Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 03:36 pm
You’ve often heard what a great workout others have once they’ve gulped down their pre-workout.
However, whenever you’ve tried it you get absolutely nothing from it.
So, what gives?
Allow me to explain why pre-workout may not be working for YOU.
There are many reasons why pre-workout doesn’t affect you. Firstly, if you’ve never tried it before you may just have a high tolerance level to the ingredients. If you regularly take pre-workout then you may not be allowing enough time for the body to absorb it, you’re taking it too soon after a meal, or your body has adapted and become immune. Sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and excessive amounts of caffeine will also have an impact on the effectiveness of pre-workout.
Table of Contents
1. Genetics Plays a Role
If something tends to work for one person, but not another, I typically look at genetics first.
Basically, we are all different to each other, and our bodies can and will react differently to what we put into them.
So, this could just be a case of pre-workout not working for you as an individual.
There could be various reasons for this.
However, most likely is that you have a high tolerance level to the pre-workout ingredients.
This may have come about due to your current diet and nutrition (more on this in a moment).
Then again, it may just be that you react to certain ingredients completely differently than the “average” person.
There’s certainly no shame in that.
Pre-workout generally contains a varying range of ingredients, although most commonly:
- Vitamin B12
So, as you can see there are certainly a wide variety of ingredients that you may simply have a higher threshold for.
Pre-workout isn’t for everyone.
2. Are You Allowing Enough Time?
I will say that many people view pre-workout as some type of magic elixir.
So, if it doesn’t affect you then perhaps you’ve set your expectations too high.
The main aim of a pre-workout is to help you train harder and for longer.
But, it won’t suddenly turn into a professional athlete.
The worrying thing is that many people do think this way, plus they expect this sudden transformation to be instantaneous.
So, it’s not unheard-of for people to gulp down a pre-workout and start training within 30 seconds.
However, this is not how it is intended to work.
As with any type of supplement that you take you must allow your body time to absorb and digest it.
And pre-workout is certainly no different.
Once again, it won’t affect everyone in the same way, but you’ll generally want to give pre-workout 30-60 minutes to kick in.
For me, I will typically consume my pre-workout as I’m getting ready for the gym.
So, it could be a good 25 minutes before I even start my warm-up.
Remember that if you’re taking it immediately prior to your workout, not only has it not had enough time to take effect, but also your bodily functions are going haywire.
Your heart-rate will be up, hormones and blood will be rushing around the body, you’ll be sweating profusely.
So, by the time the pre-workout kicks in your workout is almost over and you’re already pretty fatigued.
3. Too Soon After a Meal
I’ve spoken about allowing pre-workout time to be absorbed and digested.
However, you may still not be getting anything from it even when you do consume it at least 30 minutes before your workout
This may be happening because you’re taking pre-workout following a meal.
Let’s say that you usually have a meal about an hour before your workout.
Then you take a pre-workout around 30 minutes after your meal.
Your body is still digesting the meal, so pre-workout definitely won’t be as effective.
In effect, your body is trying to cope with the food that you have eaten, so it’s likely that your pre-workout is just sitting on top of this waiting for it’s turn to be absorbed.
In fact, this is often why pre-workout seems to have the opposite effect and leaves feeling tired and lethargic.
So, always allow time for your meal to digest first, approximately an hour, before swallowing down your pre-workout.
4. Your Body Has Adapted
I’m sure you’re aware that your body will adapt to exercise.
This is why you should focus on progressive overload in order to get stronger and bigger.
However, the exact same can be said for whatever you put into your body in order to fuel it.
Basically, your body can adapt to food and supplements as well.
So, you have found that pre-workout worked great when you first started taking it, but it has little to no impact now.
This is generally when you end up taking more-and-more pre-workout in an attempt to boost your workouts.
Realistically, you need to take a regular break from most supplements in order for them to maintain their effectiveness over the long run.
The same can be said for things like protein powder and creatine.
In effect, you need to restore your body to its default settings.
So, I would suggest that you drop the pre-workout for 2-3 weeks every two to three months.
5. Too Much Caffeine
The main ingredient in pre-workout is caffeine.
And caffeine is a stimulant, which increases adrenaline and cortisol production in the body.
Plus, it increases brain and nervous system activity.
So, realistically caffeine does actually give you that “buzz” and it should leave you feeling alert and focused.
However, as with most things, you can have too much of a good thing.
If you’re a caffeine monster then pre-workout is going to have very little effect.
Most pre-workout brands provide 150-300mg of caffeine per serving.
Whereas, coffee has around 80-100mg of caffeine per cup.
So, in effect, pre-workout provides as much caffeine as drinking 3 cups of strong coffee in one hit.
But, if you’re regularly consuming high quantities of caffeine, e.g. coffee, tea, fizzy and energy drinks, etc. then your pre-workout probably isn’t going to do as much.
This is yet again because your body has adapted to high levels of caffeine. So it’s almost as though you’re immune.
6. Are You Sleep Deprived?
Now, you would think that throwing a heap of caffeine and stimulants into your body would help if you’re feeling tired.
However, nothing can be further from the truth.
Sleep deprivation causes a huge number of problems with the mind and body.
But, looking at this from a pre-workout perspective, your body simply isn’t able to process stimulants as well.
The human body is a complex thing, and if it isn’t functioning to the best of its abilities it will usually react in weird ways.
So, if you’re living on only a few hours sleep a night, or constantly waking up during the night, your body will not be firing on all cylinders the next day.
I will even go as far to say that swallowing down a pre-workout drink after only 3-4 hours sleep will leave you feeling even more tired.
You can’t expect a stimulant to do its job effectively if you aren’t looking after your body in the first place.
7. Poor Nutrition & Hydration
This ties it quite nicely with what I’ve just said about sleep deprivation.
So, once again, if you’re not looking after your body, you can’t expect pre-workout to be as effective.
Basically, if you have a poor diet, or you’re always eating the wrong foods, then your body isn’t able to function at optimum levels.
You know yourself when you have a bad day of eating, you typically feel great when you’re stuffing yourself at the time.
However, a few hours later you feel absolutely awful.
You feel tired, lethargic, and you don’t really want to do anything.
This is much the same as you feel when you’re sleep deprived, except now you also feel bloated and sick too.
Pre-workout is intended to help you power through your workout.
So, you can’t expect it to perform miracles.
The exact same can be said if you’re not well-hydrated.
The body needs water, and plenty of it.
And even more so if you’re active and exercise regularly.
In fact, not drinking enough water can have a negative impact on your energy levels.
This also explains why you’ll often see gym-goers carrying massive bottles of water with them everywhere they go.
So, just stuffing yourself with pre-workout will be like fighting a losing battle.
Get your nutrition and hydration on-point and pre-workout will be able to do its job more effectively.
Key Learning Points
- You may have a high tolerance level to certain ingredients of pre-workout.
- Allow enough time for pre-workout to “kick in”. So, take pre-workout at least 30 minutes before you train.
- Don’t take pre-workout too soon after a meal.
- If pre-workout no longer works as well as it used to, your body may have adapted to it. Therefore, take a 2-3 week break every 2-3 months.
- Your levels of nutrition and hydration can affect how well pre-workout works.
- Sleep deprivation can impact on the effectiveness of pre-workout, and consuming a scoop without adequate sleep may even have the opposite effect, i.e. you feel even more tired.
- If you overuse caffeinated products pre-workout may not be as effective.
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.