.
Pre-workouts are generally taken 20-30 minutes prior to exercising, and their effects may last up to a few hours.
In this article, we will analyze the most common ingredients of a pre-workout, how to take one, and what the benefits of taking a pre-workout are.
What are the main ingredients of a pre-workout?
According to their use, pre-workouts are packed with ingredients that aim to enhance the athlete’s physical performance. If you have ever looked at the ingredient table of a pre-workout, it should have left you wondering what all those ingredients do and if they’re effective and safe.
The sad truth of researching Sports Nutrition papers is that many of the ingredients of most pre-workout formulas have failed to be proven effective in enhancing athletic performance or improving body composition (increase muscle mass and reduce bodyfat).
Since there are so many brands and versions of a pre-workout supplement there are a ton of different formulas, so this is where it’s important to do your research. For instance, most pre-workouts list each ingredient, including the dose per serving while some pre-workouts list only a proprietary blend of ingredients but not the individual amount of each per scoop. Meaning, things can get very confusing so let us help you break it down.
Below is a list of the most researched and proven to work ingredients that you should be looking for in your pre-workout supplement.
Caffeine is the most common ingredient in pre-workouts. Caffeine is a CNS stimulant (Central Nervous System). It is used as a cognitive enhancer, increasing alertness and attentional performance. Additionally, caffeine intake is also shown to increase reaction time, and delay fatigue in aerobic and anaerobic conditions, while also increasing muscle strength and power output. (Recommended dose: 5mg/kg, 30 minutes prior to exercising)
Taurine is an amino acid, produced by the human body and also found in meat, seafood, and dairy. Its main purpose is to regulate minerals, water, and electrolyte balance in the cells, forming bile salts that break down dietary fat from food and regulating the immune system. In Sports Science, taurine has been studied as an ergogenic aid, as it has been found to reduce fatigue and muscle damage while improving oxygen uptake, strength, power, and recovery time. (Recommended dose: 1-3gr, 1-2 hours prior to exercising)
Citrulline is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that the body can produce it naturally by itself. However, by eating food high in citrulline or supplementing with citrulline, the amount in the body increases dramatically and has been proven to act as a performance enhancer. After absorption, some of the Citrulline is converted into Arginine, and then into Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide is a vasodilator, meaning that it relaxes the muscles in the blood vessels, allowing them to loosen and improve bloodflow. In sports, Citrulline may boost endurance and muscle strength while also reducing soreness the days after training. (Recommended dose: 6-8gr, 1 hour prior to exercising or 2gr, 3 times a day on rest days).
Arginine is also a common ingredient found in pre-workouts. However, it has been studied that supplementing with Citrulline is more effective than Arginine, as part of the Arginine is lost during digestion, while Citrulline is converted into Arginine after absorption.
Beta-Alanine is an amino acid synthesized in the liver and ingested by animal food such as beef and chicken. After absorption, beta-alanine combines with histidine within the muscles and other organs to form carnosine. Carnosine acts as an acid buffer in the body, which means that it binds to Hydrogen ions to control the pH decline in the cells, allowing for a longer exercise duration at high intensities. Beta-alanine is the limiting factor in muscle carnosine synthesis, meaning that supplementing with beta-alanine will reduce muscle fatigue and improve endurance. Beta-alanine also causes a tingling sensation when in high doses. (Recommended dose: 3gr, 30 minutes prior to exercising)
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) refer to three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Supplementing with BCAAs may delay mental and physical fatigue during prolonged exercise. BCAAs have also been found to reduce markers of exercise-induced muscle damage and muscle soreness 24 – 48 hours after exercise, but they haven’t been proved to speed up the recovery of muscle performance. (Recommended dose: 10-20gr prior to or during exercising)
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that helps produce adrenaline and norepinephrine, two hormones that are activated when the body is under stress. Although that’s the last hormone you might want during daily life, studies have shown that l-tyrosine can help improve exercise performance when you’re under stress.
