If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’ve come to the conclusion that mixing your own pre-workout supplements is the best way to go. Perhaps you’ve tried several (maybe several dozen!) pre-workouts and nothing seems to be exactly what you’re looking for. If this is the case, you’re not alone.
As our more frequent readers know, the vast majority of pre-workout supplements are absolutely terrible…
There are three major flaws with pre-workout supplements
- Ineffective Ingredients
- Under-dosed Ingredients
- Unnecessary (Possibly Harmful) Ingredients
We should probably point out that there are in fact some pre-workout supplements out there that don’t suffer from any of these flaws. Check out this list of our Top 10 Pre-Workout Supplements if you’d like to know what they are.
But chances are, as previously stated, you’re already aware of those and would like to just skip the trial and error process and make your own. Understood! Let’s get started…
Selecting The Right Ingredients
Which ingredients to include in your pre-workout supplement depends entirely on what you want it to do. Too many supplement companies just bundle a bunch of ingredients together and tell you it’s awesome. They never bother to tell you what each ingredient is for, why it’s in there, etc. Some companies won’t even tell you how much of each ingredient is in there! But that’s another story. Let’s talk goals.
When it comes to enhancing muscular endurance, there are a couple supplement which are actually quite effective and very reliable…
Beta-Alanine is a precursor to Carnosine, a dipeptide comprised of Beta-Alanine and Histidine, higher muscular concentrations of which are associated with greater muscular endurance. Higher muscle Carnosine levels have been noted in athletes as opposed to non-athletes, and Beta-Alanine supplementation has been shown to be very effective for increasing muscle Carnosine concentrations and ultimately improving muscular endurance.
The effects take time to become noticeable, but 3-6g of Beta-Alanine daily will lead to noticeable performance enhancement in as little as 1-2 weeeks.FIND IT HERE
When it comes to Beta-Alanine supplements, you don’t need anything fancy. Just go with a brand you trust. We trust Optimum when it comes to single ingredient supplements because they have developed an excellent reputation for quality and transparency over many years.
Citrulline Malate is the amino acid L-Citrulline bonded with Malic Acid. Although L-Citrulline may be effective in it’s own regard, Citrulline Malate has been used in most of the studies pertaining to muscular endurance and found to be quite effective. At doses of 6-9g, Citrulline Malate has been shown to increase muscular endurance, specifically the amount of reps subjects were capable of doing later on in the workout when fatigue would have normally set it.
Citrulline works by reducing the amount of fatigue-causing Amonnia that builds up in muscle tissue during contractions and increases the efficiency with which we use oxygen while working out. The overall result is a noticeable enhancement in muscular endurance.
Citrulline has also been shown to reduce muscle soreness resulting from exercise, making it an effective recovery-aid as well. Furrthermore, Citrulline can also restore muscle protein synthesis rates in instances where muscle protein synthesis rates are hindered (as is the case when your in a fasted state). For this reason, we recommend stacking Citrulline with Leucine if you train fasted or use a BCAA supplement that combines a clinical dose of Citrulline with a clinical dose of Leucine. So far, only Momentum Nutrition Amino Beyond has done that.FIND IT HERE
Citrulline is usually found as either L-Citrulline or Citrulline Malate. We recommend Citrulline Malate since that is the form used in most of the studies which noted muscular endurance. Citrulline Malate (usually in a 2:1:1 ratio of Citrulline to Malic Acid) should be dosed at 6-9g.
Most pre-workout supplements these days are just stimulant cocktails, but there are some ingredients that can actaully increase your physical strength and power output during exercise. Some work acutely, like Alpha GPC, while others take time, like Creatine.
Creatine is by far the most extensively-researched muscle-building supplement and, when dosed correctly and taken regularly, it is extremely effective. Contrary to what some believe, Creatine is entirely safe and does not put a strain on any organs, even at high doses.
Creatine enhances the ability of muscle cells to regenerate ATP (cellular energy) during times of increased energy demand. This results in a direct increase in strength and power. Creatine also causes cells to take in additional water, leading to a phenomenon known as cellular swelling and ultimately increasing the size of the muscle.
Creatine should be supplemented at 5g a day or more for atleast several weeks and it doesn’t really matter when you take it. For this reason, you can feel free to leave it out of your pre-workout supplement. Although many supplement companies do still include it, research indicates that pre-workout Creatine supplementation is no more beneficial than taking it at other times. In fact, there is some preliminary research which indicates post-workout supplementation to be ideal, so if anything, we recommend taking Creatine post-workout.FIND IT HERE
With literally thousands of Creatine supplements on the market, many of which claim superiority over others, just go with a trusted brand at a good price. Creatine Monohydrate is as effective as any form of Creatine, even HCL. There is no point in over-paying for “designer” Creatine.
