Pre-workouts are seen as something of a gym essential when it comes to supplementation and taking two scoops before a workout is very common, even for a casual gym-goer.
Pre-workouts are developing at a rapid rate. In the past, a strong pre-workout would definitely get you psyched up for a workout but you’d also be likely to experience some unpleasant side effects like an increased heart rate or jitters/shakes.
Modern pre-workouts are making use of less stimulant-based ingredients and focusing more on the nootropic pre-workout ingredients which can improve focus without the side effects of a caffeine withdrawal.
The issue with this, however, is that there are still people who want that pre-workout kick or hit. It helps to amp you up for a big lift and personally, I think this is fine in moderation. When looking for this hit though, many people find their pre-workout not working or not having the desired effect…
What Is Pre-Workout Used For
Pre-workouts are a popular supplement that comes in different forms like powders and tablets. The ingredients in pre-workouts vary, but they usually contain some form of stimulant, like caffeine, as well as beta-alanine, and vitamins.
^^ This is important to note because a pre-workout is a stimulant and people respond differently to stimulants based on their own individual biological makeup. For simplicity, it’s the same as how some people have no effect from dairy whereas others will get gas/breakouts just looking at cheese!
After taking pre-workout you’re supposed to feel energized and ready to maximize your workout performance! But this isn’t always the case as sometimes pre-workouts don’t seem to have the same effect or any effect at all.
Many of us use pre-workouts and invest in these products, so knowing why they aren’t working and how to solve this problem is something I’m going to cover below.
Pre-Workout Not Working?
The most common reason pre-workout doesn’t work is if you’ve built up a tolerance to the ingredients, especially stimulants like caffeine. Pre-workout may also be less effective if you’re not using high-quality products, not timing taking it correctly, or not giving the product time to work.
I’ll explain each of these four reasons in more detail now, as well as what you can do to fix it so you feel your pre-workout again.
4 Reasons Why Pre-Workout Is Having No Effect
1. Tolerance to Pre-Workout
So the main reason people who consistently take pre-workouts experience a reduction in their effectiveness is because bodies build up a tolerance to the ingredients contained within pre-workouts over time. For the most part, it’s the stimulants, like caffeine, that your body becomes tolerant to but it can also happen with other ingredients like beta-alanine.
As you build up this tolerance to the ingredients, you will essentially become tolerant to pre-workouts.
This is physiological, involving the cells and nerves in your body becoming desensitized to the ingredients within the product. Whilst this tolerance will naturally vary from person to person, consistently using pre-workouts for 4-6 weeks builds up a tolerance within your body meaning the effectiveness of pre-workouts is dulled.
This is why you shouldn’t just keep increasing your dosages. Your body will just become tolerant to the higher doses and you could end up with serious side effects.
Some reading this might already be aware of the super potent Jack3d which faced lawsuits and FDA restrictions because some of the ingredients were leading to increased blood pressure and even heart attacks.
The good news is that there are solutions. The first option to stop your body from building up a tolerance is to take a break from pre-workouts so that your body’s sensitivity increases again. This is also known as cycling on and off a product.
Products will come with their own recommendations about how to do this and it does vary widely. But typically you’d want to take a week or two off every 4-8 weeks.
Although it might not seem like it, taking this break is worth it in the long run because it means your body is going to stay responsive to these ingredients, and that way you’ll still experience effects from using these products.
But, if you’re really against taking a complete break from pre-workouts then the second option is to temporarily change the product that you’re taking.
To do this you should look at the ingredients that are in the pre-workout that you’re currently using and find one with completely different ingredients. This way you’re not becoming tolerant to one specific pre-workout mix.
Again, you won’t experience reduced effects from temporarily changing the product that you’re using. If anything you’d expect to see a more receptive response by mixing things up and staying responsive to those ingredients.
It’s also worth mentioning that you might be getting some of these ingredients from sources other than pre-workouts. Caffeine is a great example. Drinks like coffee and tea, as well as foods like chocolate, contain caffeine. If you’re consuming lots of caffeine throughout the day then your body is becoming tolerant to it.
As a result, pre-workout just won’t hit you in the same way because your body is desensitized to caffeine. So it’s important to eliminate other sources of these ingredients, like opting for decaf coffee if you want to feel the full effect of pre-workouts.
2. Poor Product Quality
Unfortunately, there are poorer quality products on the market. Low-grade pre-workout products simply won’t have the same effect as higher-grade products because they don’t contain high-quality ingredients.
Also, while the amount of each ingredient is going to vary across the different products, lower-grade products often don’t contain high enough doses. As a result, you just don’t feel that the pre-workout is really working.
For pre-workout to be effective then you need to use a quality product that contains the right dosages of the compounds within it. To do this, I’d recommend checking out the reviews for these products.
Product websites are going to tell you how great these products are, but it’s a better idea to look at the customer reviews and see what other people have said about how the product has worked for them. There are tons of reviews online so finding a highly recommended product isn’t difficult.
3. When You Take the Pre-Workout
Timing when you take your pre-workout correctly is crucial for its effectiveness.
Often it’s recommended that you take pre-workout on an empty stomach so that the product quickly absorbs into your system. This means taking it first thing in the morning or several hours after a meal.
