If you’ve been using pre-workout for a while, you might notice that you’re not getting the same effects as when you first started using it. Or, maybe it’s your first time using pre-workout, and you’re disappointed that you don’t feel a boost in energy the way your training partner seems to.
So, what’s going on? Why doesn’t pre-workout affect you?
Pre-workout’s stimulating effects can diminish as you develop a caffeine tolerance. You’ll then require higher doses to feel the same effects. Other reasons include your pre-workout timing being off or not taking pre-workout consistently enough.
To help you figure out what’s going on, this article will troubleshoot why pre-workout might not affect you and what you can do about it.
- There are several lifestyle factors, such as lack of sleep or poor nutrition, that can influence how pre-workout feels.
- There are five easy steps to follow if your pre-workout isn’t working.
- But there is one thing you should NEVER do to try to make your pre-workout hit harder.
7 Reasons Your Pre-Workout Isn’t Working
Just because you don’t feel a rush or buzz from your pre-workout doesn’t necessarily mean it is not working. Many important pre-workout ingredients for performance, like creatine, do not produce physical sensations but can still improve endurance, strength, and power.
That said, if you have been relying on your pre-workout for a boost in energy and to reduce or delay fatigue, but you are not getting your usual buzz these days, there are several reasons why.
1. You’ve Built Up a Caffeine Tolerance
Your body can build up a tolerance to caffeine over time. Normally, caffeine works by blocking the receptors in your brain that tell you that you are getting tired. But, over time, your body will adapt to this by making more receptors, meaning you need more and more caffeine to feel the same effects.
When you work out, your body breaks down a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and releases adenosine. Adenosine signals to your brain that you are getting tired, but caffeine blocks the receptors for adenosine.
If you consume caffeine regularly, especially in high doses, your body will adapt by making more adenosine receptors. Your body is very smart this way — it’s important to know when your muscles and brain are getting tired to avoid pushing to the point of injury.
- Related Article: Caffeine Pills vs. Pre-Workout: Pros, Cons, & Which Is Best?
2. Your Dose Is Too Low
It’s possible that your dose is too small for you to feel the effects and get the benefits of pre-workout, especially for certain ingredients. Caffeine may not be high enough, and other common pre-workout ingredients like beta-alanine often don’t contain a clinically effective dose in one serving of pre-workout.
This would mean that someone weighing 70kg (154lbs) would need at least 210mg of caffeine, and someone heavier would need more. Not all pre-workout products provide this much.
Next, the amounts of other common ingredients in a serving of pre-workout are often less than the clinically effective dose.
If you’re not getting the minimum recommended doses of key ingredients, you likely won’t feel the full benefits of pre-workout.
- Related Article: Can You Take Pre-Workout Twice In One Day? (Risks Explained)
3. Your Timing Is Off
If you take your pre-workout too long before or too close to your workout, you might not feel its effects.
Most pre-workout formulas take about 30 minutes to kick in. If you take your pre-workout too soon (more than one hour before your workout), the main effects can wear off by the time you get through your warm-up and into the most intense part of your workout.
On the other hand, if you take your pre-workout immediately before your workout, your body might not have time to absorb the ingredients and start feeling the effects in time for you to feel a boost during your training session.
- Related Article: Why You Shouldn’t Drink Pre-Workout Without Working Out
4. You Don’t Take It Consistently
Your pre-workout might have a great list of ingredients in clinically effective doses, but if you are inconsistent with pre-workout use, you may not reap the full benefits of many of the ingredients.
For example, if you routinely forget to take pre-workout, you’re unlikely to experience the benefit of ingredients, like beta-alanine, that need to be taken consistently to reach saturation levels in your body.
- Related Article: Should You Cycle Off Pre-Workout? Everything You Need To Know
5. Your Nutrition Is Poor
Your body’s primary source of energy should be the macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) in the foods you eat. Specifically, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source for intense activities. Supplements like pre-workout are meant to supplement your regular intake and can’t make up for a bad diet.
If you’ve been dramatically undereating relative to your body’s calorie needs (perhaps because you are in a steep calorie deficit to lose weight or cut body fat quickly), you will eventually feel less energized even with pre-workout because your body isn’t getting the necessary fuel.
6. You Aren’t Sleeping Enough
Similar to a good diet, it’s important to get the right amount of good quality sleep to provide energy for your body and mind. If you regularly sleep poorly and/or struggle to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night, your pre-workout can’t provide this missing energy forever.
Sleep disruption can lead to decreased physical performance, alertness, and mood. These are all areas that pre-workout supplements can help with. But if you’re in a deep enough “sleep debt,” the supplements might not even help you get back to normal, let alone feel pumped up.