Betaine is similar to Creatine in that it regulates the amount of water in cells and can lead to the same cellular swelling as Creatine. Betaine supplementation has been shown to increase strength and power output in multiple human studies.
Almost all studies have used 2,500mg/day so this is what is considered a true clinical dose. Many pre-workouts contain Betaine but most don’t contain a clinical dose. Settle for no less than 2.5g.FIND IT HERE
You’ll find Betaine as either Betaine Anhydrous or Trimethylglycine. These are the same thing. Just go with a brand that you trust and that appears to do a good amount of business (you don’t want expired Betaine!).
Alpha GPC is the most bioavailable Choline supplement available. It is easily able to cross the blood-brain-barrier where it can be used to synthesize Acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter which controls the mind muscle connection (among other things).
Although other forms of Choline may still be able to cross the blood brain barrier (like CDP Choline), Alpha GPC is the only form which has actually been shown to increase muscular power output with just one dose. This makes it a highly effective addition to any pre-workout intended to increase strength and physical performance, but it is almost always under-dosed.
Ideally you’ll want to shoot for 600mg of Alpha GPC in your pre-workout, as that is the dose shown to increase power output.FIND IT HERE
Most Alpha GPC supplements aren’t sold for the purpose of physical performance enhancement because most of the research in that area is fairly recent. Instead, you’ll find it marketed mostly as a Nootropic (cognitive enhancement agent), but it doesn’t really matter what it’s marketed for. Just go with a brand that you trust and that provides 300mg serving sizes so you can easily acheive a clinical 600mg dose.
Many people value what Arnold famously referred to as “The Pump”. That is, that felling of tightness that occurs when your crushing your workout and your muscles become absolutely engorged with blood. If that sounds appealing to you, there are some ingredients that can dial up the pump aspect of your pre-workout supplement.
In recent years, the popuularity of Agmatine has increased dramatically. The funny thing is, there are actually no human studies which have established any sort of performance enhancement benefits. All the evidence is entirely anecdotal, but there are a fair amount of people out there who swear Agmatine gives them pumps.
Agmatine allegedly works by activating Endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase (eNOS), the enzyme that directly triggers the production of Nitric Oxide. Again, there is no research pretaining to Agmatine and performance enhancement, but it does have a mechanism by which it may induce some pumps. It’s kind of a “try and see” supplement moreso than one we’d absolutely recommend. Also, it tastes pretty bitter so heads up! You’ll need 1-2g most likely.FIND IT HERE
Agmatine comes primarily as Agmatine Sulfate. It has a bitter taste but can be masked somewhat easily with any type of juice or flavored drink. PrimaForce is a highly trusted brand when it comes to single ingredient supplements, but there are many other brands that offer Agmatine.
Glycerol is a type of compound known as an osmolyte. All this means is that it is capable of regulating the hydration status of cells. In this way, it is similar to Creatine and Taurine. By drawing water into your cells, Glycerol can provide some pretty powerful pumps, assuming it’s dosed correctly.
If you really want to induce some notable pumps, try taking 3g of Glycerol prior to your workout.FIND IT HERE
Glycerol is usually going to found as Glycerol Monostearate, although there are more pure forms out there that yield higher amounts of actual Glycerol.
While there are certainly many people who crave sheer energy from stimulants, there are those of us who can appreciate ingredients that help us focus but not through stimulant means. Such ingredients are generally called Nootropics. Most alleged “Nootropics” are nonsense, but some of them actaully work and are worth considering if you’re looking to enhance the focus aspect of your pre-workout formula without dialing up the stims.
Citicoline is one of the most bioavailable forms of Choline. It can easily cross the blood brain barrier where it converts in part to Acetycholine. Unlike most Choline prodrugs, Citicoline has actually been shown to improve cognitive function in healthy human subjects. If you’re looking to enhance the cognitive aspect of your formula (i.e. better reaction time, focus, etc.), try tossing in 250mg of Citicoline.FIND IT HERE
Huperzine A is found in a lot of pre-workouts these days, and for good reason. It functions as a fairly potent Actylcholinesterase inhibitor, effectively blocking the enzyme that braeks down Acetylcholine in the brain. The result is more Acetylcholine, which may result in better reaction time, focus, and more powerful muscle contractions.
