Have you ever felt disappointed with a pre workout which failed to deliver?
Well, those days are gone.
As the title of this article suggests, I’m going to show you how to make your own pre workout supplement from scratch using raw ingredients. Better yet, it’ll be clinically dosed for maximum results.
This is something I first learned back in 2013, from Dr. Jim Stoppani no less, and it’s a tactic I return to at least once a year when I grow tired of ready-made formulas.
There are three key benefits to making your own pre workout:
- You control the doses of each ingredient
- You strip out all of the unnecessary ingredients
- It costs less in the long run
Let’s get stuck in!
DISCLAIMER: I always recommend consulting with your physician before using a new supplement or embarking on a new diet. This article is for information purposes, and just because it’s what I do doesn’t mean it’s what you should do – there are important things to take into consideration like allergies, tolerances, etc.
Table of Contents
- The 4 Key Ingredients You’ll Need
- The Benefits & Drawbacks Of A DIY Pre Workout
- The 4 Key Ingredients Explained
- Why I’ve Left Out These Popular Ingredients
- Who Is Russ Howe PTI?
The 4 Key Ingredients You’ll Need
I believe the main attraction to a DIY pre workout is that you can remove all of the clutter and focus on the stuff that works best.
You see despite the massive list of ingredients you’ll see on most pre workout tubs, the latest scientific research shows us that we only really need four of them. They are:
We’ll get into the science in a moment so you can see exactly what each one does, but right now I want you to know that when it comes to performance benefits in the gym these four stand tall over everything else in the tub.
Which begs the question; how come we often see pre workouts with 20+ ingredients?
Well, there’s a couple of reasons for that.
- Product individuality. It’s illegal to have two products which are exactly the same. This would be like a soda brand using Coca-Cola’s exact formula.
- Marketing purposes. Manufacturers often add things just to make their product stand out from the competition. Most of these ingredients do very little, but they can cetainly sell (example; something like CLA has a miniscule effect on fat loss, but the fact that it exists is enough to legally allow a company to slap “fat burning” on the tub and out-sell their rivals). Having a big formula is also an easy way to distract from under-dosed ingredients.
The Benefits & Drawbacks Of A DIY Pre Workout
There are two of each, so let’s look at those now.
- Benefit #1: You control the dose of each ingredient
This means you can make sure each ingredient delivers maximum results. I’ll show you how to do this below. It also gives you the power to play with the caffeine content. Caffeine is the only one where results will diminish over time, when this happens you can simply remove it and then re-introduce a few weeks later.
- Benefit #2: It costs less in the long run
I’m going to demonstrate this on a six-monthly basis so you can really see the difference. A semi-decent pre workout costs about £30 for a one month supply, so over six months you’re spending £180 on pre workout. By correctly dosing the ingredients as I show you below, you’ll get a six month supply for £73 – oh, and at the six month stage the only thing you’ll need to top up is CitMal! When you combine this info with the fact that your DIY pre workout will be fully dosed in each key ingredient, versus the standard pre you’re currently using which isn’t, that’s crazy!
- Drawback #1: Taste
Ever noticed the tangy/bitter taste pre workouts have? That’s because we’re combining several different compounds into one. A ready-made product adds a whole bunch of ingredients to soften that (although you can still taste it), but a DIY pre workout doesn’t have this luxury. I recommend combining it with fruit juice to give it some taste.
- Drawback #2: Convenience
A little convenience goes a long way! Supermarket shelves are choc-full with poor pre workouts which are essentially just caffeine water, but the fact that it’s caffeine water which is already done is enough to make people pay £20-30 for it (even though it cost the manufacturer pennies to create and has a s**t formula). Making your own pre workout is easy as f**k, but it’ll never be as easy as one scoop.
The 4 Key Ingredients Explained
If you’re wondering why I picked these four ingredients over everything else, all is about to be explained.
Simply put; they work!
Being the fully-fledged fitness nerd that I am, it doesn’t feel like enough to tell you this. I want to show you. So in this section I’ll explain all of the main functions of the four key ingredients, and show you the optimal dose of each for unlocking maximum results.
- 200mg Caffeine
Caffeine is the world’s most popular stimulant. It’s best known for its energy-boosting capabilities, but it has a whole host of other training-related benefits which include greater mental focus, power output, calorie burn, and higher energy expenditure. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
However, the effectiveness of this stimulant largely depends upon your tolerance level. For most people, the maximum results are unlocked with a dose between 170-400mg, and that’s why I recommend using 200mg as standard. If you need more you can easily boost this to 300mg or even 400mg, but there’s no need to go any higher than that. (7, 8)
NOTE: Always buy this ingredient in pill form, because powdered caffeine is insanely difficult to meausre accurately unless you have a set of professional-grade drug dealer scales, and carries a significant health risk which is just not worth it.
