Why your pre-workout is not working

Is your pre-workout less effective than when you first started using it? Perhaps it has never worked for you? Do you consider yourself to be immune to your supplement?

If you’re not getting the benefits that your supplement promises to offer, there might be an issue with the way you’re taking it. Here are some ways to get the most out of your pre-workout.

Why Your Pre-Workout May Not Work

Check The Ingredients

Many people choose a pre-workout based on superficial aspects. They might like the container’s appearance, or they may like the manufacturer’s claims. Perhaps they’ve seen an athlete or influencer promoting it on social media.

The probe with choosing any supplement this way is that you might overlook the most important factor. This is the ingredients list.

Any supplement that you choose should contain ingredients backed by scientific studies. They should be known to improve performance.

caffeine formula

For example, a common ingredient found in pre-workouts is creatine. This nutrient has been studied for years. It is proven to improve muscle strength and size in athletes. Some of the key ingredients to look for are:

  • Caffeine
  • Creatine
  • Beta-alanine
  • L-Citrulline

The ingredients in your pre-workout should be specified on the label. If it just says “proprietary blend” then you have no way of knowing what’s actually in there.

Proprietary blends are a shady way to avoid going the exact amounts of each ingredient in a supplement. This can make it hard to know what you’re consuming when taking a pre-workout drink.


How are you measuring out your pre-workout powder? Do you use a measuring scoop or guess?

creatine powder

If you’re not measuring your pre-workout with any precision, it might be time to start measuring your dose properly. This will help you ensure that you have the correct amount of ingredients in a serving.

It may be easy to assume you’re getting a lot of caffeine with your pre-workout serving size but it may not be the case. Or you could be getting too much which may cause you to feel anxious or jittery.

Bad Nutrition

Proper nutrition is crucial, as it can impact the effectiveness of pre-workout supplements. Insufficient intake of vitamins and macronutrients can decrease energy levels and supplement efficacy.

Adequate consumption of carbs, amino acids, and protein is necessary to generate sufficient energy, and no amount of caffeine or energy drinks can compensate for their absence.


The quantity of water intake before and during exercise has a direct impact on performance. Mild dehydration occurs at a fluid loss of only 4% of body weight, which may result in prolonged dehydration before thirst is experienced.

man in gym drinking water

Augmenting water consumption, especially in conjunction with pre-workout supplementation, can enhance circulation, elevate mood, and safeguard against the reduced efficacy of the supplement.

Your Body May Not Respond Well to Caffeine

Individual responses to caffeine vary and not everyone may benefit from its consumption.

A recent narrative review examined the impact of the CYP1A2 gene, which metabolizes the majority of ingested caffeine, on the performance of well-trained cyclists during a 10 km time trial.

Cyclists who possessed the CC genotype, associated with slow caffeine metabolism, experienced slower time trial completion with increasing caffeine intake. In contrast, those with the AA genotype, linked with fast caffeine metabolism, demonstrated enhanced performance with greater caffeine intake.

Without genetic testing, a possible indicator of slow caffeine metabolism may be experiencing fatigue, sluggishness, and reduced physical performance after caffeine ingestion.

Inadequate Beta-Alanine

Although beta-alanine may provide some immediate benefits for performance in sufficiently large doses, its optimal efficacy is achieved through chronic consumption.

For instance, taking 179 g of beta-alanine for 3-10 weeks can augment endurance performance by 2.85%. As consuming this quantity of beta-alanine solely through a pre-workout is impractical, incorporating beta-alanine into a separate dietary supplement regimen may facilitate improved performance.

Taking Pre-Workout At The Wrong Time

Good timing can be crucial for the effectiveness of a pre-workout. If you take your supplement too early, you might feel its effects too soon. Then its effects can wear off before you even get into the most intense part of your workout.

Drinking pre-workout supplement

By taking it too late, you might not feel the peak effects until you’ve almost completed your exercise routine.

So when is a good time to take a pre-workout? The majority of people receive the best results if they take it 20 to 30 minutes before exercise. This gives the ingredients the right amount of time to start working fully and you can get the most benefits from them.

With Food Or On An Empty Stomach

If you want to get the strongest and quickest effects from your supplement, it’s best to take it on an empty stomach. But only if your stomach can handle it without having digestive issues.

