Athletes of all levels, in all sports, in every continent use pre-workouts products. They straight-up work. You can feel them.
Thousands of new products have risen up to meet these needs. Some of the products work great, most don’t. It takes at least a Master’s degree in labeling reading to decipher these “high-tech” formulations. Don’t fall victim to a pretty label, you can make a much better homemade pre-workout supplement, and at a fraction of the cost.
I came up with my own formulation over a decade ago, and since then have tweaked my own recipe to match the latest research and hands-on experience. Instead of reinventing the wheel, borrow from my learnings.
Warning: always consult your doctor before starting new supplements.
Benefits of Homemade Preworkout
Initially, making your own pre-workout feels like a science project. It gets easier. Embrace your inner mad scientist. But that begs the question:
Why make your own preworkout?
- Cost per serving is a fraction of what you pay in-store.
- Dose of the ingredients. You won’t get skimped on minuscule doses of the more expensive ingredients.
- Form. Some forms of ingredients are absorbed more easily or just work better. Manufacturers often cut corners and choose the ineffective forms to save a buck.
- Fillers. These inactive ingredients add bulk, texture, and take up space. Some inhibit absorption of other ingredients. They probably won’t improve your health.
- Clean raw ingredients. Commercial supplements often contain contaminants and adulterants. As a result, pre-workout supplements cause athletes to unknowingly fail drug tests.
- Sweeteners. Does taste matter to you? I’ve gulped down some pre-workouts that make cough medicine taste like nectar. You can tailor the sweetness and flavor to your heart’s content, at the same time avoiding gut-damaging artificial sweeteners.
- Customize the formula for the occasion. I usually workout in the morning, but sometimes life happens and I push my workout to the evening. Caffeine, commonly dosed at 350+ milligrams (3 cups of coffee worth) per pre-workout serving, doesn’t exactly fit my evening workout schedule.
You can source the highest quality raw ingredients, something very few manufacturers do. You’ll know exactly what you’re consuming and can tweak your formula as necessary.
The Best Ingredients For Your Preworkout Base
I’ve seen hundreds of different ingredients in popular pre-workouts. From common vitamins and minerals to rare herbs. I have nothing against either, but I design my formulations based on what works — according to real-world testing, and science.
My home made preworkout cocktails include two parts:
- Base. I start every preworkout with the same proven ingredients.
- Boost. I add additional ingredients depending on workout type, length, and intensity. I consider these optional.
Base ingredients work for virtually any type of exercise. I always use them. Then sometimes I add a boost.
Great preworkout supplements, at a minimum, should having the following base ingredients:
Most commercial pre-workouts include beta-alanine.
You’ll likely feel the (harmless) tingling or itchy sensation it causes. Vegetarians, vegans, and those with diets excluding animal products notice even greater effects.
It’s an intense and acquired sensation. I had hesitations until learning that the sensation is harmless. Beta-alanine is a peak performance jack-of-all-trades.
The supplement guide Examine.com categorizes the supplement as promoting lean-mass, acting as an antioxidant, and exerting anti-aging effects.
Specifically, beta-alanine improves muscular endurance, and anaerobic running capacity while decreasing fatigue, and fat mass.
Dose: 2–5 grams
The king of performance-enhancers.
I’ve already written about the nootropic benefits of creatine, and the data supporting its use in exercise is even more compelling. It can be taken whenever, but I like the convenience of putting it in my pre-workout.
Intense exercise drains your body. Creatine ramps up cellular energy (ATP) production in both the mind and body. More energy available leads to better workouts.
Athletes turn to creatine for greater strength, power, hydration, anaerobic running capacity, VO2 max, testosterone, and muscular endurance. Studies also show it to reduce fatigue, blood glucose, and muscle damage.
Creatine’s one of my long-time favorite supplements for a reason.
Dose: 3-5 grams daily. Ideally split into two doses to reduce any potential bloating.
Form: Creatine monohydrate because it is cheap, well studied, and works.
3. Citrulline Malate
Another well-studied favorite of endurance and power athletes alike. Citrulline Malate (CM) straddles the performance and anti-aging worlds.
Citrulline Malate provides you with the best of several worlds:
- Malic acid
Citrulline reduces fatigue and improves endurance for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Citrulline also reduces muscle soreness, and increase a nutrient-transporting molecule called nitric oxide. Finally, it increases growth hormone, blood flow, and ability to handle greater training volume.
Inside the body, citrulline malate converts into the almighty amino acid L-arginine (more effectively than supplemental arginine itself). L-Arginine circulates the blood, promotes weight loss, helps synthesize growth and repair hormones, and improves exercise resilience.
Citrulline —> L-Arginine —> Nitric Oxide
You can get enough by eating a boatload of watermelon, or by supplementing CM.
