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Intra-workout nutrition

Intra-Workout Ernährung

Even though it is an important component of nutrition, intra-workout nutrition - or nutrition during training - is often neglected. Learn how the right intra-workout nutrition can improve your gains!

Building muscle is generally the main motivation for going to the gym in the first place.

Whether you want to look better, develop more confidence or build strength for the next sports season, the desired result is the same - more muscle and less fat.

Train long enough and it becomes obvious that the key stimulus for serious muscle gains is a progressive increase in the level of intensity of your training sessions. Far too often, exercisers choose a training program, get into a rut and then stagnate because the intensity doesn't change.

There is simply no substitute for increasing intensity when it comes to stimulating continuous growth. A progressive increase in resistance is the name of the game and without it, you can forget about ever stretching those shirt sleeves.

Even though dedicated exercisers consume protein and carbohydrates before and after training, they unknowingly forget one important step - the intake of nutrients during training - also known as intra-workout nutrition.

New muscle gains are the biggest victim of this. Smart exercisers realize this, but are they going about it the right way?

Those who have completely neglected intra-workout nutrition should pay close attention - this article will provide the gains you've been missing out on.

Misunderstandings and misconceptions about intra-workout nutrition

The idea of consuming nutrients during training is nothing new, yet many bodybuilders still forgo this crucial strategy. Why?

There are many misconceptions about intra-workout nutrition. Digesting nutrients draws blood from the muscles and is energy draining.

Certain compounds - especially caffeine - can dehydrate muscles and reduce workout energy. Excessive use of stimulants can overstimulate the central nervous system and cause muscle fatigue. The intake of certain nutrients during training is time consuming and impractical.

Even if the above is true, these are not the most effective intra-workout strategies. Unfortunately, the association that these strategies have with intra-workout nutrition prevents many from utilizing one of the most powerful determinants of muscle building to their advantage.

Intra-workout nutrition: the missing link

A large part of muscle building progress can be attributed to nutrition. In the not too distant past, training nutrition was quite primitive. A meal an hour before training and a protein shake after training were pretty much all that fell into this area. But over the last few years, supplement-savvy exercisers have taken a more specific approach to nutrition around training - the time before, during and after.

Yet what is undeniably the most important of these windows - intra-workout nutrition - is still regularly neglected.

When it comes to the perfect training experience and preparation for maximum muscle growth, it's all about timing and an eye for detail (4). It's not always what you consume, because when you consume it can make a significant difference when it comes to how the body responds to a given stimulus.

Just a few simple carbohydrates (some even recommend plain table sugar or fruit) and a protein shake won't cut it. What is needed is an array of specifically designed and formulated ingredients.

The supporting forces

Much like a successful business or sports team, a gym workout requires some supporting forces to help the actual stars do their job properly. Although pre-workout nutrition provides useful nutrients to support the training process, this effect is often short-lived. During training is the period when a continuous supply of anabolic agents is most needed.

It is during exercise that muscles are most receptive to key anabolic hormones such as insulin and muscle-building nutrients such as protein and carbohydrates.

Exercise itself is a catabolic, not an anabolic process. During exercise, muscle tissue is broken down and protein is released from the muscles to maintain a high-intensity power release. In fact, it has been shown that when it comes to ensuring adequate exercise energy, consuming an amino acid/BCAA drink during exercise can contribute up to 15% of usable energy (7). The use of amino acids during exercise can increase by up to 500% due to the high energy demands of a typical hardcore training session.

For this reason, training can be a two steps forward/one step back endeavor for many exercisers. However, with proper intra-workout nutrition, the body has no reason to break down muscle tissue.

The primary anabolic factor: insulin

The key to efficient intra-workout nutrition is to ensure that insulin is continuously released during exercise. And the best time to stimulate insulin release is when the muscles are most receptive to the nutrients that insulin provides (4). In fact, specific, targeted insulin release outside of the pre-workout, intra-workout and post-workout window can actually contribute to fat storage.

Even though carbohydrates and protein have a motivated guide (insulin) during such times, they may be denied access to muscle tissue (due to lower insulin sensitivity during these times) and therefore need to find another target (adipose tissue).

Low insulin levels make other intra-workout nutrients inefficient because they lack the transporter to get them into muscle cells. In addition to this, the catabolic hormone glucagon uses amino acids from the muscles to produce glucose to ensure a continuous energy supply once insulin levels drop during exercise (7).

In the absence of insulin, the catabolic hormones cortisol and epinephrine also become active. While cortisol randomly produces energy from proteins, carbohydrates and fats, epinephrine uses glycogen from the liver to provide your muscles with energy (7).

All this catabolic destruction leaves muscles with depleted reserves, depleted and unresponsive to growth. However, insulin is able to mitigate the effects of cortisol, epinephrine and glucagon and prevent this negative scenario.

The first requirement of a solid intra-workout plan is to maintain stable insulin levels throughout the duration of the training session. This requires carbohydrates. However, to optimize insulin levels, the right carbohydrates must be chosen. Simple carbohydrates such as glucose or table sugar greatly increase blood sugar levels and cause an excessive insulin response.

Such sugars also promote bloating and cramps and are poorly absorbed by the body. Inefficient absorption of nutrients and low energy levels are often the result.

