Want to learn how to make your own pre workout supplement from scratch?
This step-by-step guide will show you all the ingredients you’ll need (and all the ones you won’t), without the BS.
A great pre workout supplement should resemble Guns N’ Roses’ epic debut album Appetite for Destruction.
It was lightning in a bottle. All killer, no filler.
Heck, in today’s age or watered down pop/rock music, it still sounds amazing.
A great pre workout supplement should provide that same kick up the a** you felt the first time you heard the riff to Welcome to the Jungle. The hairs standing up on your forearms. The “Holy s**t!” feeling.
Sadly, the marketplace is diluted with below-par supplements which fall short of the grade.
How many times have you purchased a pre which claimed it was amazing, only for it to leave you feeling flatter than a witch’s tit?
Tell me about it…
Feeling underwhelmed by a pre is about as annoying as listening to actors talk politics.
Adapt Or Die
Another common problem with pre workout supplements is adaptation.
Our body is a wonderful machine capable of adapting to even the hardest of situations, but sometimes that works against us. In the context of pre workouts, it means one scoop soon turns into four scoops in a bid to recapture the glory days.
In learning how to make your own pre workout, and learning how to control the dosages of each key ingredient, you will eliminate this issue.
Essentially, you should have something you can use from now to eternity.
I’ve been doing it since 2010 and now, for the first time ever, I’m going to show you how to make your own pre workout.
Want to save this guide on your computer? Download it free here.
Is Your Pre Workout Under-dosed?
Before I begin, I’d like to say there’s nothing wrong with using ready made pre workouts.
There are some great ones out there, and I’ll link to them below.
Here are some great pre workout supplements which get the dosages of most key ingredients spot on:
But the vast majority of pre workouts are criminally under-dosed in key ingredients, and they get away with it because most people have never been shown what to look for, so companies produce weak products simply because they know they can get away with it as long as the hype on the product is good enough.
So we get tubs with claims about “An Avalanche of Muscle!” and “Unleashing the Beast!”.
I used to fall for this myself.
I’d skip from product-to-product every month, being sold on the hype on the front of the tub without really ever looking at the back (the back of the tub is where the action is).
Sooo much money wasted…
Here’s some examples of very popular pre workouts which are under-dosed in key ingredients:
Another tactic which is commonplace in the supplement industry is for companies to hide their formula behind a proprietary blend.
This means using industry loopholes to list the key ingredients without disclosing the dosages. This allows the company to make the claims on the packaging (i.e. they can say it boosts energy because it contains caffeine) even though it may not contain enough of the ingredient to give the benefits it talks about.
It’s a rule which used to be in place to protect companies from having their formulas stolen by rival companies, but nowadays it’s only really used by manufacturers looking to hide poorly constructed formulas from the buying public.
Sadly, proprietary blends are not limited to small, shady companies. Some of the biggest names in the game continue to use this outdated tactic.
If you buy a pre-made supplement, your best bet is to avoid anything which uses a proprietary blend in the first place.
Here’s some examples of very popular pre workouts that use proprietary blends:
How To Make Your Own Pre Workout
There are two ways to make your own pre workout supplement; basic and advanced.
If you’re looking for something simple and affordable, the basic version will do the job perfectly fine.
If you want to take it up another level, the advanced version will give you a formula which defeats every major pre workout supplement currently available on the marketplace.
Supplement companies often throw untested, experimental, somewhat superficial ingredients into their products in a bid to reinvent the wheel and/or make their tub stand out from it’s competitors.
(i.e. a fancy herb which they claim was picked from the peak of Mt. Everest which promises to burn fat like a motherf**ker.)
But when we get down to the real nitty-gritty, the real science-based stuff that have been proven to genuinely boost your performance in the weights room, you’ll see that the ingredients of a solid pre workout are quite straightforward and easily obtainable without the large price tag.
Let’s start with the key ingredients of the basic version.
NOTE: Just because this is what I do, doesn’t mean it’s what you should do. This article is for informational purposes only, and shows both the ingredients and the dosages that I use. How you respond obviously depends upon your own tolerances, allergies, and diet, so I always recommend consulting your physician before using any new supplements just to be on the safe side.
