With many dietary supplements that athletes take, the timing is often less important than actually making sure you get the right nutrients to support your muscle tissue.
But when it comes to taking pre-workout supplements, there is a bit more involved, especially if you’re a high-performance athlete who can’t afford to miss out on the full pre-workout effects.
So, our team at Total Shape got together with a nutritionist to figure out if there was a science-backed way to maximize workout performance.
So, how long does pre-workout take to kick in?
Let’s break it down.
- To optimize pre-workout effectiveness, it typically takes about 30 minutes for the supplements to kick in, with individual factors like metabolism, gender, and satiety playing a role.
- Ingredient-specific absorption times vary, with creatine taking less than 20 minutes and caffeine taking about 45 minutes to activate.
- According to clinical studies, the presence of food in the stomach can delay the absorption of pre-workout supplements, affecting the 30-minute average onset time.
- Based on my extensive training and coaching experience, the key to maximizing pre-workout benefits lies in personal experimentation with timing and ingredient efficacy.
When Do Pre-Workout Supplements Kick In?
The average pre-workout supplement will take about 30 minutes to kick in, based on our testing results with dozens of different pre-workout formulas.
But the exact timing is dependent on several factors:
- Metabolic Rate Impact - Individuals with faster metabolisms may experience the energizing effects sooner as their bodies process and absorb the active ingredients at a quicker pace.
- Gender-Specific Responses - According to a study published in the Journal of Caffeine and Adenosine Research, men and women may experience the effects of pre-workout supplements differently, with hormonal variations potentially influencing the absorption and efficacy of the ingredients .
- Satiety - Taking a pre-workout powder on an empty stomach can lead to quicker absorption and a more rapid onset of effects, as there is less food in the digestive system to slow down the process, according to Toxicology Research and Application .
- Active Ingredients - Some ingredients, like creatine, are absorbed by your body in less than 20 minutes, while other more complex ingredients, like caffeine, can take about 45 minutes .
Among these three factors, the active ingredient profile is the primary determinant of the time it takes for the pre-workout to take effect.
So, if your favorite product changes the formula of active ingredients or if you switch to a different one, you need to understand what it will do to your body.
Let’s dive into ingredient-specific absorption times.
The Role of Different Ingredients in Pre-Workout Absorption Rates
In my arsenal, I've used a variety of pre-workouts, each with a mix of ingredients. Through firsthand experience, I've learned which ones offer the most bang for your buck when it comes to absorption and performance.
Here are some worth noting, and I’ll outline how they impact timing.
There is plenty of scientific evidence to support the use of caffeine for workouts, like the one published in the journal Frontiers in Sport and Active Living, and as I’ve mentioned, it can take about 45 minutes to fully kick in .
Just keep in mind that it also has a half-life of about 5 hours and can mess up your sleep and recovery. If you don't want to mess up your sleep cycle or if you are just sensitive to caffeine, you can look for caffeine-free pre-workout supplements.
Not all ingredients need to directly impact muscle function. What L-theanine does is work with caffeine to improve brain function, cognition, and focus .
According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, it’s absorbed very fast and often within minutes, as it’s a simple amino acid that the body easily processes .
Like other amino acids, creatine supplements are easy for your stomach to process. The added benefit is that the effects can last a lot longer to maintain higher physical performance, based on a study published in the Clinical Pharmacokinetics journal .
I would generally recommend taking it about 20 minutes before a workout.
This is an ingredient that can boost nitric oxide levels, which then improves overall blood circulation to muscles . The result is a much better pump and oxygen delivery that you can see in the swelling of muscles and veins.
More on this shortly.
“L-citrulline boosts nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide helps your arteries relax and work better, which improves blood flow throughout your body.” - Melinda Ratini, DO, MS, WebMD.com
How Do You Know Your Pre-Workout Has Kicked In?
You know your pre-workout has kicked in when you feel a fairly sudden difference in your body and mind.
In the middle of a training session, I can tell when my pre-workout hits. It's a distinct shift in both my physical and mental state—a rush that I've come to recognize over countless hours of training.
And there are three things I always tell my clients to look out for when they first start taking pre-workouts.
First of all, if the formula contains creatine, then look out for tingling skin .
Taking pre-workout feels like a slightly itchy sensation, which is a great indication that one of the main ingredients for exercise performance has kicked in.
Secondly, pay attention to your mind and how you can focus. Caffeine kicks in pretty quickly, and it should help you focus better on your workout and stay motivated.
And finally, keep a close eye on your total weight loads, sets, and reps. You should be able to lift a bit more or do a few more reps once it has fully kicked in.
Discovering The Best Timing
Throughout my career, from soccer fields to fighting rings, I've relied on both powder and capsule pre-workouts.
I've personally found no difference in efficacy between the two forms when it comes to timing their intake before a training session.
For those trying a new pre-workout, I recommend a precise 30-minute window before your warm-up to gauge its full impact.
If you feel that the pre-workout starts kicking in before you warm up, then you need to take it maybe 20 or 25 minutes before and apply the same principle in the other direction.
However, in the end, the best way to find out how long pre-workout takes to start working for you, in particular, is by testing it, and this is the approach I take with all my clients.
Related Article: Should You Chug Pre-Workout or Is It Better to Sip It?
Can You Take Pre-workouts in the Evening?
Yes, you can take pre-workouts in the evening, but you have to be careful with stimulants. While these help your performance, they will also impact your sleep and, most importantly, muscle recovery time.
Can You Take Pre-workout and Not Exercise?
Yes, you can take pre-workout and not exercise, but it’s probably a waste of money. Many of the ingredients will boost physical strength, which is much more beneficial for resistance training and not everyday activities.
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