Supplements, there are some you need to take when you wake up, some you need to take right before workout (preworkouts), some to take during your workout (intraworkouts) and then supplements for after your workout as well (postworkouts)…
Then there are supplements for in between workouts, supplements for off-days for recovery and supplements to take right before sleeping.
There is literally a supplement for every hour of the day, and if you bought all of these as supplement companies recommend, you’d be broke faster than you can say “gains”.
Fortunately, eating a complete diet of whole healthy foods negates the need for many of the over-priced corporate prescribed powders.
Skinny Yoked pretty much sticks with post-workout protein and the occasional pre-workout drink, although black coffee works just fine for that too.
Recently though we’ve been getting more into intra-workouts. Not familiar with this genre of sports nutrition? We’ll break it down for you and how you can go about fulfilling it without breaking the bank.
What Are Intra-Workouts?
Intra, meaning “in the middle of”, workout drinks are drinks designed to be consumed while in the middle of exercising. They usually consist of BCAAs, EEAs, and/or simple carbohydrates.
The intraworkout industry is actually quite established amongst cyclists, marathon runners and other endurance athletes.
This is because the human body has a hard time operating at optimal efficiency during prolonged (over 1 hour) of intense physical activity.
This is why you see cyclists and marathon runners sucking down little gel backs in the middle of their races, because their bodies have depleted stored energy (glycogen) and they need to literally refuel so they have easily burnable calories to use to continue their race/marathon.
While intra-workout supplementation has been big in endurance sports for decades their popularity in the bodybuilding community is a relatively recent development.
BodyBuilding Focused Blends
Intra-workouts for bodybuilders differ from those designed for endurance athletes for the primary reason that besides simply providing fuel for the body, bodybuilders also want to provide the necessary nutrients to fuel muscle protein synthesis.
This usually means the inclusion of BCAAs in most drinks designed to be consumed during a workout.
First, if your workout is under an hour, say 30-45 minutes long, and if you consumed a healthy breakfast or lunch beforehand, then you in all likelihood do NOT need any intra-workout supplementation.
However if you’re currently on that German volume training train and pushing your body through insane amounts of volume in workouts exceeding 1 hour in length, then you may stand to benefit from providing your body some extra support while training.
BCAAs have gotten most of the spotlight in recent years, with Xtends intra-workout BCAA product being one of the best sellers in the industry.
We are big fans of the Xtends product, not just because it has transparent BCAA dosing but because they also threw in a dash of Citrulline Malate (1:1) and some electrolytes including sodium, vitamin B6 and some other more refined electrolytes.
Still confused about BCAAs? We wrote up a whole guide to help you decide if you should take them.
The fact that recent evidence suggests full-spectrum amino acids (also known as Essential Amino Acids) are more effective at muscle building than just branch chains (BCAAs) is reason to give second thought to running with just a BCAA supplement.
BCAA’s are still great at preventing muscle catabolism though, even if they are not as impactful at building muscle than EAAs (which, if we’re honest, why not just drink a protein isolate at that point).
Read this roundup guide for the best stimulant-free BCAA supplements currently on the market (all of which we’ve personally tested).
Priceplow has an excellent write up that explains all of the differences between BCAAs and EAAs and which is better for which situation.
Still, while EAAs are great at initiating protein synthesis and BCAAs are great at preventing catabolism, neither do much to actually FUEL your long, high-volume training sessions. For that you need fuel, and that means you need quick digesting carbohydrates!
Quickly Digesting Carbohydrates: The Fuel You Need
While EAAs are best for building muscle and BCAAs are great for preventing your body from consuming muscle for energy, it’s carbohydrates that are your bodies preferred fuel source.
Muscle building requires energy and carbohydrates provide that energy. Yes, too many carbs in a diet are not a good thing, as any unburned carbs get stored for use later as fat, but small amount of carbs are essential for performing at 100% over the course of 1hr+ workouts.
Thus, if you’re in the gym for more than an hour and want to fuel your workout AND promote muscle protein synthesis you will want amino acids AND carbohydrates.
What Intra-Workout Carbs are Best?
For intra-workout carbs you want something that is 1. absorbed quickly and easily by your body as you dont’ want it to kick in after you need the energy and 2. a carbohydrate that lasts for a long period of time.
The longest lasting carbs are complex crabs like whole oats and other grains. Getting these into your system quickly however can be a challenge.
On the other hand, carbs that can be absorbed rapidly, like sugar or maltodextrin, don’t last long in your bloodstream.
The solution for an intra-workout carbohydrate source that is rapidly absorbed and provides a more extended fuel source is actually raw honey.
Benefits of Raw Honey
Just like lean chicken breast and fish are some of the best sources of protein, honey is one of the most affordable, most rapidly digestible, most nutritious intra-carb source you can find. Whole food for the win!
But aren’t honey and sugar pretty much the same thing? Hell no! Honey is kind of a “super food” because it provides more carbs than honey but also is packed full of micronutrients, which are required to support the body when building muscle and recovering.
While sugar has zero nutrients, honey has vitamin C, folate, choline, betaine, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, selenium, and flouride.
If you’re really into bodybuilding supplements you’ll recognize a few of these micronutrients. Choline and betaine are both popular in pre-workouts.
Zinc and magnesium are also the two biggest components of the popular “ZMA” supplement.
So yeah, honey is actually a pretty badass bodybuilding supplement AND it can save you money since you don’t have to buy so many other ancillary supplements.
The coolest thing about honey as an intra-workout however is that it’s already in a liquid state, meaning it can easily be squirted into an essential amino acid supplement like Xtends.
You then have all the building blocks for muscle growth as well as a healthy fuel source in one drink.
Oh, and honey doesn’t need to be ordered off of bodybuilding.com or amazon.com, you can find it at pretty much any local convenience store. Look for raw, unprocessed honey as that has the most micronutrients.
Don’t Over Spend
Amino acid supplements, partly because of their booming popularity, have actually gotten moderately price competitive.
A 90-serving jug of Xtends breaks down to around $.72/serving, which makes it one of the cheapest supplements after creatine.
Likewise, honey can be had on the cheap. We recommend visiting your local farmers market for “the good stuff”, plus it’s always nice to support the local economy.
Try the honey/BCAA or honey/EAA intra-workout blend for your next “killer” session. Again, killer sessions are generally those exceeding 1 hour in length and consisting of sustained high intensity. This is pretty much every leg day for us.
If you have your own intra-workout blends or hydration/refueling solutions let us know, we’re always interested in learning and sharing bodybuilding DIY supplement hacks!