9 Reasons Why Your Pre-Workout Doesn't Work For You (& How To Fix It)

by Nader Qudimat
Updated June 13, 2023

Ever felt like you're hitting a brick wall with your pre-workout supplement?

It just doesn't seem to give that promised boost anymore.

Is it the supplement at fault or could it be something else?

Let's discuss why your pre-workout might not be working for you.

Why Pre-Workout Doesn't Work For You

Here's why your pre-workout might not work for you: Timing is key with pre-workouts, get it wrong and you're dialing down their power.

Don't overlook the silent effectors - hydration, dosage, sleep, nutrition - they can either be your pre-workouts best friends or worst enemies.

Lastly, manage your expectations; pre-workouts aren't superheroes, but they do give you an edge when used right.

(Read: Why pre-workout makes me feel tired?)

1. Improper Timing

How Timing Affects Absorption

Taking your pre workout at the wrong time can be a major factor in its ineffectiveness.

These supplements aren't instant power-ups; they need time to get absorbed into your system and start working.

Ideal Timing for Pre Workout Supplements

So when should you take your pre workout? Most experts suggest consuming it 20-30 minutes before starting your training session.

This allows the ingredients to be fully absorbed into your bloodstream and ready to kick in when you need them most.

2. Incorrect Dosage

The Effect of Overdosage and Underdosage

Getting your dosage wrong can also lead to ineffective pre-workouts.

Taking too little won't give you the desired results, while overdoing it can lead to side effects that may disrupt your workout.

How to Determine the Right Dosage

Dosages should be based on factors such as your weight, workout intensity, and personal tolerance. Always start with the recommended dosage on the supplement's label and adjust as needed.

3. Lack of Sleep

The Correlation Between Sleep and Performance

A lack of sleep can counteract the effects of your pre workout.

While pre workouts are designed to provide a boost, they can't fully compensate for a tired, unrested body.

Sleep Deprivation: An Unseen Adversary

Sleep is vital for muscle recovery and optimal athletic performance.

According to a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, sleep deprivation can significantly affect athletic performance, making your pre-workout seem less effective.

4. Poor Diet

A balanced, nutrient-rich diet is a key part of any fitness regimen.

Your pre workout supplement is meant to complement your diet, not substitute it.

Without proper nutrition, your pre workout might seem like it's not doing its job.

Check out our guide for multivitamins.

How Poor Diet Negates the Effects of Pre Workouts

If you're skimping on protein, complex carbs, or healthy fats, your energy levels and performance may be compromised, making your pre workout seem less effective.

According to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, a balanced diet plays a pivotal role in enhancing athletic performance.

5. Inadequate Hydration

The Importance of Hydration for Absorption

Hydration plays a key role in how your body processes and absorbs nutrients, including those found in pre-workout supplements.

If you're dehydrated, your body won't be able to fully utilize the pre-workout ingredients.

Dehydration: A Silent Performance Killer

Dehydration can also directly hamper your workout performance, making it seem as though your pre workout isn't working.

According to a review published in Sports Medicine, even mild dehydration can significantly impact athletic performance.

6. Setting Unrealistic Expections

Think your pre-workout is a magic pill for instant fitness glory?

Think again.

While it can give you an edge, it's not a golden ticket to immediate, earth-shattering gains.

Don't expect to become a super-athlete overnight simply by gulping down a pre-workout shake.

Remember, it's a booster, not a miracle worker.

Your efforts in training, nutrition, and rest are what truly count.

The pre-workout simply adds a little extra kick.

So, manage your expectations and give your pre-workout, and yourself, a fair shot at success.

7. Building Caffeine Tolerance

The most common cause of your pre-workout not working is your high tolerance to caffeine. 

Caffeine can increase energy by reducing the enzyme that makes you feel tired, and that's adenosine. 

That's why once you stop using caffeine, you'll feel tremendously tired. 

You may resort to increasing your serving size or finding a stronger pre-workout to try to experience the same effect.

Avoiding a tolerance build-up means you'll need to strategize when you take your pre-workout and how much of it. 

The Science Behind Building Tolerance

A study published in The Journal of Physiology explains how our bodies adapt to certain substances, resulting in decreased response.

This explains why the same dose of pre workout doesn't always deliver the same punch.

Your body has simply adapted to it.

8. You're Taking It On a Full Stomach

Trying to exercise while on a full stomach is difficult. 

If you're taking your pre-workout on a full stomach then the ingredients will take much longer to absorb. 

With an empty stomach, pre-workout will hit faster and harder and you'll be ensuring that you're absorbing as much as possible from your pre-workout. 

9. Your Pre Workout Is Underdosed 

Your pre-workout may contain effective ingredients that are dosed below their recommended dosages. 

Pre-workout ingredients should meet the minimum dosages for them to be effective. 

If they are not, you should go with another pre-workout with a full label.

Are Pre-Workouts Always Effective?

Pre-workouts generally always have an effect and they'll be effective. 

However, there are some ingredients that can build tolerance like stimulants such as caffeine. 

Limiting the number of times you use your pre-workout can help maximize its effects of it. 

So having one strong pre-workout for the hardest workouts and then having a weaker pre-workout for workouts that don't require high effort. 

Almost every supplement should be cycled every once in a while, whether it's done every 4 weeks or every 12 weeks depending on what it is. 

Generally, stimulants should be cycled or reduced for one week for every 4-8 weeks of usage. 

If it isn't an option, then use it when needed and at the minimum, the dose will keep your pre-workout effective. 

How Often Should You Use Pre-Workouts To Keep It Working?

The less frequently you use your pre-workout, the more effective it'll be. 

