Pre-workout supplements are hugely popular in fitness circles. But the pre-workout supplement topic is also a bit misunderstood.
You'll hear a lot of questions about pre-workouts - are they safe? Are they safe to take every day? And how long does pre-workout last?
We’ll answer some of those questions in this article, focusing specifically on the last one, and help you to understand all you need to know about pre-workout supplements.
What is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
A pre-workout supplement is a supplement you take prior to a workout, which is designed to boost energy and enhance athletic performance.
A pre-workout is not a specific compound, like creatine or whey protein. Instead, it’s a generic term that can cover single ingredients used to boost performance or, more commonly, a mix of multiple ingredients.
The formula of each pre-workout supplement differs, but there are some common things you find in most products.
What's Usually in a Pre-Workout?
Caffeine is one of the most common pre-workout ingredients, popular for its positive effect on energy, focus, and motivation, as well as its relative safety for most people.
Other things you often find in pre-workouts include creatine, amino acids (such as beta-alanine, arginine, and BCAAs), and B vitamins.
How Long Does Pre-Workout Last?
The effects of pre-workout supplements usually last around 2 hours. That being said, there are a lot of factors that influence how long a pre-workout lasts, so it’s impossible to give one answer that covers every single product.
Factors That Impact How Long Pre-Workouts Last
Factors that influence how long pre-workout supplements last include the makeup of the particular supplement, as well as your own personal makeup.
Let’s look a little closer at these factors.
Since almost every single pre-workout supplement has its own unique formula, the length that one supplement lasts will depend on the ingredients in that formula.
Some ingredients have a longer, more drawn-out effect, while some are more acute and fast-acting.
Many pre-workout supplements have caffeine. The effects of caffeine usually kick in within an hour, and last from 2-5 hours, depending on how fast your body metabolizes the caffeine.
Another common ingredient, the amino acid arginine (or l-arginine), has a half-life of 30-120 minutes, which is how long you can expect the effect of this to last.
Higher or lower levels of specific ingredients will also have an effect on how long it lasts, with smaller amounts more quickly processed and expelled from the body.
You may also have certain effects that last longer than others, based on different ingredients. The vasodilating effects (widening blood vessels to increase blood flow) of l-arginine, for example, will likely wear off before the energy boost from caffeine does.
Tolerance to Caffeine
We’ve mentioned caffeine a couple of times already. Assuming your pre-workout contains caffeine, how your body handles caffeine will impact how long you feel the supplement’s effects.
Different people tolerate caffeine differently. You’ll see some who can drink coffee throughout the day, even into the evening and night, and feel few effects. While, for others, a single cup of black coffee is enough to send them to the roof.
If you have a high tolerance for caffeine, you might find your pre-workout doesn’t seem to last very long. While for others, it might keep you wired for hours, potentially causing problems with sleep if you work out in the evening.
If you’re one of these people who have trouble with caffeine, you should try our Stim-Free Pre-Workout. It has no caffeine or other stimulants, just clean ingredients for a clean energy boost.
Serving Size and Body Weight
It will also take more or less time for pre-workout to exit your system depending on your body weight, and how much pre-workout you take.
Take more - 2 scoops vs 1 scoop, for example - it will last longer. And the same amount will have a bigger effect and last longer in someone with less bodily mass.
Are Pre-Workouts Safe?
Most pre-workouts are safe, but it again depends on the ingredients.
A typical pre-workout, containing things like caffeine, creatine, B vitamins and amino acids, is likely to be safe. These are all common ingredients that are safe for consumption.
The only thing to consider with these is the caffeine content. It can be unsafe if the supplement has too much caffeine, if you’re already taking a lot of caffeine separately throughout your day, or you have a sensitivity to caffeine (for most people, the safe upper limit for caffeine intake is 400mg per day).
Some pre-workout supplements contain unsafe ingredients, though. You’ll find some that are loaded with artificial additives, or worse, synthetic stimulants.
That’s why it’s important to check in the ingredients in a pre-workout, and generally best to stick to trusted brands.
Benefits of Pre-Workout Supplements
Pre-workout supplements are designed to boost exercise performance, help you get up to full speed faster, and increase output over the course of your workout.
Some specific benefits of taking pre-workout include:
- Increased physical energy
- Increased mental focus and motivation
- Higher output (e.g. strength, power)
- Better muscular endurance
- Reduced mental and muscle fatigue
- Reduced soreness
- Increased recovery
Who Should Take a Pre-Workout?
Pre-workouts are suitable for almost any kind of workout. If you’re working out at the gym, playing sports, doing a martial art, or going for a run outside, taking a pre-workout will probably help.
Marketing around pre-workouts usually targets bodybuilders and weightlifters, but in truth, the benefits apply to any kind of athletic activity.
Of course, pre-workouts aren’t essential. No one has to take a pre-workout. But they can be a nice tool if you want to get a little more out of your workout.
When to Take Pre-Workout for Best Results
The ingredients in pre-workouts usually take a little while to kick in, so it’s best to give some time between taking a pre-workout and starting your workout. At the same time, you don’t want to take it too early, where the effects start to wear off before the end of your workout.
Generally, 30-60 minutes prior is advisable. This again depends on the ingredients. Some may kick in faster, some may have a longer or delayed effect.
It also depends on the length of your workout. If you’re working out for a long time (say 2+ hours), you may want to take your pre-workout closer to the start of your workout, so you get more time with the positive effects before it wears off.
Is It Ok to Take a Pre-Workout Every Day?
In most cases, it’s safe to take a pre-workout every day. But, like with the answer to almost every question about pre-workout supplements, it depends on the ingredients.
Things like creatine, beta-alanine, arginine and caffeine are safe to take every day, as long as they’re not in excessive quantities. As always, pay attention to the caffeine content.
If your supplement is packed with a lot of caffeine, you may want to tone down how often you take it (or switch to a stim-free alternative). You should also pay attention to your body, and if you start feeling any adverse effects that could be related to long-term overuse of caffeine (such as tremors, heart palpitations, trouble sleeping or anxiety), think about changing it up.
Pre-workouts generally last around 2 hours on average. However, the duration can differ greatly depending on the ingredients, dosage, and personal characteristics, such as your tolerance to caffeine and body weight.
Different effects may also last longer or shorter than others. It’s not as if a pre-workout completely kicks in and wears off at once.
Hopefully, this helps clear up some confusion about pre-workouts, and gives you an idea of how you can take a pre-workout supplement most effectively for yourself.