One of the hottest debates around the world of weight lifting right now is "should you cycle your pre-workout?" There is evidence to support both sides of the argument, and we are here to help you settle the battle for yourself.
Should you cycle your pre-workout supplements? That answer will depend on several factors we cover in the review below.
We will not only look at if you should cycle, but which ingredients can benefit, how long you should cycle, and answer your questions along the way.
- Should You Cycle Pre-Workout?
- How To Cycle Off Pre-Workout Supplements
- What Is The Best Way To Cycle Pre-Workout?
- Will There Be Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms?
- Can You Take Pre-Workout Every Day?
- What Happens If You Don't Cycle Off Pre-Workout?
- Things That Should Be Avoided When In Pre-Workout Cycles
- Frequently Asked Pre-Workout Cycling Questions
Should You Cycle Pre-Workout?
Yes, you should probably cycle pre-workout supplements because it could help prevent building a tolerance to stimulants like caffeine and help you maintain the known “adrenaline rush” effect you get from it.
In other words, cycling pre-workout supplements is often recommended to help avoid a plateau in the stimulatory effects, and we’re all for it here at GGP.
Many pre-workout supplements contain caffeine and other ingredients and stimulants that your body may grow accustomed to over time. So by taking a pre-workout break, you can reset your body's response to stimulants, give those adenosine receptors a break, and, once again, experience the performance benefits that pre-workouts provide.
This approach could potentially lead to higher-intensity workouts focused on both short-term and long-term gains.
But at the same time - you don’t necessarily need to cycle a pre-workout, and there are people that have been taking pre-workout everyday for years and are still going strong, but more on that later.
Short-Term Reasons Why You Should Cycle A Pre-workout
Many can agree that the main reason for a pre-workout cycle is caffeine tolerance. As mentioned, cycling pre-workout (or better yet, caffeine cycling) helps prevent building a tolerance to said stimulant.
But how can that happen so quickly?
Well, we’re already exposed to a ton of caffeine from coffee, energy drinks, and other caffeinated beverages, so it’s easy to overload on this stimulant during the day. In doing so, we’re effectively dulling the effects caffeine has on us.
And, while it might seem easy to just “up the dose” in order to keep “feeling it” - that’s not a good option for a myriad of reasons.
Instead, you should simply take a break from caffeine and cycle your pre-workout supplement.
If you do, you can ensure that you continue to experience the boost in energy and focus that caffeine provides. Without it, you’re quite likely to realize you need increasing amounts of pre-workout supplements to achieve the same effect to the detriment of your overall health.
Long-Term Reasons Why You Should Cycle A Pre-workout
While many can agree that avoiding building up caffeine tolerance and potential dependence is a good enough long-term reason (which we agree it is) for a pre-workout break - some folks also like to add to that pile.
In fact, many claim that, in addition to caffeine cycling, you need to cycle pre-workouts because of creatine - a common pre-workout ingredient.
Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a load of malarkey. Contrary to some beliefs, cycling creatine, which is found in many pre-workout supplements is absolutely unnecessary.
It’s quite the opposite, actually.
Prolonged and continuous use of creatine helps maintain muscle saturation and improve athletic performance, and unless you maintain that saturation - the effects dwindle.
Also, consuming creatine while you're not consuming coffee will help boost energy, increase strength and endurance, increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to the muscles, and even speed-up recovery.
And no, you shouldn’t worry about your natural levels of creatine production plummeting because there’s not a shred of evidence suggesting that exogenous creatine supplementation has any effect on the enzymatic system that regulates creatine production.
Similarly, if you’re worried about the adverse effects of creatine on your liver and kidneys - you shouldn’t be. As long as you’re taking a recommended daily dose of 3-5 grams and you’re a healthy adult, your organs will be more than fine.
Similarly, beta-alanine, another common ingredient in pre-workouts, saturates your muscles over time. In fact, beta-alanine, despite its sky-high popularity, is, in reality, only efficient if supplemented regularly (6.4 g per day for 28 days).
In summation, both short and long-term reasons for cycling most pre-workout supplements ultimately boil down to avoiding caffeine tolerance.
Related Article - Pre-Workout Vs Energy Drinks
How To Cycle Off Pre-Workout Supplements
Since a pre-workout supplement contains caffeine (or other stimulants), to cycle off them, you’ll want to gradually reduce the dosage over a week (or two), then take a complete break for a set period.
During this break, stay away from all sorts of stimulants, not just caffeine, and shift your focus towards natural energy boosters like a healthy diet and proper hydration.
