I’ve taken many, many, many brands of pre-workout. About 10 to 15 years ago it was all about proprietary formulas that made the ingredients seem magical. You never really knew what you were getting, and often it was too much of one ingredient and not enough of another. Worse, many unregulated supplement companies treat you as a human guinea pig and filled their supplement with restricted or untested drugs.
Over the last several years, however, many companies have started to sell their products transparently. The reputable companies simply tell you specifically what you are getting in your pre-workout and how much. But it turns out we are still getting short-changed in many cases.
So for about two years, I’ve resorted to purchasing raw ingredients and mixing my own pre-workout. I have a standard formula based on sound scientific studies that I generally follow, but I also adjust the dosing month-to-month based on feedback from my body.
I’ll be the first to admit that it is much easier to simply buy something off the shelf. It’s going to taste much better and will generally provide everything you need for power, focus, and recovery. But crafting your own pre-workout allows for unparalleled customization.
There are five main ingredients that all pre-workouts should provide; I call this the B2C3 Formula. They are:
|Preworkout Ingredient Profile Comparison|
|Creatine (HCL or Mono)||2g or 5g|
Let’s break each of these down and talk about why I chose them for my own pre-workout formula.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that normally causes a calming effect in the body. Ingestion of caffeine prior to exercise has been found to provide extended endurance in moderately strenuous training.
The amount of caffeine I consume depends largely on how I feel. My energy levels are pretty consistent, but caffeine helps me feel more motivated to get started with the day or take on a new workout. Some mornings I simply drink a cup of coffee, which has about 80mg of caffeine, but as a pre-workout standard, I consume 200mg of caffeine in the form of a gel pill. But that is only if I am working out first thing in the morning. If I am working out in the evening, I don’t consume any caffeine at all.
The standard dose of caffeine in order to receive exercise benefits is 300mg according to clinical trials. If you are caffeine sensitive you should adjust this dose based on feedback from your body.
The main role of creatine is to facilitate recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of muscle cells. Creatine Monohydrate is the most widely studied form of creatine, but it is also commonly found as Creatine Hydrochloride. If you are sensitive to creatine monohydrate, try creatine HCL.
Citrulline Malate has been shown to enhance ammonia clearance during exercise which may have a positive impact on muscular endurance. It has also been shown to increase bicarbonates in the blood which play an important role in blood lactate levels by buffering lactic acid. A build-up of lactic acid is what makes our muscles feel sore, and citrulline malate can help reduce the amount of lactic acid build-up. It also supports oxygen delivery to the muscles, which improves endurance and recovery through oxidative burst without oxidative damage.
The standard dose is 6 grams.
The body naturally produces a large number of hydrogen ions during intense training, which creates an acidic environment. This drop in pH inhibits your body from maintaining forceful contractions. Beta-Alanine increases muscle carnosine concentrations, which stabilizes muscle pH and soaks up hydrogen ions. This acts as a powerful intracellular buffer which increases strength, power and muscular endurance.
Beta-Alanine has been extensively studied at a dose of 3.2 grams. However, it has been suggested that some athletes may benefit from a higher dose of as much as 10 grams per day.
The standard dose is 2g of beta-alanine twice per day, ideally immediately before and immediately after your workout.
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
BCAAs are the most important ingredient for a pre-workout supplement. They are essential to muscle and energy production and aid in delaying fatigue onset. In addition, a study done in 1997 suggested that BCAAs also aid in dropping body fat when supplemented in conjunction with a low-calorie diet. Ideally, they will come in the 2:1:1 formula of leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
The standard dose of BCAAs is 6g, but it may help to supplement as much as 10 to 12 grams throughout the day.