- 6g Citrulline Malate
Caffeine might be the most famous ingredient, but CitMal is the real powerhouse of your pre workout!
This amino acid uses the nitric oxide pathway to increase delivery of nutrients to working muscles, allowing you to continue training harder for longer. You can expect monstrous pumps, longer endurance and, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, about one more rep on every set! (9, 10)
A clicnical dose is 6 grams. Here’s more info on citulline malate.
- 3.2g Beta-alanine
Although it’s mainly known for the skin-tingling effect it creates, there’s a stack of training-related benefits hiding under the surface with beta-alanine.
Most noteworthy is its ability to increase the bodys tolerance for pain, buffering against the build-up of waste product as the muscles work (“the burn”) allowing for more reps to be performed before failure. These improvements are no joke, either, with a 2008 study from American researchers showing that some trainees boosted their numbers by as much as 25%! Couple that with findings from England, where boxers using beta-alanine improved their ability to throw power punches in the later stages of three minute rounds by 2000% (no typo!), and you can see why it’s such a great pre workout ingredient. (12, 13)
A clinical dose is 3.2 grams, either taken all at once or split in two.
- 2.5g Betaine anhydrous
Betaine anhydrous (aka trimethylglycine) has been popular with athletes for years because, like citrulline, it can significantly improve time to perceived exhaustion.
That means more reps per set, more explosive power output, and more time spent near peak performance levels.
In recent years it’s been tested across various physical activities from cycling, to lifting, to sprinting, and seems to keep these performance-boosting elements alongside any form of high intensity activity. (15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20)
A clinical dose is 2.5 grams.
Why I’ve Left Out These Popular Ingredients
If you’re familiar with pre workouts, you’ll know there are a few big name ingredients I’ve excluded.
In some cases it’s a matter of these additional ingredients just being unnecessary, and in others downright useless! I’ll take you through them now.
- No Creatine
I’m actually a huge fan of creatine, i’s a great muscle building supplement, and I wrote a whole article on it here. That being said, though, when I’m explaining how to make your own pre workout I focus on ingredients which have been shown to have a direct impact on exercise performance when taken 30-45 minutes before training. That’s not the case with creatine, as the results it offers will be unlocked no matter when you use it. You can add it to the formula it you wish, though.
- No BCAAs
BCAAs are the building blocks of muscle growth, but there are two important things which most people are unaware of. The first is that you probably don’t need a BCAA suplppement if your diet is high in protein, and the second is that they should not be in your pre workout because they can lead to early CNS fatigue and cause the trainee to feel sluggish. (21, 22)
- No Arginine
Arginine was the citrulline of the 2000s, and is still included in many popular pre workouts nowadays, but it’s a poor-grade substitute for the real thing. You see, citrulline actually converts into arginine inside the body, but it has a significantly higher absorption rate (at least 50% more), making it a superior option. (11)
- No Exotic Stimulants
Exotic stimulants (DMHA, etc) have the unique ability to make you feel like Rambo in a field of Vietcong.
Unfortunately they’re also dangerous as f**k because there’s very little research to document the long-term effects or safety.
As an example; the entire body of research for one of the most popular exotic stimulants, Eria Jarensis, consists of just one study dating back to 1969! Heck, if you’re old enough to have used pre workouts in the 2000s you might also recall the dendrobium extract scandal? This exotic stimulant was used in many popular pre workouts of the time, such as Driven Sports’ Craze, until eventually more research was published which showed it’s spiked with methamphetamine! (30, 31)
- No Taurine
Like BCAAs, taurine is another staple pre workout ingredient which simply shouldn’t be there.
Taurine has some interesting benefits, particularly regarding mental focus, but it’s also the nemesis of caffeine. These two ingredients clash like Rocky vs Drago and can cause headaches, decreased training performance, and feelings of sluggishness. (23, 24, 25)
- No Agmatine Sulfate
Agmatine surged in popularity during the 2010s after supplement brands started hailing it as the next big nitric oxide booster. However, not only is there zero research to back up those claims, there is actually research which suggests the complete opposite! I wrote an article on this here. Here’s a devastating comment from the head researcher on the biggest study ever conducted on agmatine supplementation: (26, 27)
“The fact that agmatine is touted for bodybuilding purposes is completely unsubstantiated and is backed by outright false claims.”– Dr. Gad Gillad, Long-term (5 years), high daily dosage of dietary agmatine – evidence of safety: a case report (2014).
