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.
- Pre-workout supplements are one of the most common and fast-acting ways to legally and safely get more out of workouts and gain more muscle mass.
- Taking your pre-workout drink at a completely random time before training doesn’t help how much harder you can exercise.
- You also have to be careful when it comes to taking pre-workouts along with other food, as there are situations where it might impact your timing.
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 the active ingredients.
Let me explain. Some ingredients like creatine are absorbed by your body in less than 20 minutes.
But other more complex ingredients like caffeine can take about 45 minutes .
And that’s why you can’t expect every pre-workout to kick in at the same time. 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 take a closer look.
Does It Depend On The Ingredients?
Most multi-ingredient pre-workouts will have certain common ingredients. And those that we’ve seen the best results for muscle growth have a few critical ingredients that have reliable scientific support.
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, 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 check our article about 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 .
There’s scientific evidence that 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 for a lot longer to maintain higher physical performance . 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.
Finding The Best Timing
Many pre-workout supplements come in powder form that you mix with water and drink before a training session.
There are also some that come in capsules, which some people find a bit more convenient.
From a timing perspective, my experience has shown that both powder and capsule pre-workouts work the same.
The best way to find out how long does pre-workout take to start working for you, in particular, is by testing it, and this is the approach I take with all my clients.
When you take a new pre-workout for the first time, take it exactly 30 minutes before you start your warm-up routine.
With a caffeine-containing pre-workout, that means that your mind should become sharp and focused, just like after a morning cup of coffee.
I’ll get to some other sensations you might feel shortly.
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.
When your muscles produce energy more efficiently heading into your main sets, then you get a lot more out of each set and rep.
Does It Help To Take Pre-Workout On An Empty Stomach?
Yes, taking a pre-workout powder on an empty stomach can help with how fast your body absorbs the ingredients.
If you plan to do some extended fasting before exercising, then that can be a great way to boost your performance without a rush of carbs before training. But if you normally take your pre-workout after some food and half an hour before exercising, then you might want to shorten that to about 15 to 20 minutes.
How quickly a supplement gets to the small and large intestines will have a significant impact on how quickly they are available to metabolize .
How Do You Know Your Pre-Workout Has Kicked In?
You know your pre-workout has kicked in by feeling a fairly sudden difference in your body and mind.
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.
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.
Get Your Pre-Workout Timing Right
You should now have all the information needed to address the question of how long does pre-workout take to kick in.
It’s not an exact science, and you’ll still need to experiment with different pre-workouts to get the ideal timing for maximum performance boosts.
And if you need some help, we have rounded up the best pre-workout supplements, containing products that we have extensively researched and tested ourselves.
They have transformed how my clients progress to their fitness goals with no major issues or side effects.
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