What’s your favorite pre-workout supplement? Are you getting the right active ingredients in their proper dosages? Can you even tell, or are the specific dosages masked in a proprietary blend? Are the stimulant ingredients overdosed to give you a feeling of being amped for your workout? And what about artificial sweeteners, flavorings, and fillers?
We’ve reviewed several pre-workout products from the stalwarts in the sports nutrition space, such as Transparent Labs, Cellucor, JYM, Ghost, and GAT. Most of these are excellent products; however, if you wish to know precise dosages and omit unwanted artificial ingredients, it may be time to D.I.Y.
In this article, we explore creating your very own pre-workout supplement. If you want to avoid over or under-dosing, use only the ingredients you need to achieve your goals, and wish to have no concerns regarding label transparency – being your own formulator is the way to go. Want an energy boost? You can do that. Seeking a non-stim product, no problem. Too much beta-alanine causing unpleasant tingling or flushing, adjust the dosage. Feel bloated when using creatine monohydrate; use creatine HCI instead. The beauty of the concept is that you control the ingredients and customize the dosages based on your specific needs and possibly at a discount versus the major brands.
So, ready to learn how to make your own pre-workout? Let’s jump right in!
Part I – Before We Formulate
Before we begin playing mad scientist and start concocting our pre-workout brew, we need to understand the function of a pre-workout – what it’s expected to do for you. What defines a pre-workout supplement beyond taking it before you work out?
The Function of a Pre-Workout Supplement
The role of a pre-workout product is to provide the nutrients necessary to support the exercise program you’ve designed to achieve specific physical goals. Most pre-workouts provide an energy component in addition to ergogenic aids to build and maintain muscle, increase strength, enhance endurance, and hasten recovery. The beauty of formulating your own is that you can customize the ingredients and dosages to emphasize your specific needs. For example, those wishing to keep their gains as lean as possible, or lose a bit of excess body fat, may opt to add a cutting agent. For those seeking more stamina, beta-alanine can help by buffering lactic acid, allowing you to train longer and harder. Seeking bigger muscle pumps, add an ingredient to support vasodilation such as citrulline or arginine, Betaine, or beetroot; all help dilate or widen the arteries for improved blood flow to the muscle.
There are myriad potential ingredient combinations for your consideration. We review the most popular pre-workout compounds later, detailing their specific functions and benefits and providing scientific evidence of their effectiveness.
What is a Pre-Workout Supplement?
Pre-workout supplements are multi-ingredient compositions (MIPs), consumed before your workout, formulated to provide energy, enhance strength and endurance, elicit focus, and aid recovery. They are ergogenic aids designed to improve your athletic performance. Manufacturers theorize and advertise that the combination of ingredients in a MIP product delivers a synergistic effect; they produce benefits beyond what a single component might provide. This has led to the widespread use of proprietary blends as manufacturers seek to protect their unique formulations.
Although pre-workout supplements come in different forms, such as capsules, tablets, and ready-to-drinks, this article will focus on powders, by far the largest segment of the market. Pre-workouts are further segmented by their purported benefits. There are products that prioritize energy and focus, others that contain diet aid compounds, and a complete sub-segment that addresses NO (Nitric Oxide) production and vasodilation. For example, Cellucor, a pioneer in the pre-workout space with its C4 products, now provides the following iterations:
- C4 Original
- C4 Ripped – cutting agents
- C4 Ultimate – higher stimulants
- C4 Sport – NSF certification as Safe for Sport
- NO 3 – Nitric Oxide non-stimulating pre-workout in capsule form
To optimize its share of this $14 billion category, Cellucor continues to further segment its offerings with additional line extensions, including:
- C4 Ripped Sport
- C4 Ultimate Shred
- C4 Extreme Pre-Workout
- C4 Dynasty MMXX
The list continues and is joined by a complete line of C4 ready-to-drink products.
The above illustrates how manufacturers customize the ingredients and dosages in their formulas to achieve specific objectives. In Part II, we’ll show you how to customize your pre-workout to provide energy, stamina, and focus, while supporting strength and muscle gains to get the most out of your training sessions.
Part II – Creating Your Pre-Workout
You don’t need to be a biochemist or have a food science degree to formulate a quality and effective pre-workout. Manufacturers in the natural product industry provide every ingredient you need, whether you are developing products for resale or personal consumption. This segment details the various compounds you’ll want to consider for your product, their recommended dosages, explains their purpose, and validate their effectiveness based on scientific clinical trials.
