Last updated on November 2nd, 2022 at 10:59 am
Do you feel weaker without pre-workout?
It’s something that many supplement users report.
You seem to smash out a great workout nearly every time you’re in the gym.
However, if for whatever reason you don’t take your pre-workout you feel weaker and as though you simply can’t lift weights as well.
Is this something you should worry about?
Does this mean you’ll never have a good training session without a pre-workout?
Allow me to reveal all.
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Weaker Without Pre-Workout
One of the main reasons you feel weaker without pre-workout is due to your mind. Yes, pre-workout is designed to increase focus and boost energy levels, but it isn’t a magical ingredient. Quite often it has a placebo effect, and therefore if you haven’t taken it you almost expect to have a bad workout. You will need to fuel your workouts, but this is better achieved through good nutrition. Plus, if you’ve had a poor night’s sleep this can also affect your workout.
1. Your Mind Says You Can’t Lift Without Pre-Workout
I’m going to put this out there – pre-workout is definitely not some type of magical ingredient.
Unfortunately, this is how many people view supplements.
Even if you’re just taking the basic ones like protein powder, creatine, and a pre-workout.
There’s nothing particularly amazing about any of them.
Yes, they all have their uses, and yes they can all help to fuel both your workouts and recovery.
But, they’re not going to take you to the next level of superhero training and body recomposition.
I am someone who has both used and gone without pre-workout.
And realistically, I didn’t notice a massive difference if I’m being completely honest.
In fact, I will go as far to say that pre-workout produced the placebo effect.
As soon as I took a pre-workout I felt as though I could take on the world and that I was going to have an amazing workout.
However, on the days that I didn’t I almost talked myself into having a crappy workout.
Basically, a pre-workout will supply your body with sugar, caffeine, and a range of other stimulants.
So, you are more likely to feel more focused in the gym as well as getting an energy boost.
You perhaps may feel its effects even more if you workout earlier in the day, say within an hour of waking.
With that being said, a serving of most standard pre-workout supplements will provide the equivalent caffeine of two strong cups of coffee.
Plus, the “sugar rush” that will raise your blood sugar levels can be found in many fast-acting carbohydrates.
So, as I say, pre-workout is definitely not some type of magical training elixir.
I think the fact that you appear to be weaker or having a poor workout is very much down to what your mind is telling you.
However, there are a few other things that could be affecting your workout too.
I’ll get to those now.
2. A Quick Glycogen Lesson
When you’re working out your body taps into your glycogen stores.
Basically, the body will convert glycogen into glucose and then use this for energy.
The liver will typically store up to 100-120g of glycogen at any one time.
And this is generally at its highest level just after you’ve eaten.
You must also remember that in order for the major organs to function they will use glycogen.
However, as an example your brain uses around 0.1g of glycogen per minute while you sleep.
Now, when it comes to working out, depending on the intensity of your session, you will burn 1-3g of glycogen per minute.
So, in effect it could take anywhere from around 30 minutes to 2 hours to deplete your stores of glycogen through exercise.
However, in order to do this within 30 minutes you would have to exert maximal effort without any rest.
I guess you could say it would be like taking your one-rep max squat weight and then squatting non-stop with it for 30 minutes.
In other words, it’s highly unlikely that will ever happen.
What this all means is that most of us will have enough glycogen stores to fuel an early morning workout completely fasted.
So, once again, the only thing really holding us back from a great workout is the mind.
Glycogen Depletion During Exercise
3. Is Your Nutrition On-Point?
With that being said, you can of course replenish your glycogen stores prior to training.
And this is simply achieved by eating.
Okay, a pre-workout will provide a hit of carbs in the form of sugar, plus further stimulants, although these don’t do anything for your glycogen stores.
Therefore, you could probably eat a couple of bananas and drink two cups of coffee and actually have a better “pre-workout” than the one you’re currently paying $30-40 for.
Then again, you could of course have a proper meal or snack about an hour before you hit the gym.
So, realistically you’re probably feeling weak because you haven’t properly fuelled you workout.
This could mean that you didn’t eat enough for your final meal last night if you’re training fasted.
Then again, it could also mean that you haven’t eaten enough of the right foods prior to your mid-morning, afternoon, or evening workout.
So, I would say, rather than blaming a lack of pre-workout, perhaps you should look closer at your overall nutrition.
4. Are You Sleeping Enough?
Just as poor nutrition can affect your workouts, so can poor sleeping habits.
In fact, if you’re not sleeping well it can have a severe impact on your strength and your time in the gym.
Basically, you won’t have enough energy to see you through your workouts.
Plus, if you do manage to get a session in then your body won’t be working to its full potential to repair and rejuvenate the muscles.
I would even go as far to say that some people try to counteract poor sleep by taking a pre-workout supplement.
And often in excessive amounts.
However, this still doesn’t allow the muscles to repair themselves, which they typically do while we sleep.
And let’s not forget that the high levels of caffeine in pre-workout could contribute to poor sleeping habits.
So, in reality you end up caught in a vicious circle:
Poor night’s sleep, take pre-workout, have a crappy workout, another poor night’s sleep, your body doesn’t recover.
This loop continues over-and-over until your body eventually gives up, usually through injury.
I can’t even begin to tell you just how important sleep is to your workouts.
And there’s no amount of pre-workout that can fix poor sleeping habits.
5. It Won’t Last Forever
One of the biggest problems I see with a pre-workout supplement, and any other type of stimulant, is that your body eventually adapts to it.
You’ve probably even noticed this yourself.
You used to take one scoop of pre-workout and you were buzzing throughout your entire training session.
This is also why many people suggest you should cycle pre-workout and have a break from it every few months.
So, if this is the case, does that automatically mean that you’re going to have 2-3 weeks of really poor workouts while you wean yourself of pre-workout?
Of course, it doesn’t.
Even though the body builds up a tolerance to pre-workout, which makes you consume even more, this isn’t like a normal “addiction”.
Basically, if you stopped using pre-workout you’d typically find that your body is back to “normal” within about 3-4 workouts.
Therefore, you’re able to perform in the gym without the need for any stimulants.
So, if you’re feeling weaker without your pre-workout, trust me, it’s only a temporary thing.
As you can see, one of the main reasons you’re feeling weaker without pre-workout is typically due to the placebo effect.
Pre-workout is not some type of magical supplement that will fuel you through the hardest of workouts.
Yes, it can provide more focus and a boost in energy.
However, if you think you’re going to have a bad workout because you didn’t take your stimulants then you probably will.
Good nutrition and good sleep habits are far more important in both fuelling and recovering from your workouts.
So, you should definitely make sure you have both these factors sorted rather than overly worrying about pre-workout.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.