Dose: 6-8 grams.
4. Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)
Amino acids an athlete’s friend. Without them, peak performance won’t happen for long.
I consider them a “shotgun” supplement that can do everything from stave off cravings to improve athletic performance. Proteins are made up of nine essential amino acids. You get amino acids from diet, but most of us don’t get enough of certain ones. That can impair our workouts.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) and EAAs are not the same. The key difference between the two groups is their composition.
- BCAAs are three of twenty amino acids
- EAAs are nine of twenty amino acids
EAAs more closely remember the profile of what you’d find in food.
BCAAs just don’t work. In fact, some research suggests they’re worse than nothing at all. I stopped taking BCAAs because I read research associating use with B vitamin depletion, deleterious effects on serotonin, and blood sugar problems.
The low levels of the other six non-BCAA amino acids make all the difference.
The above ingredient, citrulline malate covers just two of the nine amino acids. Think of EAA supplements as an insurance policy to fill any amino gaps.
Dose: 5-10 grams.
The rare (safe) sugar that helps your body produce energy without stimulants, D-Ribose has far less literature behind it than the above ingredients and only recently made my stack.
I consider it a “nice to have” ingredient.
D-Ribose is believed to work by turbocharging your mitochondria. The energy in your cells uses ribose as a backbone. The more of it you have, the faster you can bounce back and recover during and after exercise.
Rest assured, unlike other sugars, ribose actually lowers your blood glucose.
Dose: 5 grams.
Cordyceps is a rare fungus native to high-altitude regions of China and Tibet. It is used as natural vitality elixir to boost energy, improve stamina (up to 20 percent), resist fatigue, and increase strength.
This is one of the rare ingredients that you actually feel. Sometimes I’ll use it in my genius coffee recipe for an added kick. But mostly, it’s a staple pre-workout supplement.
The performance gains are hypothesized to occur from increasing the mitochondria’s output of ATP cellular energy.
Other benefits include:
- Increased lactate threshold (10.5 percent increased tolerance)
- Increased movement tolerance (8.5 increased ventilatory threshold).
- Increased high-intensity exercise tolerance
Cordyceps also makes the body more resistant to the ravages of stressful soul-crushing workouts.
The Chinese have been using cordyceps for thousands of years. Practicioners claim that it can even protect the brain and increase testosterone (though studies have no confirmed this yet).
When choosing a cordyceps supplement, make sure to ask about the level of the primary active ingredient called cordycepin. See my Real Mushrooms review to learn why they grow some of the best mushrooms available.
Putting it All Together
You have the ingredients, an idea of what they do, and how much to take. Now we combine them and separate into proportioned doses.
One day I’ll get a fancy, industrial machine, but until then I manually ration out each dose into a separate container (or bag).
You have two options to actually make your preworkout drink:
- Mix the ingredients each time you workout
- Batch the process and make many servings all at once
I prefer the latter. From years of making my own I also no longer use flavoring or sweetener. I know, gross.
If you own a scale, use it to measure out the right portion of each. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on the scoopers included with the products. Check the nutrition label for the serving size and portion accordingly.
For example: If the label says 1 scoop is a 5-gram serving, that means you would use about 1 and 1/2 scoopers full of citrulline per serving.
You get the point. Rinse and repeat for as many servings as you want to prep. I like to make ten at a time.
A quick word on the absorption of pre-workout supplements and supplements in general. Some ingredients do in fact increase how much of others you can absorb. You might want to rethink using them.
Bioperine, also called black pepper extract or piperine, is the main absorption enhancer I see in Curcumin and pre-workout blends. It’s like a trojan horse, helping compounds usually broken down by the liver escape into blood circulation.
That’s great to get more out of your pre-workout, but it comes at the cost of interfering with other liver processes. Examine.com elaborates:
Piperine inhibits drug detoxifying enzymes. This typically increases bioavailability of any compound which would normally be attacked by said enzymes. This can be good… or it can be bad by stopping a protective measure against toxic xenobiotics.
Piperine alters drug metabolism. This can dangerously affect precisely dosed compounds. It works similarly to taking a different dose.
I’ve seen and heard from people that they experienced side effects.
I removed piperine from my stack.
Key Ingredients For Homemade Pre-Workout Drinks
You now have your pre-workout base. It’s nothing to sneeze at.Six ingredients in the right form and dosed properly top virtually any pre-workout on the market, without breaking the bank. Click To Tweet
I add boosters to my formula for certain events and important workouts. I’ll throw in some caffeine if I am working out before noon. You can even add a brain boosting nootropic drink to further enhance your performance.
Together they cover a variety of pathways ensuring that I get the most out of each and every workout session.
I’ve seen amazing results over the years as have other people that use the stack.
What about you? Do you take a preworkout supplement? What are your staple ingredients?