Pre-Workout Not Working? (10 Reasons Why & What To Do)

By now any avid gym goer or fitness enthusiast has seen, heard of, or even tried a pre-workout supplement. Sometimes, though, we may not feel any effect from taking our pre-workout drink, and other times it may seem like they are working less effectively.

You start training to build muscle, lose fat, or improve overall well-being. You use pre-workout to help you reach these goals, but they may not always work.

If you fall into this category, we can help. There are plenty of reasons a supplement may not work to its full potential, and you can fix it. We will provide resources and cover the most common reasons for a no-output pre-workout.

There are many reasons why your pre-workout supplements may not be as effective or are no longer working. However, if you are new to taking these supplements, be aware that they can take time (several hours to several days) to show their effectiveness.

The supplement industry wants you to think these are immediate result products. However, blood flow, fully understanding dietary supplements and recommended dosages, your overall health, and more will determine how fast they work.

So subsequent uses, caffeine levels, and other factors matter but not as much as supplement companies want you to believe.

Non-stim formulas don’t have the caffeine included to give you that instant energy boost. Creatine and amino acids can take up to 3 weeks of loading to be effective. Assuming you are past all this, though, let’s discover why your pre-workout is falling behind.

Pre-Workout Not Working Effectively

1. The Ingredients Are Not Right For You

Sometimes the answer is as simple as the ingredients don't agree with you. This can be as simple as you are hyposensitive to caffeine or stimulants and don't feel their effects.[1]

Other times you will find that the amount of certain vitamins, amino acids, creatine, or proteins isn't high enough for your needs.

Make sure you check the label and look at the amounts for the listed ingredients. They should match what your body requires and the levels you are expecting or used to.

2. Incorrect Pre-Workout Measurements/Dosage

Another factor can be that you are adjusting to a new brand or formula. Frequently when starting out with a new pre-workout brand, the recommended dose is too much. So you cut it in half or even in fourths, taking less than a full scoop.

Once your body adjusts to the new supplement and its effects, you slowly raise your dose until you are getting the serving suggestion each day. If this fits your situation, you can move up to the next dose level and see if the effects kick in more readily for your next workout.

Learn About - What Happens If You Take Too Much Pre-Workout? (What To Do)

3. Your Taking Pre-Workouts Too Early or Too Late

A pre-workout formula needs time to work. In most cases, this is about 30 minutes, but it can take up to an hour for the full effect to kick in. If you take your pre-workout at the gym right as you are starting your first rep, you will be most of the way through your workout before it has time to react.

Likewise, you can take it too early, and the effects have begun to wear off before you get to the gym and change clothes. You want to time it so you take your supplement between 25 and 45 minutes before you start your exercise performance.

4. Overuse Of Pre-Workout Supplements

It is easy to overuse a pre-workout, especially when you do feel the effects and become used to those tingly feelings or the extra endurance push you get.

While there aren't any addictive properties, you can become dependent on the feelings the ingredients give you.

If you take too much, you do risk caffeine overdose, niacin overdose, and increased tolerance to the ingredients.[2]

At this point, cycling off from the pre-workout to allow your system to flush itself and lower its natural tolerance are the only ways to return to normal.

You can also overuse the individual ingredients. For example, a high dosage of caffeine from energy drinks or amino acids in other dietary supplements can lead to the skin-crawling effect of beta-alanine while you attempt to improve performance output.

Related Article - Is Pre-Workout Addictive? (What It Is and How It Can Happen)

5. Poor Product Quality

These supplements aren't cheap, and while they can last about a month, you may look for other ways to save money. Buying inferior products or brands that are cheaper may result in you getting lower quantities than you expect or a lower quality than desired.

When you suspect your pre-workout brand isn't living up to its promises, it is best to swap to a more reputable brand and see if there is any change.

Different pre-workout products, even with the very same dose, how much caffeine you receive or how the ingredients have the same effect will all vary.

6. Taking Them On An Empty Stomach

If you take a high-quality pre-workout on an empty stomach, you will feel its effects., Typically much faster and stronger than you would otherwise. 

However, because the absorption rate is higher and the metabolism rate is more immediate, it can work through your system before you finish your first set.

While the supplements technically did work, you may simply burn through them faster than you should. Adding a small snack or light meal before taking your pre-workout will usually fix the issue.

7. Built-Up Tolerance Levels

Those that drink a lot of coffee may find that the caffeine levels don't give them a rush. Or your tolerance levels for the amino acids, phosphocreatine, and other ingredients are higher than the dose taken.

In this case, you will want to flush your system of all supplements by not taking anything for 4 to 7 days, letting your body use and discard what is there, and allowing your tolerance levels to drop again.

You may also consider limiting your caffeine intake levels during this flushing period as well.

Improved caffeine sensitivity can make some pre-workouts seem more effective. However, as your tolerance levels increase, even the very same product can feel like it is working faster, or even not at all. Most guys will panic; others will find an alternative solution.

8. Drink Less Water With Them

Powder mixes, protein powder, and other supplements all need more water to help them work properly and move throughout your bloodstream. If you don't drink plenty of water, not only do you risk becoming dehydrated, but you also may miss out on your proper supplement levels.

