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February 11, 2022 9 min read

Pre-workout supplements, or more simply, “pre-workouts,” are one of the most popular types of exercise supplements. They are suitable for serious athletes as well as recreational gym-goers. Pre-workouts are designed to increase your physical and mental energy during workouts. The effects of a pre-workout vary depending on the ingredients, the particular effects you are measuring, and several other factors, which we will highlight throughout this article.

muscular man drinking pre workout drink before exercising

What Exactly is Pre-Workout? 

Pre-workout supplements (referred to in the industry simply as “pre-workouts”) are multi-ingredient dietary formulas that are designed to boost your athletic performance and take your energy to the next level. Pre-workouts can come pre-packaged in liquid form. There are also substances in powder form (such as protein powder) that you can mix into water and drink as a combination. 

There is actually very little consistency in terms of the ingredients in all of the different pre-workout supplements. Amino acids, beta-alanine, arginine, caffeine, creatine, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners are often included, but not always. Also, the amounts or dosages of all of these substances differ according to the specific brand.

Because of this, a good place for you to start with a pre-workout supplement might be with our  VIS Premium Pre-Workout. VIS uses high quality ingredients with full clinical dosing to produce skin-tearing pumps, increased pain tolerance, superior muscle mass, better focus, and no caffeine crash. It is available in flavors like Ginger Lime, candied limes with a hint of ginger, or Raspberry Honeycomb, with fresh tangy raspberries and honey.

So How Long Does Pre-workout Last? 

In general, it can be said that many pre-workout effects can be felt in your nervous system for about two hours after you consume the supplement. But pre-workouts contain several common ingredients that can greatly affect the amount of time for which you’ll feel their effects. One of those ingredients is branched-chain amino acids.

Branched-chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) 

Some pre-workout formulas include branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which have been shown to decrease muscle soreness and help increase muscle growth and energy levels when taken as a pre-workout. Be aware that BCAAs are naturally found in dietary sources of protein, so you may already be consuming some of these during your daily routine.

Branch chain amino acid supplements can be used as fuel to improve your performance when taken before exercise. This effect is in addition to their anabolism, andmetabolism appears to occur directly in the muscle. It seems that the ideal time to take branched-chain amino acids is during your workouts, not necessarily before.

However, BCAAs can still play an important role in the effectiveness of your pre-workout supplement. They are clinically formulated to reduce recovery time and aid in muscle protein synthesis. They can greatly increase your protein production while minimizing the amount of protein breakdown that happens with the combination of other amino acids like leucine, isoleucine and valine.

For this reason, BCAAs help you build muscles more quickly. With this type of muscle recovery, you can train for longer periods and more regularly. Because essential amino acids include those that the body cannot produce on its own, BCAAs are an important ingredient to have in your pre-workout supplement. 

Other Ingredients

Two other top active ingredients in pre-workouts are caffeine and arginine. With most pre-workouts, it can take nearly two hours for these two ingredients to start working. The maximum effects seem to appear about an hour after consumption in the case of caffeine and about 90 minutes after consumption in the case of arginine.

Caffeine has a long half-life of around 5 hours. Some research has shown that the acute effects of caffeine start to be felt fully after about an hour and these effects can last up to ten hours, depending on your individual tolerance level.

Arginine is an ingredient in many pre-workouts that causes your blood vessels to widen, which then also increases your blood flow. Some research has shown that the half-life of arginine is anywhere from 30 to 120 minutes, depending on your personal tolerance level as well as on the dose that you take. 

Since all of that research shows a wide range, your experience with the onset and duration of pre-workout effects may vary. The exact duration of pre-workout effects ultimately depends on your sensitivity to each ingredient, your body mass, your overall activity level, the amount of each ingredient per serving, and the number of servings you are consuming over a given length of time.

So, to sum it all up, you’ll find that most pre-workout effects generally last for about two hours. This duration varies by ingredient. For example, the increased blood flow from arginine may wear off in less than an hour, while the energy boost you may get from caffeine can take more than six hours to wear off.

Safety of Pre-workout Supplements

Many multi-ingredient pre-workouts might seem to be quite safe. However, some pre-workout supplements contain a wide range of different ingredients that can potentially be harmful if you consume too many of them. In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the potential risks of pre-workout ingredients such as caffeine and niacin.

Toxicity of Caffeine

Caffeine can be harmful when consumed in excess. When consuming caffeine in a traditional way by drinking coffee or tea, it is almost impossible to reach a fatal dose due to the volume of liquid you would need to consume. However, consuming concentrated powders like pre-workouts that contain high doses of caffeine makes it far easier to overdose. So, these products can pose a greater risk than caffeinated drinks. If you consume other caffeinated beverages (such as a cup of coffee) in addition to your pre-workout supplements, you may be at risk of a caffeine overdose.

One 2019 study looked at  consumption habits and the negative effects of pre-workouts. Most people surveyed said they took one serving with each use, but 14% took two or more servings. 18% percent said they took pre-workouts more than once a day. In the same study, 54% of people who consumed pre-workout supplements reported side effects such as nausea, heart abnormalities, and certain types of skin reactions.

Females were more likely to experience side effects of pre-workout such as these, as were people who consumed two or more servings of pre-workout per day. The heart abnormalities and nausea are associated with the high caffeine intake, and niacin causes flushing in the skin. The magnitude of these effects increases with the dose. A fatal dose of caffeine is usually 5 grams or more, but it can be as low as 3 grams in some cases. 

Many pre-workouts contain up to 400 mg of caffeine per serving. To reach a 3 gram dose of caffeine with a pre-workout like this, you would only have to consume seven servings of pre-workout. While this serving size sounds like a lot, it’s easily possible for a professional athlete to take this much in a day in addition to their regular caffeine consumption. That’s why it is essential to moderate your intake. 