Now, while this does appear to be “easier said than done”, it actually doesn't have to be a challenging process.
As said, the key is a gradual reduction rather than going cold turkey, which can cause withdrawal symptoms, especially if you're accustomed to caffeine-ridden pre-workouts.
What you do is start by cutting your usual pre-workout dose in half for a few days, then reduce it even further. At the same time, you should also lower the caffeine intake from other sources, such as coffee, and by the end of the week, you should be ready to take a complete break.
How long this break lasts depends on various factors, like your body's response and your specific goals, but also on the exact cycle you intend to follow.
Here’s the deal, though. During the break, you don’t have to completely give up on the benefits of a pre-workout. You can switch to stim-free, caffeine-free pre-workout options that still provide other ingredients and nutrients to support your workouts.
Not to mention, paying attention to a healthy diet, staying well-hydrated, and ensuring proper sleep can aid in maintaining energy levels without relying on stimulant-based pre-workouts.
Learn More - Creatine Vs Pre-Workout
What Is The Best Way To Cycle Pre-Workout?
One of the best pre-workout cycles out there is a 6-week cycle rotation. There are 4-week and 8-week options as well, but most avid gym goers find the 6-week option works best. You can adjust it to fit your needs as well.
Essentially a 6-week cycle means you take a pre-workout every workout day for three weeks. Week 4 is a weaning week, where you begin to cut your caffeine levels in half each day until you reach the end of the week.
This weaning is not required but, as we mentioned earlier, it helps avoid the "cold turkey" withdrawal symptoms.
The cold turkey method isn’t recommended for those that take performance pre-workout supplements. These contain much more caffeine and stimulants and may have additional dietary supplement ingredients that can cause some major withdrawal symptoms if you aren’t easing off.
Weeks 5 and 6 are caffeine and creatine free allowing your body to adjust to lower caffeine levels. Once you are done with the 6th week, you start all over again.
Learn More - Does Pre-Workout Disrupt Your Sleep?
Check Your Supplement Lists
Before you can properly cycle on and off your supplements, you need to know what you are taking and how much. You need to check your pre-workout supplements labels and find out exactly what supplements you are taking and in what doses to get the performance benefits.
To ensure proper steps, or if you have existing health issues or concerns, you should always check with your doctor before starting (or ceasing) any supplement program.
A doctor will help you determine if you need certain supplements in the first place but also if you need to cycle the entire stack or just stick to caffeine cycling to let your adrenal glands begin to recover.
Learn More - Can You Get Rid Of Pre-Workout Jitters?
Know What To Cycle Off And On
Knowing what to cycle off and on will prevent you from doing futile stuff and hindering your progress.
What we mean is, some claim that you need to cycle on and off things like creatine, non-essential amino acids and some vitamins , but that's just plain wrong.
The only notable cycle ingredients are caffeine and similar simulants. Other pre-workout supplement ingredients, such as, B vitamins, Vitamin D, and nitric oxide boosters, amino acids should not be cycled.
In fact, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, an essential macronutrient, so don't listen to that kind of stuff. Whether people are talking about cycling essential amino acids, non-essential amino acids, branched-chain amino acids, or all of the above - don't take any health or fitness advice from them.
So, no, you don't need to cycle creatine or proteins if you'd like to experience faster gains and improved muscle recovery. Just stop consuming caffeine for a while once every few weeks, and you'll be alright.
Side Effects And Safety
Without a doubt, the biggest change and side effect danger comes from cycling caffeine. You can become dependent on the stimulant, and withdrawal symptoms can be harsh. Headaches, nausea, upset stomach, and even cramping are common withdrawal side effects of pre-workout.
Weaning your dosage will help mitigate the side effects, and you should increase your water consumption during this time to fight off dehydration, which makes the symptoms even worse.
Now, while it is recommended (and we did say) that you cycle caffeine off completely during the off weeks, you may still have a morning cup of coffee or tea, if needed.
The main idea is to drop back to your “normal” levels before you were taking pre-workouts and avoid the high-boost energy levels from a high-caffeine pre-workout dose.
You should always talk to your doctor or healthcare providers before starting any supplement regimen. Ensure that you are healthy enough for the supplements, are at low risk for renal complications and heart complications, and are mentally stable enough to continue on with the regimen.
Your doctor can also talk to you about the pros and cons of pre-workout cycling and help you work out a plan of action that will fit your lifestyle and expectations without causing risk to your health.
Will There Be Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms?
Body's usual response when you stop consuming caffeine because you're hopping on a caffeine cycle is grogginess and tiredness, alongside a few other symptoms. So if you're worried about caffeine withdrawal symptoms - you don't really have to be.
