Intra workout nutrition, that is fluids or calories consumed during a workout can be a contentious topic among some fitness professionals. Supplement companies often overplay its importance in order to sell consumers more "magic" powders. When it comes to the question of whether an individual needs intra workout nutrition the answer (like many things) is, it depends. First, let's look at who might benefit from intra workout nutrition.
Early Morning Trainees: If you're working out early in the morning, before eating, and your workout is going to be long and or intense.
Fasting Individuals: Intermittent fasting has become popular over recent years. With this protocol many individuals skip breakfast and eat later in the day. If you haven't or won't consume any calories within a 4-hour window of training (before or after) then you may want to look into intra workout nutrition.
Performance Goals or Very Active Individuals: If your focus is on peak performance, especially for more intense sports, or you are very active (on your feet moving all day long) you may benefit.
Long/Intense Workouts: If your workouts are very intense and or last longer than 90 minutes you may want to look at incorporating intra workout nutrition.
If you don't fall into one of these categories, you probably have no need for intra workout nutrition. If your goals are weight loss, then adding extra calories here would also be inadvisable. Now that we know who should and shouldn't look into this strategy let's look at what to consider for your workout cocktail.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the most readily available and efficient fuel source for your muscles (and brain). If you've ever gotten lightheaded, nauseous, or shaky during a workout, low blood sugar was likely the culprit. There are a variety of different options here, but ideally you want something simple and easy to digest that absorbs quickly. Shoot for 10-15g/100lb of bodyweight per hour of training.
Protein: Protein is a secondary fuel source, but more importantly acts to help facilitate recovery from muscle damage done during training. Ideally, we want to have a protein bolus within 3 hours (pre or post) of training. If we won't be able to get this through whole food, then incorporating protein in the workout drink is a great option. Shoot for 15-20g per 100lb of body weight.
Extras: Electrolytes help keep you adequately hydrated, and aid in muscle contractions. You can use a sports drink such as Gatorade (which will also contain your carbohydrates) or you can get one of the various electrolyte formulas on the market. This is particularly valuable if you are working out in very hot or humid conditions. Pre-Workout are by no means needed, but for some individuals that like an extra kick they can have some value. However, many of the ingredients commonly included don't have a huge value or are underdosed. They can be a convenient way to deliver multiple ingredients you want rather than having to mix a bunch of things together. Caffeine is one of the most studied sports nutrition supplements out there. When dosed properly it has a high safety rating for individuals that don't have any contraindications (high blood pressure, heart attack risk, stroke risk, etc.). For performance benefits look to consume 3mg/lb of bodyweight. Creatine another highly studied supplement with a great safety rating, creatine can aid in recovery and assist with top end strength. Many individuals will retain extra water when using creatine, so be aware that the scale might go up due to your body holding excess water. Most people see benefits with 5-10g per day. Creatine does not need to be consumed during or prior to your workout. Simply consistently consuming the recommended amount will saturate your muscles and allow you to see the benefits of its use.
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