Step 1 – Determining Your Objectives for Your Pre-Workout Supplement
To quote Lewis Carrol, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” In this instance, if you don’t articulate your goals and the benefits you are seeking in your pre-workout, any product off the shelf will do. To take the concept a step further, once you know your goals and objectives, you first need to address diet, ensuring you are getting the proper nutrients and your training regimen. Only when these are dialed in is it time to formulate your pre-workout.
As seen in the Cellucor examples above, pre-workout products can be formulated to improve certain conditions or improve aspects of exercise performance. Specific ingredients are best used for energy and focus, to increase strength or power, boost endurance, promote mass, or cut excess body fat. Once you understand what you value most in your pre-workout, it’s relatively simple to select the ingredients from the section below to deliver the desired results.
For inspiration, below is a list of potential benefits you may want in your pre-workout:
- Lean muscle gains
- Muscle pumps – vasodilation
- Strength gains
- Muscle mass
- Weight loss
- Joint support
If forced to select one set of benefits most people seek in a pre-workout, it would be energy and focus, increased stamina, lean muscle gains, and less body fat – all providing the motivation to get in the gym, train hard, and improve.
Now that you’ve defined your objectives, we’ll help you understand how to combine specific ingredients and compounds to deliver the benefits you seek. But first, let’s be sure you are accessing said ingredients from a reputable source.
How to Select a Pre-Workout Ingredient Supplier
There are several methods to source the ingredients you’ll need in a pre-workout. First, and our recommendation, select a supplier that can be a one-stop resource for all the ingredients you’ll need – there are several. Second, purchase each ingredient independently, accessing your creatine from one supplier, caffeine from another, and so on. Third, start with a base product, an energy drink, or a simple pre-workout and mix in additional ingredients.
Regardless of your approach, do your due diligence to identify the type of company you wish to do business with or the ingredients you intend to purchase. We recommend you only consider companies/products that adhere to the following practices:
- Companies/ingredients made in the U.S. in a cGMP-certified (current Good Manufacturing Principles) facility
- Patented, trademarked ingredients, with clinical studies to validate their structure/function claims whenever possible
- Compounds third-party tested for quality and purity
- Ingredients certified by USP, NSF, or Safe for Sport
- Organic, Non-GMO, Vegan-certified ingredients
Virtually every retailer and manufacturer in the industry will offer stand-alone ingredients such as creatine, beta-alanine, caffeine, citrulline, arginine, etc. Multiple companies will provide white-label products/ingredients to label as your own brand for resale. There are fewer companies that offer a full line of components specifically for you to formulate your supplements for personal consumption. In our research, we found three that fit this description:
- BulkSupplements.com – cGMP, FDA registered facility, third-party lab tested for purity, COAs (Certificate of Analysis) available for ingredients upon request
- TrueNutrition.com – sports nutrition focus, third-party tested
- PureBulk.com – made in the U.S., third-party lab tested for quality/purity, COAs upon request
Important note: Each of the above companies offers calibrated milligram scales to ensure you are formulating and dosing your ingredients precisely.
Making Your Own Pre-Workout: Key Ingredients
We start this segment with an example of a pre-workout formula designed to achieve the most frequently sought set of benefits mentioned earlier, increased energy, focus, endurance, stamina, lean muscle gains, with less body fat.
- Caffeine Anhydrous 200 mg
- Creatine Hydrochloride (HCI) 2 grams
- Beta-Alanine 2 grams
- L-Citrulline DL Malate 6 grams
- Betaine Anhydrous Trimethylglycine 1.5 grams
- Huperzine A 75 mcg
- Black Pepper Extract 10 mg. Possible add-ins include BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids)
- EAAs (Essential Amino Acids)
- L- Glutamine
- Alpha GPC for its nootropic qualities
- Cayenne Extract or Acetyl L-Carnitine for fat burn
Each of these items is available at BulkSupplements.com. A calibrated food scale is mandatory to ensure proper dosages. We recommend Caffeine Anhydrous be the one item you purchase in capsules versus powder for exact dosing. Available in 100 mg capsules, simply open and insert the contents of two capsules in your formula.
