Nowadays, it seems there are more brands of pre workout supplements than there are stars in the sky.
Which is unsurprising when you consider how popular pre workout has become.
With more and more people taking pre workout, I thought it would be the right time to offer my advice when it comes to taking it.
So, in this article, we cover 5 things you need to know before you take pre workout for the first time.
Let’s get started.
Disclaimer: This advice is based off scientific research as well as my own raw opinion.
More Isn’t Always Better
There are some things in life where more is better.
(Up to a certain point of course.)
For example, how many healthy foods you eat, how many hours of sleep you have, and how much money you have.
Whereas with pre workout, more typically isn’t better.
Well, pre workout includes many ingredients that can change how you feel.
Caffeine being a good example.
With caffeine, there’s a sweet spot where you feel more focused, alert and full of energy.
Once you cross this sweet spot, you can enter a dark place.
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve consumed too much coffee I get anxious, jittery, and stressed.
And I blame this on the amount of caffeine ingested.
So, if your pre workout tub recommends one scoop per serving, and you’ve tried one scoop and you benefited from it, then try 2 scoops at your own peril.
How Long Does Pre Workout Take To Kick In?
Again, this depends entirely on the pre workout used.
If your pre workout contains caffeine, then it should kick in after 30 minutes or so.
Another thing to consider is when your last meal was.
If you recently ate, then it will probably take longer to kick in as food slows down the absorption.
Whereas if you take it on an empty stomach, you’ll probably notice the effects much sooner.
You May Get Itchy Skin
Many pre workouts contain an amino acid called Beta-Alanine. Research suggests it may help improve 1 rep max and power.
But when ingesting Beta-Alanine in large amounts, you may experience an itchy skin feeling known as paresthesia.
This itchiness can occur in your neck, back and hands.
Now, for some people, this is a good sign that the pre workout is kicking in and it’s time to hit the weights. For others, it’s an annoying side effect.
The good news is there’s no evidence to suggest that this tingling is harmful. But if you really want to avoid this sensation – fear not, there are plenty of pre workout supplements that don’t contain Beta-Alanine.
(Or perhaps you’re now curious and you want to see what the fuss is about.)
When You Should Take Pre Workout
As its name suggests, the best time to take pre workout is before your workout.
But in terms of how long before your workout, this depends on the ingredients.
For example, if your pre workout contains caffeine, then you should take it between 30 to 60 minutes before your workout.
Well, caffeine takes around 30 minutes to kick in.
So by taking it then, you’re giving the pre workout time to absorb into your bloodstream and deliver the benefits you’re looking for.
Also, some ingredients like Beta-Alanine and Creatine take time to build up in your body, and are most beneficial when taken regularly.
So if you want the most out of your pre workout, it’s best to be taken regularly.
For those who work out at night, you may be wondering:
Is it ok to take pre workout at night?
Well, for most of the population, it’s a big fat no.
The reason being, some of the ingredients are added to help you stay alert, like caffeine, which may interfere with your sleep.
And a disturbed sleep will destroy your muscle building dreams.
(The only people who may benefit from taking pre workout at night are Night Shift workers, as it could help them perform better at work.)
You May Need To Go To The Toilet More
If you’re a coffee fanatic like myself, you’ll know that the first coffee of the day usually results in a trip to the toilet. You can thank the caffeine for that!
Now, a cup of coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine.
Pre workout, on the other hand, ranges from 150mg – 300mg of caffeine per serving.
In other words, some pre workouts have the same amount of caffeine as 3 cups of coffee!
That’s… a lot.
Pre workouts are often high in artificial sweeteners too.
Some artificial sweeteners, like isomalt, have been shown to increase bowel movements and watery stools. (Source)
This is why pre workout makes you poop!
If this puts you off, don’t panic.
There are many awesome pre workouts that are free from both caffeine AND artificial sweeteners.
Not All Pre Workouts Are The Same
Pre workout is a unique supplement in that every powder is different.
Some are cheap. Some are expensive.
Some have tonnes of caffeine. Some have no caffeine.
Some include brain-boosting nootropics. Some include no nootropics.
Some may make you itch. Some may not.
Some may make you need a poop. Some may not.
In other words, there’s no such thing as a “standard pre workout”.
So, it really grinds my gears when people ask:
Does pre workout work?
That’s like asking:
Are chicken dinners tasty?
Well, obviously it depends.
If Gordon Ramsay is making it, then probably yes.
Whereas if you’re buying it frozen from a supermarket, then probably not.
The point of this section is… What are you looking for in a pre workout?
Do you want to feel focused?
Do you want to feel pumped?
Do you want to burn more fat?
Once you know what you’re after, you can then pick a pre workout that suits you.
How Often Should You Take Pre Workout?
This is a great question.
As mentioned earlier, if your pre workout contains ingredients like Beta-Alanine and Creatine, it’s best to take on a regular basis, i.e. before every workout, to ensure your muscle stores are topped up.
That said, pre workouts which include caffeine may feel less effective the more often you take them.
Well, caffeine is a drug which means your body will build a tolerance to it.
So the more you take it, the more you’ll need in order to feel the effects from it.
You may now be thinking:
If my pre workout contains Creatine, Beta-Alanine AND caffeine (which many do by the way…), then how often should I take it?
In this situation, I’d take pre workout for a month then cycle off. This will help reduce your tolerance to the caffeine.
After a few weeks off, I’d start taking it again.
What To Do If You Take Too Much Pre Workout?
If your pre workout is high in caffeine, I’d avoid working out if you’ve taken too much.
This’ll ensure that you don’t stress your heart any further.
I’d also avoid panicking as this can add even more stress which will make you feel worse.
While some people take pre workout twice a day, I’d generally avoid this especially if you’re new to pre workout.
To conclude, let’s recap some key points from this article:
- Pre workout isn’t a supplement in the traditional sense. Instead, it describes various supplements with different ingredients that are to be taken before you work out.
- If you want to avoid itchy skin, you should look for a pre workout without Beta-Alanine.
- If you want to avoid a mid-workout toilet trip, you should look for a pre workout without caffeine and artificial sweeteners.
- For most pre workouts, its best to take them around an hour before your workout and to take them consistently. After a month or so, it’s best to take a few weeks off so your body can re-adjust.
- When it comes to taking pre workout supplements, more doesn’t mean better. In fact, more can be worse.
That’s all for this article, but does pre workout stunt growth? Or does pre workout make you hungry?
Hope this helped!
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.