You thought you had your nutritional plan dialed in for the days you work out. You take a pre-workout for energy, focus, and perhaps vasodilation. You religiously follow each workout during the “anabolic window” with a post-workout supplement.
Your typical post-workout is a protein shake, with quick-absorbing carbohydrates to replace glycogen stores, antioxidants to neutralize free radicals and L-glutamine for muscle repair and recovery. But you’ve noticed many of the more advanced athletes in the gym are also sipping a pink liquid from a gallon jug. What trick are you missing? It’s called an intra-workout supplement, and here is everything you need to know about them, including the best intra-workout supplements out there.
As the name suggests, an intra-workout supplement is designed to be consumed while you are working out. The intra-workout plays an essential role in your performance in the gym and in meeting your fitness goals.
Improved performance is partially a result of better hydration and the energy boost derived from your intra-workout. Many athletes that use these supplements notice they experience prolonged energy and endurance, allowing them to push harder and train longer. One could achieve energy and hydration with caffeine and water. The real secret sauce of the intra-workout comes from the addition of amino acids.
The objectives of an amino acid-based intra-workout supplement are to increase exercise-induced protein synthesis in the muscles, replace essential nutrients, reduce recovery time, and to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue (catabolism).
Amino Acids And BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids)
Virtually every product positioned as an intra-workout includes amino acids. More recently, companies are expanding beyond BCAAs and are incorporating other essential full-spectrum amino acids in their formulas. One of our Best of the Category brands does this. So, let’s discuss these amino acids and BCAAs in more detail.
The Role Of Amino Acids
Amino acids are organic compounds that function as the building blocks of protein. Your body needs twenty different amino acids to develop and function properly. Although all twenty are critical for your health, only nine are classified as essential – that’s because EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) cannot be made in your body, so you must get them through your diet or supplementation. These essential and non-essential amino acids combine to form our body’s various proteins, including muscle proteins.
The Importance Of BCAAs
BCAAs are three of the nine essential amino acids; they are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are named for their molecular structure and are the most critical amino acids for muscle development. They are the building blocks required for the synthesis of other amino acids and proteins, but unlike other amino acids, BCAAs are primarily metabolized and utilized in skeletal muscle. The BCAAs, particularly leucine, stimulate protein synthesis and support your body by reducing the rate of protein breakdown, which could have a positive impact on DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
You could take a BCAA supplement on its own, or you can take an intra-workout supplement that includes them. The BCAAs in your intra-workout supplement can help build, maintain, and repair muscle. It seems reasonable that adding an intra-workout to your nutrition regimen will improve your performance in the gym, feed your muscles, and speed recovery times.
What Is An Intra-Workout Supplement?
Any supplement designed to be consumed during the workout can be considered an intra-workout. Some would argue that an intra-workout should contain other ingredients besides amino acids such as creatine, beta-alanine, citrulline-malate, or glutamine. (Okay, we do agree with the L-glutamine). Those other ingredients, however, are most likely better served in a pre-workout supplement, in our opinion.
Other companies, not content with the great concept of intra-workout BCAAs for all the reasons stated, have now morphed the intra-workout into other areas. Nutrabolt’s Scivation is the maker of Xtend, the original BCAA intra-workout. In addition to its efficacy, Xtend was successful due to its great taste, their Watermelon flavor, by the way, was that pink liquid you noticed people sipping in the gym. Today Scivation markets Xtend Original in sixteen flavors, in powder, ready-to-drink, and gummies. They also have expanded the line:
- Xtend Elite, with citrulline malate for better muscle pumps
- Xtend Sport for hydration and recovery
- Xtend Ripped, a “cutting” formula with Capsimax to promote fat loss
- Xtend Energy with time-released caffeine
- Xtend Keto with Beta-Hydroxybutyrate salts to increase ketone levels
- Xtend Perfect Ten with the other EAAs in addition to BCAAs
- Xtend PM for sleep support with melatonin, GABA, and L-theanine
These are called line-extensions – taking an existing product, adding an ingredient or two, and expanding the benefits to expand your share of the retailer’s shelf space and share of the market.
What Forms Of Intra-Workouts Are Available?
The above example illustrates many of the forms of an intra-workout, by benefit, and by the delivery system. In addition to a powder that you add to water, similar to a pre-workout or post-workout drink, there are also ready-to-drink beverages (carbonated and non-carbonated), gummies, or capsules that you can quickly swallow while in the middle of a training session.
Intra-Workout Supplements Key Ingredients
As related, BCAAS are the primary ingredients in an intra-workout. The established, correct ratio of BCAAs is 2:1:1 – 2 parts Leucine, 1 part Isoleucine, and 1 part valine. Some brands formulate to an 8:1:1 or even a 10:1:1 ration; however, we recommend the industry standard 2:1:1.
- Leucine, for muscle protein synthesis
- Valine, for tissue repair and to maintain nitrogen balance in the body
- Isoleucine, for muscle development and repair
An industry standard for years was that a five-gram serving of BCAAs was optimal. Today experts will recommend anywhere from ten to twenty grams per day, although most still adhere to five grams per serving.
Another development in the space is the movement towards a full-spectrum essential amino acid formulation. The thought is that amino acids do not work independently and that the body needs all the essential amino acids, in the correct proportion, to achieve their purpose, protein synthesis.
Other EAAs in intra-workout formulas:
Intra-Workout Supplement Benefits
Many people who dislike the energy component in a pre-workout or are bothered by the flush from a vasodilation supplement will skip the pre-workout entirely and use only an intra and post-workout supplement combination. The benefits of an intra-workout include:
- Increased energy and endurance – particularly for dieting, consuming a carbohydrate-restricted diet or working out in a fasted state
- Improved hydration – many best-in-class intra-workouts also include electrolytes
- Reduced muscle breakdown – BCAAs provide the body with the fuel it needs to continue exercising without tapping into the amino acids in the muscle tissue.
