Dwayne N. Jackson, PhD
Pre-, intra-, and post-workout supplement formulations provide a high-level of convenience for most— This is likely why these products have been flying off the shelf in recent years. However, when you commit to premade formulations, you are at the mercy of the formulator and don’t have a lot of “wiggle room” for personalization.
At Muscle & Performance we realize that there are a bunch of you who prefer to formulate your own supplements by stacking “standalone” products into your own personalized blend. After all, this approach can save you money and ensures you are getting every milligram of scientifically proven supplementation you are aiming for.
If you this sounds intriguing, or like something you want to try, then this is the article was written with you in mind. Herein, we have highlighted 5 key supplements, offered as standalone products by most top supplement manufacturers! So, read on to find out how to formulate your own PRE, INTRA, POST, gain control of your supplementation, and get the most out of your workouts!
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
GOALS: Increased strength, focus, energy, muscle building, decreased catabolism
BCAAs are the essential amino acids (EAAs): Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. They are called, “essential” because the body cannot manufacture them, thus they must be acquired in the foods and supplements we ingest.
BCAAs make up a large proportion of the total amino acid content in skeletal muscle and, during exercise, they are readily broken down (catabolized) to produce energy. Taking BCAAs before, during, and after training ensures that the blood has an abundance of essential aminos necessary to fuel your workout and support recovery. Taking BCAAs pre and intraworkout conserves your muscle BCAA stores, increases fatigue resistance, protects the body from catabolism, and decreases recovery time .
The BCAA leucine boosts the release of the anabolic hormone insulin . You want insulin levels to be rapidly elevated after your workouts because this hormone carries nutrients such as glucose and amino acids into muscle cells—promoting greater protein synthesis and muscular gains . Remember, for the greatest results, make sure that each serving of your BCAA supplement has at least 2x as much leucine as isoleucine and valine (i.e., at least 2:1:1, Leucine:Isoleucine:Valine).
FORMULATION: PREWORKOUT- 3-5g; INTRAWORKOUT- 3-5g; POSTWORKOUT-3-5g
- Ra SG, Miyazaki T, Kojima R, Komine S, Ishikura 5, Kawanaka K, Honda A, Matsuzaki Y, Ohmori Effect of BCAA supplement timing on exercise-induced muscle soreness and damage: a pilot placebo-controlled double-blind study. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017 Sep 22. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07638-1. [Epub ahead of print]
- Yang J, Chi Y, Burkhardt BR, Guan Y, Wolf BA. Leucine metabolism in regulation of insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells. Nutr Rev. 2010 May;68(5):270-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00282.x.
- Gran P, Cameron-Smith D. The actions of exogenous leucine on mTOR signalling and amino acid transporters in human myotubes. BMC Physiol. 2011 Jun 25;11:10. doi: 10.1186/1472-6793-11-10.
GOALS: Energy (ATP), strength, power, anabolism
The research supporting creatine as a strength and muscle builder is undisputable. Creatine taken preworkout is rapidly taken up and stored in skeletal muscle where it provides much needed high energy creatine phosphate to supply muscles with the substrates to quickly make ATP (energy for contraction). Having elevated creatine stores available in working muscle promotes dramatic increases in strength and power during explosive and extended performances, with less time needed for rest .
When taken after exercise, creatine monohydrate can replenish and boost muscle creatine stores. Having extra creatine around after training not only provides energy substrates for future exercise bouts, but also promotes greater protein synthesis (into recovery) by physical and hormonal mechanisms. First, it increases the amount of water taken up by muscle cells—which swells the muscle and signals for increased repair (it also makes your muscles look bigger). Second, it increases the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)  and decreases myostatin levels (the ‘anabolic brakes’) during recovery from heavy training .
FORMULATION: PREWORKOUT 3-5g creatine monohydrate or 1.5-3g creatine HCL; POSTWORKOUT 3-5g creatine monohydrate or 1.5-3g creatine HCL
- Butts 1, Jacobs B, Silvis M. Creatine Use in Sports. Sports Health. 2018 Jan/Feb;10(1):31-34.