If you use it on a regular basis, it'll be much less effective. 

A cup of coffee may feel like it gives you energy but after a week or so of using it, it'll feel like you need much more coffee to feel its benefits again. 

So it's a good idea to either have two pre-workouts, one being something you can use almost on a daily basis while the other is a little stronger. 

Or you can use your pre-workout when you really need it, like once or twice a week while not using anything for the workouts. 

Will My Pre-Workout Keep Working?

If you use it as it was designed, then there's no reason why it wouldn't keep working.

To ensure your pre-workout keeps working, we recommend the following:

  • Multiple Pre-Workouts (if coffee isn't an option)
  • Recovery (don't try to workout at 100% effort all the time)
  • Magnesium (will help with better sleep and recovery)
  • Empty stomach (pre-workouts are made to be absorbed on an empty stomach)

If you're taking your pre-workout on a full stomach then the ingredients will take much longer to absorb. 

With an empty stomach, pre-workout will hit faster and harder and you'll be ensuring that you're absorbing as much as possible from your pre-workout. 

What Should I Do If My Pre-Workout Stops Working?

If your pre-workout stops working or at least it feels like it's losing effectiveness, consider taking a break.

Using your pre-workout less frequently may be hard so sometimes the only option may be to take a complete one to two weeks off from using pre-workouts.

If you want to avoid resorting to taking a break from your pre-workout then try using as minimal as possible. 

This may mean having an extra pre-workout where the stimulants are dosed much lower than what you would normally consume. 

If you wait too long after consuming your pre-workout to actually start working out, then it may be less effective. 

Your pre-workout will also hit much harder if it's on an empty stomach.

How to Ensure Pre-Workout Keeps Working? 

If you want to ensure your pre-workout keeps working, then make sure you recover and plan out your workouts. 

With a properly planned and structured program, you won't be pushing yourself beyond your limits all the time. 

And when you don't need to push yourself, try to take the bare minimum for a pre-workout or reduce the serving size. 

Here's what a pre-workout is suppose to feel like.

How Long Does It Take For My Pre-Workout To Work?

If you're using a stimulant-based pre-workout then it'll take 30-60 minutes to fully kick in.

If it's a non-stimulant, it'll still take 30-60 minutes but you may not feel the energy effects because it won't be as strong as a stimulant-based pre-workout. 

Stimulants in pre-workouts are generally what people feel the most, but just because you don't feel the effects of the other ingredients, doesn't mean it's not working. 

Some ingredients like beta-alanine or creatine, take weeks to fully saturate your muscles.

Why Non-Stimulant Pre-Workouts Are Not Working?

Non-stimulant pre-workouts do work but not in the same way that stimulant-based pre-workouts would.

The energy behind non-stimulant pre-workouts is subtle but is still beneficial for physical and mental performance. 

What to Look For In Pre-Workouts

Pre-workouts can have all the ingredients in the world, but if it doesn't have the proper clinical dosages, then it is as useful as a glass of water. 

The first sign of a pre-workout that isn't a good choice is it has a proprietary blend. 

This means that there are ingredients, or the entire blend is included under unknown dosages.

While the pre-workout can still be good, there isn't any reason why a company needs to hide dosages as the proper dosages are not a secret to the public. 

In fact, most pre-workouts contain ingredients that have been proven to be effective by scientific research.  


Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I take a pre-workout?

It depends on your workout routine and individual tolerance. Most people find it beneficial to take a pre-workout supplement before each intense workout session, but always listen to your body and avoid overdoing it.

What can I do if my pre-workout supplement isn’t working?

First, try to identify the issue. Are you taking it at the right time? Is your dosage correct? Are you well-hydrated and eating a balanced diet? If you've addressed these factors and still find your pre-workout ineffective, you might need to switch to a different product, or consider cycling off the supplement for a period to reset your tolerance.

How can I reset my tolerance to pre-workout supplements?

The most effective way to reset your tolerance is by taking a break from the supplement. This period, often referred to as a 'washout' phase, allows your body to eliminate any residual substance and reset. The length of the washout period can vary, but two weeks is commonly recommended.

Are there natural alternatives to pre workout supplements?

Yes, there are. Foods rich in protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats can provide a natural energy boost. Green tea or coffee can also be used due to their caffeine content. Beets, with their high nitrate content, can also enhance exercise performance.

What are the side effects of excessive pre-workout supplementation?

Overconsumption of pre-workouts can lead to side effects like jitteriness, insomnia, rapid heartbeat, and digestive issues. It's crucial to stick to recommended dosages and to listen to your body.

Is it possible to get addicted to pre-workout supplements?

Physical addiction to pre-workout supplements is unlikely. However, some people may develop a psychological dependence, where they feel they can't perform without the supplement. This is why it's important to remember that these supplements are aids, not necessities.

How does a proper diet enhance the effects of pre-workout supplements?

A proper diet ensures that your body has all the necessary nutrients for optimal performance and recovery. This allows your pre-workout to maximize on its effects. 

Final Words

There can be a number of reasons why a pre-workout wouldn't be effective or it may not work for you. 

Tolerance is one of the most common reasons, as a pre-workout may naturally be less effective the more you use it. 

Try ensuring you're getting proper recovery, good sleep, and then try using your pre-workout on an empty stomach. 

If it doesn't work as it once did or it simply isn't effective, try looking at other options like the ones found here. 

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by iron and cold steel, I'm Nader, a mid-30s natural bodybuilder. Once a 100lb skinny guy, I've transformed into a 200lb muscular athlete with over 15 years of lifting experience. Today, I leverage my transformation and extensive experience to guide countless individuals on their fitness journeys.

Click here to check out my 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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