L-Theanine is an amino acid, mainly found in black, green tea, and mushrooms. L-Theanine is used as a supplement to promote relaxation, reduce blood pressure and enhance cognitive function, mental focus, and mental performance. Mainly found in nootropic pre-workouts, it’s mostly useful for athletes in sports such as sharpshooting and archery. (Recommended dose: 100-200mg along with caffeine)
Creatine is produced in the body in small amounts, it is also found in beef, but supplementing is needed to observe its ergogenic abilities. Creatine stores high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. During exercise, the body utilizes ATP for energy, turning it into ADP. Then, these phosphate groups are donated to ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to regenerate it back into ATP (Adenosine triphosphate), the primary energy carrier in the body.
This act is very useful during strenuous exercise where ATP levels dramatically decrease. Creatine is among the most well-studied and effective ergogenic aid. It has been proven that Creatine increases energy, strength, and power output during training, while also improving anaerobic capacity and sprint performance. Some studies show cognitive function improvement, mental fatigue reduction, and working memory benefits. (Recommended dose: 0,03gr/kg per day)
Vitamin B-6 is a key player in your body’s energy production, specifically for the breakdown of muscle glycogen. It is crucial for your metabolism, particularly during exercise, and getting enough of it in your diet can help with weight loss, too.
When To Take Pre-Workout
When it comes to pre-workout, timing is crucial for the best results. Taking it too early can result in a caffeine crash while taking it too late could mean you won’t feel the effects until after your training session is done.
For most people, 99% of the ingredients of pre-workout are absorbed by the body within about 45 minutes of consumption. However, it reaches peak effectiveness, on average, after about 30-60 minutes. Therefore, experts usually recommend taking your pre-workout about 15-30 minutes before working out. Taking your supplement within this specific window gives your body a chance to absorb the supplement and allows you to get the maximum benefits during the most intense part of your workout.
It’s also good to note that if you’re taking a caffeine-free pre-workout like Gorilla Mode Nitric, the 15-30 minute window is still recommended. You might not need to worry about caffeine absorption, but taking your pre-workout during this timeframe still gives you an adequate amount of time to absorb the other active ingredients, such as Beta-Alanine to help you get through the harder, more intense workouts.
How to take a pre-workout?
A pre-workout should be taken prior to exercise, with the exact time written on the supplement package. To avoid health risks and stomach discomfort I would advise you to consume a meal 2 hours before, to slightly delay absorption.
If it is your first time taking a pre-workout, stick to the lowest dosage possible and gradually increase to avoid discomfort.
How Often Should You Take Pre-Workout?
Most gym rats are taking pre-workout before every workout. Really, it’s fine to take it whenever you want as long as you’re not exceeding the safe limit of caffeine consumption which is 400mg or 0.014 ounces per day. It’s also a smart idea to not take pre-workout too close to your bedtime or so consistently that you become reliant on it to keep you moving and awake. If you notice you can’t work out without it or that you have to keep upping your dosage because you’re not seeing the effects, then it might be a good idea to take a break from it to avoid caffeine dependency.
Should You Really Take Pre-Workout?
If you’re still on the fence about taking pre-workout, here are some benefits that come along with using energy supplements while working out:
One of the main reasons why people choose to take pre-workout is for the energy boost. Even the caffeine-free supplement options, pre-workout can help put that pep in your step.
Pre-workout is great for assisting in increasing your mental focus and bettering your mood, which can help you keep track of your workout goals and boost your mental energy to help you to push harder while working out.
Pre-workout products contain blood-flow-enhancing ingredients to help increase stamina and get you through a tough workout.
Taking pre-workout can help with muscle fatigue, muscle soreness, and lower recovery time, which in turn helps build better strength and muscle.
Are pre-workout supplements safe?
In general, pre-workout products are considered safe. However, there are some tips that I would like to share with you that may prove helpful.
Avoid high doses
When taking a pre-workout, read the recommended intake and stick to it. Increasing the dose of a caffeine-including pre-workout will result in too much caffeine intake which will develop a caffeine tolerance, resulting in diminished effects. This applies to other stimulants as well.