- Duncan M. J., et al. The effect of caffeine ingestion on mood state and bench press performance to failure. J Strength Cond Res (2011).
- Childs E., et al. Subjective, behavioral, and physiological effects of acute caffeine in light, nondependent caffeine users. Psychopharmacology (Berl) (2006).
- Kim T. W., et al. Caffeine increases sweating sensitivity via changes in sudomotor activity during physical loading. J Med Food (2011).
- Cook C., et al. Acute caffeine ingestion increases voluntarily chosen resistance training load following limited sleep. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab (2012).
- Del Coso J., et al. Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design. J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2012).
- Mora-Rodríguez R., et al. Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLoS One (2012).
- McCormack W. P., et al. Caffeine, Energy Drinks, and Strength-Power Performance. Str Con J (2012).
- Beaven C. M., et al. Dose effect of caffeine on testosterone and cortisol responses to resistance exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab (2008).
- Pérez-Guisado J., et al. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res (2010).
- Alvares T. S., et al. Acute l-arginine supplementation increases muscle blood volume but not strength performance. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab (2012).
- Schwedhelm E., et al. Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of oral L-citrulline and L-arginine: impact on nitric oxide metabolism. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (2008).
- Hoffman J., et al. Beta-alanine and the hormonal response to exercise. Int J Sports Med (2008).
- Donovan T., et al. Beta-alanine improves punch force and frequency in amateur boxers during a simulated contest. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab (2012).
- Artioli G. G., et al. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2010).
- Wylie L. J., et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation improves team sport-specific intense intermittent exercise performance. Eur J Appl Physiol (2013).
- Lansley K. E., et al. Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of walking and running: a placebo-controlled study. J Appl Physiol (1985).
- Pryor J. L., et al. Effect of betaine supplementation on cycling sprint performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2012).
- Lee E. C., et al. Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2010).
- Hoffman J. R., et al. Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. J Int Soc Sports Nutr (2009).
- Holewa J., et al. Effects of betaine on body composition, performance, and homocysteine thiolactone. Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, Coastal Carolina University (2013).
- Walker, D. K., et al. Exercise, amino acids, and aging in the control of human muscle protein synthesis. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2011).
- Choi S., et al. Oral branched-chain amino acid supplements that reduce brain serotonin during exercise in rats also lower brain catecholamines. Amino Acids (2013).
- Kim S., et al. Taurine Induces Anti-Anxiety by Activating Strychnine-Sensitive Glycine Receptor in Vivo. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism (2009).
- Moloney M. A., et al. Two weeks taurine supplementation reverses endothelial dysfunction in young male type 1 diabetics. Diab Vasc Dis Res (2010).
- Giles G. E., et al. Differential cognitive effects of energy drink ingredients: caffeine, taurine, and glucose. Pharmacol Biochem Behav (2012).
- Piletz J. E., et al. Agmatine: clinical applications after 100 years in translation. Drug Discov Today (2013).
- Gilad G. M., et al. Long-term (5 years), high daily dosage of dietary agmatine – evidence of safety: a case report. J Med Food (2014).
- Edwards D., et al. Therapeutic Effects and Safety of Rhodiola rosea Extract WS® 1375 in Subjects with Life-stress Symptoms – Results of an Open-label Study. Phytotherapy Research (2012).
- Wiegant F. A., et al. Plant adaptogens increase lifespan and stress resistance in C. elegans. Biogerontology (2009).
- Hedman K., et al. Studies on Orchidaceae Alkaloids. XV. Phenethylamines from Eria jarensis Ames. Department of Organic Chemistry, University of Stockholm (1969).
- Wiley Online Journal. Muscles and Meth: Drug Analog Identified in ‘Craze’ Workout Supplement. (2013).
Who Is Russ Howe PTI?
Russ has been a personal trainer in the UK since 2002, and provided both training advice and full programs on this website since 2011.
His work has been featured in Men’s Fitness magazine, and the content on this website led to him being voted one of the world’s top 50 fat loss coaches by HuffPost.
Russ’ days are spent coaching men and women in the legendary Powerhouse Gym, and creating new content for the 109,246 followers of his popular free weekly e-mail, which you can join below!