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? 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.
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Should You Cycle Pre-Workout? (Why Is It Important?)
Before we get too heavy into the debate, it should be noted that here at Garage Gym Pro, we are all for cycling your pre-workout and other supplements. That being said, we also know it isn’t mandatory.
Some people are against caffeine cycling at all and will say things like, "I've been taking pre-workout supplements every day for 10 years with no side effects." The problem is, you aren't them. It also needs to be stated that a pre-workout itself isn't required.
Learn More About: How Much Caffeine Is In Pre-Workout? (Guide For Top Brands)
You can get the same effect with a healthy diet, decent sleep, and a cup of coffee. Pre-workouts have their place, and the ingredients the best pre-workout formulas contain will benefit you throughout your workout routine.
You can train harder, perform harder, and do extra reps all without a pre-workout, but they do make it easier in the long run.
The main issue with not cycling is tolerance levels. Caffeine, your energy drink, and creatine are the main culprits, and the non-cyclers will tell you it doesn't make a difference if you caffeine cycle or not, and you will only lose out on days you don't take the supplements.
To an extent, that is true. If you take pre-workout supplements daily, the creatine will still produce ATP and carry it and hydration to your muscles. It will still aid in recovery and help you lift more for longer.
The caffeine will still increase heart rate, give you mental focus and everything that happens inside your body will still happen.
The catch is you won't feel it, similar to taking a caffeine-free pre-workout supplement.
This is where it becomes important. If you don't feel the ergogenic effects as much, your brain doesn't seem as focused, or you don't appear to have the energy to do one more rep, then you either stop or take a higher dose of the supplement.
Feeling is everything, and cycling your pre-workout will help your tolerance levels stay low, so you don't have to alter the doses or timing of your supplementation.
If you notice that your pre-workout effects are drastically reduced and you are still taking the same one cup or adequate amount of the supplement, it may be time to start caffeine cycling.
How To Cycle Off Pre-Workout Supplements
The short, easy answer to cycle off a pre-workout is to stop taking it. That’s it. You take a supplement on a regular schedule, which is known as the “on cycle.” When you stop taking the supplement for an extended period, that is the “off cycle.”
The key is knowing what to cycle on and off and when. We cover this further below in greater detail. For those checking their watches and wanting to get on with it, here is what you need to know.
A pre-workout supplement contains four major elements: caffeine (or other stimulants), creatine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and vitamins. The amino acids and vitamins shouldn't be cycled as often as caffeine and creatine, as they need to build up in your body to be the most effective.
Note that this includes pre-workout formulas that use green tea extract, taurine, and other stimulants (some of which are also found in your energy drinks).
For cycling on, you take pre-workout supplements 30 minutes before you hit the gym and on the days you work out. You should do this for 3 to 4 weeks. This is when the ingredients build up and begin to work, you will notice the performance benefits, and your athletic performance will increase.
After the on cycle is complete, you need to off cycle. This will take between 7 and 14 days and depends on the number of supplements you are taking and any weaning you need to do to prevent caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
In short, though, 4 weeks on and up to 2 weeks off, and then you start the cycle over again. Sports scientists, health officials, and other professionals suggest a 4, 6, or 8-week program, but you can find the one that works best for you.
Learn More - Creatine Vs Pre-Workout (What's The Difference?)
When Is It Best To Cycle Off Pre-Workout(+ For How Long)
One of the best 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 runs a normal intake of a pre-workout every workout day for three weeks. Week 4 is a weaning week, where you begin to cut your caffeine and creatine levels in half each day until you reach the end of the week. This weaning is not required but helps avoid the "cold turkey" withdrawal symptoms.
Weeks 5 and 6 are caffeine and creatine free allowing your body to adjust to lower caffeine levels while also flushing the creatine from your system so the muscles can open for new stores. Once you are done with the 6th week, you start all over again.
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 weaned off.
If you are worried about sleep habits, you can stop consuming caffeine in the afternoon, start late-night workout sessions to help you become more tired before bed, and ensure you get a good night's sleep.
