Can You Build a Tolerance to Pre-workout and What to Do About It?

As much as you want to be fired up in the gym with motivation and energy to crush your goals, you’d likely have your down days too. I mean, we all do.

Sometimes, your mind’s tied up with real-life issues that you can’t focus on lifting weights. Or an intense leg day can leave you feeling tired and sore. I get it.

That’s why pre-workout products have become beneficial. High-quality ones provide users with more energy and enhance their performance. They are great for people who are serious about making gains.

But have you ever taken a pre-workout and not felt it kick in like it usually does? Perhaps you only felt its effects when you were halfway through your workout, or you felt it too early and later had a caffeine crash.

Then, you wonder, “Have I built up a tolerance to the pre-workouts?” 

Keep reading as we will answer this along with other common pre-workout questions. But before we explore the specifics, let’s first know why people include pre-workouts in their routine.

Why Take Pre-Workout Supplements?

Pre-workout products are not necessarily used to have a good workout. However, they make a difference. Some benefits you get by taking these supplements include:

  • More stamina – Pre-workout supplements come in powder and capsule forms. They contain active ingredients that increase energy and reduce muscle fatigue. It also aids in oxygen transport and blood flow, improving your performance.
  • More energy – Having a surge of energy to rely on is handy, regardless of the time of day you prefer to work out. With pre-workout supplements, you can kick your afternoon slump or morning “meh” and replace it with an energy that makes you feel more capable of taking a high-rep workout.
  • Focus and better mood – Pre-workout products provide you with mental clarity. They also improve your mood, so you feel more positive about your training.
  • Better pumps – With more energy and better focus, it’s clear that you can perform better during your workout. And a great workout leads to better results, especially the muscle growth you desire.
  • Speeds up fat loss – There are pre-workouts specifically formulated to cut fat. They contain ingredients such as Afromomum Melegueta and Yohimbe, which all have thermogenic effects. They can improve the body’s ability to burn calories.
  • Recover faster – Some pre-workout products also contain ingredients that help you recover faster from workouts. For instance, it may include NooLVL, a pump-enhancing ingredient that helps more nutrients and blood to reach the muscles. They also cause the veins to dilate, impacting how waste products are removed from the muscles.

So, Can You Build a Tolerance to Pre-workouts?

Yes, you can build a tolerance to a pre-workout supplement.

More specifically, you may build up a tolerance to certain ingredients within the pre-workout, particularly with stimulants like dicaffeine malate and caffeine. Yet, it can also happen with other ingredients, such as beta-alanine.

Most people build up a tolerance to these supplements if they consistently take them for four to six weeks. However, it still varies from person to person.

Tolerance to pre-workouts occurs because the cells in your body become desensitized to the ingredients over time. Your body becomes used to these products, and you won’t feel the effects the same way anymore.

Tolerance can also similarly occur if you get some ingredients from other sources in the pre-workout. Take caffeine, for instance. You can also find it in other products, like tea and coffee. 

Physical dependence means you need more pre-workout or caffeine content to feel the desired effects. If you stop using it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Headache
  • Depression

What Can You Do About It? [7 Solutions]

Solution 1: Increase the Dosage

People who don’t feel the desired or full effects of a pre-workout supplement can increase the dosage. However, be careful as there still needs to be a consideration and balance in stimulant desensitization. 

Warning: This approach may be health-threatening or damaging if you consume more than the manufacturer’s recommended dosage to get the desired effect. 

Related: Can You Take Pre-workout Twice a Day?

Solution 2: Opt for a Non-Stimulant Pre-Workout

Another option if you’re only tolerant to caffeine is opting for a non-stimulant pre-workout. That way, the supplement will still provide you with that mental focus and pump you need in the gym.

Remember that it is most likely the caffeine in a pre-workout that triggers the adrenaline rush in your body. It’s what others call the fight or flight response, which causes the body to be ready for action.

However, too much caffeine burns out the adrenaline glands and causes other changes in your central nervous system. You can preserve those stimulatory effects by opting for a caffeine-free pre-workout instead.

Solution 3: Ingredient Cycling

Instead of increasing the dosage, you can look into cycling your supplement or changing up the ingredients you’re taking in a pre-workout to lessen the desensitization.

It’s a brief period where you’ll stop consuming the supplement, typically around two weeks for every eight weeks, and drink it again after a period of rest. You may also try using different pre-workout ingredients. Hence, your body becomes sensitive again to the ingredients, and you can usually retake it.

In addition, supplement or ingredient cycling has been shown to reduce the supplement’s tolerance and effects of the supplement, particularly the caffeine. 

As to how long you cycle off the supplement, it depends on your body. Some people take at least a month or longer. But you can begin a few weeks and go up from there.

You may also look at the ingredients of your current pre-workout and find another pre-workout with different ingredients. 

