Do you need an intra-workout drink?
Intra workout supplements claim to help you train harder for longer. But do you really need one (and what should you look for in an intra workout drink anyway)?
What are intra workout supplements?
What’s in your water bottle at the gym? Do you keep it real with water (or maybe go rogue with a splash of sugar-free squash)? Or maybe you’ve thought about introducing an intra workout supplement to your training routine.
As the name suggests, intra WO supplements are designed to be taken during your workout. They tend to come in powder or RTD (ready to drink) form and can include amino acids or protein, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. The premise is pretty simple – by taking on these nutrients during training, you’ll be able to train for longer, maintain training intensity, buffer fatigue, and even kickstart recovery. But is it true, or supplement marketing hype?
Different types of intra workouts
The majority of intra WO supplements fall into three categories: hydration, carbohydrate transport, or amino acids/protein. Common ingredients are electrolytes (as a blend, or individually listed as sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chloride), amino acids or BCAAs (or individual aminos including leucine and isoleucine), protein (usually a whey isolate) and carbohydrates (typically maltodextrin, dextrose or cyclic dextrin).
Intra workout supplements may also include performance-focused ingredients that you will be familiar with from pre-workouts, like caffeine, beta alanine and citrulline malate. (1)
What do intra workouts claim to do?
There are three main reasons to consider an intra workout drink: energy for long or intense training sessions, replenishment of glycogen stores, and “feeding” muscles with protein and/or amino acids. But do you need to achieve all of this through a specific sports supplement product?
Do you need an intra workout drink?
Maybe, maybe not. You need to make an honest assessment of your diet, nutrition, training goals, training frequency, and workout intensity.
If you train 5-7 times a week (or do double sessions), you would probably benefit from some intra workout support simply because your energy output and recovery needs are so high.
If your diet is shabby, or your schedule is so frantic that you don’t get a chance to eat properly before training, an intra WO with carbs and protein could help you get the most from your sessions.
But if your nutrition is pretty good, you have access to pre and post workout food, you stay hydrated, and you get reasonable recovery between training sessions… an intra workout drink might be overkill.
Pros and cons of intra workouts
We’ve covered the main pros of using an intra workout if you need it: hydration (specifically key electrolytes), fast-digesting carbohydrates to support exercise duration and intensity, and amino acids to protect lean mass.
But what about the cons? Taking an intra workout with every training session could tip you into caloric excess which is bad news if you’re trying to get leaner. Shelling out on an intra WO could syphon funds away from more important nutrition or training assets. And using any supplement can give you a false sense of working hard, when you would be better off ditching the supplement and focusing more honestly on your training performance.
7 times to consider an intra workout
1) Sweaty workouts in hot or humid environments
2) Long workouts of over an hour duration
3) Daily training or the peak of a training block
4) Twice-a-day training or on competition day
5) Seriously intense training sessions
6) If you do fasted training (another discussion point altogether…)
7) If it makes you drink enough water (and you can spare the extra calories)
Homemade alternatives to intra workout sports supplements
For the rest of us, it’s cheaper and easier to use a home-made version of an intra workout supplement for particularly long or spicy sessions. Remember the three key functions of an intra WO: electrolytes, carbs, a little protein. This might look like:
- watered down fruit juice with a pinch of salt (carbs and sodium) + whey isolate just before training
- half a banana during training (the other half + protein on your way home from the gym)
- a small bag of jelly sweets (carbs, zero fats)
Do you use an intra workout drink or supplement? Have you got your own home-made intra nutrition strategy? We’d love to hear about it.