This Is How Much Pre-Workout To Take For The First Time

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You might be tempted to take pre-workout because you’ve heard about its performance-enhancing effects but are afraid of potential side effects. This article will give you confidence about how much pre-workout to take and what factors to consider when determining the optimal dose for you and your goals.

Key Takeaways

  • The first time you take pre-workout, take between a ¼ and a ½ dose and evaluate how you feel in the next few hours after your training session, that night, and the next day.
  • Several factors determine the optimal amount of pre-workout. Some factors, such as body weight and training age, relate to the person. Others relate to the pre-workout, such as the type and amount of ingredients.
  • The most significant risk factor with pre-workout is the amount of caffeine and other stimulants because it can be easy to overdose on these ingredients, especially if you have a low tolerance to begin with.

How Much Pre-Workout To Take?

Several factors can influence how much pre-workout to take, such as your training age (beginner vs. advanced), your body size and weight, your sensitivities, preferences, and goals, as well as the pre-workout itself in terms of which ingredients it does and doesn’t include, and how much of each.

I’ll cover these personal and pre-workout characteristics in the sections that follow.

Before I get to that, it’s worth noting that pre-workout formulations vary from brand to brand, and the stated serving size can vary from product to product.  

For example, one brand might state that a serving size is 5 grams, while another might say 30 grams. In addition, the number and amount of different ingredients within that serving can vary.

It’s essential to read the labels carefully to understand what ingredients and how much of each you are getting in each serving size.  Check out our complete guide to pre-workout ingredients if you don’t know how to read an ingredient panel.

Also, you’ll want to take the minimum amount needed to get the desired result (energy, focus, strength, etc.).  It’s best to start small (with ¼ to ½ of the stated serving size) and only increase if needed to reach your goals.

Six Factors To Determine How Much Pre-Workout To Take

factors that contribute to how much pre workout to take

Personal Characteristics

The following factors relate to the individual characteristics of the person taking the pre-workout:

1. Bodyweight and Size

Many common pre-workout ingredients are studied in grams or milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

This metric means that larger/heavier individuals need a larger dose, and smaller/lighter individuals need a smaller dose.

For example, agamate, an ingredient in pre-workouts that helps boost mood and mental focus, is only effective when a minimum dose of 1.6mg per kilogram of body weight is taken.

Several other ingredients, such as glycerol, caffeine, arginine, tyrosine, sodium bicarbonate, and Yohimbe require a specific dose based on body weight to be clinically effective.

2. Physical Activity Level

Individuals with higher physical activity levels, either from active jobs or rigorous training sessions (or both), will have a higher daily energy expenditure than those with lower activity levels. 

These individuals will metabolize the ingredients in pre-workout more quickly, meaning they will need a larger dose than someone less active.

3. Any Known Sensitivities

Individuals who have known sensitives to certain ingredients might have to adjust their pre-workout serving sizes to manage that sensitivity or look for products that do not contain the problem ingredient(s).

For example, certain people are very sensitive to caffeine, so they’d need to look for brands with little to no caffeine (non-stim pre-workouts). Other people cannot tolerate the “creepy-crawly” skin tingling (paresthesia) from beta-alanine.

Our very own supplement reviewer, Jenn Vibert, knows that she can only take 100mg or less of Eria Jarensis, an ingredient that helps boost mental focus and concentration, or else she gets an upset stomach.

Although you can buy pre-workouts without these ingredients, you should consider making your own, using only the ingredients that work for you and in the amounts that work for you.

Pre-Workout Characteristics

The following factors relate to the characteristics of the pre-workout product itself:

4. Amount Of Caffeine

Caffeine is one of the most common “limiting ingredients” in pre-workout products. The FDA recommends a safe daily limit of 400 mg of caffeine.  

If you already consume 200 mg of caffeine from other sources (like your daily coffee), your pre-workout dose should not exceed 200 mg.

“Some pre-workout supplements may exceed this amount in a single serving or fail to disclose the amount of caffeine they contain, so it is important to always review the label of any supplement before consumption.”

Health Science Writer, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

5. Clinical Dose Of Ingredients

Another way to determine the best serving size is to compare the clinically effective dose of key ingredients to the amount provided per serving.  

For example, creatine monohydrate is recommended at a daily dose of 3-5 grams daily. If your pre-workout product only contains 1 gram of creatine per serving, you’d need three servings to reach the recommended amount. However, you’d risk exceeding the recommended dose of other ingredients, especially if the product also contains caffeine.

In this case, it would be better to buy creatine separately to ensure you’re getting an effective dose without overconsuming other ingredients.

6. Recommended Guidelines

Examining the recommended guidelines for various pre-workout ingredients is the final factor in determining how much pre-workout to take. 

The recommended guidelines are the doses of each ingredient that have been studied and deemed relatively safe. Consuming doses of these ingredients beyond what is recommended may have negative consequences, such as increased risk for illness or injury. 

