How to Use Intra-Workout Nutrition to Maximize Your Results!


First of all, what the hell is intra-workout nutrition?

It's simply nutrition nerd language for what you eat or drink while you are training (intra-workout nutrition sounds cooler, though).

This aspect of nutrition is often dismissed and tossed to the said by most people.

I mean, doesn't eating during training defeat the purpose?

This is the first misconception we must address.

In general, a lot of people have a flawed idea of what working out is supposed to yield. Many fall into the trap of using their Fitbit to count how many calories they burned during their jog on the treadmill and then proceed to use that arbitrary number to justify the donut (or dozen of donuts) they scarf down later that night...

First of all, trackers like the Fitbit and others aren't very accurate at all. Unless you have access to laboratory-grade equipment, good luck determining exactly how many calories you burn.

Secondly, the purpose of working out shouldn't be to see how many calories you can burn in an hour.

A simple perspective shift from calories to muscle growth will make your training program a lot more effective and enjoyable in the long term.

See, the more muscle you are able to build, the more calories you will burn overall (this is where calories come into play). Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body, meaning it burns the most calories. Whether your goal is to get jacked or to lean down and lose body fat, training for muscle growth will help you achieve your desired results much faster.

Enter, intra-workout nutrition...

So, now that I'm off my soap box, where exactly does intra-workout nutrition come into play?

Here are the scenarios where you will benefit from consuming calories and/or certain supplements during your training sessions:

- You are an athlete that participates in more than one training session per day.

- You are aiming to maximize every last bit of muscle growth possible.

-You are in the middle of a fat loss phase and in a moderate/deep caloric deficit.

-You are training in a fasted state.

-You are an athlete in the middle of your season looking to maximize recovery.

-You have high amounts of external stress in your life.

As you can see, there are a multitude of applications for intra-workout nutrition.

Let's get into some general guidelines that you can follow when implementing this into your routine!

Protein

By far, protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to both muscle growth and preservation.

It spikes muscle protein synthesis, a key process in muscle growth, and also provides the raw materials (amino acids) for the building of muscle tissues.

I think it's fairly obvious how consuming protein during your workout can maximize muscle growth.

You are essentially giving your body the materials it needs for muscle growth at a time when it is most receptive to those materials.

But, how does this come into play during a fat loss phase?

See, when you are trying to lose fat, you want to avoid as muscle muscle loss as possible (unless you enjoy being "skinny-fat").

When you are in a caloric deficit, your body is in a catabolic state, meaning it is breaking down stored nutrients for energy since it's not getting enough from food intake.

Unfortunately, one of these resources is muscle tissue...

By consuming protein intra-workout, you are essentially able to offset to breakdown of muscle during your workouts and nudge your body to oxidize fat and carbs (hold tight, we'll talk about this in the next section) instead.

So, how exactly do you go about incorporating protein into your intra-workout nutrition?

Obviously, it's probably not ideal to down a ribeye steak mid-workout.

Instead of solid food sources of protein, opt for quick digesting forms of protein like protein powders.

Whey isolate is likely your best bet if you are not lactose intolerant (some people who are lactose in tolerant can actually tolerate whey isolate, you'll just need to experiment with that for yourself).

If whey is off the table for you, don't worry. A high quality, plant-based protein powder will still work perfectly fine for you!

I personally use Thrive by Legion Athletics. No, I'm not sponsored by them; I am just a fan of the product and it has worked well for me.

As for the amount of protein, start off with roughly 30-40 grams of protein.

You likely won't need, or want, to go up from there. However, if you feel a bit to full for your liking, just lower the amount of protein to 20-25g.

After all, it's about what works for you.

With that, you should be all set to implement protein into your intra-workout nutrition protocol. Now, let's get onto carbs!

Carbohydrates

Before we cover intra-workout carbs, let's make sure you have a good idea of what exactly carbs do for your body.

Carbs get a lot of slack in the current fitness space, and undeservedly so.

I'm glad to tell you that when used in the correct context, carbs can actually take your results to the next level.

Carbs are your body's preferred fuel source for high intensity bouts of activity. Weight training, HIIT cardio, and a lot of team sports (basketball, football, soccer, etc) fall into this category.

Your body stores carbs in your muscles as glycogen. In the midst if high intensity activity, glycogen is broken down via glycolysis to produce glucose that can be utilized to produce energy.

This process occurs much more quickly than the burning of fat, which is why carbs are the ideal energy source to facilitate high level performance during intense activity.

As we alluded to before, the better you perform, the more adaptation you will promote (adaptions include muscle growth, fat loss, and better performance in your given sport/event).

Before we continue, I do want to point out that it is far more important for you to have your total daily intake of carbs in check before worrying about intra-workout carbs.

