Making your own homemade pre-workout is a no-brainer. Benefits include:
- Save money
- Higher dose of your preferred ingredients
- Control over dosage
- Tailored to what works for you
- No nasty additives or fillers
- No sucralose or other undesirable sweeteners
Pre-workout supplements are probably the biggest group of supplements in the market today. Twenty years ago, there were no pre-workout supplements and folks just focused on fueling their workouts with food and perhaps, some coffee.
For example, Arnold was known for eating 10-15 eggs per day and “a lot of meat”. He also didn’t skimp on carbs and ate healthy fats.
We’ve come a long way from the original pre-workout formulas. The OG pre-workout, which was called Ultimate Orange and had ephedra (now banned), caffeine, and aspirin. Needless to say, this was not a safe way to stimulate your workout!
The pre-workout ritual of taking supplements is more of a marketing scheme than a necessity. Adequate nutrition is really all you need. However, there are some supplements that are scientifically-backed to provide some great benefits and increase your results.
Ingredients That Make a Good Pre-Workout
Ingredients that make a good pre workout include those that make you feel energized, focused, and ready to move. These ingredients should support your workout goal, whether that’s to push out a few extra reps, run for a longer duration, help build muscle, or give you the energy to get through your sprints.
- maca root
These pre-workout ingredients are scientifically supported and excellent ingredients for your homemade pre-workout.
Anything that makes you feel on edge, jittery, alters your mood negatively, or leaves you feeling burnt out, is not appropriate for your homemade pre-workout.
Similarly, avoiding artificial sweeteners that alter your gut flora, such as sucralose is a huge benefit to a making a homemade pre-workout. Same goes for artificial colours which have been connected to health problems.
Taking any pre-workout supplement is completely based on preference. One reason you can benefit from a pre-workout supplement routine is that it utilizes habit stacking.
So, if you are often forgetful when it comes to taking supplements that you wish to use for your health regimen, taking them pre-workout, along with other workout-boosting ingredients is a great way to stack your workout habit with your supplement habit to ensure you stick to it.
Why Take Homemade Pre-workout:
- Preserve muscle
- Build muscle
- Fat burning
- Prevent soreness
- Speed recovery
- Building a supplement timing habit
Common ingredients for homemade pre-workout:
Note that not all of these supplements need to be taken pre-workout and many of them are not needed if your nutrition is already adequate. I’ll provide some tips and tricks below for more information.
- Citrulline malate
- MCT oil
- Maltodextrin or dextrose (fast digesting carbs)
- L-tyrosine (helps with caffeine jitters)
Try this: Red Velvet Cheesecake Energy Smoothie (with beets!)
Here is an overview of some of the most popular pre-workout ingredients and tips on how to take them:
Caffeine preworkout has the most evidence: easily accessible in pill form or coffee, the most scientifically backed stimulant for preworkout is caffeine.
Preworkout caffeine pills don’t work for everyone: You may need to play with timing
Caffeine can give you the boost you need to motivate you to workout:* struggling with a motivation slump? Taking caffeine preworkout can boost your mood and energy enough to workout.
Caffeine only works if you are sensitive to it: if you are desensitized to caffeine or take too much, too often, you will not experience the same effects. Don’t take it every day.
Cycle caffeine for the best benefits: take caffeine preworkout up to three days per week for your more intense workouts. If you currently work out five days a week or more, only use caffeine to get you through your higher intensity training sessions, which you should be limiting to 2-3 days per week.
*Beware of using caffeine to force yourself to work out if you are tired or overtrained. Be sure to listen to your body. Rest if you need to, don’t force yourself with stimulants or you will risk messing up your hormones and overtraining.
Preventing Caffeine Jitters
- Smallest effective dose: only take what you need to feel above baseline. For people who drink a lot of coffee already, caffeine pills and powder might not be appropriate and may not even work. If you take too much, too often, caffeine and other stimulants won’t work as well.
- L-tyrosine: helps to balance out the effects of caffeine jitters.