- Saremi A, Gharakhanloo R, Sharghi S, Gharaati MR, Larijani B, Omidfar K. Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1.Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2010 Apr 12;317(1-2):25-30.
- Deldicque L, Louis M, Theisen D, Nielens H, Dehoux M, Thissen JP, Rennie MJ, Francaux M. Increased IGF mRNA in human skeletal muscle after creatine supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 May;37(5):731-6.
GOALS: Increased exercise intensity and volume, power, strength gains
In skeletal muscle, beta-alanine reacts with histidine to produce carnosine. Beta-alanine is the rate-limiting substrate in the formation of carnosine; thus, when it is supplemented adequately, it elevates muscle carnosine levels. Research shows that just 4 weeks of beta-alanine supplementation can increase muscle carnosine levels by more than 60% . Elevated muscle carnosine increases exercise performance through its ability to reduce skeletal muscle acidity during prolonged high intensity exercise . Since fatigue during heavy exercise is exacerbated by the accumulation of acidic metabolic byproducts, it makes sense why increased intramuscular carnosine levels would be beneficial to bodybuilders and strength athletes alike. Research has shown that stacking beta-alanine with creatine can significantly improve exercise endurance performance .
FORMULATION: PREWORKOUT 2-3g; POSTWORKOUT 2-3g
- Harris RC, Tallon MJ, Dunnett M, Boobis L, Coakley J, Kim HJ, Fallowfield JL, Hill CA, Sale C, & Wise JA (2006). The absorption of orally supplied beta-alanine and its effect on muscle carnosine synthesis in human vastus lateralis. Amino Acids 30, 279-289.
- Hill CA, Harris RC, Kim HJ, Harris BD, Sale C, Boobis LH, Kim CK, & Wise JA (2006). Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids.
- Tallon MJ, Harris RC, Boobis LH, Fallowfield JL, & Wise JA (2005). The carnosine content of vastus lateralis is elevated in resistance-trained bodybuilders. J Strength Cond Res 19, 725-729.
- Zoeller RF, Stout JR, O’kroy JA, Torok DJ, & Mielke M (2006). Effects of 28 days of beta-alanine and creatine monohydrate supplementation on aerobic power, ventilatory and lactate thresholds, and time to exhaustion. Amino Acids.
GOALS: Vasodilation (increased blood flow to exercising muscle), muscle pump, energy
This amino acid also helps prevent muscle fatigue, as it assists in production of energy by increasing the rate of phosphocreatine and ATP production. Citrulline, converts to arginine (the precursor to NO) in the body and optimizes blood and nutrient delivery to working muscles.
Once L-citrulline is in the circulation, it is converted to L-Arginine by the kidneys, leading to increases in blood levels of L-arginine and nitric oxide . Recent research indicates that citrulline supplements increase blood levels of arginine and nitric oxide more effectively than arginine ingestion . Increased production of nitric oxide (NO) promotes vascular dilation, which helps support blood delivery and metabolic waste removal throughout the body. It’s this nitric oxide potentiating effect that makes gives L-citrulline supplements their pump promoting properties. Beyond creating incredible pumps, a single pre-workout dose of citrulline was recently shown to combat exercise-induced fatigue, increase time to exhaustion, and substantially decrease muscle soreness .
Although this may sound like a logical approach, ingesting L-arginine does not boost blood arginine levels as well as pure L-citrulline. This is because the gut and liver contain enzymes called, arginases, which serve to breakdown and eliminate exogenous arginine. So, because of these arginases, L-Citrulline more efficacious in elevating blood arginine and nitric oxide (NO) than arginine itself . In fact, a study presented in 2006 illustrated that acute ingestion of L-citrulline elevated plasma arginine levels by approximately 227% (within 4 hours of ingestion) compared to only 90% with the equivalent dose of arginine .