As always, to see optimal results in the long term it is absolutely crucial to have sound fundamentals before getting into the details.

Assuming your daily carb intake is adequate (your intra-workout protein and carbs do count towards your total daily intake. You don't get a free pass simply because they are consumed intra-workout!), where do intra-workout carbs come into play?

Remember how carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscles?

If you consume quick-digesting carbohydrates during your training sessions, you may be able to to slow down the depletion of muscle glycogen, thus sustaining higher levels of performance for a longer time frame.

Who would benefit from this?

As mentioned multiple times before, most people trying to gain muscle or lose fat can benefit from the increased performance intra-workout carbs provide.

Another specific situation in which this can be useful is during a training session completed in a fasted state, especially if you didn't get an ideal dinner in the night before.

The demographic that can benefit the most, in my opinion, from carbohydrate supplementation (at least from a muscle glycogen preservation perspective) during workouts is athletes in the midst of "two-a-days."

If you're a competitive athlete, you know the feeling.

By the time that second workout rolls around, you're struggling to muster the energy to get through practice.

If intra-workout carbs are implemented properly during the first workout of the day, you can avoid this "bonk" in the middle of practice #2 (we'll get into exactly how to implement this in just a minute). Remember, muscle glycogen is an energy source for high intensity exercise. So, if you minimize the depletion of it during your first workout, you'll have more fuel for your next workout and be able to out-perform your peers on the field, court, etc.

Although there really is no reason for the general population to train 2x per day, if you were to do so for some reason, the same rules would apply.

Carbohydrates as a Stress Reducer

Not only can intra-workout carbs enhance your performance, but that can also optimize your recovery before your workout even finishes.

See, when you workout, your levels of cortisol spike, sending you into a sympathetic (think, "fight or flight response") mode. This can be beneficial with regards to performance, but we don't want the cortisol response to get out of hand and linger around for too long after the workout.

Prolonged periods of elevated cortisol lead to unwanted symptoms like fat gain, muscle loss, trouble waking up in the morning, struggling to fall asleep in the evening, poor mood... the list goes on. Carbohydrates can actually help you manage this by blunting your body's cortisol response and shifting you into a state of recovery.

Again, context matters.

Let's go over a situation where you might not want to implement this before we get into when you should use this tactic. If performance is your primary goal, you may want to hold back on the carbs right at the outset of your workout.

The reasoning behind this is that cortisol actually enhances performance, and if leveraged correctly, can take your game to the next level.

The clearest example of this is the classic scenario when a mother lifts a car off of her child as if she was superhuman.

Now, how can you leverage cortisol's performance enhancing properties while also using carbs to enhance recovery?

Simply wait until later in your workout (this could be after your main lifts, during cool down, etc) to introduce the carbs! This way, you'll be able to enjoy the increased performance during the most important parts of your training session, and then usher your body into recovery by using the carbs to lower cortisol towards the end of your session.

CAVEAT: If you tend to suffer from performance anxiety and "choke" during big moments, carbs at the beginning of your session/competition may actually benefit your performance more than the cortisol spike.

Stay with me, I know we're getting deep into the weeds right now; but, it's actually quite simple.

Physiology is a two way street.

High stress = high levels of cortisol.

So, if you work backwards and use carbs as a way to lower cortisol, you can essentially take your stress levels down a notch and improve performance during high pressure situations.

Of course, this isn't going to work miracles; but it can definitely help the situation.

Okay, now let's get back to regularly scheduled programming.

What if your main goal is simply to build muscle and lose fat. Yes, performing well would be nice, but you're open to sacrificing that end of the spectrum for better aesthetics.

Intra-workout carbs can extremely effective for aesthetic purposes as well! As we mentioned, carbs blunt cortisol, and cortisol is lowered, your body shifts into a recovery state which makes it much easier to build muscle and lose fat.

Not only is your workout a stressor; so is your job, classes, relationship issues, lack of sleep, consumption of processed foods... the list could go on for quite a while. Physiologically, your body can't tell the difference between these "different" stressors and thus reacts in a similar manner in each case: by raising cortisol.

If you have many of these external stressors in your life, then leveraging intra-workout carbs as a way to buffer the stress of training can help to reduce the overall impact of elevated cortisol on your results!

First and foremost, however, it is absolutely crucial to at least attempt to address the other stressors in your life. Intra-workout carbs can help, but by no means should they be used as a crutch. Properly addressing the external stresses in your life will do so much more for you than any intra-workout carb drink will! It is simply a tool that you can add into your toolbox, not an end-all-be-all savior!

Implementing Intra-Workout Carbs

Now that we've gone over the context in which they should be used, how do you actually add intra-workout carbs into your routine?

