Author: Maria Fischer • Fact checked by: Tara D Theis • June 1, 2021
People who find themselves low on energy before the start of a workout often turn to pre-workout to give them a boost before training — but what exactly is pre-workout? How long do the effects of pre-workout even last?
Pre-workout supplements are often referred to as just “pre-workout.” These supplements are multi-ingredient dietary formulas designed to increase energy and enhance athletic performance by transporting nutrients to the muscles. They’re usually a powdered substance that you can mix in water and drink before hitting the gym and beginning your workout — hence, the name pre-workout.
There are multiple pre-workout supplements on the market, and each one has a different set of ingredients. Some of the most common ingredients found in pre-workout supplements include creatine, beta alanine, citrulline, L-Tarurine, L-Leucine, isoleucine, valine and caffeine.
So what exactly do these ingredients do to help boost athletic performance?
Creatine is found naturally in muscle cells and helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. It’s an essential component of most pre-workout formulas. Studies show creatine can increase muscle mass, strength and exercise performance. Creatine helps you lift heavier weights, allowing you to better reach your muscle gain goals. It also helps your muscles produce energy, keeping you going and energized during a long workout.
Beta alanine is an amino acid that your body also produces naturally. It’s especially effective in preventing post-workout fatigue after more strenuous exercises, such as weightlifting. A supplementary dose of beta alanine helps your body produce more carnosine, which can support training at a higher intensity for a longer amount of time and helps to delay muscle fatigue by “soaking” up acid generated during exercise. In short: Beta alanine helps you feel stronger for longer.
L-citrulline is a non-essential amino acid, which means your body produces it naturally like it does with creatine and beta alanine. Your kidneys change L-citrulline into another amino acid called L-arginine and a chemical called nitric oxide, which are important to your heart and blood vessel health as well as your immune system. Nitric oxide helps your arteries relax and work better, which strengthens the health of your blood vessels and improves blood flow throughout your body. This is why athletes take L-citrulline to help build muscles and boost their performance. More oxygen in your muscles means they can potentially work harder and more efficiently, and more oxygen transport means the lungs can work more efficiently. One study published in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that taking citrulline malate enhances both athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness.
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs. These are essential amino acids, which means your body doesn’t produce them naturally so you must consume them. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine comprise about 20-35% of your muscle tissue and are needed for the physiological response to stress and energy production (particularly for muscle health and the metabolism). Because the intake of BCAAs can reduce muscle loss and provide faster muscle recovery, many athletes look for BCAAs in both their pre-workout supplements and protein powder supplements. They have been shown to improve endurance during workouts, improve strength during workouts, improve recovery and reduce soreness after workouts and stimulate muscle growth.
Then there’s L-Theanine, which is typically paired with caffeine to help increase focus and attention. The caffeine stimulates the body’s central nervous system, improves reaction time and reduces fatigue, which allows you to extend your workout.
How long pre-workout lasts depends on the ingredients’ half-life. Most ingredients in pre-workout have a half-life of 4-6 hours. That means the pre-workout will last and remain in your system for about 4 hours; however, you may only feel the effects for an hour or two. Caffeine, for example, takes about 30 minutes to kick-in with around 1 to 1.5 hours until peak time. Creatine and beta-alanine take about 30-45 minutes to kick-in and around an hour until peak time.
Considering these common ingredients’ half-life, kick-in timing and peak timing, most people take pre-workouts 30 minutes before working out to ensure the effects will last throughout their workout. You can expect to feel the effects for around an hour, though the pre-workout may stay in your system for 4 hours or so.
The main appeal of taking pre-workout is the possible boosts in athletic performance. According to a 2018 review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition titled “Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements, safety implications, and performance outcomes: a brief review,” there’s a significant amount of evidence that suggests pre-exercise consumption of pre-workout may positively influence muscular endurance and subjective mood. The review notes that pre-workout ingestion appears to be safe, and frequent consumption of pre-workout in combination with a resistance training program can lead to beneficial changes in body composition through increased lean muscle mass.
