Build Your Own Pre-workout

Today we’re going to be breaking down how you can make your own science & evidence based pre-workout. Now you might say, why would I want to make my own pre-workout?

Well first off, it’s cheaper, so that’s awesome.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, it lets you decide what’s actually in it.

A lot of pre-workouts on the market aren’t very good. They’re often under-dosed on the performance enhancing stuff and overdosed on stimulants and sometimes filled with questionable ingredients to just make your heart race.

I’m going to tell you where I get my bulk ingredients, what my own pre-workout mix is, how much of everything I add, and why I use each ingredient.

So, lets get into it.

Now one of the first things people ask when discussing this subject is:

Where to buy the ingredients?

You can definitely go buy individual canisters of ingredients from stores like GNC or Popeyes. Unfortunately they’re marked up quite a bit and you’ll have the sales guy trying to sell you on the latest and greatest fat burners, testosterone boosters and other random non-essential stuff.

That’s why I personally just go and buy directly from bulk supplements. They make pure bags of ingredients that are super inexpensive and great quality.


If you want to purchase ingredients, check out Bulk Supplements.com and use code DRSAM5 for 5% off.

Click on each ingredient below to get it from bulksupplements.com – We’ll go into detail on each of these throughout this post.

Creatine Monohydrate

Beta Alanine

Caffeine Pills

Citrulline Malate

Betaine

Salt


Creatine.

Creatine is one of the most researched supplements. Without a doubt, its the most supported for providing a benefit. If you don’t know much about creatine, here’s a basic break down:

Our muscles naturally store creatine in them.

When our muscles contract, creatine helps to transfer this thing called phosphate which is used to help create muscle contractions. So whenever you do high intensity activity, you’re using creatine to help replenish energy for your muscles to work.

If you don’t have enough creatine, you can’t maximize your potential amount of work in a set time.

Creatine supplementation can increase how much creatine is stored in your muscles, increasing how much work you can do in a set time. So basically, if you’re trying to lift more, jump further, sprint faster, do more reps, creatine is a great choice. It can encourage improved muscle development, and a lot more!

We’re going to have a full separate blog discussing proper dosage for different reasons, as well as breaking down the different kinds of creatine!

For now, we’re going to say that intaking approximately 3-5g per day is ideal for most people. You do not have to add Creatine to your pre-workout, but it is a reasonable time to take it. You do want to try and take it as well on off days as it’s something that your body needs to build up in your system.

Ingredient #2 is:

Beta-alanine.

The name is fun to say and it is a really great supplement, what else can you ask for.

Beta-alanine is an amino acid that is absorbed from our stomach to our blood stream and into our muscles. When absorbed, it combines with other molecules to help buffer hydrogen. This makes it an effective supplement to help when pushing into higher reps and moderate length high intensity activities.

So if you’re pushing into the 8-15 rep range, or doing activities that require someone to work hard for 1-4 minutes it can be helpful and increase your performance.

In contrast to creatine where it’ll help you in the moment lift more weight, or be more powerful, beta-alanine won’t. Instead, it’ll help you lift for longer, getting more reps. In fact, it appears that it can increase rep performance by about 12-13%.

So when you layer that on for multiple sets, multiple sessions, multiple weeks to months, its going to add up and help you build more muscle.

Similar to creatine, this is a supplement that you don’t necessarily need to take pre-workout, but for simplicity and consistency, its easiest to just take pre-workout. The standard dose is essentially the same as creatine, sitting around 3-5g for most people.

You will notice that as you get into higher doses of it, that there is a tingling effect. This isn’t dangerous, it’s just a harmless effect due to stimulation to the nerves that lead to the skin. If you don’t like that sensation though, you can spread your dosage out through the day. It seems that if you take about 0.5-2g most people don’t experience it. So you could take 3-5 dosages of 1-2 grams and eliminate it.

As well, similar to creatine, we want to try and take this on rest days as its something we want to try and build up in our system.

On to #3:

Caffeine.

We all know caffeine, it’s become such a huge component of modern life, whether we are looking at coffee or energy drinks. Pre-workouts are no different, with caffeine being a staple in most of them.

When we look at the performance enhancing benefits of caffeine, the literature is overwhelming that whether you are trying to run farther, lift more, or just about anything physically demanding, caffeinating up for it will help.

Just like the prior two ingredients, the dose is important. It appears that in order to get a true performance enhancing dosage, you need to take in about 3-6mg/kg. So for someone who is about 70kg or 155lbs, that’s going to be at least 210mg.

And for someone who is about 100kg or 220lbs, like myself, that’s going to be about 300mg as the lowest dosage for performance enhancement.

You can definitely take less, and that can help with alertness and mental function, but it doesn’t necessarily have as much benefit for strength or endurance.

For those wondering if the kind of caffeine matters, most of our research doesn’t really indicate it matters whether you get it from coffee, a caffeine pill, liquid, or whichever way you choose.