If the ingredient names sound technical or confusing, once you visit a full-service bulk supplier, you will be directed to the appropriate compound. The function and benefits of these and additional key ingredients are detailed below.
Caffeine – In addition to being the primary energy component in our formula, clinical trials support caffeine for enhanced endurance, cognitive function, reducing fat, and as a diuretic to rid the body of excess water weight. It is one of the most extensively researched ingredients in our formula and proven effective. Although we used a modest 200 mg, the recommended dosage is 3-6 mg per kilogram of body weight or about 300 mg for a 200-pound person.
Creatine – The most clinically studied sports supplement ever, this ergogenic aid is used for improved athletic performance, increased anaerobic strength, and lean muscle gains. Creatine is available in its original form as a monohydrate, Hydrochloride, the HCI used in our formula, esthers, and chelates. We recommend either the monohydrate in a 3–5-gram dose or HCI at 2 grams due to its superior absorption. Many people will use creatine both pre-and post-workout at similar dosages.
Beta-Alanine – Beta-Alanine, the non-essential amino acid responsible for that sometimes-unpleasant tingling feeling. We include Beta-Alanine for its buffering action, reducing lactic acid build-up, allowing you to train longer and harder – may also aid in blocking fat and improving recovery. At our proposed 2 grams in this pre-workout, we are in the mid-range of the recommended 1.6 – 3.2 grams per day.
Citrulline Malate – Citrulline malate, a combination of the amino acid citrulline and malic acid, converts to arginine in the body – responsible for the vasodilation (dilating or widening of the arteries) that improves blood flow to the muscles. Experts tell us citrulline increases NO (Nitric Oxide) production better than arginine. Supported in clinical studies for reducing DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) and increasing stamina, citrulline also helps eliminate free radicals produced during intense exercise. Improves muscle pumps and is beneficial for cardiovascular health: recommended dosage – 6 grams per day.
Betaine Anhydrous TMG – Is a unique, naturally occurring modified amino acid produced in the body and found in beetroot. Betaine may reduce fatigue and boost protein production in addition to its health benefits for the liver and joints. Clinical double-blind studies support the use of Betaine to improve athletic performance, support muscle development, and improve body composition at a dosage of 1.5 to 3 grams, one to two times daily.
Huperzine A – A popular ingredient frequently found in cognition/nootropic products. Research studies indicate that Huperzine effectively improves focus, mood, and memory and increases the amplitude of muscle contractions. Dosage: 50 – 200 mcg daily. Important dosing note, the recommended 50 – 200 mcg daily are micrograms – not milligrams.
Black Pepper Extract – Typically, we would recommend the patented version of black pepper extract, BioPerine, from the Sabinsa Group, in a 5-milligram dose, for improved absorption and bioavailability of the nutrients in our pre-workout. The patented version is not available through BulkSupplements.com, so we substituted a generic black pepper extract. The generic version, rich in piperine, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may aid digestion: dosage, 5 milligrams.
Additional Beneficial Ingredients for a Pre-Workout Formula
AAKG (Arginine-alpha-ketoglutarate) – An NO (Nitric Oxide) precursor, like L-Citrulline, promotes vasodilation. The primary benefits are muscle pumps and muscle mass. Dosage 2.5 grams up to three times per day.
Agmatine Sulfate – Another option for increasing NO levels, plus Agmatine Sulfate, in conjunction with resistance training, may promote the release of testosterone. Agmatine may also increase the appetite for those seeking more mass. Dosage 750 mg pre-workout.
Alpha-Glycerol – Alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha GPC) is a choline compound known for its cognition and mental acuity benefits. Frequently found in nootropic products, Alpha GPC in a pre-workout supports muscle contractions and may aid in the natural release of growth hormone (GH). Effective dosage: 300 – 600 milligrams in your pre-workout drink.
BCAAs – Previously used almost exclusively in inter-workout products, BCAAs are now prevalent in pre-and post-workout products. We suggest you use BCAAs minimally post-workout. The branch-chain amino acids are Leucine, isoleucine, and valine, the building blocks required to synthesize other amino acids and proteins. The correct ratio for BCAAs is 2 parts Leucine, 1 part Isoleucine, and 1 part valine. Dosage: 6 grams once or twice daily.