Even if you are moderately dehydrated, the food you eat can replenish your body water levels. If you sweat due to working muscles during high-intensity workouts, it can quickly turn to major dehydration.

9. Poor Nutrition Choices

A good diet is crucial to any weight loss or exercise program. Eating right and eating healthy help the high-quality products in your pre-workout supplement work correctly.

You need the additional amino acids, carbohydrates, and minerals from your diet to ensure proper usage and delivery of the ones in your powder mix.

The base energy levels come from a proper diet. From the good pump you get with vasodilators to building muscle, and to reach your fitness goals.

10. You’re Already Sleep Deprived

One of the biggest reasons people complain that their pre-workout isn’t working is that they remain tired or can’t fully wake up. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it won’t matter how much food or caffeine you ingest.[3] Make sure you are getting 6 to 8 solid hours of sleep every night.

Sleep deprivation goes against all weight training expectations. Energy drain caused by poor diet can lead to a lot of problems. You can increase fat stores, feel bloated and even avoid eating just because you feel tired.

Sleep Deprived man trying to work out

What To Do When Pre-Workout Stops Working

Everyone gets to a point, from time to time, when your pre-workout just isn’t cutting it. You may even start to feel terrible. Once you understand the possible reasons, you can take action.

Take Some Time Off From Using Supplements

The most common reason is improper cycling of your pre-workout ingredients. Like all things, your body needs to build up proper levels and then use those levels to perform the desired action. Creatine, for example, needs about 5g per day every day for 3 or 4 weeks to build up in your muscle fibers and bloodstream.

You then must avoid the supplement for about a week to let those built-up stores work their way out of your system before you reload.

If you don't cycle your pre-workout supplement (including whey protein, amino acids, and other ingredients), you can end up with an upset stomach, water retention, increased heart rate even when resting, insomnia, and much more.

To minimize these issues and to ensure your pre-workouts continue to offer benefits to you, only take it on days you actually work out and take a full week (or more) off to let your body re-calibrate.

Learn More About - How To Cycle Pre-Workout (Is It Necessary & How Often)

Change the Brands and Dosage You’re Taking

If your pre-workout supplement isn't working anymore, another answer is to change your pre-workout formula. If you have been using the same brand, flavor, and type for several months, your body has begun to plateau on its effects. Basically, you are used to it, and it loses its effectiveness.

Change the brand, dosage, flavor, or type of pre-workouts for a few weeks and see what happens.

You can even swap to a non-stimulant brand every couple of weeks and change your caffeine intake levels. The different ingredients will keep your body guessing and limit these plateaus.

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How To Make Your Pre-Workout Work All The Time?

Unfortunately, you cannot force pre-workouts to work. Each individual will be different in what their health and bodies can handle or tolerate and how individual ingredients, vitamins, minerals, and other supplements will affect them.

Once you find a brand or formula that does work, the best thing you can do is to properly cycle it. This means using it on workout days as instructed and for up to 6 or 8 weeks only.

Then you want to refrain from using a pre-workout at all for up to 3 weeks to allow your body to reset. After the reset phase, you can begin taking it again to maintain the effects and benefits pre-workouts can offer.

Woman training after taking effective pre-workout

Common Pre-Workout Not Working Questions

How long does pre-workout take to kick in?

Typically you can feel the tingles from niacin and beta-alanine in about 15 minutes and the energy boost from the caffeine in 30 to 45 minutes. Optimal start time for your workout is about 30 to 45 minutes after taking your pre-workout.

How to make pre-workout hit harder?

If you need your pre-workout to hit harder or give you more jitters and tingles, then you can try taking it on an empty stomach. Make sure you are fully hydrated so it absorbs faster, and take more days off so your body doesn't grow accustomed to the intake levels.

Why do C4 pre-workout supplements not work for some people?

Some people that take Cellucor C4 (one of the most popular brands) find that it doesn't seem to work for them. This can be for many reasons, but the most common reason is that they have switched from a more aggressive brand (like Woke AF or Hyde Nightmare) that has more niacin and more caffeine than C4, so the effects aren't felt as much.

Do pre-workout supplements work for everyone?

Not everyone will benefit from a pre-workout. Aside from the energy boost from caffeine, the other ingredients need time to build up or require high-intensity workouts to be effective as you build a tolerance. Otherwise, you may just be wasting your time (and money) to get the same effects a cup of coffee will give you.

When is it time to give up taking pre-workouts?

If you are not getting the results and energy boost you expected, or you are one of the few that simply won't tolerate a pre-workout, it is time to give it up. All is not lost, though, as there are natural ways to achieve the same effects simply by altering your diet or habits.


Conclusion

There are plenty of reasons why your pre-workouts may not be working as expected. As we have covered the most common examples here, you should have a better idea of where you fall.

There are solutions, but the simplest is to stop taking pre-workout supplements for a few weeks or to change to a higher quality brand with better ingredients.

Sometimes the solution is simple. Other times it will take some thought and reasoning. Regardless of how, there is always a solution. Don't let one little part of your workout routine derail the rest of your fitness journey goals.

References:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4242593/
2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1186/s12970-014-0040-0
3. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/apm/2017/1364387/

Last Updated on September 30, 2022