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Do’s and Don’ts for Taking Pre-workout (A Pro's Guide)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: January 6, 2023
Methodology
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Pre-workouts are one of my favorite supplements, and I routinely recommend them to my clients and regular gym-goers.

That’s why it pains me to see some armchair experts and inexperienced personal trainers give bad advice on using this dietary supplement, which often leads to disappointing performance.

So, I spent four weeks examining the relevant literature and talking with my fitness colleagues and a nutritionist at length to give you both science-backed and experience-based guidance on proper pre-workout supplement consumption.

Let’s dive in.

Quick Summary

  • When taking pre-workout supplements, don’t exceed the daily dose and avoid consuming it on an empty stomach, late afternoon or evening, or every day, as you may build up a tolerance.
  • Pre-workouts often stimulate nitric oxide production and, as a result, widen the blood vessels and improve the blood flow, increasing energy and enhancing the body’s ability to get through exhausting workouts.
  • The things you should do before your session, even without using a pre-workout, are to hydrate yourself and have a meal rich in carbs and proteins.

Do's of Taking a Pre-workout

Man smiling while holding scoop of pre workout supplement

To take pre-workout properly, it’s not enough just to follow the instructions printed on the pre-workout supplement label, as you can usually only find how many scoops should be taken.

However, you can’t find some important instructions like whether you should take it:

  • On an empty stomach
  • On a full stomach
  • Before meal
  • After a meal

In my experience in the gym and with my clients, I advise you to factor in the following:

  • If you take your pre-workout drink on an empty stomach, ingredients will be absorbed into the bloodstream too quickly in high amounts, increasing the risk for some health issues.
  • If you take it on a full stomach, the food will probably delay ingredients absorption.
  • If you take it on a half-full stomach, you have the optimal environment for gradual ingredients absorption.

“Excessive amounts of caffeine can cause nausea, restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia, nitrates can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. The list goes on.”

- Jessica Alvarez, RD & Assistant Professor of Medicine at Emory University

But if you are forced to do your training in the morning, try to drink at least 8 ounces of water prior to any pre-workout intake.

Ideal Timing

When you’ve provided a good environment in your belly with a balanced meal, you should now fine-tune the timing of pre-workout intake. The timing also plays an important part in optimizing the impact of pre-workout aimed benefits.

Therefore, you should consider the following:

  • If you take your pre-workout too early, you will be short on energy halfway through your session.
  • If you take it 15 to 30 minutes before your training session (or 15 on top if it’s a pill), you will most likely feel the pre-workout benefits right when you need them.

If you take it too late, you’ll probably be on your third set before the energy boost kicks in.

However, you might take your pre-workout supplement even an hour into the workout if you plan to have a long training session. That way, the active pre-workout ingredients can support extra energy production when it’s needed the most.

For a pre-workout to be effective at all, you need to make sure it has the most important active ingredients:

  • Creatine
  • Beta-alanine
  • BCAA (branched-chain amino acids)
  • Amino-acid L-citrulline
  • Caffeine or some other stimulants that have a proven record of effectiveness

On the other hand, you should also be aware of the amount of certain stimulants like caffeine, as many pre-workouts exceed the daily recommended amount of 400 mg and could therefore trigger anxiety and sleep issues [1].

Don’ts of Taking a Pre-workout

Woman pouring energy drink inside tumbler with pre workout supplement

The things to avoid when taking pre-workout are mostly related to the stimulative ingredients intake, as some potential complications can arise from overuse.

The most important thing to avoid (unless it’s a stimulant-free option) is mixing it with other caffeinated products like:

  • Coffee
  • Sodas
  • Sports drinks

These drinks may build up too much caffeine in your bloodstream and cause the aforementioned side effects. Remember that it takes about 3 - 5 hours for your body to cut the concentration of caffeine in your blood in half.

On top of that, you should also be aware that:

  • Consuming pre-workout (or any caffeinated product) six hours before you go to sleep can interfere with your rest.
  • An excessive dose won’t double the effects, but it may trigger some serious health issues or a stim tolerance.
  • Cycling your stimulative supplement will make you avoid building up a tolerance to it.

Therefore, I think everyone should cycle this supplement, as this tolerance could lead to the opposite effects and make you feel sluggish after consuming pre-workout supplements.

And if you work out in the late afternoon or evening, you shouldn’t be using the stimulative supplement as it may interfere with your rest - a crucial thing for muscle tissue recovery and body fat metabolism.

What Else Should You Do Before Your Workout?

Cutting banana to make slices to pour into pre workout

Before your workout, you should have a light meal and hydrate yourself with plain water to fuel your muscles and prepare them for the exercise process - cardio or strength training.

Eating a meal rich in carbs, even those with a high glycemic index (simple carbohydrates), will spike up your blood sugar, increasing your energy levels, endurance, and overall athletic performance.

Therefore, foods like bananas, fruit smoothies, oatmeal, or wholegrain bread can be great pre-workout nutrition fuel.

Also, I advise you to limit your unsaturated fat intake and aim for foods rich in healthy fats that will provide you with the energy needed for longer workouts.

You should also include proteins, as they will provide your muscle mass with amino acids (building blocks of muscles) and prevent muscle decomposition. 

As mentioned before, drink enough water before a session to support your metabolism and nutrient digestion [2].

Drinking water could also replace the fluid and electrolytes lost during exercise.

FAQs

Is It Ok to Dry Scoop Pre-workout?

It’s not ok to dry scoop pre-workout as this popular TikTok trend may cause some severe health issues.

A pre-workout powder is created to be mixed with water so it can release the ingredients gradually, and taking it dry may be dangerous.

The risks of dry scooping include heart palpitations, acute increase in blood pressure, digestive upset, or lung irritation.

How Many Times a Week Should I Take Pre-workout?

You should take pre-workout 3-4 times a week for optimal results.

If you start to consume it every time you hit the gym, or every day, you may become dependent on pre-workout, and your body may become tolerant to caffeine over time.

Take Supplements the Right Way

A pre-workout can be a crucial companion on your journey to acquire lean body mass and reduce body fat.

So, as long as you don’t overuse or misuse them, pre-workout supplements can boost your performance and motivate you to push yourself further, helping you reach your fitness goals significantly faster.

We’ve extensively tested most of the top products on the market with the help of our clients to come up with these lists of the top performers, so make sure to check them out.


References:

  1. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
  2. https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/exercise-fitness/hydration-exercise
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