If you take it after a big meal then it isn’t going to absorb as quickly or as effectively. Your body will be prioritizing digesting the food and the pre-workout will be last in the queue for
So you should aim to take your pre-workout on an empty stomach 30-60 minutes before a workout. Check out this video which explains why you shouldn’t eat too close to a workout, as well as some other common pre-workout mistakes:
As a side note, not eating at all before a workout is not something I’d advise. Food is more essential for providing energy than a stimulant ever will be.
Therefore, you do need to eat before working out but when trying to juggle food with a pre-workout supplement, you’d be best eating a meal 2-3 hours before training and then taking your pre-workout 30 minutes prior to exercise to reap the most benefit.
4. Too High Expectations for the Pre-Workout
In using pre-workout products it’s important to have realistic expectations. Some ingredients like caffeine are felt quickly and wear off quickly. Other non-immediate ingredients like creatine are going to take longer to have a full and noticeable effect (if any at all).
It takes time to see the effects from using pre-workouts. So don’t have unrealistic expectations when using these products that you’re going to see changes overnight. It’s important to stick with them.
As mentioned earlier, pre-workouts are no way near as “stimulant-heavy” as they have been in prior years.
FDA and health organizations have really cracked down on pre-workout ingredients. It’s now more common to see people posting in Reddit or Facebook groups trying to get recommendations for stronger pre-workouts as they are either used to stronger ingredients from yesteryears or just have very high expectations for their pre-workouts.
For context, I’ll have 3 cups of coffee per day so I’m aware that my body is already quite desensitized to the effects of caffeine. I’ve tried to use a pre-workout a few times over the years (out of interest rather than necessity) and 2 scoops of all I tried had zero effect!
I had no increase in focus, didn’t feel pumped up, and… 2 scoops was more than the recommended 1. Fortunately, I like working out (it’s a hobby) so I never need to be psyched up to work out, but if I did need this to hit the gym, I’d be very disappointed with the effects I felt.
Basically, you need to understand that pre-workouts are a stimulant and not a magic energy source. If you’re already a regular caffeine consumer or have a pre-workout with low dosages for the stimulant ingredients, it’s best to test and not expect too much from the supplement.
Common Pre-Workout FAQs
While I’ve just rounded up some of the reasons why your pre-workout is having no effect, there are some other factors that you’ll want to take into consideration when it comes to supplementing with pre-workout and getting the most benefit in terms of efficacy.
Therefore, I’ve rounded up this quick list of common pre-workout FAQs.
Can You Become Immune to Pre-Workout
You can’t become immune to a pre-workout but depending on the pre-workout you take, type of ingredients, and dosages for each ingredient, It’s very much possible (and highly likely) that you’ll build up a tolerance to your pre-workout.
How Long Does Pre-Workout Take To Work
This will vary depending on the ingredients used and when you take them but for most pre-workouts taken on an empty stomach, you can expect to see their effects kick in within 30 – 45 minutes.
To use this in a practical sense, it’s always best to time your pre-workout consumption so that you don’t miss it taking effect. This means if you take it before leaving for the gym but then get stuck in traffic, it’s likely you’ll start to feel the effects while traveling and these could easily wear off by the time you start your workout.
The same is true for warm-up cardio or anything that could extend the time between taking your pre-workout and picking up a weight for your first set.
How to Make Pre-Workout Hit Harder
If you’ve purchased a potent or popular pre-workout, the ingredients alone should be enough to make it hit hard (if this is what you are looking for). If you need a pre-workout to hit harder though, there are a few things you can do:
- Consume pre-workout on an empty stomach to speed up absorption
- Take a pre-workout as close to your workout as possible (30 minutes before)
- Ensure you are fully hydrated
- Try a different pre-workout with different ingredients and dosages
- Reduce your pre-workout consumption. Consuming too much can have a negative effect and dampen your receptors
If your pre-workout is not working – or not working the way you expected or envisioned – chances are your expectations are too high. Yes, there are some strong pre-workouts on the market (which I won’t be naming) but a modern pre-workout due to regulation and ingredient choice is not very potent.
A high dose of caffeine or beta-alanine will definitely give you noticeable “effects” but it really depends on what you want your pre-workout to do. A built-up tolerance to the ingredients, poor quality ingredients, and even bad timing when it comes to consumption will all see your pre-workout fall flat.
Therefore, try to cycle through a few different pre-workout powders (requesting samples is always useful) to find one that you feel and keep in mind some of the other factors I’ve listed in this article as they could all be impacting the effectiveness of your pre-workout!
If you are looking to make changes to your physique by either losing body fat, building muscle or looking to maintain a lean physique then sign up to my weekly newsletter below. Each week I send out actionable tips to help you lose that extra 1lb of fat or build that extra 0.5lb of muscle mass on a weekly basis.
If you sign up now you’ll also receive my 28 day body recomp program completely Free. This ebook will be sent straight to your inbox and will provide an intense 28 day program aimed at helping you lose up to 8lbs of body fat whilst also building 2lb-4lb of lean muscle mass in just 4 weeks.
Don’t worry if you’re not ready for an intense program just yet, my weekly newsletter will give smaller tips that when implemented daily, will stack up over time and see you transform your body with seemingly minimal effort!