Want to learn how to make your own pre workout supplement from scratch?
Well, you’re in the right place! This step-by-step guide will teach you all the ingredients you’ll need (and the ones you don’t), without the hype.
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 era of watered down rock and mumble rap, it still sounds amazing.
A top of the line pre workout should provide that same kick up the a** you felt the first time you heard the opening riff to Welcome to the Jungle. The hairs standing up on your forearms. The “Holy s**t!” feeling. Everything.
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HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN PRE WORKOUT
Here’s the golden rule to making your own pre workout:
Stick to the basics.
By that, I mean use only the proven, 100% results-based ingredients.
Supplement companies often build products around untested, experimental ingredients in a bid to make their tub stand out from competitors (i.e. a fancy herb which they claim was picked from the peak of Mount Everest which claims it can burn fat like a motherf**ker), but when we get down to the real nitty-gritty, only a few ingredients are PROVEN to genuinely improve performance in the gym.
In fact, there are just four.
DISCLAIMER: 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”). Caffeine has also been shown to improve max power output, but this requires a much larger dose of around 400mg. (1, 2, 3, 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.
Of course, a large part of caffeine’s “kick” comes own to the trainee’s tolerance level. For instance, a hardened coffee drinker would probably require a higher dose. (8)
Remember when I mentioned adaptation? Caffeine is one of the key ingredients that causes this. However, the benefit of making your own pre workout is that YOU control the dose. I recommend starting at 200mg, and increasing the dosage when necessary, but never going above 400mg (there’s literally nothing 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. I use this one.
NOTE: Always opt for caffeine in pill form. Powdered caffeine is too easy to measure incorrectly.
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 thing I tell clients to look for when they are trying a new product.
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)
When we put it into context, it’s potentially amazing, right? Those reps will really add up!
But that’s not all…
Using citrulline malate will speed up recovery between sets and greatly enhance your pump, via increased 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. I use this one.
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 sensation known as parasthesia. However, there are significant performance enhancing benefits just waiting to be had if you know how to use it correctly…
A few weeks into usage and those tingly sensations will have worn off. Most people presume it’s not working anymore, but this is false. The REAL benefits are just getting started. You’ll notice beta-alanine is helping you to fight against “the burn” (the build-up of lactic acid in working muscles) during high rep sets. These extra reps can lead to some fantastic results.
So how much of an improvement are we talking about here?
Well, an interesting 2008 study showed that beta-alanine can lead to as much as 25% more reps per set! Further research from the UK then put this theory to the test with a group of boxers, and saw improvements of almost 2000% (no typo) in their ability to throw power punches in the late stages of three minute rounds. (12, 13)
A full clinical dose of beta-alanine is 3.2 grams per day.
You can either take it all prior to training (welcome to Tingle Town!), or split it in two.
A full clinical dose of beta-alanine is 3.2 grams. You can either go all-in, or consume 1.6g serving in your pre workout then another after the gym. Training benefits are maxed out at 3.2g per day, so there is no need to go higher. I use this one.
INGREDIENT 4 – 2.5G BETAINE
My fourth and final ingredient is betaine.
After years in the shadow of caffeine, betaine (science name: trimethylglycine) is finally starting to get some recognition as a quality performance booster.
Once consumed, it is converted into nitric oxide and helps open up those all-important N.O. pathways, which allow us to train harder for longer – and it works a treat.
A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology back in 2013 showed that betaine greatly improves sprint performance, tying in with earlier research which showed it can also prolong time to perceived exhaustion during exercise by a monstrous 15%! (15, 16)
The research has just carried on building since then.
Several other studies have shown us it can boost training output during cycling, enhance recovery speed between sets of weight training, improve overall endurance, and even promote greater explosive strength. (17, 18, 19, 20)
In a nutshell, if you are performing high intensity interval training, sprint workouts, cycling, or lifting weights on a regular basis can benefit from betaine!
A clinical dose of pre workout betaine is 2.5g. I use this one.
That’s it. Four ingredients.
Sounds a bit too simple, right?
Well, it just shows you what an absolute clusterf**k most pre workouts are.
These are the four things which we can guarantee to boost your performance when taken before a workout. But in case you’re wondering why I’ve excluded a few big name ingredients, I’m going to run through them and show you why.
NOTABLE ABSENTEE #1: BCAAS
Yes, BCAAs are out.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing them.
BCAAs are great for building muscle (leucine in particular), 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, leading 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’s no longer 2004, many supplement companies insist on using it.
Citrulline malate will do the job of arginine better than arginine itself.
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.
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 caffeine. When we consume both ingredients together it prevents caffeine from doing its job, and increases the likelihood of a) headaches, b) feeling sluggish, and c) 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 its reputation as a nitric oxide booster is undeserved.
There’s zero evidence to suggest it actually works. Ironically, there are studies out there which show it does the opposite! (26, 27)
Here’s a quote from the head researcher behind the biggest long-term study on agmatine so far:
“The fact that agmatine is touted for bodybuilding 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).
NOTABLE ABSENTEE #5: EXOTIC STIMULANTS (DMAA, DMHA, ETC)
Exotic stimulants have a unique ability to make you feel like Rambo in a field of Vietcong.
I’m a fan; but it is simply too dangerous to experiment with. Plus, research on them is very scarce, and this article is science-based! For instance, the entire body of research on Eria Jarensis (the current king of DMHA supplements) consists of one study which dates back to 1969! (30)
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.
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)
IS IT MORE COST EFFECTIVE TO MAKE YOUR OWN PRE WORKOUT?
It sure is.
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 source, the costs are as follows:
- Caffeine: £10.99 for 200 capsules (x200 workouts)
- Citrulline Malate: £28.99 for 500g (x83 workouts)
- Beta-alanine: £26.99 for 500g (x156 workouts)
- Betaine: £18.99 for 500g (x200 workouts)
I also recommend throwing in some flavouring to give it some taste, which will cost around £4.99.
That gives us a total of £91.95.
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!
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN PRE WORKOUT
When you learn how to make your own pre workout from scratch, you unlock three major benefits.
First, it’s cheaper, because once you’ve picked up the essentials, you’re good to go and just need to top up every now and then.
Second, it cuts out the clutter by focusing only on ingredients which have been proven to work. No more proprietary blends. No more half-a**ed ingredients.
And finally, you can slow down adaptation because YOU control the dosage for each key ingredient. That means you won’t need to find a new pre workout every 3 weeks because the caffeine isn’t giving you a kick anymore. Simply add more caffeine.
That wraps up today’s post! There’s more than enough info here to help you create your own pre workout, and remember, you can download this whole article here.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you can hop on my email list below for more tips. Now get creating!
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