Related: Best Pre-Workout Fat Burner for Weight Loss

Solution 4: Press Pause

It may seem counterproductive knowing how beneficial pre-workouts are. Yet, taking a break from your current pre-workout is worth it for long-term benefits. Doing so allows your body to rest and not become desensitized to the ingredients.

This solution is also sometimes referred to as cycling off a product. 

Solution 5: Start with Low Stim Pre-workout

By starting with a low-stim pre-workout formula, you can delay the dulling sensation of the pre-workout. Those that contain less than 100mg of caffeine per serving are a good example. 

Some pre-workouts even have ingredients, like arginine, that extend the duration of caffeine in the body. And there are those with focus-boosting ingredients, like BCAAs and tyrosine.

You can also consider a formula with the energizing yerba mate found to increase fat oxidation, allowing you to recover faster from a strength session. [1] 

Solution 6: Medical Detox

This detox applies to individuals who struggle to stop using pre-workout or sports supplements. Medical detox is where doctors will help you manage withdrawal symptoms.

Solution 7: Mental Health Counseling

Lastly, you can ask for the help of a therapist to cope with the psychological symptoms of pre-workout addiction and cravings.

Does This Mean Pre-Workout is Bad for You?

It depends on the pre-workout product you’re taking and how you’re consuming them. Just because a person tolerates a pre-workout already mean the product is bad for them.

Again, tolerance means that the product has gotten used to the ingredients through repeated use over time. Therefore, these ingredients are effective for the body but are no longer felt similarly because of tolerance. 

Furthermore, pre-workout supplements are safe to take regularly, following the manufacturer’s instructions. But take note everyone has different thresholds when it comes to caffeine. [2] Tipping over that limit can be risky. So be sure to check the caffeine content of your pre-workout drinks per serving.

As to how long pre-workouts take to kick in, consider its half-life. 

Suppose you’re used to training in the afternoons or the evenings. In that case, you may want to take half the recommended dose of your pre-workout because caffeine has a half-life of around three to seven hours. 

You can also switch to another pre-workout supplementation without stimulants.

Related: How to Make Pre-Workout Taste Better

How Much Pre-Workout Should You Take?

The amount of pre-workout you should take to maximize its benefits while lowering the risk of side effects depends on two things, mainly: 1) Your present habitable caffeine intake, and

2) Your current body weight

Research likewise indicates that the beneficial effects of pre-workouts will be less consistent if your regular caffeine dose is closer to your pre-workout caffeine dose. [3] 

For instance, if you’ve been consuming 200mg of caffeine through different sources all day, taking 200mg from the pre-workout will not offer you as great of an effect as someone with lower daily caffeine consumption.

To know the ingredients per scoop, flip over the pre-workout container and read its ingredient label. You’ll usually see there the ingredient content per scoop.

It’s best to opt for pre-workouts without proprietary blends, so it’ll be transparent to you as the consumer about what ingredients you’re taking. This option benefits athletes because they can feel more confident about what they take rather than just a proprietary blend of ingredients.

As to “when is the ideal time to take your pre-workout,” most research suggests 30 to 45 minutes before your workout. It gives caffeine enough time to reach a peak level in your blood, and that’s when you feel its beneficial effects the most for your workout.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pre-Workout Tolerance

How quickly do you build a tolerance to pre-workout?

It depends on how fast your body metabolizes your stimulants and how much pre-workout you take. It happens in just two weeks for some people and while others never.

A study even demonstrated that it just takes one to four days to build up a tolerance to caffeine. [4] 

Don’t worry. If you’re not abusing the pre-workout, it should take a while before tolerance build-up happens.

Try cycling the supplement once in a while. Taking pre-workout only during lower body workouts where you need the extra boost is another way to avoid quickly becoming tolerant to the supplement’s effects.

How long should I take a tolerance break from pre-workout?

Come off a pre-working supplement for six to eight weeks at a time. Doing this allows your body to reset. You should also cycle pre-workout supplements or get stimulant-free ones most days, even when doing a tough workout.

How do I get rid of my pre-workout addiction?

Although most pre-workouts don’t contain addictive components, aside from caffeine, some may get hooked on it if they regularly rely heavily on stimulant-packed supplements to optimize their workout performance.

Therefore, eliminate your pre-workout addiction by taking a two to three-week break from the supplement. You may switch to other sports supplements or caffeine-free ones.

Final Words

Pre-workouts can boost your gym performance and improve your focus, allowing you to train longer and harder. But if it no longer gives you the same effect at one point in taking a pre-workout, it may be time to consider the solutions we shared above.

Consider caffeine cycling (taking one to two weeks off every month or so), so you can still get the benefits of a pre-workout drink. Don’t rely on pre-workouts or a single formula too often so you won’t develop tolerance to its effects.

To help you find the best pre-workout supplement that provides you a gentle caffeine boost but still with a powerful energy kick, check out our review of the Best Vegan Pre Workouts.

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Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.