I remember when I first started going to the gym and hearing about pre workout. Some people said you need it, some said you don’t. I had a lot of questions about it because it was all so new to me and everyone had something different to say. Like, why should I take it, what will it do for me? Also, how long does pre workout last and is it worth the additional cost? Some people in the gym will also tell you that pre-workout is bad for you and that you should avoid taking any.
Today, I’m going to answer some of these common questions about pre workout for you based on my own personal experiences and research. Everybody has their own opinions and I’m here to give you the facts. I’ll help you make an educated decision on whether they are right for you along with some suggestions for pre workouts I recommend using.
What Is A Pre-Workout?
A pre workout is a mixture of compounds and stimulants that fuel your workout basically. A pre-workout can be used to motivate you to go to the gym when your energy is low. They can also be used to enhance your workout or the pump that you get in the gym when lifting weights. Endurance is a factor as well, with the right pre workout you can work harder for longer in the gym to get the most out of your workout.
Generally, one of the main ingredients in a pre workout is going to be some type of stimulant. Most commonly it will be caffeine but you may find other variations of stimulants such as yohimbine or green tea extract.
- More Energy
- Muscle Pump
- Blood Flow
Do You Mix Pre-Workout With Water?
Yes, generally that is the preferred liquid to mix pre-workout with. Some people prefer to take the powder dry, but I wouldn’t suggest that. Stick with water!
Pre-Workout Side Effects
Many of the side effects are actually side effects of caffeine and they’re temporary. In general, there are no serious side effects unless you have an underlying condition such as being pregnant, heart issues or diabetes.
- Insomnia – Taking it too close to bedtime, the caffeine can keep you awake at night.
- Diarrhea – I know! Gross! But it has to be said, caffeine, arginine and some other ingredients in large amounts can cause it.
- Headaches – Some ingredients may promote dehydration, in turn, this can lead to headaches. Also, the vasodilators cause blood vessels to expand which can also lead to headaches. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Increase in Blood Pressure – Caffeine and other additives can cause an increase in blood pressure
- Tingly or Itchy Feeling – Beta-Alanine is known to cause this, generally lasting only 20 minutes or so but sometimes longer depending on your tolerance
How Long Does Pre Workout Last?
Roughly 4 to 6 hours depending on the ingredients
To be honest it depends on the ingredients. However, most of the ingredients have a half-life of 4-6 hours. So it’s a safe bet that the pre workout will last and remain in your system for about 4 hours.
Does that mean you should take your pre workout a few hours before going to the gym? No.
When To Take Pre Workout
30 to 45 Minutes Prior To Your Workout
In order for your pre-workout to be effective, you should drink it about 30-45 minutes prior to hitting the gym. Why? Because caffeine, which is typically the main ingredient takes about 30-45 minutes to really get into your system.
Other compounds found in pre-workout may take a shorter or longer period of time to kick in but 30-45 minutes before your workout is the best time based on the science.
How Long Will The Bottle Of Pre-Workout Last?
20 to 30 Workout Sessions
Most pre-workouts you will find online and in stores have 20 to 30 servings in them. Premium blends generally have fewer servings for the same cost, while some lower cost options will have lower dosages or fewer ingredients and will give you 30 servings.
Common Pre-Workout Ingredients
So, what are some of the common ingredients found in pre workouts? Here is a rundown in no particular order along with half-life and what benefits they provide to you and your workout.
Ah Yes! Give me more caffeine! Caffeine is going to be the primary fuel from your pre-workout. Providing you with additional energy, focus and drive to make it the best workout. Most pre-workouts are going to have between 100 to 300mg of caffeine in them. You will find some higher and lower, the top end generally being around 500mg. Pay close attention to the amount of caffeine that you’re getting in throughout the day.
It’s best not to take in too much caffeine though. A recent study reported that safe levels for average sized adults are around 400mg per day . If you’re larger than the average adult you may be able to handle more. If you’re a child the limits are lower, around 100mg per day is considered safe. Women are suggested to have up to 300mg per day but much less if you’re pregnant. If you are pregnant or have any health conditions be sure to discuss the use of pre workout with them.
Dosage: 100 to 300mg (Max Daily Suggested: 400mg For Healthy Adults)
Half-Life: 4 to 6 Hours
Effective Time: About 30 to 45 minutes after consuming it enters your system
Have you ever been pumping out some dumbbell curls and you just had to stop because the muscle was burning so badly? Well, that’s lactic acid building up in your muscle causing that burn. Beta-Alanine is a non-essential amino acid that your body actually produces itself. However, it’s not an optimal amount. Beta-Alanine increases the carnosine in your muscles to keep lactic acid at bay for longer.
