According to your training schedule, today’s the day to get after it. You’ve been ramping up and progressively overloading just like your program says to. You want to go as hard as your regimen calls for, but your body — or your mind — just isn’t feeling it today.
Reaching for your pre-workout powder and tossing a scoop or two into your shaker bottle isn’t going to solve all your problems. But yes, it might help wake your body up and get your head in the game. Pre-workout is designed to focus your mind and your muscles so that you can perform your best in the gym.
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But when exactly are you supposed to take it? Here’s when to take pre-workout — and which factors should influence your decision.
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
What Is Pre-Workout?
For the interested but uninitiated, pre-workout is a supplement — generally taken in the form of a powder mixed with water — taken before training to enhance performance in the gym.
Different brands of pre-workout offer different ingredients. Some pre-mixed blends place a premium on increasing your focus during your training to help fuel that intensive mind-muscle connection many bodybuilders chase. Other pre-workouts will emphasize increasing your pump, or setting you up for increased recovery and muscle growth after your session.
The common denominator of pre-workouts tends to be their focus on increasing energy for your workout. So unless you’re opting for a non-stim pre-workout, you’re likely going to encounter a proverbial boatload of caffeine in a pre-workout.
Common Pre-Workout Ingredients
In a round-up of the top 100 commercial brands of pre-workouts, one study suggested that the most common ingredients in pre-workouts are as follows. (1) These ingredients include:
If you’re aiming to keep sugar or artificial sweeteners out of your nutritional plan, be sure to check the ingredients label. While the active ingredients of pre-workouts might help get you pumped, you’ll want to make sure that anything they have to help them taste good also meshes with your dietary plan.
How Much Pre-Workout to Take
Pre-workouts often come in pre-prepared blends — one scoop generally contains a multitude of ingredients. As a rule, it’s not advisable to take more than the recommended dose of any given supplement.
If you’re trying to stack different individual supplements together to mix your own pre-workout, here are some general numbers to keep in mind.
This common pre-workout ingredient may be able to help you crank out a few extra reps by delaying muscle fatigue and lactic acid build-up. (2) A non-essential amino acid, your body naturally produces beta-alanine — but you still might want an extra jolt in your pre-workout.
You don’t need that much beta-alanine to reap the benefits. Taking between 1.6 and five grams in your pre-workout might boost your endurance in higher volume (eight to 15 rep) sets. (3)
When you want an extra dose of focus and energy in the gym, you could always have a good old-fashioned cup of Joe. Or, you can take it in powdered form with your pre-workout.
If only a hint of coffee gets you jittery, take a caffeinated pre-workout with caution. In a small cup of coffee, you’ll take in about 100 milligrams of caffeine. By contrast, some pre-workouts may have up to 350 milligrams of the stuff. (4) Pay attention to your body — if your heart rate doesn’t like it, you probably don’t want to take it.
Don’t worry about not getting enough caffeine to fuel your gains: more isn’t always better. Research suggests that consuming two to three milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is more effective for helping workouts than five to six milligrams per kilogram of body weight. (4)
For many people, one to two milligrams per kilogram of body weight amounts to two to three cups of coffee. (5) Make sure you’re accounting for any coffee you’re consuming in addition to your pre-workout in the immediate window before your workout.
Concerned about your power output and endurance? Citrulline might be able to help, as it can help improve circulation and blood flow — a must for exercising. Look for pre-workouts that have between five and eight grams of citrulline for maximum effectiveness. (6)
An amino acid formed by three smaller amino acids — arginine, glycine, and methionine — creatine may help boost muscle growth, strength, and recovery. It might also have a positive impact on mental focus and brain health. (7)
One to two grams of creatine seems to do the trick for daily life. (7) But if boosting strength or muscle mass is your goal, you may opt for a higher amount such as three to five grams per day. (8)
Best Way to Take Pre-Workout
There are several safe ways to take pre-workout, and all of them involve mixing the supplement powder with at least the suggested amount of liquid. That’s how to properly take pre-workout — by mixing it into the amount of liquid suggested by the manufacturer. Some athletes might prefer that liquid to be water, while others may want to mask the taste in a pre-mixed blend or a shake.
