How Long Does Pre-Workout Last? The Best Ways to Optimize Your Gym Session

Exercise is by definition never going to be easy, but a trip to the gym should not leave you exhausted.

One simple way of boosting both physical and mental energy before working up a sweat is pre-workout supplements, more commonly known as "pre-workouts."

But with so much misunderstanding about the science behind the substances, some people may be wary of trying the supplements.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about how long pre-workouts last and whether they're safe, according to fitness experts.

What Is a Pre-Workout?

Pre-workouts are designed to increase your physical and mental performance during an exercise session.

And while it pays to do your research to avoid the pseudoscience surrounding pre-workouts, some suggest there can be very real benefits.

Arj Thiruchelvam, a Performance Physique Head Coach, who has trained Olympians, told Newsweek: "There's an enormous volume of pre-workouts on the market, in recent years the respective food authorities in Europe have clamped down on some of the extravagant marketing claims and range of ingredients included in these options.

"If you struggle to prepare and get pumped for your training session on a regular basis, then it would be worth reviewing your diet and lifestyle because it sounds like a change needs to be made.

How Long Does Pre Workout Last
If you are looking for a little boost in the gym, or hoping to set new PB’s and reach new levels of strength, then you may well be using a pre-workout to help DuxX/Getty Images

"That being said, there are a handful of simple ingredients that can dramatically improve your athletic performance and are commonly found in your pre-workout; Caffeine, Beta-Alanine, Sodium Bicarbonate and Creatine are those which have the greatest proven effect to work."

However, Aroosha Nekonam, a personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, cautions pre-workout supplements should not be treated as "motivation in a bottle."

He told Newsweek: "When it comes to supplements, think about exactly what you are trying to accomplish and find the right supplement that will assist you in achieving your goal.

"But remember, supplements are exactly that—they are there to supplement, not replace, your diet and your workout program. No amount of popping pills will help you achieve your goals if your diet and your workouts are not right."

How Long Does Pre Workout Last
Pre-workouts theoretically mean more oxygen and nutrients reach the working muscles, resulting in the ability to train harder for longer Miljan Živković/Getty Images

He added: "If supplements are not your specialty, it's imperative that you consult with a professional. They can guide you on safe dosing, possible combinations, and reputable brands."

Josh Davies, PT At Aimee Victoria Long, believes pre-works should not be used for every session and only when you need an occasional boost.

He told Newsweek: "Your body will get used to the ingredients and then won't have the desired effect. Only use when you may be a little low on energy or you know you're going to be having a tough workout. For example, a predominantly lower body workout."

How Long Do Pre-Workouts Last?

One of the main ingredients in most pre-workouts is caffeine, the stimulant responsible for that delivering that all-important focus and drive required before a workout.

Aaron Brecknell, Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert at Innermost, suggests pre-workouts can have very fast results, while they can also wear off quickly.

He told Newsweek: "Studies show that the effects of caffeine noticeable after just 10 minutes, and tend to peak after around 45 to 60 minutes.

"It's also worth mentioning caffeine has a half-life of around 5-6 hours. This means that if you ingested 200mg of caffeine at 12pm, you'd still have 100mg left in your bloodstream at about 6pm—this is useful information to know and highlights the importance of not taking pre-workout to close to bedtime."

Pre-workouts main ingredient is usually caffeine
Pre-workouts' main ingredient is usually caffeine MRBIG_PHOTOGRAPHY/Getty Images

Different Types Of Pre-Workout

Caffeine

Thiruchelvam describes caffeine, one of the world's most researched ingredients, as "the pillar of ergogenic aids."

He said: "A strong Italian coffee will contain around 100mg of caffeine, so have 1.5 of these and you'll enjoy a range of performance improvements from increased sprints, muscle power, running pace, accuracy, reduced rate of exhaustion and increased mental focus."

However, Charlotte Williams, a FitKit personal trainer, adds its effectiveness is dependent on how accustomed your body is to the substance.

She told Newsweek: "One factor which determines how long the effects will last, is your tolerance to caffeine.

Pre workouts help you in your sessions
Pre-workouts help in your gym sessions essentially because their active ingredients, like caffeine and beta alanine, boost blood flow around the body Nutthaseth Vanchaichana/Getty Images

"If you already drink caffeine in large amounts, then pre-workout may not have the effect you wanted.

"Similarly, if you rarely drink caffeine, you may experience increased effects. It can also depend on which one you're taking as quantities of the crucial ingredients can vary."

Beta Alanine

Beta alanine is an amino acid that can act as an acid buffer and increase muscular endurance, although Thiruchelvam suggests this compound may not be ideal for every workout and can come with side effects.

He said: "Beta alanine helps to buffer hydrogen ions, commonly referred to as lactic acid (but that's not entirely accurate).

"It's not appropriate for every sport but for those where efforts last more than 90 seconds or there are repeated sprints, it's incredibly effective at reducing fatigue and allowing harder efforts later in the session.

"It doesn't matter when you take it in relation to training, but a loading phase of several weeks is recommended over a larger single dose. Be prepared it can cause parathesia, a very uncomfortable tingling sensation, for a couple of hours after consumption."

Pre Workout
Pre-workouts are designed to be taken before you hit the gym Vasyl Dolmatov/Getty Images

Sodium Bicarbonate

This chemical compound, most commonly associated as a baking ingredient, is also considered an effective pre-workout hack for certain exercises.

Thiruchelvam said: "This supplement is also incredibly effective at buffering the hydrogen ions mentioned for Beta alanine.

"It will improve anaerobic performance (reduced oxygen availability sports) and therefore it's ideal for events like 400 to 1500m track runs, 100 to 200m swim races and cycling.

"Sodium Bicarbonate should be taken 60 to 90 minutes before competition and before the most important training sessions.

"Don't use it all the time and it's important to test your tolerance to it as the key side effect is stomach discomfort."

Creatine Monohydrate

Thiruchelvam believes creatine can be an "incredible" method of optimizing your time spent at the gym.

He said: "Nearly everyone can benefit from supplementing with creatine, unless you're one of the rare non-responders. In that case, you're just ultra-unlucky."

He added that creatine monohydrate is very effective at repeated high-intensity efforts with short recovery, whether that's in sport or with high volume training.

He said: "You'll get improved recovery, training quality, muscular endurance, strength and sprint performance.

"Although a loading phase of one week is ideal, you can consume it every day you train. Although it's not conclusive, there appears to be marginal benefits to consuming post-workout. You will gain some water weight and it appears to exaggerate the effects of being dehydrated.

"There are likely to be numerous other ingredients on your pre-workout, but those above are backed up by substantial evidence."