Using Caffeine for Pre-workout – The Goldilocks Rule
If you want to use caffeine in your homemade pre-workout but are concerned with caffeine jitters and insomnia, follow the Yerkes-Dodson Law (or Goldilocks Principle).
This law is an established biological phenomenon in the field of neuroscience that says stimulants (arousal) will increase your performance only up to a certain point. After this point, which is different for everyone, your performance will decrease.
So if you find caffeine is causing your workouts to suffer, but you want to experiment more before completely giving it up, try backing off the dosage until you find the “goldilocks zone” of caffeine consumption that works for you.
- Creatine is highly effective, just not immediately: creatine is very effective and well backed by scientific studies. The effects of creatine are not felt or seen immediately, but over a couple of weeks and onward.
- Creatine timing: Taking creatine pre-workout is not necessary. You can take creatine at any time of day and it should be taken every day for its full effect to be realized. Your body needs a higher amount of creatine in a steady dose for you to get results from taking it. The benefit of taking creatine pre-workout is that it becomes a part of your routine. Especially if you take other supplements pre-workout. However, you can take it any time of day and should take it daily in a cycle.
- Avoid stacking creatine and caffeine: Some sources say that caffeine interferes with creatine absorption if taken at the same time, so you may want to leave your creatine until after your workout.
- Can increase blood flow: this is your nitric oxide preworkout supplement. Arginine is an amino acid that produces nitric oxide. The science is not conclusive on how effective arginine preworkout is for this purpose.
- Converted into arginine in the kidneys: so has a better absorption rate than arginine.
- May increase blood flow: it’s not super substantial, however.
- Citrulline is more expensive: citrulline preworkout is more expensive than some other ingredients on this list and not proven to be effective enough to be worth the money unless you really like the pump.
- Stack citrulline and arginine: Taking citrulline pre-workout may benefit from being taken at the same time as arginine. Taking citrulline with arginine pre-workout will boost the blood serum levels of arginine for a longer duration than if taken alone.
- Take 3-6 grams: You can take arginine up to 3x per day, up to 15-18 grams per day.
BCAAs are branched-chain EAAs (essential amino acids). Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are non-essential amino acids that your body makes itself, but there are also 10 essential amino acids that you cannot make and must obtain through your diet.
Branch-chain amino acids are three of those 10 essential amino acids. BCAAs have been shown to provide particular benefits to the body. They are:
Studies have shown that these three amino acids can:
- Help build muscle
- Decrease muscle fatigue
- Reduce muscle soreness
Some important notes about taking BCAA preworkout:
- BCAAs are not necessary if you eat enough protein: supplementing with BCAAs is only necessary if your protein intake is low. Eat 0.6-1 gram of protein per lb of body weight.
- BCAAs could help vegans: BCAAs preworkout can be beneficial if you are not getting enough protein in your diet, which is very common among vegans.
- BCAA preworkout for fasted workouts: if you are working out fasted, then taking BCAAs can help mitigate the damage to your muscles and provide all of the other benefits without breaking your fast to take protein powder or eat a protein-rich meal
- Protein powder is cheaper and superior: 1 scoop of 15 grams of protein powder is 1,500 milligrams of amino acids, which includes a large portion of EAAs and BCAAs. 1 scoop of 3g BCAAs preworkout is not going to compare to a scoop of protein powder. Protein powder is much cheaper on a dosage-basis.
- Eat a piece of chicken: 2 hours before you work out for all the BCAAs you’ll need.
- Causes your face (or butt!) to tingle: beta-alanine is what causes that tingly feeling in your pre-workout. If that feeling makes you believe that your homemade pre-workout is “working”, you’ll want to add it ;). If you hate that feeling, avoid it!
- Taking beta-alanine preworkout buffers acid in the muscles: this allows for increased bursts of physical performance.
- Helps increase reps: If you’re working in the 8-12 rep range for hypertrophy, taking beta-alanine preworkout can help you get out an extra couple of reps.
- Beta-alanine pre-workout boost your cardio and HIIT: If you are a sprinter or rower, taking beta-alanine pre workout can give you better performance metrics.