Stick to the basics
When it comes to pre-workouts, I always suggest people avoid formulas with 20+ ingredients. It is most likely that most of them are ineffective anyway and in very low amounts. Caffeine, beta-alanine, creatine, and citrulline are the most well-researched and beneficial ingredients of a pre-workout.
Not for everyday use
If you’re thinking of buying a pre-workout to have more energy to achieve your fitness goals, avoid getting into the trap of using it before all your training sessions. Try to work out some days of the week without taking a pre-workout to not develop tolerance and depend on it.
The biggest downfall of taking pre-workout is the uncertainty. Scientists have not studied the long-term safety of taking pre-workout supplements, so it’s unknown whether or not these supplements have harmful long-term effects or if they’re truly safe. And since every pre-workout brand uses a different formula, additional ingredients may have different side effects or may increase the side effects of caffeine, making it difficult to generalize about the safety of all pre-workout supplements.
It’s also good to know that some supplements may even contain banned or harmful ingredients since (in the United States) pre-workouts are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means supplement manufacturers in the United States don’t have to test ingredients for safety before adding them to a product. Unless an ingredient is specifically banned or forbidden, companies can add it to dietary supplements with little oversight. Additionally, as long as companies don’t claim that a supplement treats, cures, or prevents a specific illness, they can make any claims they want about the effectiveness of the product.
Avoid allergens and start small
Obviously, if you are allergic to a specific ingredient, you will avoid it. However, pre-workouts contain so many ingredients that we may not know if we are allergic to one of them. It is best to start with half the recommended dose and observe how your body reacts to it and slowly work your way to the recommended dose.
Some pre-workouts contain popular allergies like gluten and dairy, so be very careful to read the ingredient list to avoid any allergic reactions. It’s also potentially a good idea to start in small doses when trying a new workout supplement. In the case you might have a reaction to the pre-workout, taking a half scoop will be better than if you were to take the whole scoop.
Caffeine itself can be harmful when ingested consistently at high doses. It’s difficult to reach a fatal dose due to the volume of liquid you would need to consume when drinking tea or coffee, however, consuming concentrated powders like pre-workouts that contain high doses of caffeine makes it far easier to consume massive amounts. This means these products pose a greater risk than caffeinated or energy drinks and can cause symptoms like:
- skin reactions
- heart abnormalities
And sadly, females were more likely to experience these side effects due to their fluctuating hormones and lower body weight, as were people who consumed two or more servings of pre-workout per day.
At high doses, niacin can cause serious reactions like dangerously low blood pressure, liver damage that can result in liver failure, and multiple organ failure. Research suggests liver damage happens at niacin doses of around 3-4 grams per day so taking too much lower doses of niacin can induce a harmless but uncomfortable condition called niacin flush, which causes your skin to become red and itchy and warm to the touch.
Some of the top pre-workout supplements contain around 25.8 mg of niacin on average and can even contain up to about 41 mg. Meaning, it’s very possible you might experience a niacin flush after taking one or multiple servings of pre-workout.To know how much niacin you’re actually taking, check the amount per serving listed on the label of the product, and make sure to take the recommended serving size.
It may contain substances banned in competitions
In 2013, N,α-diethyl-phenylethylamine (N,α-DEPEA), a methamphetamine analog, was found in a pre-workout supplement called Craze that got several athletes disqualified from a competition after testing positive for said banned stimulant. And then in 2020, 17 supplement brands found banned substances like deterenol, phenpromethamine, beta-methylethylamine, and octodrine in various amounts in several different supplements. With that said, if you participate in a sport that requires testing for performance-enhancing drugs, it’s very important to know that taking some pre-workout products may get you disqualified if you’re not careful.
Although these substances are banned in the U.S., supplement companies are not legally required to publish test results for these substances so not only is it intentionally toxic to the body, but can also lead to a serious hassle in the short term as coaches and athletes have to try to prove that a positive drug test was unintentional and caused by tainted supplements. If you are a competitive athlete, you might want to consider going the extra mile to ensure you get a pre-workout product that has been tested accordingly to avoid unnecessary risks.