In a sense, Huperzine A does the inverse of Citicoline, so the two are theoretically synergistic. Citicoline increases Acetylcholine production and Huperzine A stop Acetycholine breakdown. You only need 50-200mcg (that’s MICROgrams) of Huperzine A. Don’t try taking more than that. You’ll surely regret it if you have an Acetylcholine overload.FIND IT HERE
Vinpocetine is generally sold as a Nootropic, but it works by increasing blood flow to the brain. Therefore it may also make for an effective pump-enhancer as well. For nootropic purposes, try taking 10-20 of Vinpocetine prior to your workout.FIND IT HERE
Energy And Focus
Caffeine is the most common ingredient found in pre-workout supplements. This is because it’s effective for most people and remarkably safe. Caffeine triggers the release of Noradrenaline which induces a state of increased focus and perceived energy.FIND IT HERE
How Much To Use
How much Caffeine you should use depends entirely on your individual tolerance, and unfortunately, individual tolerances vary quite significantly. Some people feel the effects of Caffeine quite intensely with as little as 100mg, while others need as much as 300-500mg. If you have absolutely no idea how much Caffeine to take, try taking 100mg. Nothing? Move up. Just keep going until you achieve your desired level of stimulation, and then do your best to maintain that dose.
Although nowhere near as common as Caffeine, Hordenine can be found in several pre-workout supplements and fat-burners. Hordenine doesn’t do much on its own, but it can enhance the effects of Caffeine. This is because Hordenine blocks the enzyme (Monoamine Oxidase) that normally breaks down neurotransmitters like Noradrenaline (released by Caffeine).FIND IT HERE
This makes Hordenine a good option for those who fear they are too Caffeine tolerant and need something to step up the energy without taking way too much Caffeine.
How Much To Take
Standard doses of Hordenine are around 50mg. This is a good starting point.
Dialing Up The Stimulant Aspect
If you want to take your pre-workout into “high-stim” territory and really maximize the energy and focus, you may want to toss Rauwolscine into the mix.
Rauwolscine, also known as Alpha Yohimbine, is a chemical relative of Yohimbine but is much more potent. Anecdotal reports suggest it is also much less likely to cause side effects, as Yohimbine can be very harsh for some people.
Rauwolscine is also capable of inducing some significant weight-loss in a relatively short period of time.FIND IT HERE
How Much To Take
Rauwolscine tends to be dosed around 1-3mg, but we strongly suggest you start with 1mg. Rauwolscine is quite potent and some people may feel way too stimulated at just 2-3mg. It’s not like Caffeine guys…don’t think you can handle it just because. If you haven’t used Rauwolscine before, start low.
Balancing Out The Stimulant Aspect
Theanine is an excellent ingredient if your worried about the harsh side effects of stimulants such as Caffeine. It has been shown not only to function as a non-drowsy relaxation agent on it’s own, but also to enhance the cognitive benefits of Caffeine while reducing the negative side effects. Theanine and Caffeine is one of the few combinations of ingredients that is truly synergistic.FIND IT HERE
Rhodiola Roseas is one of the most widely researched adaptogenic herbs. It can help the body adapt to stress, both physically and mentally. Unlike most other herbal extracts commonly thrown into pre-workout supplements, Rhodiola has actually been shown to enhance exercise endurance and reduce fatigue, making it useful to just about anyone who enters the gym.
It’s almost always under-dosed in pre-workout supplements, probably because too much of any herbal extract tends to alter flavor profiles too much, so we recommend just taking it in capsule form. Shoot for 500mg or so of a 3% standardized extract or better.FIND IT HERE
When it comes to selecting the right Rhodiola supplement, there are a ton of options. We trust NOW, but there are other more expensive brands out there as well. The important thing is that it’s standardized to some amount.
Should My Pre-Workout Contain BCAAs?
Recently, several pre-workout supplements have been released which contain BCAAs and, for some reason, have been referred to as “Elite” or somehow superior to non-BCAA containing pre-workout supplements, as if cramming every known ingredient and then charging a boatload for it makes it effective.
Here’s the honest truth about BCAAs. Unless you don’t eat for several hours prior to your workout, or are consuming less protein than you should be, BCAAs prior to your workout won’t do much for you, and certainly isn’t worth paying a premium.
This is because BCAAs do not induce abnormal muscle growth, but are absolutely an effective means of combating the muscle breakdown that generally occurs during fasted training. So if you’re training fasted, throw em in there! But if you eat protein an hour or two before you lift, you’re probably just wasting your money.
What About Arginine?
Okay so…we’ll just be very clear about this. ARGININE SUCKS! What you really want is Citrulline. Companies that put Arginine in their pre-workouts are just trying to cut costs, taking advantage of the fact that most supplement users don’t do their homework.
Fortunately, we’re here to help you out with your homework, and the facts are pretty clear on Arginine. It just isn’t particularly effective for performance enhancement or even pumps. Citrulline is the way to go, just dose it right.
The Bottom Line On Creating Your Own Pre-Workout
When it comes to mixing your own pre-workout, experimentation is key. Don’t go overboard mixing every ingredient we just discussed. Select a few that sound intriguing to you and build from there. Many of our Top Rated Pre-Workout Supplements are pretty simple, but provide clinical doses of effective ingredients in each serving.
Still, the best pre-workout for you is going to be the one that you create from scratch specifically for your goals. Goodluck! Let us know how it goes in the comments below!