Pre-workouts can be exceptionally useful when you’re feeling tired or dragging, or let’s face it – just not feeling it. That’s because a pre-workout contains ingredients that will help you go from feeling lwo to feeling like you might just be able to conquer your lift. Or the world, depending on how much you took and how tolerant you are to stimulants.
Let’s get one thing clear – a pre-workout is chock full of ingredients designed to give you a rapid boost of energy. These ingredients come in tons of different forms, but we’ll get to that later. The majority of all pre-workouts promise you all sorts of amazing results, and some can be super effective. But like all things relating to fitness and strength training, your particular experience with a pre-workout is going to be different than everyone else. Not to mention that there are so many different pre-workouts on the market, your level of caffeine tolerance, age, gender, and level of activity also factor in to how long it’s going to last.
What is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
You’re short on time and on energy so you knock back a brightly colored liquid that promises you more energy for a longer period of time. After all, you’re trying to get the most out of your lift or your run, or your metcon, and a pre-workout supplement seems like a great addition to your fitness nutrition. But many folks who take a pre-workout aren’t even clear on what it is.
The short answer is that a pre-workout is a combination of ingredients designed to increase an athlete’s perception of his or her ability to pull weight, run further, push more. These ingredients help increase blood flow, heart rate, and focus, and can cause skin to tingle. The most common ingredients are the Big Three – caffeine, beta-alanine, and creatine. These three ingredients increase some performance aspects but they generally work only when a person is pushing the hardest.
You’re supposed to take a pre-workout anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour before your physical activity. It’s designed to keep you rev your system into overdrive to get hyped about your lift. There are two types of pre-workouts – stimulants and performance enhancers. No matter which type you’re taking, each is going to have a high dose of caffeine along with some other ingredients to help give you a jolt.
So that scenario of taking a pre-workout on a Monday after a long weekend might not have the effects that you intend, since it’s possible you’re not going to push super hard anyway. The beauty of a pre-workout supplement lies in the cognitive association between what an athlete thinks she can do and what she can actually do. When that line gets blurred through the use of a pre-workout, it’s likely she’s going to pull more on her deadlift than she did last week.
What’s in a Pre-Workout Supplement?
While most pre-workouts contain some combination of the Big Three, there are products on the market that contain questionable ingredients. Some include amphetamine-like stimulants which can have significant side effects if used for long periods of time.
Creatine takes time to build up in your system, so you have to take it daily to reach a sufficient dosing level. If you’re only getting creatine through your pre-workout which you’re not taking every day, it’s essentially a useless ingredient. Another common ingredient in a pre-workout supplement is a B vitamin, niacin. Niacin can make your skin flush or tingle. Often people feel this in their fingertips or their hands.
A significant number of companies which produce pre-workouts don’t disclose all of their ingredients, instead preferring to keep that secret and listing a “proprietary blend” as a total ingredient. This can be challenging, as there are no FDA regulations on proprietary blends, meaning that manufacturers can put just about anything in there without having to tell you about it. Many companies also slightly alter their ingredient profiles every few months, to ensure that there aren’t copycat blends emerging on the market.
What are the Benefits?
The majority of pre-workout supplements on the market contain Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) that help encourage the development of muscle growth. BCAAs are also beneficial to the conversion of muscle protein synthesis, which can help increase overall strength over time.
Caffeine and creatine can both help you feel like your strength has increased. There’s some research that suggests caffeine might help with beta-endorphin generation, since it’s a neurotransmitter, but research is still new. Suffice it to say that a pre-workout is going to definitely help you feel like you can lift more, and when your mind is sure, your body follows.
Enhanced mental focus is a huge benefit if you’re workout out in a super packed gym at the peak time. It can be hard during those instances to get into the zone and a pre-workout can help you quiet out all other distractions. It’s also great if you’re a first thing in the morning gym goer. Try taking a pre-workout in place of coffee and watch your generally drowsy lifts become PR sessions.
Perhaps the most important thing a pre-workout does is that it boosts your endurance. That long leg day lift that used to leave you feeling destroyed might not be so brutal if you’ve taken a pre-workout before starting it. That’s because pre-workouts contain beta-alanine that helps fight fatigue.