Ingredient 1: 200mg Caffeine
Caffeine is a proven energy booster, and deserves its place in a top pre workout supplement.
It has been shown to improve everything from focus level, to energy output, calorie burn (although this one is over-hyped, leading to it’s false reputation as a “fat burner”). (1, 2, 3)
Caffeine has also been shown to improve max power output, but this requires a much larger dose of around 400mg. (4, 5, 6)
Interestingly, a 2012 meta-analysis published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal concluded that anything less than 0.95mg caffeine per lb of body weight is ineffective for providing any training benefits. (7)
For a 175lb person, that’s a minimum dose of 166mg to see any training benefits at all.
This should give you a reason (if you needed one) to put down those God-awful energy drinks (i.e. Rockstar, Red Bull, Monster, etc), which are mostly lower than this in caffeine and therefore provide none of it’s potential benefits when used prior to lifting weights.
Most pre workouts come in somewhere between 200-300mg per serving, and a few, like the explosive AML Pre Workout, dare to go with a top-end serving of 400mg to unlock those strength training benefits.
Caffeine’s overall effectiveness in terms of the “kick” you receive largely depends upon your tolerance levels. For example, a coffee drinker would be able to handle more than a complete newbie. (8)
But you now have some baseline figures to work with regarding caffeine for performance benefits, and this should help you when looking at pre workouts in the future.
I recommend starting at 200mg, and increasing the dosage when necessary, but never going above 400mg max (there’s literally nothing extra to be gained from doing so).
Start with a dose of 200mg and increase to 250mg once adaptation occurs. I like to keep increasing until 400mg is achieved. This is the highest I’ll ever go, and once adaptation occurs at this level your best bet is to remove it from your supplement for a few weeks to deflate your tolerance level.
Which One Do I Use?
NOTE: Always opt for caffeine in pill form. Powdered caffeine is far too difficult to dose correctly.
Ingredient 2 – 6g Citrulline Malate
Citrulline malate is the real powerhouse ingredient in your pre workout supplement.
So much so, in fact, it is the first ingredient I tell clients to look for when they are trying a new product for the first time.
You can go read my compehensive breakdown of the benefits of citrulline malate to see the full effects of this mighty amino acid, but for the sake of this post let’s stick to covering the benefits relating to your performance in the gym…
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that supplementing with citrulline malate can boost weight training performance by as much as one rep on every set. (9)
Imagine being able to perform an extra rep on every single set you do.
When we put it into context, it’s potentially amazing, right?
But that’s not all…
Using citrulline malate will also speed up recovery between sets and greatly enhance your pump via increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to working muscles. (10)
Back in the early 2000’s, most pre workout supplements were based around a substance called arginine, which was used to access nitric oxide pathways and give the training benefits shown above. Citrulline is actually converted into arginine once it’s inside the body, but has a much higher absorption rate, and has replaced arginine as the optimal way to boost N.O. levels. (11)
Citrulline Malate Instructions:
Optimal dosage of citrulline malate is 6-8g. Training benefits are maxed out at this point, so there is never a need to go higher.
Which One Do I Use?
Ingredient 3 – 3.2g Beta-Alanine
If you have ever used a pre workout before, you’ll already know what beta-alanine feels like.
It is primarily known for it’s ability to create a tingly, skin-crawling effect known as parasthesia.
While it feels awesomely weird, it is superficial and the body quickly adapts so it won’t be as extreme each time you take it, but it unfairly curses beta-alanine with something I call “The Europe Effect.”
When I was growing up, Europe were a rock band famous for their massive hit The Final Countdown. They had some awesome songs in their back catalogue, but they couldn’t escape that one track and it became all they were known for.
Beta-alanine has suffered much the same fate.
It is known only for it’s skin-crawling effects, and often just thrown in for that alone, but there are significant performance enhancing benefits just waiting to be had if you know how to correctly use beta-alanine.
The main feature of those hidden benefits is it’s ability to buffer against the build-up of lactic acid in working muscles (“the burn”).