But under pretty much no circumstances should lifters be dry-scooping pre-workout. The risks of dry scooping are well-documented and include cardiac side effects, caffeine overdose, choking, and even death. (9)
When to Take Pre-Workout
Here we are — the golden question. Exactly how long before your workout should you put that shaker bottle to good use? In terms of when pre-workout should be taken, the answer is at once simple and complicated.
The simple part is this: pre-workout supplements containing ingredients like caffeine, creatine, and amino acids seem to be most effective when taken about 30 minutes before an intense workout. (10)(11)
After some experimentation and learning about your body’s ways of processing different supplements, you might take your pre-workout a little earlier or later.
But it’s not always as simple as 30 minutes.
For example, the form of caffeine supplement you’re taking may make a difference in how quickly your pre-workout hits you. A caffeine capsule may take between 30 and 60 minutes to kick in. (12) If you can’t wait that long to get into the squat rack and under that barbell, you may feel the effects of caffeine gums or gels in as little as 10 minutes. (12)
Pre-Workout Timing in Context
Questions of when you should take pre-workout aren’t only about the hour or so leading up to your workout. It’s also about your supplement and nutritional habits in the days before your workout.
For example, if your favorite pre-workout ingredient is creatine, you might want to partake in creatine loading for maximum effectiveness. That is, you can build up a particular amount of creatine in your body so that you already have a reserve before that half-hour pre-workout window.
Research suggests that you might want to load up with five grams of creatine (alternatively, 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight) for five to seven days, four times a day. (7) Then, reduce your intake to three to five grams daily (up to 10 grams for larger athletes). (7)
Similarly, repeatedly taking BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) for three days before a workout may help fight off muscle soreness more than just taking supplements after your workout. (13)
In those kinds of circumstances, you’ll be thinking of pre-workout timing in a broader context than just chugging your shake on the drive to your gym. Instead, you’ll be thinking about the days leading up to your workout, as well.
Can You Drink Pre-Workout While Working Out?
Drinking pre-workout during a workout isn’t always necessary. But if your training is particularly intense and extends beyond 90 minutes, you’ll likely want to refuel. (14) A simple electrolyte solution and glucose will do well, here. Toss some fruit snacks into your gym bag — those will often do the trick.
But if you want to get a mid-workout boost from a pre-workout specifically, you could do that, too. If your pre-workout includes carbs, you might want to have some during an intense workout lasting longer than 60 minutes. (15) Just remember that its effects might extend after the end of your workout, which you may not want.
Can You Take Pre-Workout at Night?
If you’re an evening workout kind of person, there’s not necessarily any reason to avoid taking pre-workout. Nighttime gymgoers deserve gains, too.
But if you’re sensitive to caffeine, remember that its effects won’t know when you’re done working out. You might wind up lying awake far longer than you intended if you take your pre-workout at night. Side effects like insomnia aren’t uncommon with caffeine pre-workouts, especially if you’re generally a coffee drinker and getting close to nine milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. (16)
To be on the safe side, you might want to err on the side of a non-stim version for your twilight gym sessions.
How Does Caffeine Tolerance Impact Pre-Workout?
Whether or not you’re a caffeine person may impact how often you should take pre-workout.
You might be proud of your ability to down that after-dessert coffee and then fall asleep with no problem. But not everyone has that kind of caffeine tolerance. And with the high concentrations of caffeine often found in pre-workout, you might find you have less tolerance for the stuff than you thought.
Consider when you’re choosing your pre-workout that the minimum effective dosage for giving workouts a boost may be as low as 1.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. (12) Regardless of timing, this low end of the spectrum may be desirable for people prone to high blood pressure — high levels of caffeine intake may raise blood pressure. (16)
On the flip side, getting up to nine milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight may start impacting your sleep — so remember to account for your daily coffee or tea total intake when choosing your pre-workout dosage. (16)
But as long as you’re staying within the tolerable limits for your body, it seems that having caffeine habitually won’t take away the effectiveness of caffeine in your pre-workout. (17) So keep your total intake in mind, but it seems like taking caffeinated pre-workout in the immediate lead-up to your workout should be fine in tandem with your morning trip to the coffee shop.
