Intra Workout Nutrition is one of the most controversial topics in fitness. Some swear by it, saying it really helps recovery, others say it’s a waste of money under most circumstances. So which is it? Let’s find out…
Okay let’s define “intra workout nutrition” which refers to what you eat or drink DURING your workout. It’s usually a drink made up of some sort of carbs and protein. It can be as simple as sipping on Gatorade during your workout, or it can be expensive designer carbs and specialty amino acids. Either way you have a few that swear by intra workout nutrition, most notably John Meadows, who credits much of his gains in his 40s to intra workout nutrition. Then you have the majority who say it’s basically a waste of time unless you’re in a severe calorie deficit or an endurance athlete.
Why Some Say No
I believe the reason the majority says no to intra workout nutrition is because they are looking at this strictly from a macronutrient perspective. To be fair they don’t say no across the board, they say it’s useful if you’re in a severe calorie deficit and are working out in a carb depleted state, or if you’re working out for a really long time, like over 2-3 hours. So if you’re working out in a fed state, and especially if you’re in a calorie surplus, consuming an intra workout drink is just a waste of money, because you have plenty of energy from your pre workout meal. Now I’ll admit, from a strictly macronutrient energy-balance perspective this makes total sense. But there is more to it than that…
Why Some Say Yes
John Meadows and the few who say yes to intra workout nutrition base their answer on research and experience. The “official” position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, based on the research, is “Consuming carbohydrate solely or in combination with protein during resistance exercise increases muscle glycogen stores, ameliorates muscle damage, and facilitates greater acute and chronic training adaptations.” In other words, intra workout nutrition inhibits muscle breakdown and facilitates better recovery. Why? Well not because we need the energy from the carbs. Why intra workout nutrition works is because of 2 hormones: insulin and cortisol. As you ingest carbs insulin production goes up. And as insulin goes up, cortisol is kept low. High cortisol levels are associated with higher muscle protein breakdown. So keeping cortisol levels under control is the key to why intra workout nutrition works. And by providing protein intra workout, you have all the raw materials to recover better and faster. Now let’s talk about experience. John Meadows credits intra workout nutrition for making serious gains in his 40s. As he tells the story, he was stuck. He just wasn’t gaining any more size. Until, that is, he discovered intra workout nutrition. He says it improved his recovery so much he was able to increase his training frequency and start training each body part twice a week, and continued making notable gains. Since that time he has implemented that strategy with numerous clients over the years, and shared it all over social media. In spite of this, intra workout nutrition remains controversial and its supporters are the minority. Okay so now let’s talk about the best choice of ingredients for intra workout nutrition…
Not the Best Choice of Carbs
Some proponents of intra workout nutrition say Gatorade is fine or even gummy worms. Yes you heard me right gummy worms! The most common carbs in this category are: sugar, dextrose, fructose and maltodextrin. There’s 2 problems with these types of carbs: 1. Fast digesting carbs means a spike in blood glucose followed by a spike in insulin, meaning you risk going hypo in the middle of your workout. Which has happened to me before. The second issue is digestion. Even though these are high glycemic index fast digesting carbs, they actually take longer for gastric emptying compared to other carb sources (which I’ll get into next), meaning you‘ll feel full longer. In my personal experience, drinking Gatorade during my workout makes me feel full, a little bloated, and a little sluggish. Not a comfortable feeling during a workout.
The Best Choice of Carbs
What if I told you there is type of carbohydrate that goes through your stomach as easy as water, is absorbed by tour gut faster than dextrose or maltodextrin, yet won’t spike your blood sugar or insulin? It won’t make you feel bloated or sluggish AND you don’t risk going hypo during your workout. Sound too good to be true? It actually exists, it’s called: cyclodextrin or cyclic dextrin or “highly branched cyclic dextrin” aka HBCD. These cone shaped glucose polymers have unique properties, such as high molecular weight and low osmolality. What this means is when it’s mixed with water, the concentration is lower because it has fewer molecules. Lower concentration means faster gastric emptying. In fact the rate of gastric emptying of cyclodextrin is nearly identical to water. This means no bloating or stomach upset. Another unique property of cyclodextrin is its highly branched structure: the molecules are so interlinked and complex that it takes a long time to break down the glucose molecules, resulting in a slow and sustained release of glucose into the blood stream. This helps avoid insulin spikes and blood sugar crashes associated with dextrose and maltodextrin.
The Best Choice of Protein
Of course the best protein source means the fastest digesting and absorbing protein. You basically have 3 choices here: BCAAs EAAs or hydrolyzed whey protein. Free form BCAAs and EAAs digest the fastest with hydrolyzed whey a close second. Hydrolyzed whey protein is pre-digested, enzymatically broken down into more rapidly absorbing di- and tri-peptides. So free form aminos definitely digest faster but whey protein is a complete full spectrum protein, and therefore is superior in terms of muscle protein synthesis. My personal choice is hydrolyzed whey protein, the pros outweigh the cons in this case, especially because our intra workout drink is mostly made of carbs and only a few grams of protein per serving.
What does the bible say about it?
Acts chapter 2 verse 17 says “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” I bring up that verse because a couple years ago when I was first learning about intra workout nutrition, I had a dream. I was really debating in my own head the usefulness of intra workout nutrition. In this dream, an older wiser bodybuilder, I think it was John Meadows, but I’m not really sure, told me this intra workout formula would help keep cortisol levels under control. That’s all I remember. I know that may sound crazy to you, why would God speak to me in a dream about intra workout nutrition? Well it tells me God cares about the little stuff. This topic might be insignificant to others but it has meaning to me, and He not only cares about the details but He is willing to help me. This is consistent with Biblical truths, Jesus said the hairs on our head are numbered, and even though God feeds and cares for the birds of the air, WE are worth more than many sparrows. In fact we are worth so much to God that he sent Jesus to die for our sins. If you haven’t put your trust in Jesus as Savior, I invite you to do so today. Anyway, take this dream with a grain of salt, the Bible says to test all things and hold onto the good. So in a round about way, intra workout nutrition gets my vote as being Biblical.
Okay that’s it for this week’s article. Thanks for joining me. Don’t forget to pick up my calorie calculator combo, the ultimate free tools to help you succeed on your fitness journey, just visit the link below. That’s all for now, God bless you, and I’ll see you next time.
Free Calorie Calculator Combo: https://www.spiritandmuscle.com/calories