A 2008 study discovered that beta-alanine can increase the number of repetitions per set by as high as 25% (!!) due to it’s buffering capabilities. Further research from the UK then put this theory to the test on a group of boxers, and saw improvements of almost 2000% (no typo) in their ability to throw punches in the closing stages of three minute rounds. (12, 13)
A full clinical dose of beta-alanine is 3.2 grams, but most pre workouts come in at 1.5-2g.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing…
New research suggests that consuming two servings of beta-alanine may lead to superior absorption (2x 1.6g = 3.2g). The improvements were only slight, but another benefit of doing it this way is that 3.2g is often too much bang for people to handle in one go, leading to a full-blown bout of Tingle Mania.
We all have that one friend, though, who has become a bit of a beta-alanine fiend and is constantly upping the dose, chasing those early days where one scoop drove them wild. Don’t fall into this trap. Like I mentioned above, the tingling effects are actually superficial. Plus, supplement companies add ingredients like niacin (vitamin B) to simulate the effect and create the illusion beta-alanine is kicking in, when really the product may be under-dosed.
A full clinical dose of beta-alanine is 3.2 grams. You can either go all-in, or consume one 1.6g serving in your pre workout then another during the day instead. Training benefits are maxed out at 3.2g per day, so there is no need to go higher.
Which One Do I Use?
BASIC VERSION COMPLETE!
Ingredient 4 – Betaine
My fourth and final ingredient is the often overlooked betaine.
To create my advanced pre workout, simply add this to the rest of your ingredients.
Betaine (science name: trimethylglycine) is finally beginning to get some recognition after years in the shadow of caffeine and creatine. Once consumed, it is converted into nitric oxide and helps open up those all-important N.O. pathways which allow us to train harder and longer.
And it works a treat.
A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology back in 2013 showed that betaine significantly boosts sprint performance, and that’s what originally spiked it’s popularity among athletes and kick-started its rise up the supplement ranks. (15)
This tied in with earlier research which showed betaine could prolong time to perceived exhaustion during exercise by a monstrous 15%! (16)
Several other studies have since concluded that it can boost training output during cycling, enhance recovery speed between sets of weight training, improve endurance, and even promote greater explosive strength. (17, 18, 19, 20)
Anyone performing high intensity interval training, sprint workouts, cycling, or lifting weights on a regular basis can take advantage of the clear benefits waiting to be had here.
A clinical dose of pre worout betaine is 2.5g.
Which One Do I Use?
ADVANCED VERSION COMPLETE!
That’s it. Four ingredients.
Sounds a bit too simple, right?
Well, it just shows you what an absolute clusterf**k the pre workout marketplace is right now.
These are the four things which we can guarantee will boost your performance when taken prior to training. But that doesn’t stop manufacturers from adding other things into the mix, and you may be wondering why I’ve excluded those big name ingredients, so I’m going to run through them now and show you.
Notable Absentee 1: BCAAs
Yes, there’s no BCAAs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing them.
BCAAs (well, leucine in particular) are great for building muscle, but there’s a time and a place for them and that time is not pre workout. (21)
Taking BCAAs before training can inhibit dopamine production, leadng to quicker-than-usual CNS (central nervous system) fatigue. If you are lifting weights, that’s precisely what you don’t want. (22)
Notable Absentee 2: Arginine
I’ve already explained why we don’t use arginine.
But despite the fact it’sno longer 2004, many supplement companies insist on using it.
Citrulline malate will do the job of arginine and then some.
Notable Absentee 3: Taurine
Taurine is the poster boy of energy drinks.
It’s pretty hard to find a pre workout which doesn’t contain it, to be honest. Only AML Pre Workout springs to mind off the top of my head.
The reason it’s popular is because it can boost mental focus and slightly improve blood flow during training. (23, 24)
But these benefits come with a heavy price. One so heavy, in fact, that it renders any potential training benefits of taurine irrelevant.
You see, taurine is an antagonist of caffine. When we consume both ingredients together it opposes some of caffeine’s effects, and increases the likelihood of a) headaches, and b) decreased training performance. (25)
The benefits of caffeine far outstrip those of taurine, so it makes sense to opt for caffeine.
Notable Absentee 4: Agmatine Sulfate
Agmatine sulfate is a relative newcomer on the supplement scene, but it’s billing as a nitric oxide booster is undeserved.
There’s zero evidence to suggest it actually does it’s job.