Learn More - Does Pre-Workout Disrupt Your Sleep?
Check Your Supplement Lists
Before you can properly cycle, 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.
If you have existing health issues or concerns, you should always check with your doctor before starting any supplement program.
This will help you determine if you need to cycle the entire list or only parts of it. The weaning week will also require you to cut certain amounts (like caffeine) more drastically than others, so by the end of the week, you are near zero intake for them all. This also lowers your overall tolerance levels.
Chronic consumption of caffeine can cause jitters, trigger your adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline, and trigger your fight or flight response. While this can sometimes help with your training sessions, the extra boost to your central nervous system may not be well received.
High blood pressure is a side effect of these energy boost ingredients, and even beta-alanine, vitamin C, and caffeine withdrawals can be noticed physically.
Learn More - Can You Get Rid Of Pre-Workout Jitters?
Know What To Cycle Off And On
The most common cycle ingredients are caffeine and creatine. Non-essential amino acids and some vitamins are also recommended to cycle on and off. However, B vitamins, Vitamin D, and essential amino acids should not be off-cycled.
For those worried about how to maintain these supplements, you can eat a healthy diet that contains everything you need, or you can supplement individually during the off-cycle weeks.
The caffeine content in your morning cup of coffee may not have as many stimulants as your pre-workout, but it will keep withdrawals to a minimum and help you increase endurance and reduce fatigue until your off weeks are over.
As we mentioned earlier, knowing how your body reacts to caffeinated beverages, even for a brief period such as an off week, you can maintain the benefits and get the same effects.
Regardless of what your favorite pre-workout supplements may contain, a cup of black coffee and some creatine supplementation can increase blood flow, raise energy levels and push your training levels until you start your pre-workout again.
Side Effects and Safety
Without a doubt, the biggest change and side effect danger is from cycling creatine and, more importantly, 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.
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.
While it is recommended that you cycle caffeine off completely during the off weeks, you can 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.
When you cycle creatine, you won't lose the improved muscle recovery, as it will force your body to produce more ATP naturally. Your body's usual response to high-intensity training will kick in to keep you healthy, motivated, and moving.
The high boost energy levels from a high caffeine tolerance, though, is not something you should seek out from your sports supplements.
The other major factors to watch for are muscle fatigue, lower exercise endurance levels, and a plateau in muscle mass gains. However, most pre-workout supplements rely on caffeine intake to give you that adrenaline rush.
You can have your adrenal glands begin to function at higher levels with a high-intensity workout, though cycling is still highly recommended.
Find Out More - Pre-Workout Side Effects (How To Reduce Them)
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 benefits and side effects of cycling and help you work out a plan of action that will fit your lifestyle and expectations without causing risk to your health.
Related Article - Pros And Cons Of Using Pre-Workout Supplements
Things That Should Be Avoided When In Pre-Workout Cycles
While you are on an off-cycle, 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. Avoid stopping your workouts just because you aren't taking pre-workout supplements.
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.
You also want to avoid messing with your sleep schedule. Ensure you are getting enough restful sleep (6 to 8 hours at least) every night to help your body flush the supplements and recover from your daily workouts.
Frequently Asked Pre-Workout Cycling Questions
What other workout supplements need to be cycled?
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.
Learn More - Fat Burners Vs Pre-Workout (How They Differ?)
What supplements require you not to cycle them?
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.
What happens if I choose to skip cycling off pre-workout?
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.
What can I replace pre-workouts with?
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.
Learn More - List Of Pre-Workout Alternatives You Should Try
Whether you supplement to gain a boost of energy or to ensure you get the levels you need of a particular compound, cycling is important. While it isn't required to maintain peak physical health or conditioning, you can grow tolerant of the feelings and effects of the supplements.
Cycling on and off will help you maintain a lower tolerance, so your supplements will work as expected without you having to resort to dangerous levels just to feel them working.
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Last Updated on February 20, 2023