Maca for Pre Workout:
- Maca root is an all natural pre workout: this ancient root has been used for thousands of years to boost stamina and stave off hunger during physical activity.
- Maca helps increase focus and energy: taking maca powder pre workout can help boost focus and energy because it is a nootropic and adaptogen. It helps to regulate the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
- Maca is a nutrient powerhouse perfect for homemade pre-workout: Maca has all 8 essential amino acids, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, C, and E.
Tips for Mixing Your Homemade Pre-workout
1. Weigh out your desired dosage amount of each product x the number of servings you desire to make in a batch. For example, if you’d like to make a 30 dose batch, and you wish for 5 grams per dose, you’ll need to weigh out 150 grams of creatine. Repeat this for each ingredient you wish to mix.
2. Add a teaspoon of a coloured ingredient such as cinnamon, Gatorade powder, beetroot powder, or greens powder. Combine. When you see this coloured ingredient is mixed through, you’ll know your homemade pre-workout is evenly distributed.
3. Be sure to mix your homemade pre-workout whenever you use it if you see the colored ingredient has settled. Sometimes, a more dense preworkout ingredient will settle to the bottom and you will end up dosing incorrectly.
Homemade Pre-Workout DIY Mixes
Homemade Pre-workout for Muscle Gain
- 1 tablet of caffeine or guarana
- 1 tsp L-citrulline
- Beta-alanine (2g)
- Creatine (5g)
- Maltodextrin or dextrose, or a banana
- Whey Protein (15-20g)
- Creatine (5g)
- Banana or another pre-workout carb
- Casein, greek yogurt, or cottage cheese
Homemade Pre-workout for Stimulation
- Caffeine (100-200mg)
- L-Arginine (5g)
- Creatine (5g)
- Beta-Alanine (2g)
- Caffeine (100-200g)
- Beta-alanine (3g)
- Creatine (5g)
- Citrulline (3-5g)
- BCAAs (5-10g)
Homemade “Best Pump” Pre-workout
- Citrulline malate (6g)
- Beta-Alanine (2g)
- Creatine (5g)
Homemade Natural Pre-workout Without Supplements
- 8 oz black coffee
- 1 scoop pea protein powder*
- 1 tbsp MCT oil (or coconut oil)
- Banana (optional, for carbs)
*Pea protein is naturally higher in l-arginine than whey protein, with about 2.5 grams per serving.
If you prefer to avoid protein powder, you can use liquid pasteurized egg whites, or just be sure to eat a source of protein 2-3 hours before exercising.
Organic Preworkout Options:
- Cordyceps for stamina
- Organic beetroot powder
Homemade Pre-workout Supplement for Muscle without Supplements
- Whey protein
- Greek yogurt or cottage cheese
- Banana, blueberries, strawberries
*Dairy products are natural sources of creatine. To enhance the benefits of creatine, consume a meal of tuna, beef, chicken, or salmon after your workout.
Homemade Caffeine Free Pre-workout
- Beetroot powder
- Coconut water
- MCT oil
Homemade Fat Burning Pre-workout
- 1 tablet guarana
- 1 tsp L-arginine
- 1/2 tsp beta-alanine
- 1 tbsp MCT oil
- 2 capsules of CLA
Homemade Pre-workout for Cardio (endurance)
- Beta-alanine (3-5g)
- Maca (2-3g)
- Coconut water to mix (contains electrolytes)
- Caffeine (100mg), if tolerated
- MCT powder (4-5g), or use an MCT oil emulsion and add it to liquid
- Beta-alanine (3g)
- Keto safe electrolyte powder or emulsion, or coconut water if you have the carb room
- Creatine (5g)
Pre Workout Alternatives (Natural Alternatives to Pre Workout)
Preworkout nutrition with real food is plenty for most avid fitness buffs. Pre-workout supplements and stimulants are not necessary and if you’d rather JERF (just eat real food) than follow this simple formula:
Consume a smaller meal 1-2 hours prior to working out or a larger meal 2-3 hours prior:
- For Endurance Athletes
- Carbs: provides energy, aids recovery
- Protein: maintain or increase muscle size, reduce muscle damage
- Fat: helps to slow digestion of carbohydrates for a more sustained release of energy, provides vitamins and minerals (fat-soluble vitamins need available fats)
- For Strength Training or Cardio/HIIT of less than 1-2 hours
- Carbs: sends signal to body you’re fed, boosting muscle growth; prevents muscle breakdown with insulin release
- Protein: amino acids for muscle preservation and growth
- Fat (optional)
Example pre-workout alternative:
- 1 scoop protein powder —whey, pea, etc.