Pre-Workout Timing, Explained
The ingredients in your pre-workout powder might be complicated, but your timing doesn’t have to be. The question of when to take pre-workout is settled around the number thirty. Assuming you’re consuming a conventional pre-workout powder properly mixed with water, opt to take pre-workout around 30 minutes before your training session.
For some, that might mean taking it right before a long and luxurious warm-up routine. For others, it might mean sipping your pre-workout shake on the drive over to the gym. Whatever your routine, consider making your pre-workout a part of your training ritual. Consistency does tend to bring results, after all.
- Jagim AR, Harty PS, Camic CL. Common Ingredient Profiles of Multi-Ingredient Pre-Workout Supplements. Nutrients. 2019 Jan 24;11(2):254.
- Maté-Muñoz JL, Lougedo JH, Garnacho-Castaño MV, Veiga-Herreros P, Lozano-Estevan MDC, García-Fernández P, de Jesús F, Guodemar-Pérez J, San Juan AF, Domínguez R. Effects of β-alanine supplementation during a 5-week strength training program: a randomized, controlled study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Apr 25;15:19.
- Hobson RM, Saunders B, Ball G, Harris RC, Sale C. Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2012 Jul;43(1):25-37.
- Smirmaul BP, de Moraes AC, Angius L, Marcora SM. Effects of caffeine on neuromuscular fatigue and performance during high-intensity cycling exercise in moderate hypoxia. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2017 Jan;117(1):27-38.
- Grgic J. Exploring the minimum ergogenic dose of caffeine on resistance exercise performance: A meta-analytic approach. Nutrition. 2022 May;97:111604.
- Suzuki T, Morita M, Kobayashi Y, Kamimura A. Oral L-citrulline supplementation enhances cycling time trial performance in healthy trained men: Double-blind randomized placebo-controlled 2-way crossover study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016 Feb 19;13:6.
- Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 13;14:18.
- Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, Rawson ES, Smith-Ryan AE, VanDusseldorp TA, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Feb 8;18(1):13.
- Allison Lin, Nelson Chow, Mary O’Connor, Setu Mehta, Reta Behnam, Duy Pham, Claudia Hatef, Hannah E. Rosenthal, Ruth Milanaik; Dry Scooping and Other Dangerous Pre-workout Consumption Methods: A Quantitative Analysis. Pediatrics February 2022; 149 (1 Meeting Abstracts February 2022): 204.
- Smith AE, Fukuda DH, Kendall KL, Stout JR. The effects of a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids during three weeks of high-intensity exercise on aerobic and anaerobic performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Feb 15;7:10.
- Cabre HE, Gordon AN, Patterson ND, Smith-Ryan AE. Evaluation of pre-workout and recovery formulations on body composition and performance after a 6-week high-intensity training program. Front Nutr. 2022 Nov 2;9:1016310.
- Grgic J. Effects of Caffeine on Resistance Exercise: A Review of Recent Research. Sports Med. 2021 Nov;51(11):2281-2298.
- Ra SG, Miyazaki T, Kojima R, Komine S, Ishikura K, Kawanaka K, Honda A, Matsuzaki Y, Ohmori H. Effect of BCAA supplement timing on exercise-induced muscle soreness and damage: a pilot placebo-controlled double-blind study. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 Nov;58(11):1582-1591.
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- Naderi A, de Oliveira EP, Ziegenfuss TN, Willems MT. Timing, Optimal Dose and Intake Duration of Dietary Supplements with Evidence-Based Use in Sports Nutrition. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2016 Dec 31;20(4):1-12.
- Grgic J, Mikulic P, Schoenfeld BJ, Bishop DJ, Pedisic Z. The Influence of Caffeine Supplementation on Resistance Exercise: A Review. Sports Med. 2019 Jan;49(1):17-30.
- Grgic J, Mikulic P. Acute effects of caffeine supplementation on resistance exercise, jumping, and Wingate performance: no influence of habitual caffeine intake. Eur J Sport Sci. 2021 Aug;21(8):1165-1175.
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