5 Critical Reasons Why Pre-Workout Doesn’t Work For You

October 9, 2022

Ever found that your pre-workout doesn’t hit that hard? Maybe you were experiencing a drug-like effect, leaving you full of energy to smash your chest and arms for 3 hours. But instead, you’re experiencing drowsiness or no effect at all. Here’s why that may be.

5 Crucial Reasons Why Pre-Workout Isn’t Working For You

You Don’t Have The Required Genes To Benefit From Caffeine

You may not have considered this when chugging your pre-workout, but not everyone benefits from caffeine consumption. While it’s the most used performance-enhancing drug on the planet, it may not have ergogenic effects for you.

A recent narrative review investigated the CYP1A2 gene responsible for metabolizing 95% of ingested caffeine [1]. They looked at well-trained cyclists and their time to complete a 10 km time trial.

Subjects ingested either 0, 2, or 4 mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight. They found cyclists possessing the CC genotype got slower (it took longer to complete the time trial) the more caffeine they ingested. On the other hand, AA genotypes got faster with more caffeine.

CC genotypes are slow caffeine metabolizers, while AA genotypes are fast caffeine metabolizers. But how do you know which one you are without a genetic test? After taking caffeine, you may feel tired and sluggish, and you may notice a reduction in physical performance.

You Haven’t Built Your Stored Creatine Reserves

Creatine in a pre-workout formulation is a waste. You need to take creatine every day to build your intra-muscular stores of phosphocreatine to enhance performance. The problem with creatine in a pre-workout is three-fold:

  1. It’s typically underdosed.
  2. You don’t take pre-workout every day, so you don’t build your creatine stores.
  3. Creatine added to a pre-workout means another efficacious ingredient was omitted or underdosed.

Regardless, you need to be taking creatine monohydrate separately from your pre-workout.

You Haven’t Loaded Enough Beta-Alanine

While beta-alanine may have some acute performance-enhancing benefits when taken in large enough doses, it truly shines when taken chronically. For example, 179 g taken over 3-10 weeks enhances endurance performance by 2.85% [2].

Taking 179 g solely from a pre-workout in 10 weeks is nearly impossible. Therefore, taking beta-alanine separately from your pre-workout can enhance performance.

Your Pre-Workout Is Underdosed

The most apparent culprit to a pre-workout not working is the ingredients being underdosed or hidden behind proprietary blends. This is a common method for marketing while increasing profit margins. Unfortunately, that means you don’t get anything from it.

An easy tip is to avoid proprietary blends. There are no secret ingredients or doses within the nutrition space, and companies aren’t hiding something from their competitors. Instead, they are hiding quantities from you.

Inadequate Nutrition

Pre-workout can be a great pick-me-up. However, if you aren’t fueled adequately from a nutritional perspective, you’ll continually be operating sub-maximally.

What Should You Do If Pre-Workout Isn’t Working?

Why Pre Workout Doesn't Work For Me

Stop Taking Pre-Workout

Sounds relatively straightforward, doesn’t it? If pre-workout is not working for you or negatively affecting your training, stop taking it. You may find you never needed it. You could try plain ol’ coffee if you’re a regular coffee drinker.

Otherwise, skip it. I’ve trained my entire lifting career without pre-workout supplements. You’ll find they aren’t necessary when you are eating, hydrating, and sleeping well.

Find A Stimulant Free Pre-Workout

Another option is to opt for stimulant-free pre-workouts. If caffeine doesn’t agree with you, this is your best option if you still want performance-enhancing ingredients. However, you must still be aware of companies who underdose their non-stim pre-workouts.

Get Your Own Raw Ingredients

I find getting the ingredients raw is best as you can dose them properly. However, raw ingredients are plain, so you need a plan to mix them, whether that’s in fruit juice or a smoothie. Here’s a short list of raw ingredients you may want to look into:

  • L-Citrulline
  • Beta-Alanine
  • Creatine Monohydrate
  • Caffeine Anhydrous

This more advanced strategy may not be best for beginner pre-workout drinkers. However, a little education will get you mixing these like a chemist in a white lab coat.


There can be multiple reasons why pre-workout isn’t working for you. The most common in my experience are lifestyle factors, underdosed ingredients in the pre-workout, and being a negative responder to caffeine.


1. Southward, K., Rutherfurd-Markwick, K., Badenhorst, C., & Ali, A. (2018). The role of genetics in moderating the inter-individual differences in the ergogenicity of caffeine. Nutrients10(10), 1352.

2. Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids, 43(1), 25-37.

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

Want More Great Content?

Check Out These Articles