If you've ever needed a boost before a workout and coffee just isn't cutting it, you may already be familiar with pre-workout. Pre-workout is a general term for a supplement you take, well, before you work out — as the name suggests. The contents of the supplement will vary by brand, but generally, pre-workout is a mix of caffeine, vitamins, carbohydrates, electrolytes and other muscle-building ingredients, such as creatine. It typically comes in a powdered form that can be added to water or a smoothie.
"According to studies, the caffeine-containing pre-workout dietary supplement may improve anaerobic power performance," Anju Mobin, nutritionist, tells Lively, so you may find that after taking the supplement, you’re able to lift heavier weights, or do a few more reps while strength training.**
If you're running from work to your workout or you just don't have the time to prepare a nutritious meal before you exercise, Sofia Norton, RD, tells Lively that these pre-workout products are "convenient sources of workout-supporting nutrients like carbs, B vitamins, arginine and electrolytes."
Vital Note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.
What are the benefits of pre-workout?
Ingredients in pre-workout, such as citrulline, arginine and creatine (three types of nitric oxide producers) help boost muscle strength and power output as you go.**
For example, Vital Performance™ PRE ($35.99; shop now) will help you get in the zone and stay in the game. This NSF Certified for Sport® pre-workout supplement provides a unique combination of collagen and other premium functional ingredients.** (Pro tip: Pre-workout can benefit runners too!)
How Long Does A Pre-Workout Take To Kick In?
It's important to time your pre-workout intake so you don't take it too early and miss its benefits at the gym, or take it too late and feel wide awake before bed.
So, how long does it take pre-workout to kick in? "Studies examining [pre-workout] supplements often involve taking them 20-30 minutes before a workout, so this seems to be the average time when they’re expected to kick in. This is the average time it takes nutrients to go from your stomach to your bloodstream and cells," Norton tells Lively.
Other experts echoed this timeline, and the general consensus is that it takes 30 minutes to reach its peak level in blood. This means you should plan to take the supplement about 30 minutes before you work out (which means it will kick in as you start exercising or shortly thereafter). If it works better for your schedule, you can take the supplement up to an hour before working out, just know you may feel its effects before you're at the gym.
How Long Does Pre-Workout Stay In Your System?
If you like to work out at night, you may be wondering how long pre-workout stays in your system, especially since many formulas contain caffeine which can keep you wide-eyed when you'd rather be dreaming. "The individual ingredients in a pre-workout will stay in your system at different rates," Norton tells Lively. "For instance, the half life of caffeine is around 3 to 7 hours, while the half life of [the amino acid] arginine is 1 to 2 hours."
Creatine, which is found in Vital Performance™ PRE, has a half life of about three hours. "The Society of Sports Nutrition says the consumption of creatine as a pre-workout supplement within set guidelines is safe and effective. It improves not only strength and lean body mass but also proven to be beneficial in preventing injury,**" Mobin tells Lively.
How Long Does Pre-Workout Last?
You want to feel energized and strong for your workout, but if you're trying to do a relaxing activity after your sweat sesh, you may not want to feel so amped. How long pre-workout last will depend on the specific ingredients in your supplement, but generally, its effects will last anywhere from two to three hours, Mobin says. If you're still feeling it more than three hours later, you could try taking a smaller dose next time.
Generally, your body should process all ingredients fully within 24 hours max, and anything it cannot use will be passed through urine, because most ingredients in pre-workout supplements are water soluble. "Nutrients like vitamins E, A, and D are rarely added to these products — these end up being stored in the liver and fat if taken in excess," Norton says.