Preworkout Stack – Frugal Supplements Part 1

The Hype

Everybody likes a little boost before the gym, right? That’s why we buy those tubs of HYPER AGGRESSIVE preworkout with PERFORMANCE BOOSTING STIMS and the PUMP-IFYING MATRIX. But is it worth $40 a month? Short answer: sort of, but not really.

The Breakdown

let’s use a typical, widely available product, Cellucor C4 Advanced Explosive, 60 servings, $50 with some bonus samples via’s store.

  • Calories: nil
  • Carbs: nil
  • Vitamin C: mostly for the tart flavor. Unless you’re exercising on an ice-bound ship and haven’t had fruit or veggies in weeks, you’ve got enough Vit C.
  • Niacin (B3): has some benefits to cholesterol balance, but not at the mg level. The only relevant effect at this dosage is a bit of a skin flush.
  • B6: Interacts in a few ways with neurotransmitters (L-Dopa –> Dopamine) and hormones (boosting zinc’s effect on testosterone) but if you’re eating meats (tuna, poultry, red meat all count here) or taking a combination like ZMA (paired with zinc & magnesium) you’re likely getting these benefits anyways. There’s not really any reason for acute supplementation around a workout.
  • Folic Acid, B12, Calcium: Same story – these are in pretty much everything you’d think of as “real food” including leafy greens, nuts, beans, meats…
  • Beta Alanine: there we go, finally something that isn’t just “food”! There are a few things B-Alanine does
    • increases muscular endurance in the ‘bodybuilding’ range of 8-15 reps, allowing for an extra rep or two
    • increases performance in high-intensity cardiovascular activities, mostly right below the aerobic/anaerobic transition, probably by buffering acids released by energy consumption
    • makes many people’s skin tingle – makes the preworkout feel like it’s working
  • Creatine – look, if you’re not already taking creatine I don’t know what to say. It’s the second-most researched supplement and is shown to increase rep performance and recovery, because it’s what your body is using to reset ATP energy-storing molecules. But 1 gram is pointless for acute dosing, and mostly in here to bulk up the scoop.
  • L-Arginine: purported to boost nitric oxide in the blood, but unreliable results for that. L-Citrulline would probably be a better choice because it sticks around longer and is converted by the body into Arginine over time, which might let it boost NO for longer. NO itself has a bunch of effects but whether any of that is directly relevant to performance is iffy.
  • EXPLOSIVE ENERGY BLEND, TL;DR caffeine and friends
    • Caffeine – here’s the A+++ Would Supplement Again item from the list. At 150mg, we’re on par with a doppio espresso or a generic caffeine tablet
    • L-Tyrosine – the fun stuff on the list. It’s a stimulant unto itself, and has the additional benefit of reducing feelings of stress & boosting feelings of well-being.
    • TeaCor (Theacrine) – a caffeine cousin, and also seems to boost L-Dopa –> Dopamine for more hug-feels.




If we’re going to break this down to essentials, here’s the categories

Yeah… don’t call us, we’ll call you:

…or just irrelevant in the context of a preworkout

  • Vit C, Niacin, B6, B12, Calcium, Folic Acid

Starring Roles

  • Caffeine

Supporting Cast

  • Beta Alanine


Things you might want to add

  • Flavor
  • Calories/Carbs
  • Protein / BCAAs
  • Hug-drugs nootropics
    • Tyrosine, Theacrine, etc
  • Other stimulants

Version 1

The plan right now is to start with the bare essentials and only add one ingredient at a time. 90% of my protein and supplements come from Canadian Protein so I’ll list those prices as I go. They ship free at $100, so if you’re buying some protein too, it’s easy to hit that threshold. For those accustomed to Freedom Units, 454g = 1lb.

  • BCAAs: 5g (standard scoop, Canadian Protein Green Apple flavor) I’ve been drinking BCAAs at the beginning/middle of workouts for a long time, for their energy and endurance. If they’re not hijacked for calories / prevent catabolism, they stick around to help rebuild muscle protein. $30/454 g or about $0.35/serving.
  • Beta-Alanine 2g (standard scoop, Canadian Protein unflavored powder) $20/454g, $0.09/serving. Running total, rounding up, $0.45 serving
  • Caffeine: 200mg (capsule / powder). I toss the capsule on top of the powder in a small lock-n-lock container, and either take it separately or break it in. The BCAAs are tart enough to make the taste a non-issue. $5/100 count, $0.05. Running total: $0.50/serving.

So far that’s $0.50/serving compared to $0.85 for the listed serving of C4, and I’ve replaced the extra kludge with known effective ingredients.

Lots of clean-feeling energy plus the benefits of BCAA, just a little tingle from B-Alanine, but no dance party.

V2 plans

I’m considering adding L-tyrosine, since I miss the PARTY feeling of C4 and similar preworkout drinks.

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