- 1 fist of veggies —spinach, kale
- 1-2 cupped handfuls of carbs —banana, berries, oatmeal, sweet potato
- 1 thumb of fats —avocado, flax, walnuts, coconut oil
- low-calorie beverage —water, unsweetened almond milk, coconut water
Note: The best preworkout pump enhancer is HYDRATION. Plain and simply, drinking enough water and being well-hydrated with electrolytes is the best pump enhancer you can take.
Homemade Pre-workout Drink with Real Food
Here is an example based on the above formula:
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
- 1 fist baby spinach
- 1 frozen banana
- 1 thumb almond butter
- 8 oz. vanilla, unsweetened almond milk
- Beetroot in high dosage has been shown to improve workout and sport performance
- Beetroot extract is relatively inexpensive
- Provides an increase in nitric oxide, similar to other pump pre-workouts, but natural.
- Add beetroot powder or extract to any homemade pre-workout formula
Black Coffee as a Preworkout
Coffee makes a good pre-workout because it is in most people’s cupboards, so it’s accessible, it’s cheap, it’s generally well-tolerated, and it offers stimulation along with antioxidants and other health benefits. This is one reason why bodybuilders drink coffee.
You can drink coffee before going to the gym as long as it doesn’t upset your stomach when you are there. Make sure you have experimented with the right dose for you. Some people find that too much caffeine will cause a decline in their performance.
Simple Recipe with Coffee as a Preworkout
- 1 banana
- 1 cup of black coffee
Simple Slow-Release Preworkout Using Coffee:
- 1 banana
- ¼ cup rolled oats
- 1 cup of black coffee
Homemade Pre-Workout Buying Guide
Here are some top-notch products for you to make your own homemade pre-workout supplements. If you liked this information and the formulas I’ve provided, I’d love it if you used my affiliate links! Thank you SO much for your support!
- Scientifically shown to increase muscle volume
- Increase performance
- Increase fat-free mass
- Increase work capacity so you can get out those last few reps
- Very well backed by science
- Increase muscle mass
- Reduce fatigue
- MCT is a particular type of beneficial fat that requires minimal action from the liver to convert directly into fuel
- Has a longer energy curve and an optimized digestive experience compared to other MCT oils
- Use to flavour your homemade pre-workout while supplying your body with the necessary minerals needed for sustained performance
- Reduced fatigue for long duration exercise
- Especially beneficial for those on a keto diet
- Supports muscle gain
- Promotes recovery
- Aids in body recomposition
- Sustainable and Earth-friendly
- Assists in reaching overall optimal protein intake
- Onnit’s Plant-Based Protein™ matches whey protein in every department—including flavor
- balanced amino acids
- nutrient rich
- hormone balancing maca
- essential fatty acids
- naturally sweetened
Grass Fed Whey Protein Isolate
- purest form of whey available
- low calorie and sugar
- signals muscle protein synthesis
- promotes workout recovery
So there you have it! A ton of homemade pre-workout options for you to try. If you make and use any of these, please let me know in the comments below!
Do you feel like I left something out (there are SO many options!)? Please let me know so I can include it 🙂
Are you a supplement company who wants to add some information or provide samples for us to try? Shoot me a message!
Not sure when this article was written, but Citrulline is dirt cheap.
It isn’t prohibitively expensive, you’re right, but it is still at least twice the price of something with more proven benefits—creatine. For instance, comparing the products under one brand, creatine is $0.57/ounce and citrulline is $1.41/ounce.