7. You Have a Gene That Metabolizes Caffeine Slowly
Finally, it’s possible that you have something called the CC genotype, an expression of a gene called CYP1A2. People with the CC genotype (about 10% of the population) metabolize caffeine very slowly and are unlikely to feel its effects. This means caffeine won’t boost their performance.
People with the CC genotype can drink a cup of coffee in the evening before bed and have no trouble falling asleep, whereas those with the AA genotype would be bouncing off the walls.
Consider a non-stim pre-workout instead, and check out my other tips below.
- Related Article: What To Do If You Can’t Fall Asleep After Taking Pre-Workout
What To Do If Your Pre-Workout Doesn’t Affect You
The good news is that if your pre-workout doesn’t affect you, there are several things you can try to “bring back that buzzing feeling.”
1. Check the Dose
Check the amounts of each ingredient in your pre-workout supplement to see if they meet the above guidelines. If your pre-workout provides too little (or too much) of any one ingredient, consider trying a different brand or using stand-alone supplements on the side to get the right dose.
2. Check Your Diet & Sleep
If your pre-workout dose is appropriate, consider whether you’ve also been giving your body the proper amount of sleep and nutrients to perform at its best. Track both your food intake and your sleep habits for a few days to see if you are eating and sleeping enough.
When eating for performance, we recommend a general guideline of one gram of protein per pound of body weight, two grams of carbs per pound of body weight (so that you have a 2:1 carbs to protein ratio), and 0.4-0.6g grams of fat per pound of body weight.
For sleep, we recommend aiming for at least 7-8 hours each night, with a consistent wake time and bedtime each day to help establish a healthy sleeping rhythm. Pick the time you need to wake up and work backward from that, including some time to wind down and actually fall asleep.
3. Cut Back on Caffeine
If you have several sources of caffeine per day, you’ve likely built up a tolerance for caffeine, so you don’t notice the effects of the caffeine in your pre-workout. If this is the case, scale back on other sources of caffeine to feel the “hit” when you really need it.
For a few days, track your usual caffeine intake so that you have a sense of what it is. Then, start looking for ways to cut back on caffeine other than during the pre-workout window when you really want it to work.
As you reduce your total caffeine intake, your body will become more sensitive to it again, allowing you to feel it when you need it for your workouts.
You can also use a stim-free pre-workout most of the time and save the pre-workout with caffeine for when you want an extra boost.
4. Change When You Take Pre-Workout
If necessary, change the timing of your pre-workout so that you can take it 30 minutes before your workout.
You might need to tweak this timing slightly depending on how long it takes you to absorb and feel the effects of the pre-workout and line it up with the most intense part of your training.
5. Set a Reminder To Take Pre-Workout
If you regularly forget to take your pre-workout, set a timer to go off 30 minutes before your workout (or however long before your workout you want to take it) so that you remember to take it.
If that’s not enough, you can also set a recurring calendar event or alarm on your phone. You can even write a note to yourself and put it on your water bottle or in your gym bag so that you get in the habit of taking your pre-workout consistently.
What NOT To Do If Your Pre-Workout Stops Working
If your pre-workout stops working, do NOT increase the dose in the hopes of getting the same feeling again. This could cause you to exceed the safe daily limit for caffeine (400mg/day), as well as the recommended limits for other ingredients. Also, do not resort to dangerous methods of consumption (e.g., dry scooping).
Some people mistakenly believe that dry scooping (taking pre-workout powder without mixing it with water first) will increase its potency and benefits. In reality, it’s a dangerous practice that can lead to choking and, in extreme cases, death.
Also, high doses of caffeine (>400mg per day) can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Be Immune To Pre-Workout?
No, you cannot be immune to pre-workout. But it is possible that you may not benefit from the stimulating effects of caffeine if you have the CC genotype that metabolizes caffeine very slowly. Similar cases have not been reported for other pre-workout ingredients, so you can still benefit from things like beta-alanine.
Can Pre-Workout Have the Opposite Effect?
Yes, a very small proportion of the population that has the CC genotype (they metabolize caffeine very slowly) can actually see worse performance when supplementing with caffeine. However, this doesn’t happen in all tests, and caffeine improves performance and mental focus for most people.
How Can You Make Pre-Workout Hit Harder?
The best ways to make pre-workout hit harder is to only use caffeinated formulas on an as-needed basis or for intense workouts and to limit caffeine intake the rest of your day so that you stay sensitive to it. You can benefit from the other pre-workout ingredients by taking a non-stim formula the rest of the time.
More Reading On Pre-Workout
- Is It Bad To Take Pre-Workout Every Day? (3 Drawbacks)
- Pre-Workout Sickness: How Common Is It, Causes, & How To Fix
- Why Is Pre-Workout So Expensive? And, Is The Cost Justified?
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.