The idea of taking supplements while you exercise has its fair share of advocates and fallacies. Chances are, there are more people taking intra workout supplements who don’t need to, than people who don’t but should.
So which one are you?
That answer is dependent on what type of exercise you are doing and what your goals are, which we’ll cover farther down. First, let’s look at what these supplements typically contain.
What exactly are intra-workout supplements?
Typically, the whole point of your intra-workout supplement is to increase the duration and late-stage performance quality of your exercise.
The most popular intra-workout supplements contain one or more of the following ingredients:
- Non-essential amino acids
- Branch chain amino acids
- Fast-acting carbohydrates
- Caffeine and other stimulants
- Electrolytes and b-vitamins
But is intra-workout really the best time to take them for your style of exercise?
Before you commit to buying an intra-workout, consider these questions…
Question #1: do you need the ingredients in an intra-workout supplement?
The ingredients in intra-workouts are used mainly to keep you going. Do you feel like your workouts aren’t going far or hard enough?
Both non-essential and branch chain amino acids can aid endurance by reducing muscle damage and participating in nourishment. Fast acting carbs can increase available fuel when your stores are already depleted. Caffeine offers the mental boost if you run into mental fatigue during your workout. And electrolytes plus b-vitamins can improve the overall quality of hydration.
Often overlooked, the water you use to take an intra-workout supplement is playing an important role as well. If you can admit that your exercise routine isn’t demanding enough to require an intra-workout – then simply increasing water intake is your logical move.
Question #2: is intra-workout the best time to be taking these ingredients?
Something interesting, is the lack of convincing research suggesting that taking supplements during your exercise is beneficial. While there is overwhelming evidence that ingredients like BCAAs, AAs, and caffeine can improve workout quality and duration – the best timing has often been either before or after; not during.
For everyone else, the best time to be taking your BCAAs, AAs, carbohydrates, etc. is either before exercise with your pre-workout or post workout with your recovery meal (3).
How to take common intra-workout ingredients the right way for gym workouts
The whole point of taking an intra-workout supplement is to nutritionally improve performance. For the majority of goals and types of supplements, that’s a dietary issue where consistency matters more than timing does.
For instance, consistency is the most important variable when taking:
- BCAAs: while acute supplementation can improve performance, consistent supplementation is required to aid muscle growth and recovery.
- Beta-alanine: to properly maintain carnosine levels, beta-alanine must be taken daily to maintain a threshold of substrate.
- Betaine and creatine: similar to the above examples.
Due to this, the best time to be taking these common ‘intra-workout’ ingredients is actually at any time. The only important part is consistency.
Hitting overall daily dietary macros is important for:
- Protein supplementation
Because it isn’t about how much powder you take, but rather how much total daily protein you consume through food. From there, you calculate how much protein powder you need to complete your ideal macro profile.
Supplement timing matters most for:
- Caffeine: stimulation of the central nervous system is time-dependent.
- L-citrulline malate: both the citrulline and malate are rapidly broken down so the extra pump and endurance is temporary.
- Other pump or stimulants
Really, pump and stimulants are the only true timing-dependent supplements. Interestingly, they are also the best examples of ‘acute’ supplements. Meaning, you can take them once and benefit immediately, whereas most other supplements require consistency.
When and who should actually take an intra workout?
That’s where the bang-for-your-buck is most relevant.
For anyone else, yeah sure you are adding some extra icing to your cake… But it isn’t as necessary or beneficial as just making sure you get the ingredients daily/pre/post. Digging deeper, most of the ingredients won’t even be ‘active’ for another hour after you ingest them.