FORMULATION: PREWORKOUT 2-3g; INTRAWORKOUT 2-3g
- Schwedhelm E, Maas R, Freese R, et al. Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of oral L-citrulline and L-arginine: impact on nitric oxide metabolism. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 2008;65(1):51-59.
- Pérez-Guisado J, Jakeman PM. Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 May;24(5):1215-22.
- Kuhn KP, Harris PA, Cunningham GR, Robbins IM, Summar ML, Christman BW. Oral citrulline effectively elevates plasma arginine levels for 24 h in normal volunteers. Circulation AHA Scientific Sessions 2006; abstract 1692, p. II-1339.
- Ochiai M. Hayashi T. Morita M. Short-term effects of L-Citrulline supplementation on arterial stiffness in middle-aged men. International Journal of Cardiology. 155:257-61, 2012
- Windmueller HG, Spaeth AE. Source and fate of circulating citrulline. Am J Physiol 1981; 241: E473–80.
- Takeda, M. Machida, A. Kohara, N. Omi, T. Takemasa. Effects of citrulline supplementation on fatigue and exercise performance in mice. J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol. (Tokyo), 57 (3) (2011), pp. 246-250.
GOALS: Energy, focus, intensity, increased exertion
Although caffeine is a CNS stimulant, its effects on energy levels go far beyond its energetic buzz. Many studies show that pre-workout caffeine supplementation dampens perceived exertion  and muscle pain during exercise  and into recovery . As such, many find that pre-workout caffeine promotes higher workout intensity and volume, resulting in greater gains in shorter time.
FORMULATION: PREWORKOUT 200-300mg; INTRAWORKOUT 100-200mg (OPTIONAL)
- Doherty M, Smith PM. Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: a meta-analysis. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005 Apr;15(2):69-78.
- Duncan MJ, Stanley M, Parkhouse N, Cook K, Smith M. Acute caffeine ingestion enhances strength performance and reduces perceived exertion and muscle pain perception during resistance exercise. Eur J Sport Sci. 2013;13(4):392-9.
- Hurley CF, Hatfield DL, Riebe DA. The effect of caffeine ingestion on delayed onset muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Nov;27(11):3101-9.
Your workout window should be split into 3 supplemental periods, PREWORKOUT, INTRAWORKOUT, and POSTWORKOUT.
PREWORKOUT- 30-60 minutes before training
In the hour prior to training you should be priming your internal environment for work. This means optimizing your mind and body with the right macronutrients and supplements necessary to maximize performance.
In a shaker, mix 10-20 grams of your favorite whey protein isolate or blended protein supplement in 12-16 oz of water. Leave some room in the shaker cup, as you will be adding the rest of your preworkout ingredients to this shake. Whey protein contains high levels of essential amino acids (EAAs), which serve to keep blood amino acids high at the onset of exercise.
INTRAWORKOUT- 10-20 minutes into training
During your workout, you want to assure that your body and mind are full of key substrates needed to fuel your workout. In fact, there are key amino acids (like glutamine and BCAAs), micronutrients, and electrolytes that can be depleted due to increased metabolism and sweating associated with exercise. Proper fueling during this period will ensure that you sustain your workout intensity from start to finish.
In a shaker, fill with 12-16oz of your favorite electrolyte sports drink (can be sweetened with sugar or sugar fee—depending on goals). You will mix your intraworkout supplements in this drink and sip on it while you are on the gym floor. This cocktail is designed to replenish lost electrolytes and substrates needed to push you through your workout. There are quite a few powders on the market that you mix with water, or simply use a ready to drink electrolyte beverage like Gatorade or Gatorade G2.
POSTWORKOUT- Immediately after training
Immediately after you train, your body’s internal environment is optimized for nutrient absorption. As such, immediately post-workout is the perfect window to provide macronutrients and supplements that replenish what was lost, for greater gains in recovery, muscular development, and performance.
In a shaker, mix 10-20 grams of your favorite whey protein isolate or blended protein supplement in 12-16 oz of water, this will serve as the vehicle for your postworkout supplements.