When to Take Pre-Workout?

When to take pre workout

Pre-workout supplements have become increasingly popular in the fitness and wellness industry over the years, with everything from gym-goers to elite athletes getting their pre-workout game on.

As the name suggests, pre-workout supplements are designed for consumption before a workout to help maximise exercise performance and endurance—but what do you need to know about them?

Are there different types of pre-workouts? And when is the best time to take them?

Let’s get to the bottom of pre-workout once and for all with this Smart guide. 

Here we’ll cover what pre-workout is, what it does, what’s in it—and when to take it.

Ready? Let’s jump in.

What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout supplements, also known as pre-workouts, are multi-ingredient dietary formulas. They’re designed to enhance energy levels and athletic performance during exercise.

These supplements usually come in powders, pills or gummies and are designed to consume before a workout so you can bring your ‘A Game’.

What does pre-workout do?

Pre-workout supplements contain various ingredients that may enhance exercise performance and support athletic goals (1).

They work by altering our body’s response to exercise and often contain formulas that… 

  • Increase heart rate
  • Enhance focus
  • Improve blood flow
  • Kickstart energy metabolism

What types of pre-workout are there?

Pre-workout supplements come in a range of types and are specifically aimed at improving your performance during workouts. 

These supplements are formulated with specific goals in mind and can include a range of different ingredients to achieve them.

SmartFact: Common types of pre-workout supplements include…

Stimulant-based pre-workouts

These pretty epic supplements are specially crafted with ingredients like caffeine, which can boost energy levels, increase alertness, and sharpen focus.

Pump-enhancing pre-workouts

Nitric oxide boosters are commonly found in pre-workout supplements, with examples including L-citrulline and arginine. These ingredients work to increase blood flow, which may lead to improved muscle pumps during exercise.

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Strength and power pre-workouts

A pre-workout supplement like this often includes ingredients like creatine, which can help to level up your overall exercise performance. It’s also linked to a rise in strength and power.

Endurance-boosting pre-workouts

Some pre-workout supplements aim to enhance endurance by including ingredients like beta-alanine, which can help delay muscle fatigue and help your general workout capacity.

What is in a pre-workout?

Pre-workout supplements are formulated with a combination of ingredients designed to make your workouts more effective and lead to better fitness levels.

These supplements often include a variety of acute, saturation, and absorption ingredients that work together to provide specific benefits.

Let’s take a quick look at what these ingredients mean…

Acute ingredients

Acute ingredients in pre-workout supplements are the ones that provide immediate effects like increased energy, better focus, and improved muscular performance.

One common acute pre-workout ingredient is caffeine, which we’ve mentioned above.

As we know, this stimulant increases your energy levels and endurance while boosting brain function as you exercise. 

SmartFact: Research studies show that acute caffeine ingestion can enhance maximal voluntary contractile force (2) in resistance-trained individuals.

And does that mean in simple terms? 

Well, it means that if a person who regularly exercises their muscles (by lifting weights, for example) consumes caffeine just before their workout, their muscles may be able to generate more force or power during that workout. 

Saturation ingredients

Saturation ingredients refer to substances that need to accumulate in the body over a period of time before you can really reap the rewards of their body-boosting benefits..

Creatine is a good example, as it’s known to enhance power muscle performance in pretty impressive ways.

SmartFact: Did you know that creatine supplementation can improve anaerobic performance and increase muscle mass when combined with resistance training?

Absorption ingredients

Absorption ingredients are added to pre-workout supplements to make it easier for the body to absorb other useful compounds in the supplement.

Let’s take black pepper extract, known as Piperine, for example. It’s known to help the body absorb a substance called curcumin which is another ingredient that can be beneficial for exercise and wellness. 

By helping the body absorb these active compounds more effectively, Piperine can enhance the overall benefits of the pre-workout supplement.

Common pre-workout ingredients

Pre-workouts contain plenty of different ingredients depending on the product’s specific body-boosting goals.

But, there are some common blends that you find in almost every pre-workout supplement.

Let’s take a look.

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Caffeine

This stimulant helps increase your focus and alertness during a workout or any type of physical activity. 

When consumed, it’s quickly absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream and reaches the brain. Here, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system.

Beta-alanine

This is a non-essential amino acid that plays a role in the production of carnosine— a dipeptide found in muscles and the brain. 

They are called non-essential amino acids because your body can produce them. — although you can get your fix through dietary sources like meat and fish.

When consumed or produced in the body, beta-alanine intertwines with histidine, an amino acid and together they form carnosine.  

Carnosine acts as a buffer to regulate the pH levels in muscles during intense exercise. 

The result of supplementation with beta-alanine? An improvement in exercise performance, particularly when it comes to high-intensity exercise that only lasts a few minutes. 

It can also enhance endurance, muscle strength and power, as well as delaying fatigue.

Creatine

Creatine is a compound that is naturally found in the body—and again, you can also get it through various food sources.

It can help increase phosphocreatine levels in muscles, which supports energy production for short bursts of high-intensity exercise.

L-Arginine

L-arginine is an essential amino acid that plays a role in producing nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps widen blood vessels, resulting in improved oxygen delivery, and blood circulation to the muscles during exercise.

Citrulline

Citrulline, an amino acid metabolite, has the potential to increase the production of nitric oxide and enhance blood flow. Plus, it may have beneficial effects in reducing muscle soreness and fatigue.

Branched-Chain Amino Acids(BCAAs)

Essential amino acids like leucine, isoleucine, and valine, collectively known as BCAAs, are involved in muscle protein synthesis (the process by which the body builds new proteins in the muscles, aiding in muscle growth and repair).

These amino acids may aid in minimising muscle damage and facilitating recovery following intense physical activity.

What are the benefits of pre-workout? Do I really need pre-workout?