- Better protein synthesis – the process of using protein to repair muscle damage and build muscle
- Better recovery – intra-workout supplementation will help you ensure you’re getting the amino acids and other nutrients your body needs to recover
Will An Intra-Workout Supplement Work For Me?
Everyone can benefit from using supplements during their workouts. Some individuals will notice even more dramatic improvements:
- Endurance athletes
- Those who do very intense or high-volume workouts
- People who are exercising while in a fasted state
- Those not consuming adequate protein
- People who train multiple times per day
Are Intra-Workout Supplements Safe?
Supplementing with amino acids is generally regarded as safe. Possible adverse side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating.
Amino acids may interact with other medications, so if you are taking prescription medications, please check with your medical professional before starting any amino acid supplement.
Intra-Workout Supplement Alternatives
Many people are satisfied with a pre-workout drink alone for energy, mental focus, and muscle pumps. Others believe a combination of a pre-workout supplement and a post-workout supplement for repair and recovery are sufficient.
It’s pretty simple to satisfy the energy and hydration benefits of an intra-workout with other supplements; caffeine will provide energy, and electrolytes will solve for the hydration. As to the benefits derived from the amino acid component, there are excellent dietary amino acid-rich sources such as meat, eggs, tofu, soy, buckwheat, quinoa, and dairy.
Best Intra-Workout Supplements
When picking the best intra-workout supplements, we adhered to the following criteria:
- We sought products with the correct ingredients
- We insisted upon products with a minimum of the recommended five grams of amino acids, in the appropriate 2:1:1 ratio
- We ensured the products are manufactured in a certified cGMP facility (Good Manufacturing Practices)
- We looked for companies and brands that have independent third-party testing such as NSF, Informed Choice, or Safe for Sport certifications
Cellucor Alpha Amino Ultimate
Our top pick for intra-workout supplements is Cellucor Alpha Amino Ultimate. This powerful BCAA supplement contains 13 amino acids, including 5g BCAAs at the 2:1:1 ratio. It also contains ingredients such as MyoeDge and Creatine HCI to help support lean muscle and strength building. Cellucor Alpha Amino Ultimate also provides benefits such as supporting muscle recovery, as well as supporting cellular hydration with their inclusion of clinically studied ingredient BetaPower Betaine and coconut water powder.GET THE BEST PRICE ON CELLUCOR ALPHA AMINO ULTIMATE
Xtend Original BCAA Powder from Nutrabolt’s Scivation
Nutrabolt owns the popular sports nutrition brand Cellucor and its best-selling pre-workout C4. So, acquiring Scivation and their best-selling Xtend intra-workout was a marriage made in heaven. Pictured here is their best-selling flavor, their Watermelon Explosion.
The Xtend Original formula meets all our requirements; 7 grams of BCAAs in the correct 2:1:1 proportion, 2.5 grams of L-glutamine, a single gram of citrulline malate, and 1,140 mg of electrolytes. Perfect.GET THE BEST PRICE ON XTEND ORIGINAL BCAA POWDER
HydroBCAA + EAA, from ProSupps
Pro Supps is a bit edgier sports nutrition brand known for producing excellent formulas and products that perform. Their Hydro product contains both a full seven grams of BCAAs in the proper 2:1:1 ratio (3.5 grams of L-leucine and 1.75 grams each of L-valine and L-isoleucine), and 3 grams of EAAs. All six EAAs are included as well as an electrolyte matrix consisting of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and phosphate.
It is manufactured in the U.S. in a cGMP facility.GET THE BEST PRICE ON PROSUPPS HYDROBCAA + EAA
Kion Aminos, from Ben Greenfield – Personal Trainer Extraordinaire, Author, Anti-Aging Specialist, Entrepreneur, And Triathlete
Kion Aminos is an excellent choice in the full-spectrum amino acid intra-workout category. Kion Aminos is a plant-based supplement that contains eight of the nine essential amino acids. Unlike other intra-workouts with full-spectrum amino acids, Kion excludes Histidine, claiming their levels will rise when the other EAAs are consumed.
Kion offers its Aminos product in two forms, a powder, and a tablet. The powder is available in two flavors; Cool Lime or Mixed Berry. Both products contain a thirty-day supply, 150 tablets, or thirty 6.5-gram scoops.GET THE BEST PRICE ON KION AMINOS
Essential Amino Energy, from Optimum Nutrition
Optimum Nutrition is one of the largest and most well-respected names in sports nutrition. In addition to their best-selling whey protein, Gold Standard, they produce an excellent intra-workout, Essential Amino Energy.
Notice the word Essential in the product name. Like Kion, Optimum uses all nine EAAs in their formula in addition to L-glutamine and beta-alanine. Caffeine (100mg), Green Tea Leaf Extract (50mg), and Green Coffee Bean Extract (10 mg) comprise the energy component.
The product is a cGMP facility, certified as Safe for Sport by NSF.GET THE BEST PRICE ON OPTIMUM NUTRITION ESSENTIAL AMINO ENERGY
Stacking Intra-Workout Supplements
The most popular way to stack an intra-workout is with a pre and/or post-workout regimen. Although the combinations are almost endless, some of the most popular sports nutrition stacks would include:
- Citrulline Malate
Final Thoughts: Best Intra-Workout Supplements
Amino acids and BCAA’s have been clinically studied and are regarded as some of the most beneficial and effective supplements in the sports nutrition industry. If you want to increase energy and endurance while working out, add muscle, and speed up your recovery, we strongly suggest incorporating an intra-workout supplement into your routine.