Pre-workout supplements, or pre-workouts, help facilitate mental focus and increase strength during workouts. The synergistic effects of the ingredients help to boost energy and allow for more capacity in the gym. While there are long-term benefits in using pre-workouts, most of their effects are short-lived.
Pre-workout half-life varies for every individual. For most people, pre-workout half-life is around 1.5 to 2.5 hours, with residual effects that can reach 6 hours.
Pre-workouts boost productivity, but its utility is largely a personal choice based on objectives as well as various factors such as genetics and physiology. Analyzing pre-workouts, its ingredients, and the factors that affect its effectiveness can help people best strategize how and when to use them optimally.
What are Pre-Workouts?
Pre-workouts are supplements made of various compounds designed to stimulate the nervous system and boost energy for better physical strength and cognitive focus during workouts.
There are two types of ingredients in pre-workouts: stimulants and performance enhancers. Most pre-workouts contain caffeine, a stimulant that increases energy and mental focus. It also aids in thermogenesis.
Performance enhancers in pre-workouts vary, but some of the most common are creatine and beta-alanine.
Creatine helps build muscle by increasing nutrient absorption, energy, and blood flow. Beta-alanine also increases energy and decreases post-workout fatigue, especially in more strenuous exercises such as weightlifting.
The International Journal of Medical Sciences showed that pre-workouts are effective in providing greater energy and better focus. More specifically, studies show that beta-alanine helps with time to exhaustion or TTE. A study of cyclists found that after 4 weeks of supplementation, total work completed increased by 13% and after 10 weeks, another 3.2%.
How Long Do Pre-Workouts Last?
The life of pre-workout ingredients can last from less than an hour to over 6 hours. However, pre-workouts, in general, can last from 1.5 to 2.5 hours, with some residual effects lasting 6 hours. Caffeine, for instance, affects the body for up to 5 hours, while beta-alanine and L-carnitine last for only up to an hour.
Aside from life-time, kick-in time and peak time are also important considerations to maximize the effects of a pre-workout supplement.
- Caffeine takes 30 minutes to kick-in with around 1 to 1.5 hours until peak time.
- Creatine and beta-alanine have relatively similar kick-in and peak time with 30 minutes to 45 minutes kick-in time and a minimum of 1 hour until peak time.
Timing the Pre-Workout Supplement
Considering the kick-in time, peak time, and half-life, most people take pre-workouts 30 minutes before working out to ensure it can last throughout their workout.
Where-as professionals typically take their pre-workouts during warm-up sets so that it takes effect during the most intense parts of their routines like deadlifts, squats, and bench press.
The time to take pre-workouts varies, but it mostly depends on the workout and fitness objectives. While professionals are more sensitive about the specific time to take a pre-workout, most people can start with the rule of thumb of taking it 30 minutes before workout and adjust as they progress.
Factors Affecting Pre-Workout Half-Life
Tolerance can be a factor of genetics, but it can also be developed over time. Taking caffeine regularly can increase tolerance and reduce its subsequent effects on the body. The effect are similar with pre-workouts. High tolerance for caffeine can decrease the effect of pre-workouts on the body.
There are two ways to still enjoy the effects of pre-workouts despite high tolerance: either reduce tolerance by reducing or avoiding caffeine intake or increase caffeine intake to exceed the level of tolerance.
The latter is a riskier choice because it can lead to dependency on caffeine to stimulate activity in the nervous system.
Genetic sensitivity to caffeine is a determining factor in the effectiveness of pre-workouts. There are three levels of genetic sensitivity: hyposensitive, normal, and hypersensitive.
Hyposensitive means caffeine intake does not affect the body normally, and it takes over 300mg of caffeine to reap it’s benefits.
Normal sensitivity means predictable response to 150 to 300mg of caffeine with around 45 minute kick-in time and half-life of 3-6 hours.
Hypersensitivity means caffeine kicks in faster and lasts longer in the body. People that are hypersensitive to caffeine should not take more than 200mg because they can experience jitters and other side effects.
Diet, Nutrition, and Hydration
Nutrition, in the form of calories, micronutrients, and macronutrients, also affects the half-life and effectiveness of pre-workouts.
Obese individuals can have the tendency to become immune to the effects of pre-workouts because the body is on overdrive fulfilling digestive functions.
Undernourished individuals, on the other hand, can experience side effects from taking pre-workouts such as nausea and digestive stress.
For normal individuals, diet and hydration are the common factors that affect how long a pre-workout lasts.
Individuals under a fasted state may experience the effects of pre-workout but with decreased half-life.
Also, inadequate fluid intake can reduce nutrient absorption into the various parts of the body and can also affect the effectiveness and half-life.
Quality and Quantity
Certain individuals can take more pre-workout than others, but all must follow and never exceed the recommended amounts indicated on the product label.
People sometimes do trial and error to determine the extent of effects on the body, but most reputable products have already conducted these tests. Testing the effects of increasing the quantity of intake of pre-workouts can put the body at risk. This is especially true for people with hypertension because excessive intake can cause an abnormal increase in blood pressure, which can cause stroke.
In terms of quality, it is best to choose reputable brands that are forthcoming with the ingredients of the pre-workout product and the proportions of its ingredients. This will ensure that the product is safe for ingestion and follows fitness health standards. In general, it is best to avoid products with “proprietary blends” or non-disclosure of product composition.
Pre-workouts are created differently depending on the company’s approach to training and fitness. Some companies add certain ingredients that mitigate the effects of caffeine while some add ingredients that facilitate recovery.
However, due to the various factors that influence the effectiveness of pre-workout and its half-life, its utility becomes a matter of personal experience and preference.
Testing pre-workouts in an actual workout session is still the best way to gauge their effectiveness on YOUR body.