When I first started working out at the gym, I was just excited then as I am now, almost 2 years later. I wanted to be strong and aesthetic. In order to do this, there were a few things that I thought were necessary (on top of a good program). The first one was a protein supplement. No-brainer there, for the most part. The second, which I had heard of, but never really experienced, was preworkout.
After doing some research and reading here, and on other forums, the general consensus was that Cellucor C4 was a pretty good choice. So naturally, I ordered a small tub (30 servings or so) and waited impatiently.
The first day at the gym with preworkout was great. I felt alert, energetic and stronger than I ever had. It was the beginning of a new era of stimmed-up workouts.
Over the next few months, I continued using C4, but also did a lot of research and reading about lifting, strength, and the like. At this point, I was about a year into the gym, and I saw more and more people mention the benefits of a simple cup of coffee before working out. Looking through the nutritional information on the packaging of C4 and other preworkouts online, I started noticing a trend in ingredients. Caffeine was present in all of them, and in most, other ingredients like creatine, beta alanine, citrulline and BCAAs as well. More research was required.
There are a lot of other great tools though, one of my favorite being Examine.com (I am in no way affiliated with Examine). I’ll admit that I’m definitely an armchair scientist/researcher, but I feel that Examine does a really good job of being transparent, open and informative to the average reader (such as myself). So, I set out to discover why these preworkouts contained what they did, and how I might be able to save some money.
One of the major takeaways from my reading was that while many of the preworkouts contained the ingredients that I would eventually include in my homemade preworkout, they were not present in high enough doses to be entirely effective. Obviously, in commercial preworkouts this was to reduce cost, however, when buying these raw ingredients myself, it was much cheaper. When I calculated the cost of my homemade preworkout, it ended up being less than 1/3 of the cost per serving, while containing better (higher) doses for each ingredient.
I settled on what seemed to be the most evidenced supplements on Examine.com, and which currently make up my homemade preworkout that I’ve been using for almost a year now. I have included the doses that I use, but everyone is different – you may need to adjust as needed. In fact, I highly recommend doing your own research to determine what would work best for you.
|Ingredient||Quantity per serving||Why it’s included|
|Caffeine||200mg||Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and it can be used to improve physical strength and endurance. It is classified as a Nootropic because it sensitizes neurons and provides mental stimulation. (Examine.com)|
|Beta Alanine||3 grams||Beta-alanine has been shown to enhance muscular endurance. Many people report being able to perform one or two additional reps in the gym when training in sets of 8-15 repetitions. Beta-alanine supplementation can also improve moderate to high intensity cardiovascular exercise performance, like rowing or sprinting. (Examine.com)|
|Creatine||5 grams||Creatine’s main action in the body is storing high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. During periods of stress, phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function. This is what causes strength increases after creatine supplementation, but this action can also aid the brain, bones, muscles and liver. Most of the benefits of creatine are provided through this mechanism. (Examine.com)|
|(Optional) Citrulline||5-10 grams||L-Citrulline is used as a sports performance and cardiovascular health supplement. L-Citrulline supplementation results in reduced fatigue and improved endurance for both aerobic and anaerobic prolonged exercise. There is not enough evidence to support the claim that L-citrulline supplementation improves power output during exercise. (Examine.com)|
|(Optional) BCAAs||5-10 grams||BCAA supplementation, for people with low dietary protein intake, can promote muscle protein synthesis and increase muscle growth over time. It can also be used to prevent fatigue in novice athletes. (Examine.com)|
Citrulline and BCAAs are considered optional because: A) the jury is kind of still out on citrulline (although more useful for endurance athletes than weightlifters) and B) unless you are vegetarian/vegan/fasted, BCAAs will likely have a negligible impact on your performance.
I’m Canadian and source my supplements from Canadian Protein (again, not affiliated), but I’m sure the US has a comparable source.
Obviously, there will be people that argue that you don’t need a preworkout, or simply recommend a cup of coffee. Which is true, you don’t. But for myself, I do feel I need a boost at the end of the day, and being able to tailor my preworkout to my needs, rather than taking a scoop of a proprietary blend that may or may not contain useful ingredients, is a fantastic way to become more involved in my fitness performance.
A number of people have asked me how I take this preworkout, or if you can mix it beforehand to avoid doing it per serving.
- Fruit juices, especially those like lemonade, are great for mixing this preworkout since some of the ingredients (citrulline and BCAAs, caffeine in powder form) can be very sour. Fruit juices are good at masking these, and I usually use juices from concentrate.
- If you want to pre-mix your PWO in order to make a big batch, I would recommend throwing in a teaspon or so of cinnamon. This will allow you to see if the mixture is blended properly and the ingredients evenly distributed.
Best supplements to use. caffeine, creatine, beta alanine, citrulline and BCAAs (last 2 optional) are all you need for a solid preworkout. You can buy these in bulk and it’ll be cheaper than a commercial PWO, with almost identical benefits.