Since pre-workout products are usually multi-ingredient products, the answer to this question depends based on the ingredients.
Some pre-workout ingredients have immediate, acute effects and the half-life of their bioavailability within the body is only an hour or so. Other ingredients require chronic dosing to develop muscle stores in order achieve maximum results.
Quick Summary: Pre-workout performance peaks are seen from minute 40 through minute 90 after consumption, with residual acute effects lasting up to 4 hours. Taking your pre-workout daily will enhance performance due to increased muscle stores of important chronic ingredients.
Types of Pre-Workout Ingredients
You can think of pre-workouts as having two main types of ingredients: acute and chronic.
Acute ingredients will have immediate effect that get used up and removed from the body within a few hours. Chronic ingredients get stored in the body over time and their saturation levels build up over time.
You get the full impact of acute ingredients on the day you use the pre-workout. However, with chronic ingredients, the level of blood and muscle saturation determines the amount of functional impact. So the impact of chronic ingredients tends to peak a few weeks after you start taking the product.
Duration of Acute Ingredients
Most acute pre-workout ingredients are effective and beneficial for 30-120 minutes after consumption. Below we’ll take a look at how long you receive benefits from well known acute pre-workout ingredients.
Caffeine is an acute pre-workout ingredient. It gets felt immediately, tends to peak by minute 40 and then subsides almost completely within 2 hours.
Since caffeine is usually the main driver of energy in a pre-workout, you can say that you have about a 1 hour window of peak energy, starting about 30 minutes after you consume the pre-workout.
There are slow release forms of caffeine that might extend its benefit by an hour. ZumXR Delayed Release gives you an extra hour of caffeine benefits. The ZumXR Extended Release can extend the benefits of caffeine for up to 5 hours (this would be good for a long bike ride).
The benefits of caffeine last about 2-3 hours, peaking in the first hour of use.
The purpose of L-Citrulline is to increase nitric oxide production and blood flow to the muscles. It does this by first being converted in the body to Arginine. The benefit of taking L-Citrulline rather than L-Arginine is that the body breaks down L-Arginine much more quickly and its bioavailabity is questionable.
While there is one study that shows you may get slight performance increases after taking L-Citrulline chronically for 7+ days, most of the benefit you receive from L-Citrulline will be acute within the 1-2 hours following consumption.
The benefits of citrulline peak about 40-80 minute after consumption.
Beet root extract and red spinach extract are two of the most common nitrate ingredients in pre-workout products. They increase Nitrous Oxide, vasodilation, blood flow and oxygen delivery to muscles.
Nitrates are interesting ingredients because while proven effective in pre-workouts, they don’t become fully acute for about 2 hours since nitrates take some time to be absorbed and converted to nitrite. In other words, their full affects are peak about 2 hours after consumption.
The benefits of nitrates peak around hour 2 after consumption
Duration of Chronic Ingredients
The three major chronic ingredients we’ll look at are creatine monohydrate, Beta-Alanine and Betaine. Creatine and beta-alanine are two of the most potent pre-workout ingredients and both are maximally effective with increased muscle stores that build up over time.
Betaine is a less proven ingredient but there is evidence that it’s full potential in fascilitating strength and power gains is most likely reached over longer durations.
Creatine monohydrate helps enhance ATP replenishment, allowing more intensity when working out. It is primarily stored in muscles which do not get fully saturated until supplementing with creatine for several weeks.
Because it takes time to fully saturate muscles with creatine, and because the human body does not fully saturate creatine stores on food alone, it is an excellent example of a chronic pre-workout supplement that really requires steady, regular use. Taking 5-10g per day over several weeks helps you reach peak creatine store levels.
Creatine stays in your system for days and is fully effective as long as you have saturated muscle stores. The benefits can last for days.
Often considered the major “endurance” ingredient in pre-workout products, beta-alanine also is the ingredient responsible for the “tingles” that everyone knows. It is hard to get the full recommended beta-alanine dose without insufferable tingles, so taking it multiple times per day, makes it more tolerable.
As a chronic ingredient, Beta-Alanine increases muscle carnosine concentrations. These concentrations build up over time and need to be replenished daily (ideally, a total of 4-6g per day spread out in 2g doses).
Beta-Alanine builds up in your system so the more consistent you are in taking it, the better the benefits. Still, its effects peak during the 4 hours after consumption.
Betaine is the less effective cousin to creatine in that they both play similar functional roles (although creatine is the more well studied and proven ingredient). While far less researched, Betaine is increasingly found in many pre-workouts. It’s main mechanism of action is being able to help increase training volume and therefore strength and power gains.
Most of the studies on Betaine are short term studies, and so there is a decent chance that longer term studies of chronic effects will show better results.
Betaine’s beneficial effects last as long as it is plentiful in your muscles.
Your biggest peak performance from common pre-workouts will be from minute 40 through minute 90. Aim to do your workout in this period of time.
Some ingredients will continue to provide benefit outside of that time frame. Nitrates tend to peak around hour two. While other ingredients like creatine last in your body for days, but it’s important to keep your muscle stores filled up.