Taking pre-workout before eating can cause stomach discomfort. You may also experience other symptoms, like indigestion, a headache, or nausea.

There are benefits to eating before working out, even if you don’t have digestive problems. This can increase power output, improve your endurance, and reduce your chances of feeling fatigued partway through your training session.

Foods that are high in carbs with a low glycemic index are best for a pre-workout meal. For example, brown rice, brown pasta, or oats.

Get Enough Sleep

No matter how strong or high quality your pre-workout supplement is, if you are not taking care of your overall health it won’t work as well as it could. If you have the other aspects of life set up correctly, you will likely receive better benefits from it.


If you’re only getting a few hours of sleep per night, not eating properly, and have a demanding job, your pre-workout will not be as effective as it could be.

This can be one of the hardest factors to take care of. But it is also one of the most important.

Your Creatine Reserves Are Low

Incorporating creatine in a pre-workout formulation may not be effective, as daily creatine consumption is required to augment intramuscular phosphocreatine stores and improve performance.

The limited efficacy of creatine in a pre-workout stems from its typical underdosing, sporadic use, and the omission or underdosing of other beneficial ingredients. Thus, to effectively build creatine stores, creatine monohydrate should be consumed independently from the pre-workout regimen.

Some Supplements Take Time

The high amounts of caffeine in pre-workout act immediately and can provide its benefits within minutes. You can feel its effects until it wears off many hours later.

Creatine takes longer to take effect. It requires a loading phase of consuming a few grams per day. After the muscle tissue is saturated with creatine phosphate, it is fully effective. Because the effect of some ingredients is slow, you may not notice their effects at all unless you track your performance properly.


If you’ve been taking your supplement for a while, you may have built a tolerance to it. If you have been consuming a lot of caffeine from other sources such as coffee, it’s also possible that you have developed a tolerance to caffeine.

cup of coffee

A lot of people alleviate this by simply taking more. But adding an extra scoop or two isn’t a long-term fix and increases the risk of side effects.

The solution to this is to take some time off.

You can decide not to take a supplement for a while to allow your sensitivity to be built back up again. This is one reason supplement companies often recommend taking a break off after every few months of use.

If you’ve not taken a break in the past, there’s a good chance that your sensitivity to the stimulants has reduced. Caffeine conditioning is common not just when taking pre-workout supplements, but with energy drinks and coffee too.

Is It Just A Bad Supplement?

Some products are just low-quality or their ingredients do not provide the desired effect. Proprietary blends can hide the amounts of each ingredient and so the useful ingredients may also have a low volume.

Reviews and independent tests are good ways to find out if your supplement is junk.

What To Do If Your Pre-Workout Is Not Working?

Stop Consuming Pre-Workout

If pre-workout supplements do not provide any benefits for you or interfere with physical training, discontinuing their consumption may be an appropriate course of action.

C4 Sport packaging

Alternatively, the efficacy of conventional coffee as a substitute for pre-workout supplements could be explored. Nevertheless, relying on pre-workout supplementation may not be essential to achieve optimal performance and training goals, particularly when proper dietary, hydration, and sleep practices are employed. Many experienced weightlifters have attained their goals without the use of pre-workout supplements.

Use A Pre-Workout Without Stimulants

An alternative approach is to choose non-stimulant-based pre-workout formulations.

If caffeine consumption does not produce the desired effects, non-stimulant-based supplements may provide an optimal solution while still containing performance-enhancing ingredients.

Nonetheless, you should still remain vigilant of products that may contain suboptimal quantities of non-stimulant compounds.

Take Ingredients Separately

Obtaining raw pre-workout ingredients allows for precise dosing and customization of the supplement.

However, raw ingredients are typically unflavored and require appropriate blending to mask their taste, for instance, in a fruit juice or a smoothie. Several raw ingredients, such as L-Citrulline, Beta-Alanine, Creatine Monohydrate, and Caffeine Anhydrous, may be used for this purpose.

While this strategy may be too complicated for novice pre-workout consumers, a basic understanding of ingredient properties and their interactions can aid in the effective formulation of personalized pre-workout supplements.

Final Thoughts

Getting the right pre-workout supplement can make your intense training sessions even more effective. It will help you maintain an energy boost and increase focus which will allow you to push harder during your workout.

But many things can prevent a pre-workout from being as effective for you as well as it could be.