The Gorilla Strength Pre-Workout Shake
Recipe by vegan powerlifter Noah Hannibal.
This is a DIY pre-workout shake with ingredients designed to optimise strength training, tailored specifically for the requirements of vegan athletes. There are ready made vegan pre-workouts available, but it is generally better to make your own because (1) it will work out to be significantly cheaper, (2) you can ensure you are getting sufficient doses of the individual ingredients which is rarely the case with store bought pre-workouts, and (3) you can include only ingredients which have evidence supporting their efficacy.
This shake should be taken about 45 minutes before heavy lifting. All the ingredients listed are safe, well studied and suitable for use in drug tested competition. Some of the ingredients, like creatine, have vegan and (rarely) non vegan versions, so check the label or with the manufacturer before purchasing. The main benefit of each of the ingredients will be bolded.
PROTEIN (30 – 50grams)
Protein increases muscle protein synthesis (builds muscle) and improves recovery. To build muscle you are aiming to get at least 1.5 – 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight over the day, you can adjust this to fit in with your daily protein requirements but get at least 30 grams of protein in your shake. It is important to remember that the protein content of protein powder per 100 grams can vary greatly depending on the protein, so make sure to carefully check the nutrition labels.
Soy protein is the best vegan protein source for building muscle as it is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids and has a high DIAAS value (the gold standard measure of protein quality which takes into account the content of amino acids as well as their bioavailability). Pea and rice combined proteins are also a good source which complement each other and provide an enhanced essential amino acid profile.
CREATINE (5 grams)
There is strong evidence that creatine can significantly increase power output. It is especially beneficial for vegans as they are not already getting some level of dietary creatine from the muscle of dead animals. To get the best results from creatine you should aim to get about 5 grams per day, after a brief loading phase (for the loading phase you should get 20 grams per day for 5 – 7 days, although this is not necessary it will help you to saturate your muscles with creatine more quickly). Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest and most studied form and there is no need to use any other form of creatine. You can safely take creatine daily as a long term supplement.
BETA ALANINE (5 grams)
There is good evidence that this amino acid increases muscular endurance on high rep sets while decreasing fatigue (if you do not do high rep work of 1-4 minutes duration, beta alanine may not be beneficial for you). A common side effect is tingling all over your skin, which you may or may not enjoy, but which is harmless, and many use it as a psychological signal that it’s time to start training hard.
CARBS (as desired)
The base of the pre-workout shake is half a litre of coconut water with added fruit to taste. This is for the carbs to fuel your muscles during your workout. You can use mango, banana, berries, or any fruit you please. If you don’t want to use coconut water you can use plain water or a plant milk instead.
LEUCINE (Optional – 3 grams*) or BCAAs
Leucine is important for muscle protein synthesis and may be particularly important for vegans given that plant proteins are often low in this amino acid (however soy foods like hard tofu and SPI are good sources), although more research is required in this area. Leucine is also one of the three amino acids in BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids made up of leucine, isoleucine and valine), which you can use as well, but make sure you are getting at least 2.5 grams of leucine per serving.
*The optimal amount of leucine is thought to be around 2.5 grams per meal, so ideally this is something you would supplement with at every meal as well as in your shake, or at least meals that do not include firm tofu.
LYSINE (Optional – 3 grams)
Lysine is a limiting amino acid, and supplementing can reduce overall protein requirements. This is particularly helpful for vegans cutting weight as vegan protein sources can be more calorically dense than non vegan sources. Vegan powerlifter and biochemist Dr Anastasia Zinchenko recommends that vegans seeking to make optimal muscle gains should aim for 2.4 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight, but this can be reduced to 2.1 grams per kg if supplementing with lysine. The formula to work out how much lysine you should supplement is 0.0221 x body weight (in kg) – 0.0046. Therefore a 100kg powerlifter should supplement 2.2 grams per day.
CITRULLINE MALATE (Optional – 8 grams)
There is some research that citrulline is beneficial in increasing power output and reducing fatigue. An easy hack to get citrulline is to include the white rind of watermelon in your smoothie, which is the richest known dietary source of citrulline (which is named for citrullus, the latin word for watermelon).
A source of caffeine can be included with your pre-workout, which will increase alertness and focus. I usually drink a black coffee an hour before training but if you don’t want to do this you can have a caffeine pill containing 200mg of caffeine. There is strong evidence that in higher amounts (5mg per kg of bodyweight) caffeine will reliably and significantly increase power output, however this amount is above the daily caffeine recommendation and should be used sparingly, such as when attempting a one rep max (and only after consulting with your doctor). This effect is diminished when you develop a tolerance to caffeine, so try to keep your caffeine intake to a minimum outside of training. Also try to train as early in the day as possible, as the caffeine will then be less disruptive to your sleep.
A cheap micro scale capable of measuring at least one tenth of a gram is useful when preparing your pre-workout, as it is easy to get the dosage wrong when eyeballing.
• 500ml coconut water
• 50g vegan protein powder
• 5g creatine powder
• 5g beta alanine
• Mango pieces (as many as you like) or other fruit
• 3g leucine (optional)
• 3g lysine (optional)
• 8g citrulline malate (optional)
Place everything in a blender and blitz.
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