If you want to consistently improve your training performance and reach your fitness goals faster—you need a good pre-workout in your life.

Science supports that pre-workout supplements offer several potential benefits that can help enhance athletic performance

Here are some of the commonly reported benefits of pre-workout supplementation…

Increased energy levels

Due to the addition of stimulants like caffeine, alertness may improve, as well as focus and energy levels. This means your workout can be more intense and energetic as a result. 

Improved workout performance

As you discovered in the ingredients, pre-workouts may contain ingredients like creatine and beta-alanine, which can increase muscle strength and power during workouts to enhance muscle endurance and reduce muscle fatigue. 

Enhanced muscle pumps

A lot of pre-workout supplements include components like citrulline malate or arginine, which have the potential to boost nitric oxide production within the body, leading to stronger blood flow to the muscles.

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Increased focus and mental clarity

The combination of caffeine and other stimulants in pre-workout supplements may create more mental awareness, increase concentration and assist in improving focus.

Reduced muscle soreness

Some pre-workout supplements contain ingredients like branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) or tart cherry extract, which have been suggested to reduce muscle soreness and aid in post-workout recovery.

SmartTip: Read our essential guide on the role that nutrition plays in muscle recovery to boost your post-workout progress as well as your pre-workout game.

When should I take pre-workout?

You’ll be aware that the general advice the best time to take pre-workout is before your training session, as the name suggests. 

But, let’s dig a little deeper to help you get the best returns on your supplementation efforts.

How long before a workout should I take pre-workout?

This is backed by a study (3) published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, which states that consuming pre-workout supplements 30 minutes prior to exercise showed a significant improvement in muscle endurance and power output compared to a placebo.

Another research study indicated that pre-workout supplements also have positive effects on cognitive function (4) and feelings of fatigue during exercise.

For instance, studies show that consuming caffeine 30 to 60 minutes before exercise can lead to optimal performance, and this bodes well for pre-workouts with this ingredient.

SmartTip: You should take pre-workout supplements 30 to 45 minutes before your workout. During this time, the active ingredients of the supplements get absorbed into the bloodstream, and their effects peak during high-intensity exercise.

Always read the label on the pre-workout as it can tell you specific advice about when to consume the product to get the best bang for your exercise-boosting buck..

Should I eat before taking a pre-workout?

There are arguments for both sides here.

Some experts recommend taking pre-workout supplements on an empty stomach for maximum effects.

Studies suggest that consuming pre-workout supplements without any food intake might lead to them being absorbed faster with quicker effects.

But, the general consensus among experts is that it is beneficial to have at least a light snack before a workout (5).

A pre-workout meal or snack can provide the body with the necessary fuel and nutrients for energy and performance during exercise.

Having some carbs paired with protein before a workout can be particularly beneficial. Carbs give that quick burst of energy, and protein assists with recovery and muscle repair.  

Examples of pre-workout snacks could include a banana with a serving of Greek yoghurt or a slice of whole-grain toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter.

Don’t forget the timing of your pre-workout meal or snack is also important. 

So, go with around one to three hours before your workout.

This time frame allows for digestion and absorption of nutrients, avoiding discomfort during your workout.

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How long does pre-workout take to kick in?

There isn’t a specific answer on this, as it depends on several factors. 

Stimulants like caffeine, which you often find in pre-workout supplements, typically take 30 to 60 mins to kick in. 

Other ingredients such as taurine, beta-alanine, and creatine usually take around 30 minutes to take effect.

It's important to note that individual responses can differ, and factors like body composition, metabolism, and tolerance to the ingredients can also impact the onset time. 

The type of pre-workout, be it capsules, gummies or a powder, can also influence how fast you feel the effects. 

While it can usually take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for pre-workout to kick in, it's recommended to follow the instructions provided by the specific pre-workout supplement manufacturer for optimal timing and dosage.

How much pre-workout should you take for it to be effective?

The recommended dosage of pre-workout supplements can vary depending on the specific ingredients and your tolerance.

It’s generally suggested to start with the lowest effective dose and assess your body's response before increasing the dosage.

Let’s take a look at a few things to bear in mind…

Trial and error 

As we know, caffeine is a commonly used stimulant in pre-workout supplements (6), and dosages can range from 200mg to 500mg or more, so make sure to see what your tolerance levels are by trialling 100mg.

Stick to the label’s dosage

Other ingredients like beta-alanine, taurine, and creatine also have recommended dosages, usually in the range of two to five grams. 

But, it’s important to follow the specific instructions provided by the manufacturer on the product label.

Taking too much pre-workout can lead to potential side effects such as jitters, increased heart rate, or gastrointestinal discomfort. 

SmartTip: For the best results, we’d say to keep to the recommended dosage and listen to your body's response. 

Naturally, there are different dosages per product, so we can’t summarise with one standard dosage suggestion.

It's worth noting that the serving size and dosage can vary among different pre-workout supplements. So it's important to follow the instructions provided by the specific product manufacturer for optimal dosing.

Should I take pre-workout?

Taking supplements before your workout (as well as after) can help ensure you get the best workout possible.

There is more than one supplement to help you get the most from your workout,  but if you’re not sure which one, try taking our SmartQuiz - it will help you find the right nutritional advice and supplements for your goals.

We hope you find this helpful, and for more insider information on the subject, check out our ultimate Smart guide to pre-workouts.

Sources

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

1. Cleveland Clinic:

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/does-taking-a-pre-workout-actually-work/

2. T and F Online:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1186/s12970-018-0216-0

3. NIH:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7777221/

4. T and F Online:

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1186/1550-2783-9-32

5. Healthline:

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-before-workout

6. Set Forest:

https://www.setforset.com/blogs/news/pre-workout-ingredients

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