Signs That Your Dosage Is Too High

signs that your dosage is too high

Signs that your dose of pre-workout is too high include:

  • Anxiety: if you’re starting to feel anxious or paranoid after taking your pre-workout, it can be a sign that your pre-workout dose is too high.
  • Inability to focus/concentrate: if you notice an “energy crash” after taking pre-workout that leaves you tired and unable to focus, this can be a sign that your dose is too high.  In my other article, you can learn more about pre-workout crashes and how to fix them.
  • Heart palpitations: if your heart is beating out of your chest, it can be a sign that your pre-workout dose is too high (specifically, it contains too much caffeine, or you’ve had too many other sources of caffeine along with your pre-workout).

Beginner vs. Advanced: Should You Take More Pre-Workout Over Time?

The answer to whether you should take more pre-workout over time is it depends.

A beginner who wants to try a pre-workout should always start with a small dose to get used to the sensations and determine how their body responds; over time, they could increase it to a full dose if it’s well-tolerated.

An advanced lifter will have more muscle mass and higher activity levels than a beginner, so they will likely be able to tolerate a higher dose of pre-workout. 

Therefore, as you progress from a beginner to an advanced lifter, you will likely increase your pre-workout dosage as your body changes and training gets more intense.

However, more is not always better, especially if you’re not pushing the limits in your training. 

Increasing your pre-workout consumption without pushing the volume and intensity of your training may increase your caffeine tolerance rather than provide meaningful benefits.

When your caffeine tolerance increases, you will need more and more to feel the same effects.

People often wonder, why does pre-workout not affect me?or start to feel like they are addicted to pre-workout and can’t function without it. If this sounds like you, it’s a good idea to cycle off pre-workout.

A great guideline to follow comes from the Team Nutritionist at supplement manufacturer Naked Nutrition

“You’ll want to watch out that your pre-workout doesn’t become a crutch.  You should be able to work out without it and not constantly feel like you ‘need’ your pre-workout.  It’s fine to feel a boost from your pre-workout supplement, but when you start to feel dependent on it, this might be time to hit the brakes.”

How Long Does Pre-Workout Take To Kick In?

Pre-workout takes about 30-60 minutes to “kick in,” which is when you’ll start feeling physical sensations like increased focus, body temperature, skin flushing, and tingling.

In sensitive individuals, or if you’ve taken a dose that is too high (as explained above), these feelings can escalate to unpleasant sensations like nausea and jitteriness.

Remember that many non-stimulant pre-workout ingredients, like creatine, do NOT cause physical sensations, but that doesn’t mean the pre-workout isn’t working.

Additionally, certain ingredients require daily consumption to reach and maintain saturation levels in the body to become effective; you’d need to take these ingredients daily for at least 4-8 weeks to reap the maximum benefits.

Examples include:

  • Arginine: 1.2-2 grams daily for 7+ weeks for aerobic performance; 10-12 grams daily for 8 weeks for anaerobic performance
  • Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): 200 mg/kg of body weight daily for at least 10 days
  • Lion’s mane/cordyceps: 1-2 grams daily for 28 days

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Pre-Workout Should You Take In A Day?

You should take a maximum of one full dose of pre-workout in a day unless two particularly long or intense sessions are scheduled in one day. Even then, I don’t recommend doing this all the time; save the extra boost for peak training periods or competitions.

How Much Pre-Workout Can Kill You?

Pre-workout in and of itself isn’t likely to kill you; it’s when pre-workout is combined with other caffeine-containing products (like coffee, tea, and energy drinks) that you risk consuming a lethal dose of caffeine (5,000-10,000 mg, or 5-10 g). Also, dry-scooping pre-workout is highly dangerous and can be deadly.

How Much Pre-Workout Should You Take With Water?

Always use at least the recommended amount of water per scoop of pre-workout listed on the package directions (usually 8-16 oz), or even more water if you want a more dilute solution.

To start, use a half serving in the amount of water recommended for a full serving of pre-workout.

Should You Drink Your Pre-Workout All At Once?

You should not gulp or chug your pre-workout, as doing so can lead to bloating, nausea, or general discomfort from quickly drinking that much liquid and from certain pre-workout ingredients taken all at once.

Instead, aim to sip steadily for 15-20 minutes 30-60 minutes before your workout.

References

Jagim, A.R.; Camic, C.L.; Harty, P.S. Common Habits, Adverse Events, and Opinions Regarding Pre-Workout Supplement Use Among Regular Consumers. Nutrients 2019, 11, 855. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040855

Boulenger JP, Patel J, Post RM, Parma AM, Marangos PJ. Chronic caffeine consumption increases the number of brain adenosine receptors. Life Sci. 1983 Mar 7;32(10):1135-42. doi: 10.1016/0024-3205(83)90119-4. PMID: 6298543.

Kamanna, V. S., & Kashyap, M. L. (2008). Mechanism of Action of Niacin. The American Journal of Cardiology, 101(8), S20-S26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2008.02.029.

Blancquaert L, Everaert I, Derave W. Beta-alanine supplementation, muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015 Jan;18(1):63-70. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000127. PMID: 25474013.

About The Author

Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing. 

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