Ironically, there are studies out there which clearly show it does the opposite! (26, 27)
The researchers behind a 2014 trial on agmatine sulfate concluded:
“That agmatine is touted for bodybuilding, is completely unsubstantiated and is backed by outright false claims.”Dr. Gad Gillad, study author Long-term (5 years), high daily dosage of dietary agmatine – evidence of safety: a case report (2014).
Notable Absentee 5: Exotic Stimulants (DMAA, DMHA, etc)
Exotic stimulants can be great.
I’ve always been a big fan of DMHA, for it’s ability to create a euphoria-like effect which makes you want to train like Rambo in a field of Vietcong.
The likes of DMHA and rhodiola rosea are growing in popularity thanks to their links with mood enhancement and fatigue reduction, but you should not be handling exoti stimulants when trying to make your own pre workout. It’s too dangerous. I recommend simply buying a pre – like this – which contains exotic stimulants instead.
Also, these type of ingredients have a tendency to get banned.
If you’re an athlete, the only way to safeguard yourself against a USADA penalty is to avoid them like the plague.
This is mainly because there’s a distinct lack of research (for now, at least) surrounding the safety and/or long-term effects of exotic stims. For example, eria jarensis is the current king of DMHA supplementation, and it really will give you a kick up the a** (I’ve used it), but the body of research behind it consists of a mere one study. Worse still, it dates back to 1969. (30)
Literally no other research exists!
Until more significant trials are performed, we should treat exotic stimulants with a lot of caution. After all, remember the scandal surrounding dendrobium extract?
Back in the 2000’s, this high-powered exotic stimulant was used in the massively popular pre workout supplement Craze. When more research was eventually performed, researchers found it was actually spiked with methamphetamine analogue. (31)
So, yeah, play it safe with exotic stimulants…
Is It Cheaper To Make Your Own Pre Workout?
In the long-term, it’s far cheaper.
Let’s break it down.
In each serving of the advanced version of our little D.I.Y. pre workout we get:
- 200mg caffeine
- 6g citrulline malate
- 3.2g beta-alanine
- 2.5g betaine
When I pick up each individual ingredient online from the best sources, the costs are as follows:
- Caffeine: £8.49 for 250 capsules (x250 workouts)
- Citrulline Malate: £28.99 for 500g (x83 workouts)
- Beta-alanine: £22.49 for 500g (x156 workouts)
- Betaine: £18.99 for 500g (x200 workouts)
I also recommend throwing in some flavouring to give it a bit of taste, which will cost around £5.99.
That gives us a total of £81.95.
Here’s where the magic happens…
If you’re training 4x per week, this formula will last you a minimum of 6 months. At that point, the only ingredient you’d need to top up is citrulline malate!
Considering every ingredient is clinically dosed, that’s crazy value.
A poor pre workout, which relies too heavily on caffeine and under-doses all other key ingredients – example – will likely set you back £15-20 per month. Which means you’d be paying £90-£120 over six months, for a product which isn’t even comparable to the one we’ve just built!
How Does A D.I.Y. Pre Workout Compare To Real Pre Workouts?
If you make your own pre workout using my formula above, you’ll notice it’s miles ahead of standard pre workouts which line the shelves of most supplement stores.
Take a look below, where I compare it to five established products of varying quality and price.
VS Applied Nutrition ABE
ABE brings the caffeine hard, with 300mg in a caffeine/teacrine blend. It also contains 2g beta-alanine. The clinical dose is 3.2g but, as shown above, we could split it into two doses so we’d be required to obtain another 1.2g beta-alanine per day from elsewhere.
Where ABE really falls flat, however, is the under-dosing of citrulline malate at 4g, and the unnecessary inclusion of vitamin B3 (niacin), which is there purely to create a skin-crawling effect and mask the fact that there’s less than a full dose of beta-alanine. There is no betaine at all.
ABE is on the cheaper end of the pre workout spectrum, and it’s way ahead of it’s price bracket competitors. Check it out here. But it just cannot compare either in price or performance to our DIY pre workout.
A tub of ABE costs £23 for 30 servings. If we wanted to get six months worth, we’d need four tubs, which would cost £92.
So even though we’ve started by looking at a pretty average/poor product, it’s already more expensive than building your own clinically dosed pre workout from scratch!