Ideally, the carb source should be in liquid form. This will make it digest more quickly, as well as prevent any gastric distress. Also, I'm sure the gym staff wouldn't be huge fans of you shoveling down oatmeal in between your sets...

In an ideal world, using a carbohydrate supplement called highly-branched cyclic dextrin (HBCD) would be your best bet when it comes to intra-workout carbs. it essentially hits your blood stream right away, allowing the carbs to actually be used during the workout either as fuel or to blunt cortisol. You can find it on Amazon for a decent price.

If HBCD isn't an option, then you could opt for another form of relatively quick-digesting carbs. This could be something likely blending white rice into a shake with your protein powder, consuming raw-organic honey, etc. The key is for the carbohydrate source to be fast-digesting. The last thing you want in the middle of a high intensity workout is your stomach full of undigested food.

Although not ideal, this can likely work for most people. Ultimately, you need to test out different methods and find what works for you. Some markers that you can use to assess this include:

-Changes in perfomance: If you find that you perform better using a certain carb, then go with that. If you try something a number of times and notice no difference, or a decrease, in performance then discontinue your use of that specific carb and try something else.

-Gastric distress: If a certain carb or carb solution gives you stomach problems on a consistent basis during your training session, cut it out. No matter the promised "benefits," if it doesn't work for your body then don't try to stuff a square peg into a round hole!

As for the amount of carbs, ~25g is a good starting point. As with the protein, assess how you feel and use your individual results and feedback as data to adjust going forward!

Fat

This section is going to be quick.

When it comes to fat during workouts, don't consume any.

Fat slows down how quickly food leaves the stomach and can be a major culprit of stomach pain and other gastric distress in the middle of your workout.

With that being said, do not interpret this as needing to exclude fat from your diet as a whole. That is not at all what I am implying. Fat should simply be excluded in the middle of your workout (and immediately pre-workout), but is absolutely crucial for you to consume throughout the rest of the day to promote optimal health and results!

Supplementation

Everyone's favorite part...

This is the piece of your program that's going to make or break your results right???

I'm sorry to say (not really, honestly) that it's not.

Really, for the average person there isn't a major need to supplement during workouts.

With that being said, there is one supplement that can definitely be useful if used in the correct context...

Essential Amino Acids (EAAs)

As you know, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are the main driver of muscle growth from a macronutrient perspective. There are some cases in which you may want to opt for supplementing with EAAs during your training rather than whole protein powder, specifically during a fat loss phase.

When you're in a fat loss phase, you're likely in a caloric deficit. This means that you have a relatively limited "budget" of calories for the day. Odds are, you won't want to use a chunk of your budget on protein/carb powders during your workout when they can be spent elsewhere, like on a nice dinner at home.

This is where EAAs come in. EAAs essentially (no pun intended) have little to no calories. They can also be very effective in maintaining muscle mass during fasted training sessions. That way, you can get similar benefits to those of protein without having to waste your precious calories on a protein shake mid-workout.

When selecting an EAA supplement, try your best to avoid ones that are sweetened artificially with sucralose. While there is still a lot that we don't know about the long term effects of sucralose, there have been a handful of studies that indicate that it has some unintended metabolic consequences and may negatively affect your gut micro biome (the "good guy" bacteria in your digestive system). With that being said, I would strongly encourage you to proceed with caution when using such supplements and to instead opt for those that are unsweetened.

Personally, I take EAAs in pill form. That way, I don't need to worry about the taste!

Wrapping it up

With that, you are know well equipped to use intra-workout nutrition to absolutely crush your training sessions!

Remember that while intra-workout nutrition is an awesome tool, it's even more important for you to have the big rocks (energy balance, macros, food quality, sleep, stress) taken care of.

Here's a quick summary of what was covered in this article:

-Protein: ~30-40g of a quick digesting form (either whey isolate or plant based) will help to maximize muscle growth and preservation

-Carbs: ~25g of a quick digesting form (HBCD) can help to maximize performance and decrease stress to promote an environment conducive to optimal results!

-Fat: Don't include fats intra-workout, as they slow gastric emptying and have no positive effect on results when consumed intra-workout

-Supps: Not make or break, but one that can help in a fat loss phase is EAAs, which mimics the muscle sparing effects of protein without the calories

-Experiment, experiment, and experiment some more! This is the only way to truly know what works for you. Everyone is super individual when it comes to this, and it's crucial for you to get to know your body!

Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful for you and that you're even more ready to crush your training now! If you have any feedback or suggestions, feel free to send me an email at @tclarknutrition@gmail.com or shoot me a DM on Instagram @tclarknutrition. Thanks again!