With the increasing amount of raw materials that are becoming available to build your own bespoke supplements, the possibility to create a personalised product to meet your own nutritional needs is completely possible. This is especially true with pre-workout supplements. Its likely people will be looking for different things when it comes to pre-workout – for example, something which is more stimulant heavy, or something more focused around pump. Alternatively, you may be more focused on endurance or strength – so you may want to personalise a product to your needs and your activity.
Although some manufacturers, like BULK POWDERS® ensure that their pre-workouts contain a list of tried and tested ingredients at the right dose, there are some products on the market which often under-dose or reduce serving sizes and/or cut costs meaning that there is less chance you are going to get the full benefit of what would ordinarily be very good ingredients. Personalised products offer you the ability to dose as you please.
Secondly, as an attempt to be cutting edge a lot of pre-workouts try to include a number of ingredients that have very little evidence or efficacy at improving whatever facet of performance they are supposed to. These are usually more expensive and less effective than tried and tested ingredients, so end up costing you more with much lower impact on your performance.
How to make your own pre-workout
This is where our guide to build your own pre-workout supplements comes into its own and I will guide you through the key ingredients, the amounts you should take and when to take them to get the best possible benefit from your pre-workout supplementation.
Pre-workouts can loosely be put into two categories either stimulant or non-stimulant based. Typically, stimulant based pre-workouts are designed to increase alertness and mental focus, whereas non-stimulant are typically designed to increase performance in other ways or increase muscle pump. It is of course possible to take an all-in-one approach when creating a pre-workout supplement, but the option of having the raw ingredients at hand can make it beneficial to chop and change depending on your needs that day.
We are going to break down ingredients into different categories and combinations in order to help you decide which will work better with which… starting with those that effect cognition.
The most popular supplement, with good reason, here is caffeine. Caffeine can help increase mental alertness and also act as a stimulant. Its stimulant effects tend to be over shorter periods, so cycling caffeine is often required to get the ‘buzz’ that some people might crave. Doses of up to 200mg are shown to be very effective at boosting mental focus, however always start at a lower dose to assess tolerance1. Caffeine has a very quick uptake and effect on the body so should be taken at 15-30 minutes before exercise to ‘peak’ at the right time.
Caffeine goes really well with other supplements that improve mental performance such as Choline Bitartrate, which a pre-cursor to a key neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Increasing levels of acetylcholine may help support mental performance, making it a worthwhile addition to your supplement armoury for those who are looking to optimise their focus in the gym. Choline should be taken at a dose of around 1g per day to elevate neurotransmitter levels, and is suggested to be taken over 3-4 doses. Like caffeine it is important to start with lower doses of around 100mg per day and build-up to assess tolerance as it can cause headaches2.
In terms of “muscle pump” we have a few different options we can add into the mix including citrulline malate, Trimethylglycine (TMG) and Glycerol Monostearate. Citrulline malate is converted into arginine in the liver which is the key amino acid in the production of nitric oxide (NO). NO is an important as it increases blood flow to the muscles, increasing muscle pump. To optimise pump Citrulline can be taken at a doses of up to 8-10g around one hour before exercise3.
TMG (also known as betaine) helps to promote cellular hydration and this has been linked to improved performance and has also been touted as increasing muscle pump. The recommended dose is 3-6 g daily split in to two doses4. Although this wouldn’t technically make it a pre-workout, much like beta-alanine (see below), it is not so much the timing of this supplement but providing the body with enough of it over time which is the most important factor.
Glycerol monostearate also has the capacity to increase water levels in the cell, leading to increased hydration, more muscle pump and potentially even better performance at doses of 5g taken with around a litre of water, one hour before exercise.
Beta-alanine is a well-researched and effective sports performance improver and works through buffering hydrogen ions accumulated during high intensity exercise. Thus it improves performance by preventing a build-up of hydrogen and negates the negative performance effects of an increasingly acidic environment. Beta-alanine should be consumed at doses of 3-6g per day, however it is important to remember it can take a good period of time to ‘kick in’, up to a few weeks5.
There is also a common side effect to using beta-alanine, feelings of itchiness, which is harmless but annoying! To prevent ‘itchy’ side effects associated with beta-alanine, it is suggested to split the dose into a few smaller doses over the course of the day.
Another cheap and effective performance booster is bicarbonate, which can be found in an effective form in regular baking powder. This has a more immediate effect than beta-alanine but works in a similar way, to buffer lactate, when taken at a dose of approximately 0.5g per kg of bodyweight around one hour before training.
One thing you may have noticed here is that for maximum effect we might need to consider taking supplements at slightly different times due to how quickly they impact on the body, whereas for others it doesn’t matter so much as long as we provide enough over long enough time periods to increase levels in the body.
If we were combining our more short acting supplements such as caffeine, beta-alanine, bicarbonate and citrulline malate into a single pre-workout supplement we are going to probably want to aim for a middle ground of around of 45 minutes to an hour before a workout. For convenience we could also include some of the other supplements such as TMG as part of the daily required dose in the mix as well.
As mentioned at the beginning, the range of Pure Series™ products available, gives you the freedom to personalise your nutrition – you can pick-and-choose which ingredients you wish to combine to focus on the different aspects relating to your training style, the time of day you train (avoiding stimulants late in the day) and also the main focus of your training sessions. One of the important points to consider here is that of the raw ingredients listed, even those that have similar effects, work through slightly different pathways so that each in their own right can be an effective addition to your own pre-workout formula without having unwanted overlap, allowing you to ensure your own formulations are as effective as possible and flexible to your changing needs.
1: Lorist and Tops, (2003) Caffeine, fatigue, and cognition.
2: Penry and Manore, (2008) Choline: an important micronutrient for maximal endurance-exercise performance?
3: Perez-Guisado and Jakeman, (2010) Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness.
4: Lee et al., (2010) Ergogenic effects of betaine supplementation on strength and power performance.
5: Artioli et al., (2010) Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance.