When it comes to supplements, finding which one and the type of products to help optimize your performance and training can be challenging.
One type of supplement you may be wondering about, are intra-workout supplements. As the name aptly implies, intra-workout supplements are made to be used during your workout, for the specific purposes of providing fuel for your workout, to help improve endurance, workout volume, muscle maintenance, and hydration while you’re training.
We’re going to talk more about intra-workout supplements, their benefits, and what ingredients you need to power your performance.
What Are Intra-Workout Supplements?
Intra-workout supplements are specific sports performance nutrition products made to help power your training while you work out. Intra-workout supplements can come in a wide variety of different forms, either with essential amino acids (EAA), branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), electrolytes, carbohydrates, and endurance-enhancing ingredients.
Intra-workout supplements can be extremely beneficial to help boost endurance and provide fuel for long-lasting training and prolonged bouts of exercise. Athletes who train for several hours in the gym, on the track, or on the pavement, need to keep their energy levels, focus, and hydration optimized at all times to maximize their training capacity and output.
That’s where intra-workout supplements can benefit performance the most.
Related: The Importance of Amino Acids in Muscle Gain and Fat Loss
The majority of intra-workout supplements contain fast-acting carbohydrates, essential amino acids, and electrolytes.
For example, Swolverine’s Intra Workout contains:
- Electrolytes: Himalayan Pink Salt, Calcium Citrate, Magnesium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, and Coconut Water
- Superfood/Sports nutrition ingredients: Essential Amino Acids (EAA), Spirulina, Tart Cherry, and Pomegranate
- Energy/focus ingredients: Panax Ginseng, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12
Essential Amino Acids (EAA)
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and vital to human health. Essential amino acids (EAA) stimulate muscle protein synthesis and work by creating new protein cells for muscle size, growth, and recovery.
Your body needs 20 amino acids for proper biological function, however, only 9 are considered essential. These are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
Your body cannot make essential amino acids, hence why they are considered “essential.” EAAs must be obtained from dietary supplements or from the food in your diet.
A large body of evidence shows that EAAs can improve athletic performance, delay muscle and mental fatigue, and enhance muscle recovery. A systematic review, including 4274 patients across thirty-nine randomized controlled trials found that EAAs improve muscle strength, physical function, and fatigue.1
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your body. Carbohydrates provide glucose to feed your muscles with prolonged endurance capacity, better athletic performance as well as improving cognitive performance and processing. When it comes to training, carbohydrates are needed to help build more muscle mass, improve recovery times, and replenish glycogen for optimal energy output.
Carbohydrate supplements are often created for the purpose of muscle recovery and providing more energy, intra-workout. Fast-absorbing carbohydrate supplements like maltodextrins and dextrose, are specifically made for endurance athletes, triathletes, crossfitters, or those participating in high-intensity functional training protocols. The average gym goer will not necessarily need fast-acting carbs and can easily get those dietary sources and food.
Muscle glycogen is a major determinant of endurance exercise capacity and recovery. Intra-workout carbs can help with glycogen resynthesis or reloading your body with efficient glycogen stores. Carbs can also help initiate muscle protein synthesis, and produce energy intra or pre-workout for better endurance and prolonged exercise capacity. Carbohydrates are also a great source of macronutrients to help with intra-workout energy and endurance.
Swolverine's Clean Carbs for example is made from real food and contains sweet potatoes, yams, oats, and blueberries to help provide glycogen for long-lasting energy and endurance. Unlike fast-acting carbs, this product can help with body optimization, energy levels, and recovery without the unnecessary added sugar from dextrose or maltodextrin.
Antioxidants And Vitamins
Nutrient dense ingredients, such as spirulina, tart cherry, and pomegranate, are rich with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, in addition to nitrates.
Antioxidants have been proven to reduce muscle damage and inhibit muscle mass breakdown due to their protective effects from eradicating oxidative stress.
In a systematic review, conducted by Cambridge University, eleven studies were identified that examined the effects of pomegranate intake on exercise performance exercise-induced muscle fatigue, soreness, muscle damage, oxidative stress, inflammation, and cardiovascular function. Identified studies investigated the effects on several training modalities including; running, cycling, weightlifting, and endurance training.
The review concluded that pomegranate has the potential to enhance endurance, strength performance, and improve post-workout recovery by conferring antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and improving cardiovascular responses during and following exercise.2
Additionally, A study published in the journal Plos One, investigated the effects of pomegranate supplementation on recovery, muscle damage, and soreness following Olympic weightlifting training and concluded that pomegranate ingestion 60 minutes before training, improved total workload by 8.3%, maximal load lifted by 3.26% and cut down DOMS by 13.4% 48 hours post-workout.3
Intra-workout supplements will often contain b-vitamins and ingredients for mental focus and energy such as Panax Ginseng which can help with prolonged endurance capacity and athletic performance. Mental focus is crucial during prolonged endurance activity and resistance training to help push maximum training capacity.
Benefits of Intra-Workout Supplements
The main benefit of an effective intra-workout supplement is to provide adequate and efficient hydration by including electrolytes. Hydration during your workout is crucial to prolong endurance activity and to help improve workout volume as well as recovery.
Electrolytes are vitamins and minerals that conduct electrical activity within the body. Electrolytes help you perform mechanical functions, such as muscle contraction and relaxation, which are essential for daily and athletic performance. With just a 1-2% reduction in body weight from fluid loss alone, athletic performance will significantly decrease while perceived exertion increases.
In a typical workout, you can lose anywhere from 2-6% of your body’s water weight just by sweating. Now imagine how much fluid you lose when you’re really pushing your limits. The loss of water and electrolytes, coupled with not replenishing them affects recovery times, oxygen levels, and nutrient delivery contributing to muscle wasting and poor waste recycling from the bloodstream.
Electrolytes such as magnesium, potassium, and chloride can help replenish hydration. Coconut water, which is often found in intra-workout supplements, is a beneficial ingredient for hydration. Naturally low in sugar, coconut water boosts the electrolyte potassium along with other nutrients like magnesium and calcium.
2. Improved Endurance
Intra-workout supplements also benefit prolonged endurance capacity. The more muscle fuel you have, the longer you can train without as much muscle fatigue, which also contributes to better performance outcomes. Intra-workout supplements help delay muscle fatigue, by providing more energy, amino acids, electrolytes, and focus-enhancing ingredients.
Ingredients often found in these supplements are nitrate focused such as pomegranate, beetroot, betaine, or citrulline malate, which helps improve oxygen delivery by releasing nitric oxide and widening blood vessels. Studies have shown that more oxygen and nutrient delivery can help improve endurance capacity, strength, and recovery.
3. Faster Recovery
High-intensity exercise can contribute to muscle mass breakdown and the rate at which your body demands energy. Your body produces initial energy from the phosphagen system, then from glycogen, synthesized from glucose in carbohydrates through a process called glycolysis. During intense exercise, muscle has an available supply of amino acids available for use known as the free amino acid pool. Prolonged and continued muscle contraction especially when carbohydrate supply is low or inadequate can break down muscle mass. Hence why most intra-workout supplements contain essential amino acids. You must maintain a positive amino acid balance while training, otherwise, you can experience protein catabolism also known as muscle mass breakdown.
Inhibiting muscle breakdown is crucial to maintaining muscle mass and improving performance and recovery. Essential amino acids which include the branched-chain amino acids, help improve the process of muscle protein synthesis by reducing the rate of catabolism. This will help improve recovery times and provide more fuel for your body to replenish key amino acids when your body is in a deficit. Maintaining a positive amino acid balance, especially during prolonged endurance activity such as running, cycling, and high-intensity exercise is important for maintaining muscle mass and reducing muscle soreness.
Red ingredients such as tart cherry extract and pomegranate are also effective ingredients to help improve recovery and endurance capacity.
Given the high concentration of bioactive compounds, nitrates, and antioxidants, studies have found that these ingredients benefit recovery from pain after strenuous exercise. Research suggests that pomegranates may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness by up to 14%.
A systematic review published in the journal Nutrients found that 8 of 9 studies showed tart cherry juice significantly reduced exercise-induced muscle pain, soreness, and loss of strength. One study showed that long-distance runners who drank tart cherry juice pre-workout reported significantly less pain, showing improved biomarkers of inflammation and reduced muscle damage compared to those who did not.
4. Mental Focus
Intra-workout supplements also benefit mental focus. Maintaining mental focus, especially during high-intensity and prolonged endurance activity is crucial to improve performance. Losing focus while training can hinder training outcomes, especially when you’re preparing for long-duration exercise bouts. Running fifteen miles in preparation for a marathon, cycling for fifty miles, or hitting the gym multiple times in a day can be extremely fatiguing and oftentimes training can become monotonous. Maintaining focus is important to keep your head in the game and improve your endurance capacity and power output.
Ingredients such as b-vitamins and ginseng can benefit focus, by stimulating neurotransmitters and improving cognitive performance. Ginseng contains compounds called ginsenosides which increase protein synthesis and the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain, stimulating the formation of blood vessels and improving blood circulation, thereby improving memory and cognitive abilities.
Intra-Workout Supplements: Takeaway
If you’re looking to maximize your performance, whether it be running, cycling, or a heavy lifting session, intra-workout supplements can be extremely beneficial to help provide the muscle fuel you need during your workout. Essential amino acids inhibit muscle protein breakdown, while ingredients like carbohydrates can replenish glycogen for better energy output and recovery.
When you’re looking for a high-quality intra-workout supplement, look for products that have essential amino acids, electrolytes, and proven sports nutrition ingredients at optimal doses to help improve your training for the best results.
- Cheng H, Kong J, Underwood C, et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of protein and amino acid supplements in older adults with acute or chronic conditions. Br J Nutr. 2018;119(5):527-542. doi:10.1017/S0007114517003816
- Ammar A, Bailey SJ, Chtourou H, et al. Effects of pomegranate supplementation on exercise performance and post-exercise recovery in healthy adults: a systematic review. Br J Nutr. 2018;120(11):1201-1216. doi:10.1017/S0007114518002696
- Ammar A, Turki M, Chtourou H, et al. Pomegranate Supplementation Accelerates Recovery of Muscle Damage and Soreness and Inflammatory Markers after a Weightlifting Training Session. PLoS One. 2016;11(10):e0160305. Published 2016 Oct 20. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160305