If we compare it against supplements which currently sit at the top end of the market, and provide full (or close) clinical doses of each key ingredient, let’s see what happens…
VS Pre Jym
Pre Jym is the current king of the supplement marketplace, and has been for the past few years.
And rightly so.
I’m a fan of Dr. Jim Stoppani and his Jym Supplement Science line.
The main drawbacks of Pre Jym are under-dosed betaine (done purely so you have to also buy Post Jym), the inclusion of taurine, and a stack of BCAAs. Outside of that, it provides a full dose of most key ingredients, with 300mg caffeine, 2g beta-alanine, and 6g citrulline malate.
Pre Jym is expensive, and comes in at £40 for a 30 serving tub. To get six months of workouts we’d require about four tubs, which comes in at literally twice the price of what we built above, or £160.
VS RedCon1 Total War
One of my favourite pre workouts at the moment, RedCon1 Total War is a real contender to Pre Jym in terms of overall quality.
It’s a great product, but it isn’t perfect.
The drawbacks here are zero betaine, the unnecessary inclusion of agmatine sulfate, and once again taurine. It provides 350mg caffeine, 6g citrulline malate, and 3.2g beta-alanine.
The original Total War formula contained DMHA, making it a product athletes should treat with caution. This has since been replaced with juniperus communis, a stimulant said to work with caffeine but no research exists to confirm this.
This product established it’s name as a strong pre workout when it contained DMHA, but now the company is trying to go global to cash in on their popularity they have removed it (DMHA is an banned in a growing number of countries), so we have a slightly watered down version of the original product.
At a cost of £35 for 30 servings, a six month supply would come in at four tubs, or £140.
VS Cellucor C4
Allow me to introduce you to the worst big name in the supplement industry.
Cellucor C4 is inexplicably popular despite it’s radically under-dosed formula and hefty price tag for what is essentially an energy drink.
The 60 serving tub actually provides 30 servings, as a double scoop is required, and the doses are still way off the mark here. 300mg caffeine and 3.2g beta-alanine are it’s saving graces.
With no betaine, and no citrulline (even worse, we get 2g arginine as a substitute), this product is scraping by on a reputation of being one of the original pre workout supplements to hit the market years ago.
At £30 for 30 servings, a six month supply of Cellucor C4 would be £120.
VS Gaspari SuperPump Max
Here’s another example of a hugely popular supplement which simply doesn’t make the grade.
Gaspari SuperPump Max carries a proprietary blend which hides the dosages of most ingredients. We know the citrulline malate content is just 2g, which is nowhere near the necessary amount for performance benefits. It contains taurine, and some BCAAs.
Once again, betaine doesn’t feature and this time it’s joined on the sidelines by beta-alanine (masked by the sneaky inclusion of niacin).
At £30 per tub, we’d need to spend £90 for a six moth supply of this poorly constructed product.
Also, it must be pointed out that Gaspari Nutrition recommend doubling the serving size on their sales page. This still leaves us horrendously short of a clinical dose of citrulline (other doses are hidden, so we don’t know) and would double the cost of a six month supply to £180.
That gives it the unique award of being both the most expensive and least effective product on the entire list.
As you can see, there’s a few of major benefits to learning how to make your own pre workout.
Firstly, it’s cheaper.
Once you have picked up the essentials, you’re good to go and just need to top up every now and then.
Secondly, it cuts out the clutter.
Unproven, experimental and superficial ingredients are thrown to the wayside, and you are able to focus entirely on the stuff which has been proven to do a job.
Finally, you are in control of the dosage for each key ingredient.
That means no more trying to find a new pre workout every few weeks because you’ve adapted to the level of caffeine in your old one. Simply add more caffeine.
And that about wraps up today’s post! There’s more than enough info here to get you started on creating your own pre workout, and remember, you can download this whole thing here.
But hopefully, while reading this comprehensive guide on how to make your own pre workout supplement, you’ve picked up more than just an ingredient list and a step-by-step guide…
Maybe, just maybe, you’ve got hold of some key information about how shady the supplement industry is, and feel much more confident in knowing what each pre workout ingredient is responsible for, and what kind of dosage you need to see those potential benefits become a reality.
If so, it’s “Job Done!” for me.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you can hop on my email list below for more tips. Now get creating!
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