In some individuals they may be more pronounced, but for most, they're usually mild and short-lived (2 to 9 days), and can be managed by eating a healthy diet that contains everything you need to stay energetic and focused, even during those late night workout sessions.
One thing to note is that, while the caffeine content in your morning cup of coffee does not have as many stimulating properties as your pre-workout - it could help keep caffeine withdrawal symptoms to a minimum and help you increase endurance and reduce fatigue until your off weeks are over, so maybe try and do that, too.
Can You Take Pre-Workout Every Day?
While not advisable, you can take pre-workout every day, even if you’re not working out, provided you monitor caffeine intake and follow proper dosage guidelines.
If your pre-workout supplement contains a ton of caffeine, be watchful for signs of tolerance and consider taking a caffeine-free pre-workout supplement. While possible, consuming most pre-workout supplements every day is not only unnecessary but also potentially detrimental, so be wise.
If you feel like you need a pick-me-up for your daily tasks, do a half-scoop or try one of the alternatives we talked about and see how that feels.
What Happens If You Don't Cycle Off Pre-Workout?
If you don't cycle off pre-workout, you will likely build a tolerance to its stimulant effects, particularly caffeine, diminishing the performance benefits over time.
At the same time, chronic consumption of large doses of caffeine over an extended period of time will not only fatigue your adrenal glands but could lead to high blood pressure, central nervous system impairments, and ultimately caffeine dependence.
What can, and likely will, happen at that point is you will seek out higher doses of caffeine or look for more potent pre-workout supplements, potentially entering the realm of banned substances such as DMAA.
At the same time, if you’re someone that relies on a properly formulated stim-free pre-workout supplement, what will happen is you’ll get to experience both physical and mental boosts on a daily basis without any long-term adverse effects.
Things That Should Be Avoided When In Pre-Workout Cycles
While you are on an off-cycle and you stop consuming caffeine, there are things you should continue to do and things you should avoid completely.
For starters, the off cycle is not downtime. You still need to go through with your gym routines and workouts and complete them as you usually would - even if it means getting those late-night workout sessions in.
Avoid stopping your workouts just because you aren't taking pre-workout supplements and you don't feel the "adrenaline rush".
You also need to avoid junk food. Cheat days once in a while are great, but the holiday from your supplements is not an invitation to give in to the cravings.
Stay the course with your healthy diet, and keep driving past those fast food restaurants. Otherwise, you're risking gaining weight and messing up your overall progress.
Finally, you also want to avoid messing with your sleep schedule if you want to maintain muscle mass. Ensure you are getting enough restful sleep (7 to 9 hours ideally) every night to help your body flush the supplements and recover from your daily workouts.
Related Article - Best Pre-Workout Alternatives
Frequently Asked Pre-Workout Cycling Questions
There are other daily supplements that you should consider cycling as well. Thermogenic fat burners top that list. Chronic use can raise your tolerance, and the metabolism upticks you get at first will wear off or slow down over time. You should also consider cycling sleep aids like melatonin as well as testosterone boosters. If you supplement with it (with rare exceptions like iron and B vitamins), it should be cycled.
All supplements you take can do wonders with an off cycle. While some like caffeine can use more cycling, everything put into your body should have a chance to clear out. Your body needs a break, and cycling allows it to return to a more normal homeostasis. When you start your on cycle again, the effects and feelings that are so important are felt even more.
If you decide not to cycle off your supplements, there isn’t much that will happen. You don’t have to worry about limbs falling off or your heart exploding out of your chest. Many fitness enthusiasts don’t cycle off their supplements, and others don’t take any at all. If you miss an off cycle, just continue on until you reach the next one.
The best thing to replace your pre-workout during an off cycle is with healthy foods. You want high carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins. Lots of green vegetables and fruits will help you maintain vitamins and minerals as well as amino acids and energy.
You can take pre-workout 5 days a week as long as you are using a well-dosed, well-formulated pre-workout supplement without overly high doses of stimulants. As long as you adhere to caffeine cycling later on, you shouldn't build up a tolerance to a point where pre-workout supplements become useless.
Whether you take pre-workouts to gain a boost of energy or to ensure you stay laser-focused while lifting - caffeine cycling is important.
While it isn't required to maintain peak physical health or conditioning, as we learned - you can grow tolerant of the feelings and effects of the pre-workout stimulants.
Therefore, cycling on and off will help you maintain a lower tolerance, so your pre-workout supplements will work as expected without you having to resort to dangerous levels just to feel them working.