Beet Extract (Beetroot) – Another option for your nitric oxide precursor for vasodilation, beet extract, is rich in nitrates. Often sold as a stand-alone supplement for sexual health and libido, beet extract beetroot has been gaining popularity in pre-workout formulations. Dosage for athletic performance is 250 milligrams as an extract, preferably before exercise.
Cayenne Pepper – Derived from cayenne peppers, consider Cayenne Extract if you are looking to lose weight or burn body fat. Cayenne is a thermogenic, fat burner, and has potent antioxidant properties. 500-1000 mg pre-workout.
EAAs – Some nutritionists recommend adding the remaining six essential amino acids to your BCAAS in your pre-workout.
BulkSupplements.com offers both BCAAs and all nine EAAs for your convenience.
L-Carnitine – For those seeking a cutting or weight loss ingredient, several iterations of L-Carnitine are available, Acetyl, L-Tartrate, HCI, and Alpha Lipoic Acid. Acetyl-L-Carnitine is our recommendation. Carnitine is an amino acid that helps transport fatty acids converting them into usable energy. Benefits also include heart and brain health. Dosage recommendations range from 600-2500 mg per day.
L-Glutamine – Glutamine is one of our favorite amino acids (the most abundant amino in the body) for repair, recovery, and mitigating exercise-induced muscle soreness. This would generally be in our pre-workout formulation; however, we would use it in our post-workout product if forced to choose. Glutamine is also beneficial for gut health, supports the immune system, and aids in digestion. Dosage five to ten grams pre-and post-workout.
L-Tyrosine – The amino acid tyrosine supports your metabolic processes to help maintain a healthy weight. It provides energy, improves mood and focus, and conserves energy to reduce fatigue from training. In addition to pre-workout, Tyrosine is frequently used in energy drinks and nootropic products to improve alertness, attention, and focus. Dosage: 500 to 2,000 milligrams, taken 30–60 minutes before exercise.
N-Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC) – N-acetyl cysteine, derived from L-cysteine, is a semi-essential amino acid because your body can produce it from other amino acids, serine, and methionine. Frequently formulated in nootropic products for relaxation, in sports nutrition, endurance athletes use NAC for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Daily recommended dosage – 600 – 1,800 milligrams.
Taurine – Taurine is an organic compound found predominately in the eyes, brain, heart, and muscles. A naturally occurring antioxidant, Taurine is often used in pre-workouts for energy, muscle function, and recovery. Dosage: 500 – 2000 milligrams per day.
Other potential pre-workout ingredients available from BulkSupplements.com include:
- Various types of whey protein – yes, you can make a pre-workout shake or smoothie
- Pea protein for vegans or vegetarians
- Casein protein for a time-released pre-workout shake
- BHB Salts for those on a Keto Diet
- Individual amino acids
- Green coffee extract
- Vitamins and minerals
The combinations are endless and will address virtually any function or benefit you might be seeking in a personalized pre-workout supplement.
Flavoring Your Pre-Workout Supplement
One challenge to a D.I.Y. pre-workout is taste. No matter how efficacious your formulation, you won’t stay the course if you can’t choke it down due to the taste. Fortunately, you have several options.
- Starting with a great-tasting energy drink, you can add the other compounds you desire in your pre-workout.
- Similarly, adding the ingredients you need to a shake or smoothie can conceal less-desirable tastes.
- Ingredient tastes can be concealed with various sweeteners; monk fruit (also available in bulk) is an all-natural sweetener for those who wish to avoid artificial ingredients.
- Bulk flavorings, such as Lemon, Lime, Pineapple, or Juniper Berry.
- Flavor packets, such as Crystal Light, or an all-natural water enhancer
Dialing in your favorite flavor will take some trial and error. Manufacturers expend significant time and money on getting their flavors just right. The good news is that you can adjust flavorings for a single drink until you achieve the desired taste rather than invest in a 30-serving tub.
In Summary – Crafting Your Own Pre-Workout
Perhaps we’ve saved the best to last. Mixing your pre-workout with ingredients purchased in bulk may be significantly less expensive – once you’ve defrayed the cost of a quality scale. You determine the ingredients you desire and exclude the fillers and artificial compounds found in many branded products. You control the dosages, so there is no under-dosing of active ingredients and over-dosing of stimulants. And finally, there is the pride of authorship as your pre-workout delivers the inspiration, motivation, and discipline to help you achieve your desired results.