Toxicity of Niacin 

At high doses, niacin can cause serious reactions like low blood pressure and liver damage that can result in liver failure or even multiple organ failure. Research suggests  liver damage happens at niacin doses of around 3 grams per day. Taking about 30 mg per day, a much lower dose, can lead to the development of a harmless but uncomfortable condition called niacin flush. This is a condition in which your skin gets red and itchy and feels warm. It normally goes away within about an hour.

Some of the top pre-workout supplements contain 25 mg of niacin on average and they may contain about 4 mg per serving. Thus, some people might even experience niacin flush after taking just one serving of pre-workout. To know how much niacin you are actually consuming, always check the amount per serving listed on the label of the product, and be sure to take only the recommended serving amount. 

Side Effects - Medical doctor shows information

Other Risk Factors

Scientists have not studied the long-term safety of taking pre-workout supplements, so it is unclear whether or not these supplements have harmful long-term effects. Other ingredients may even cause different side effects or may increase those side effects, so it is really hard to generalize about the safety of all pre-workout supplements. 

Since pre-workouts are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, some supplements may even contain banned or harmful ingredients. Supplement manufacturers in the United States don’t have to test ingredients for safety before adding them to their products. Unless an ingredient is specifically banned, any company can add it to any dietary supplement with very little oversight. Also, as long as companies don’t claim that a supplement treats, cures, or prevents a specific illness, they can make any other claims they want about the effectiveness of their product. 

Banned substances pose a major safety issue. If you compete in a sport that requires testing for performance-enhancing drugs, taking some pre-workout products may even get you disqualified. In the past, athletes have tested positive for banned substances after ingesting trace amounts when they took certain supplements. 

For example, a study in 2013 found the banned stimulant N,α-diethyl-phenylethylamine (N,α-DEPEA), a methamphetamine analog,  in a pre-workout supplement called Craze. In this high profile example, several athletes were disqualified from competition after testing positive for the banned stimulant, which resulted in the analysis and detection of this substance in the pre-workout formula. 

Another analysis of a range of supplement brands found several banned substances in various amounts and combinations in many of the supplements. Among the substances detected in this analysis were prohibited stimulants such as deterenol phenpromethamine, octodrine, and  beta-methylethylamine. Having these banned substances in so many pre-workout supplements is of great concern, whether the inclusion of these ingredients was intentional or whether it was accidental. 

There is very little data about the short- and long-term effects of combining multiple stimulants in varying amounts. Although certain substances might be banned, American supplement companies are not legally required to publish test results for these substances, and it is up to the consumer to ensure that a pre-workout supplement has been third-party tested. 

All of these substances can potentially have some serious unknown health consequences and can also cause short term hurdles as coaches and athletes try to prove that a positive drug test was unintentional and caused by tainted supplements. If you are a competitive athlete, it is vitally important to choose a pre-workout product that has been tested by a third party. 

Follow Some Basic Safety Guidelines 

If you choose to take a pre-workout supplement, here are a few other ways to follow some basic safety guidelines: 

  • Avoid consuming other supplements containing a large amount of caffeine or niacin if you plan to take a pre-workout the same day. 
  • Avoid pre-workout formulas that contain large quantities of artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid pre-workout formulas that contain large quantities of sugar alcohols.
  • Don’t consume more than a single serving per day. 
  • Look for products that have been tested by a reputable third-party organization, such as Labdoor or Eurofins Scientific. 
  • Make sure every ingredient is listed, including the exact amount per serving. Do a lot of research into each ingredient to verify what exactly it is and to find out any possible side effects or risks it may present.
  • Avoid pre-workouts with proprietary blends that don’t specify how many grams of each ingredient a single serving contains. 
  • Always stick to a single dose of whatever pre-workout you take, and even maybe try out half a dose first.

If you are taking medication or have any medical conditions, consult with a doctor for medical advice before starting your exercise program or meet with a healthcare professional about whether a specific pre-workout is safe for you to take. It may be helpful to show them the list of ingredients of the specific pre-workout you’re interested in. 

Most of the best pre-workout supplements appear to be safe, but taking more than one dose per day may have side effects or pose health risks from some ingredients. If you choose to take one, stick to one serving and choose a product that has been third-party verified. 

Who Needs to Take Pre-workout? 

Pre-workout supplements are mostly meant for high intensity training, such as weightlifting, but they may be of benefit to other athletes as well. Companies that make pre-workouts most often market them to bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other weightlifting enthusiasts, because many of the ingredients in pre-workouts are mostly beneficial for weightlifting training.

In particular, caffeine provides proven benefits for both athletic and mental performance, although these benefits decrease as your tolerance increases over time. Endurance, strength, and physique athletes can all potentially benefit from taking a pre-workout. As long as you take proper precautions, pre-workouts can be appropriate for most high intensity sports.

Starting a Pre-Workout Regimen

If you often lack energy or find it hard to complete your workout, pre-workout supplements may not be for you. First consider other lifestyle factors like hydration, sleep, and diet, rather than resorting to supplements right away. 

But if you find that pre-workout formulas work for you, then keep taking them. Just pay attention to their ingredients and your total intake. Most pre-workout products include detailed instructions for how to take them. While you should follow these instructions, start with a smaller serving so you can assess your tolerance.

Finally, if your pre-workout contains caffeine or other stimulants, pay attention to the time of day that you take it because it can affect your ability to rest. To increase your stamina and endurance, you can try our  premium cognitive enhancer called Illumino, which will give you maximum mental energy without burning you out. You can choose from strawberry basil or caramelized pineapple as your flavors. Using a supplement like this can work well when you include it as part of a nutritious diet.