Mixing Tips #3: Pre-Workout Supplement Stack

In our last post, we discussed a variety of helpful mixing tips related to the branched chain and essential amino acid powders. True Nutrition is back again with some useful advice on how to formulate your own pre-workout supplement stack for do-it-yourself mixing from home.

There are many reasons why one might consider building their own custom pre-workout supplement stack over purchasing something off of the store shelf. One is to eliminate stimulants like caffeine, while another might be to avoid artificial flavoring or sweeteners. Some supplement products also contain a laundry list of “proprietary ingredients,” with no indication their inclusion amounts or efficacy within the mix. Whatever the case may be, True Nutrition offers individuals the opportunity to take back control over their supplemental intake.

Generally speaking, the majority of pre-workout supplements will include one or more of the following ingredient types: amino acids, nitric oxide boosters, creatines, glutamine, stimulants, and electrolytes. A carbohydrate source may also be included for added energy. We will discuss each of these components in greater detail as we move on.

The amino acid selections found in most pre-workout supplement stacks will almost always contain the three branched chain aminos (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), but these may form part of a more complete essential amino acid complex containing alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, glutamine, glycine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, proline, serine, threonine, tryptophan, tyrosine, and/or valine. When developing your own essential amino acid formula, it is important to understand your current dietary intake of each of these individual amino acids and how they relate to one another, in order to avoid the potential for competing amino acid absorption in to the bloodstream. There are various theories on how amino acids compete with complete proteins and with each other, and ongoing studies are being conducted in order to show the effectiveness of isolated aminos in muscle metabolism.

Branched chain amino acids had long been considered to be most effective in a ratio of 2:1:1, with l-leucine comprising the largest component of the mix. This is due to their suggested anabolic effects on protein metabolism, particularly in the case of the amino acid leucine1-5. More recently, we have seen a range of inclusion ratios that span from 2:1:1 to 4:1:1, and even as high as 8:1:1 favoring l-leucine. Serving size for the branched chain amino acids can range dramatically dependent on any number of factors including body mass, diet, exercise, and current goals, but it is generally recommended that a pre-workout supplement stack includes 5-10g of branched chain amino acids in one of the previously stated ratios, or as part of a complete essential amino acid blend.

When it comes to formulating a more complex essential amino acid mixture, many will look to replicate a complete protein as closely as possible using aminos that contribute most to muscle metabolism. A sample blend can be found below, which totals a 10g serving of essential amino acids with branched chain amino acids intact:

Essential Amino Acids Formula:
1.855g L-Leucine
2.456g L-Lysine
1.404g L-Valine
0.025g L-Tryptophan
1.228g L-Threonine
0.902g L-Isoleucine
1.178g DL-Phenylalanine
0.952g L-Methionine

This revised essential amino acid formula will be made available shortly by True Nutrition, and is promoted as being an effective addition to any pre-, intra-, or post-workout supplement formula. Because few companies offer a complete range of free form amino acid powders as separate powders, it may be necessary to purchase and mix them as a pre-blended powder, but adjustments can be made in order to enhance amino acid content. Many will include an additional serving of branched chain amino acids to their essential amino acids, for example. Essential amino acids are typically included in a 5-10g serving, depending on personal requirements.

More recently, there has been a growing trend in including various forms of arginine and arginine-derivatives with the intended effect of increasing nitric oxide production within the bloodstream.* The most basic form of arginine appears as the free form l-arginine powder, while many consider the arginine alpha-ketoglutarate to be a more effective delivery system for the material due to its influence on the Kreb’s cycle and energy production6. The effects of agmatine sulfate have also undergone additional research within the sports nutrition industry as a form of “super arginine,” which may exhibit a substantial increase in nitric oxide production over all other forms of the material7. 2-4g is considered an effective dose of either free form l-arginine or arginine alpha-ketoglutarate, although many will split that amount in half and include both materials in with their mix. Alternately, many are replacing a standard 2-4g serving of arginine for 1g of agmatine in their pre-workout supplement stack. Citrulline may also be included in a dose of 1-2g to increase the plasma levels of arginine endogenously, as well11.

Beta-alanine may be the only material that has shown more potential and popularity over recent years. This carnosine pre-cursor has been shown to increase the concentration of carnosine in muscles, resulting in a decrease in fatigue throughout intense exercises while helping to increase the total muscular work that can be accomplished within a given period12. Beta-alanine may provide effective results in doses of 2-4g.

Creatine is often considered in a pre- or post-workout supplement stack in one of its many forms for its vital role in converting nutrients in to energy8. Studies also suggest that creatine has the ability to help volumize cells through myofibril hydration8. When creatine is absorbed in to the muscle, it carries along with it several bonded water molecules8, which gives off the appearance of muscle fullness. True Nutrition recommends creatine monohydrate above all other forms, as it is backed by the most scientific research and anecdotal evidence.* In the standard maintenance phase following a heavy creatine load, individuals will look to consume a serving of 2-5g, which can be included in either the pre- or post-workout stage. Creatine monohydrate often requires an added carbohydrate load, as well, leading many to drop it from their pre-workout supplement stack in favor of a post-workout formula that may already include carbs.

The studies regarding the effects of glutamine in supplementation have been conflicting, at best, although its popularity within the sports nutrition industry suggests otherwise. Of the many potential benefits that are suggested, most look to glutamine for its potential to increase recovery speeds in muscle metabolism and decrease muscle soreness following intense exercise9,10. Additional research is frequently being performed to either confirm or deny these claims. L-glutamine will typically be included at a rate of 5-10g in a pre-workout supplement stack.

As a quick source of energy, carbohydrates are frequently added in to a pre-workout supplement stack, as well, providing a prompt delivery of each of the other nutrients through one of two main transportation mechanisms: a spike in insulin levels or through the material’s molecular weight and osmolarity. The tried and true combination of dextrose and maltodextrin has long been an industry standard, mixing anywhere between 25-50g of each evenly to produce an increase in insulin levels shortly after consumption. More recently, innovations in carbohydrate technology have produced intriguing new alternatives, which propose an increase in gut-emptying and absorption speeds over simple sugars.* Waxy Maize Starch has become a fan-favorite in sports nutrition, while the cutting-edge product Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin may provide even more impressive results.* These materials may be used in a standard serving of 25-50g as well, depending on dietary requirements.


One of the most common arguments that will be made against combining free form amino acids, creatines, glutamine, carbs, and other nutrients together in a pre-workout supplement stack involves the theory of competing absorption. We strongly suggest spending the additional time in researching the various schools of thought in this arena when considering your final finished formula.

Let’s recap each of the items that are up for consideration in your pre-workout supplement stack:
5-10g Branched Chain Amino Acids
5-10g Essential Amino Acids
2-4g L-Arginine
2-4g Arginine Alpha-Ketoglutarate
1g Agmatine Sulfate
2-4g Beta-Alanine
1-2g Citrulline Malate
2-5g Creatine Monohydrate
5-10g L-Glutamine
25-50g Carbohydrates

These basic building blocks will form the core of nearly every pre-workout supplement stack currently on the market, but True Nutrition gives you the option to pick and choose which of these ingredients you feel best complements your personal needs in order to help meet and exceed your goals.

“Now, how do I go about flavoring these materials?” Look to our future articles for additional tips and tricks when it comes to mixing your protein and dietary supplementation!

*DISCLAIMER: The above description is provided for information only and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician or the appropriately licensed professional before engaging in a program of exercise or nutritional supplementation. No information in this site has been reviewed by the FDA. No product is intended to treat, diagnose, or cure any disease.


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