The TL;DR: Pre-workout can help improve performance, strength and endurance, allowing you to up your workout intensity. Feelings of fatigue and muscle soreness are also reduced during and after your workout.
While the benefits of pre-workout are undeniable, there are a few side effects to be aware of: Pre-workout contains caffeine, and while caffeine consumption is relatively safe in healthy adults, excess caffeine intake can lead to impairments in cardiovascular function and sleep. A 2017 study titled “The Safety of Ingested Caffeine: A Comprehensive Review” published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry warns that pregnant and lactating women, children and adolescents, young adults and people with insomnia, underlying heart conditions or other health conditions, such as mental illness, may be caffeine sensitive. People who are vulnerable to caffeine may experience negative side effects. Caffeine is also often a diuretic and can be associated with dehydration. That said, healthy adults aren’t as susceptible to these effects and may see an increase in alertness, energy and elevated mood with caffeine consumption. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states consuming 400 mg of caffeine — the equivalent of about four or five cups of coffee — per day is not generally associated with negative effects. If you experience jitteriness, headaches or a rapidly racing heart, it could be a sign that you had too much caffeine and may be caffeine sensitive, so be sure to always check the labels on your pre-workout.
Additionally, the beta alanine in pre-workout may cause a harmless tingling sensation; however, it does not always cause the jitters. Typically, any shakes or jitters will come from high doses of caffeine, as caffeine can affect every person very differently. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, look for pre-workouts that contain a more mild dose of caffeine, such as Gainful pre-workout powder. Gainful’s pre-workout formula contains just 150 mg of Caffeine Anhydrous per serving, and it also has other natural ingredients to help reduce any jitteriness. Try starting out with just half a scoop or half the recommended dose of pre-workout to assess your tolerance if you’re nervous about potential side effects. Be cautious of taking pre-workout too close to bedtime, as it may lead to difficulty falling asleep. If your pre-workout supplement contains caffeine or other stimulants, it may inhibit your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. Unless you have a high tolerance for caffeine, pre-workout will likely affect your sleep if taken too close to when you go to bed.
For best results, use pre-workout on the days when you have your harder workouts or those days where your last meal was 2-3 hours before you begin exercise.
Also note, dry-scooping does not increase pre-workout’s benefits. There is no evidence that dry scooping pre-workout increases the benefits of it, and in fact, it then becomes a choking hazard. Pre-workout will be equally as effective if mixed with an appropriate amount of liquid first.
The best pre-workout is one that’s formulated specifically for you and your goals. Gainful offers a personalized pre-workout that is created based on your type, frequency and intensity of exercise, as well as your goals and caffeine preferences. You just take a quiz to find your pre-workout, as well as your own personalized protein and personalized hydration formula, then Gainful creates your complete system and sends it right to your doorstep.
Gainful’s pre-workout is made with L-Citrulline DL-Malate, beta alanine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, L-Theanine and caffeine anhydrous that allows for a natural energy boost throughout the entire duration of your workout. It has been optimized to dissolve better in water and produce less of a tingling sensation. Gainful’s special pre-workout formulas are designed to maximize endurance and minimize recovery time. The BCAAs in Gainful’s personalized pre-workout may help reduce feelings of fatigue and muscle soreness after your workout, and the beta alanine helps delay muscle fatigue during your workout so you can extend your training and build more endurance. The L-Citrulline in Gainful’s pre-workout increases oxygen and nutrient transport to muscles so your muscles can work more efficiently. The newest Gainful formula is available in two delicious flavors, Strawberry Lemonade and Watermelon, and as part of your Gainful subscription, you’ll have access to a Registered Dietitian, who can answer any questions you may have about your pre-workout or fitness journey in general.
Starting every workout with Gainful is key for getting results that last.
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© 2023 Gainful Health Inc.