So, How Long Do Pre-Workouts Last?
Depending on the amount of caffeine you take every day and how often you take a pre-workout, you might experience the effects of the supplement for anywhere from one to three hours. There are factors that will alter the length of time you feel the effects of a pre-workout.
- In addition to your age, weight, gender, and amount of muscle mass, your type of training is going to significantly impact how long the pre-workout is effective.
- Of course, the quality and type of pre-workout is going to alter its half-life in your body, as if your personal tolerance to caffeine.
- The amount of water you drink every day and the quality of your overall nutrition can also be mitigating factors in how long your pre-workout will last.
- Generally speaking, the average gym goer is going to start to feel the effects of a pre-workout thirty minutes after drinking it. Some might experience effects up to six hours later, but again, each person is completely different.
- A good idea is to steer clear of a pre-workout if sleeping is anywhere on the horizon for you.
How do you know that Pre-Workout is Working?
You can use three criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of your pre-workout. If you’re start feeling way more energized than you were an hour ago, chances are it works. There’s generally a sudden spike of energy that sort of just hits you.
- If you’re sure you can push, pull, or squat more than any other human ever, the pre-workout is kicking in.
- Stimulant based pre-workouts often contain ingredients that help increase clarity and focus. If everything else in your gym has melted away and you’re totally zoned in on your lift, your pre-workout is doing its job.
- The histamine response of beta-alanine and the niacin flush are also easy to spot signs that your pre-workout is fully integrated and ready to help you outperform what you did at your last lift.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Large doses of caffeine can have negative effects on your resting heart rate and your heart’s ability to function properly. Because most pre-workouts contain incredibly large amounts of caffeine, they can be harmful to your overall heath.
Ingesting caffeine within six hours of a proposed bedtime can also have negative effects on your sleep patterns and circadian rhythms.
Some pre-workouts have as much caffeine as four cups of coffee. On its own, four cups of coffee might not be a significant health detriment, but combined with whatever else you might be drinking during the day that has caffeine could put undue stress on your heart and exacerbate underlying heart conditions.
The amount of caffeine in pre-workouts can also cause gastric upset and severe diarrhoea. This is because there are some binding agents in pre-workouts that act as laxatives.
Dangerous unregulated substances are found in pre-workouts if the manufacturer has included them in the proprietary blend. Recent litigation filed against two pre-workout supplement companies assert that their products, for which they’ve not disclosed all ingredients, has causes liver damage and multiple deaths. Doping agents that are all part of the methamphetamine class of drugs can pose significant health risks. If you’re a competitive athlete, make sure you’re super careful about your pre-workout to avoid being inadvertently disqualified from meets.
Undoubtedly, the whole point of taking a pre-workout is to help you push harder in the gym. When you work out harder and more intensely, you overcome plateaus and weight stalls. Timing it right so you’re using a pre-workout effectively can be a significant addition to your gym tool box.
Different workouts have different levels of intensity, so it’s important to remember that not every lift should require or include a pre-workout. If you’re trying to go hard and you know you want to test three separate lift PRs on the same day, think about having a pre-workout. But if you’re just in for a maintenance session, really think about whether or not you need it.
Remember that whatever gains you see also come with risks. Make sure you stay within the recommended dose and don’t go over. It’s not going to give you any additional strength and will probably only cause stomach upset instead. Make sure you’re not taking a pre-workout with coffee. Stacking coffee with a pre-workout is going to overload your system on caffeine.
Make sure you know what you’re taking. Do your research when you select a pre-workout and try to get as much information about the ingredients as you can. There are too many shady companies out there that hide behind a proprietary blend label.
Most importantly, don’t become reliant on pre-workouts. We all need help sometimes but there might be areas in your diet that need looking at. If your fitness nutrition isn’t properly adjusted to fit your lifting schedule, maybe it’s a good idea to revisit your macros. Get that right and you’ll probably need a pre-workout on those particularly sluggish days where your meal timing might have been off.
If you’re tracking your macros appropriately and understand the need for dialled in nutrition that features whole foods, it’s likely you’re not going to need this stuff that often. But, one of the most amazing parts of this modern era is that it’s there when you need it.