Generally a cup of coffee will have about 100mg, though it can vary a  lot. Whereas a caffeine pill will have a consistent amount, which can be a benefit.

Now, you don’t have to take the prior two ingredients pre-workout to see benefits, this one you do.

If you intake a solid dose of caffeine way before your workout, it’s going to help you crush your day. But then you won’t have any energy when it comes time to train. So a key aspect of caffeine supplementation is the timing.

We see that caffeine will begin having an effect about 15-30 minutes after ingestion. Peak levels are usually closer to an hour. Generally the effect will last for 2-6 hours for most people, with it gradually coming down after that hour mark. That’s why generally taking it about 30-60 minutes before training is a good idea.

Personally I start ramping up my caffeine intake about 60 minutes. I add an extra dose at 30 minutes before training so that I really feel it when I’m done warming up.

Next up:

Citrulline Malate

If you’re looking for a way to ramp up your pump, then this one is definitely for you.

Citrulline is an amino acid that our body can absorb really well. When we ingest it, it helps to ramp up arginine levels in our blood that allows you to make more nitric oxide. This facilitates better blood flow to our muscles – AKA the pump.

In addition to enhancing your pump, citrulline helps to reduce fatigue. This lets you work harder longer – particularly in regards to anaerobic exercise.

If you go to buy Citrulline, you can often find it as either L-citrulline, or citrulline malate. Both are beneficial, but it’s likely that citrulline malate is a better option for any one resistance training.

When looking at the citrulline malate powders, there are usually two kinds offered – a 1:1 ratio and a 2:1 ratio. The literature doesn’t point to a huge difference between them, but a 2:1 might be a little better. Most studies show a benefit from 6-8 grams dosage.

Generally it’s recommended to take about 30-60 minutes before training. This is very much in line with caffeine, which makes timing easy. It’ll usually have a peak effect about 1-2 hours after intake, so by the time you get to your pump work, you’ll be feeling it.

It is worth considering also taking it on rest days as research generally shows that there is a possible aspect of it needing to accumulate like creatine and beta-alanine. However, there is also research showing citrulline has a lot of cardiovascular benefits.

You likely don’t need to take as much as most of the literature looking at that shows a dosage of 2-6 grams per day.

Alright, ingredient #5:

Betaine

This one is lesser known to the masses, but it’s emerging as a supplement that holds a lot of benefits.

For anyone who has been around supplements for a while, they may have seen the beet root juice craze that happened before. Essentially people were seeing health and performance benefits from beet root juice and from that it lead to people pounding the red juice back.

One of the key compounds in beet root juice is betaine – which actually got its name from being found in beets. After realizing that the effect was coming from this compound, we’ve seen the isolated compound begin getting utilized more and more.

The supplement has been found to have a benefit for decreased fat mass, increases in lean body mass, benefits for endurance, and some benefits for strength & power.

It’s effects are a bit more variable, which one aspect is possibly due to how much betaine someone gets from their diet. You see if someone doesn’t eat much betaine rich foods and then supplements with it, they’ll likely see a pretty big increase. In contrast, if someone already its a pretty rich betaine diet, they won’t see as much benefit. They may still see some, but not as much.

Most of the research indicates that a dosage of 2.5g per day is a good starting place. If you’re someone who doesn’t each much, you might benefit from more, and vice versa.

Alright, last but not least:

Salt.

You might be wondering, well that’s not really a supplement, and you’d be right, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it as one.

Salt is made up of sodium and chloride which are two electrolytes. Sodium is a really important one in particular for exercise as it facilitates muscle contractions and the absorption of amino acids.

So adding a bit of salt to your pre-workout can be beneficial for ensuring you have a good amount of electrolytes in your system when you train, but it also might help with the absorption of the other amino acids.

If you dig into this one, you’ll see all kinds of arguments about different kinds of salt, but at the end of the day it doesn’t seem to matter much.

The dosage on this one is super small, just 50mg. Generally a teaspoon of salt has 2300mg so you’re looking at a dash of salt.

The pre-workout shake:

3-5g of creatine

3-5g of beta-alanine

200-400 grams of caffeine

6-8 grams of citrulline malate

2.5 grams of betaine

50mg of salt

That’s it! If you liked this article and would like to see it in video form, check out our YouTube video on this exact topic!

2 replies on “Build Your Own Pre-workout”

Hi Sam,

I’m a runner training for a marathon doing about 50km a week and working in 3 strength sessions from your strength for runners program.

How would a pre-workout be different for endurance athletes?

At the moment mine is honey toast and a double espresso!

Hi Michael,
The pre-workout listed would actually still be very beneficial for an endurance athlete. Creatine will have less of a direct effect, but it is still beneficial for a lot of reasons. Otherwise, I’d just add the other things to your honey toast!

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