This means that by using it in your pre-workout, you can get more reps since you don’t get hit with the lactic acid build up and burning so quickly. Multiple studies have confirmed the benefits in terms of endurance . One thing to note about beta-alanine is the tingles and sometimes redness it can cause when you don’t have a tolerance for it. This is temporary and usually only lasts about 20 minutes before fading away. Once you have a tolerance, you typically don’t have any of the effects anymore.
Creatine is one of the most research sports and muscle building supplements ever. If you want more power and strength in the gym or in your other sports activities then creatine is a must! ATP is the form of energy that your body uses for sprinting or low reps on the bench press for example. ATP is a quick source of energy when your body is demanding it, typically in short bursts. Creatine increases the production of ATP in your muscle cells. It saturates the muscles over time when you first start taking it.
You should be taking Creatine daily, even on days, you don’t go to the gym so that it will build up in your muscle cells over time. You’ll hear many people talk about loading phases with creatine but it’s not truly necessary. Read more about creatine.
Dosage: 3 to 5g (Common Dosage: 5g per day is optimal)
Half-Life: About 3 hours 
Effective Time: Days or weeks. You should be taking it daily at 5g so it builds up in your body over time.
4. HydroMax Glycerol
HydroMax Glycerol is essentially a hydration agent. Pulling fluids into your blood and your muscle cells create crazy pumps. HydroMax is somewhat new so you may not see it in too many pre-workouts. MTS Nutrition Vasky has 2g in it, check the current price on Amazon.
When using HydroMax you should feel some ridiculous pumps after 8 to 12 reps of exercises.
Dosage: 1 to 3g (Common Dosage: 2 to 3g optimal)
Effective Time: About 15 to 30 minutes after consuming 
5. Citrulline Malate
Citrulline Malate is a vasodilator, which means that it increases blood flow. Increased blood flow leads to better pumps from your pre-workout but also helps transport nutrients to the muscles. Some studies show that citrulline can also increase endurance as well .
Taurine is naturally found in your body, most notably your heart and your brain. It aids in supporting endurance and muscle function. Some say it helps with recovery but this hasn’t been confirmed based on current research . Blood flow does seem to be increased based on a study for diabetics , so this is an added benefit of taurine in your pre-workout.
L-Arginine is the main building block of nitric oxide in the body. This can lead to increased pumps while in the gym and making it a sensible addition to your pre-workout. However, studies don’t necessarily agree that it has this effect . Citrulline converts to L-Arginine and provides better absorption so I would suggest citrulline over l-arginine supplement personally.
Dosage: 3 to 6g
Half-Life: Around 1 hour 
Effective Time: About 15 to 30 minutes after consuming
Is Pre-Workout Safe?
For the most part, yes, pre-workouts are safe. However, if you are pregnant, diabetic or have other issues such as heart problems, you will want to discuss using pre-workouts with your doctors. The stimulants found in pre-workouts can cause side effects or even serious issues for those who have health problems such as these.
For a typical healthy adult though, there isn’t too much concern with using pre-workouts and you likely won’t have any issues. The main concern will be staying within the suggested limits of caffeine consumption for the day. Be sure to consider any energy drinks, coffee or other beverages that you have on a daily basis when also taking a pre-workout.
- Coffee – Black coffee is suggested. Coffee will give you the energy boost and focus that you would get from a typical pre-workout.
- Energy Drink – Such as a BANG or Monster
- Candy – Some people enjoy candy pre-workout or other sweets. Some common examples being Sour Patch Kids or Pop-Tarts
- Carb Up! – In addition to candy or sweets, you could also try fruits like an apple, banana or maybe even something like oatmeal. Carbs = fuel
Suggested Pre-Workout Supplements
1. MTS Nutrition Clash
Clash by MTS Nutrition provides you with adequate doses of caffeine, l-citrulline, creatine and beta-alanine. Which makes it a great choice. On top of that, it also tastes great!
2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Pre-Workout
Optimum Nutrition creates great products, mostly known for their whey protein powder. They also make a great tasting pre-workout. It does include many of the ingredients we discussed here but at much lower dosages. You get 30 servings though, so it makes this one budget friendly. I find that it gives me a good boost in the gym as well as I personally use this pre-workout.