It is therefore best to choose a wider range of complex carbohydrates with a high molecular weight that are both easily absorbed and result in a prolonged increase in blood sugar levels. Such carbohydrates pass through the stomach faster than simple carbohydrates due to their low osmolality and thus reach the small intestine more quickly, from where they are gradually released into the bloodstream. As a result, muscles receive a sustained and steady boost of energy due to a continuous and stable insulin response.

As the preferred nutrient for ATP production, the right combination of carbohydrates keeps energy levels elevated during a training session. And with a steady supply of the right intra-workout carbohydrates, muscle glycogen stores are also continuously replenished.

The highest molecular weight carbohydrates available on the market today include highly branched cyclic dextrin, high molecular weight dextrin polysaccharides, ultra high molecular weight waxy maize and rice polysaccharides, digestion-resistant dextrin (with a highly branched structure) and potato polysaccharides.

These carbohydrates reach the target muscles faster to provide energy, protect muscle protein and maintain maximum performance for longer.

Anabolic training

The need for a continuous supply of key amino acids also increases the harder and longer we train. But a lack of insulin makes it impossible for muscles to absorb the branched-chain amino acids that are so important for muscle rebuilding and energy production (2, 9) For this reason, carbohydrate and BCAA supplementation work hand in hand to ensure a positive training experience and fresh muscle gains (2).

Science confirms the need for BCAAs during exercise. In addition to providing muscles with BCAAs during exercise to prevent muscle breakdown, intra-workout BCAAs also pave the way for continued growth after exercise (2). A study conducted by Karlsson et al. found that intra-workout supplementation with BCAAs results in greater phosphorylation of ribosomal S6 kinase (6).

This means that intra-workout supplementation with BCAAs activates a key enzyme that is crucial for protein synthesis to a much greater extent after training (1). The result is increased muscle growth compared to a training session without intra-workout BCAA supplementation.

Scientists have also found that intra-workout BCAA supplementation can also minimize the reduction in testosterone levels that normally occurs after an intense training session, while reducing post-workout muscle soreness. This improved anabolic environment also counteracts the inevitable production of free radicals during exercise.

Free radicals destroy muscle tissue and impair regeneration. The antioxidant effect of intra-workout nutrients neutralizes free radicals while promoting faster recovery by reducing post-workout muscle inflammation.

In addition to the well-established muscle growth benefits of intra-workout BCAA supplementation, taking these crucial amino acids during exercise can also provide additional energy by sparing muscle energy stores, improve immune function to aid recovery and improve muscle definition by ensuring fat is used as an energy source (7).

Just like intra-workout carbohydrate consumption, using the right BCAA product during training can also lead to better results (9). The problem with many BCAA products, however, is that they are dosed too low and that solubility and absorption are so poor that the active ingredients do not reach the muscles, or only to a limited extent, so that muscle synthesis cannot be activated.

You should therefore look for a BCAA product with a superior delivery system, a BCAA ratio closer to 45% leucine, 30% isoleucine and 25% valine (a 9:6:5 ratio) and an optimal dosage (8 grams of BCAAs per serving is optimal).

Additional Stars


The unsung heroes in the intra-workout performance team are the electrolytes. How little attention many exercisers pay to electrolytes is surprising when you consider that muscles can't function without adequate amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium.

Electrolytes carry electrical energy to every cell in the body. Nearly every function within the body relies on the combined support of these key chemicals. Muscle contractions and the transmission of nerve impulses are also dependent on electrolytes. Unfortunately, the harder we train, the more susceptible we are to electrolyte imbalances. This can quickly lead to muscle cramps and reduced performance.

Along with carbohydrates and amino acids, electrolytes are essential to ensure that we can perform well in the gym throughout the training session. And as with carbohydrates and amino acids, a precise ratio of electrolytes is required for optimal results. Electrolyte supplementation must provide optimal support without overriding the body's normal mechanisms.

Ketoisocaproic Acid (KIC)

For all the good that carbohydrates, aminos and electrolytes do in supporting training progress, there is one thing they cannot prevent - the depleting effects of ammonia. The muscle toxin ammonia is generated whenever a muscle contraction occurs. Ammonia accumulates in the body during exercise and causes muscle exhaustion. By deactivating ammonia, KIC can reduce fatigue during training and increase muscle endurance.

B vitamins

The nutritional benefits of B vitamins are too numerous to list in this article. Among other things, B vitamins are essential for converting protein and carbohydrates into energy, repairing damaged cells (including muscle cells) and increasing red blood cell production to optimize energy levels (3, 5).

What many exercisers don't realize is that B vitamins also promote muscle growth (3, 8). During hard training sessions, the body's energy-producing pathways are put under enormous strain and stress. B vitamins play a crucial role in increasing exercise performance and muscle growth by stimulating energy production.

Although a good balance of B vitamins should be achieved, the following B vitamins are particularly important to take during training: B3 (niacin), B6 (as pyridoxine HCl and pyridoxal 5'-phosphate, B9 (as folic acid and 5-methyltetrahydrofolate) and B12 (as methylcobalamin).

Build up while you train

Intensive training is extremely damaging to the body. As a result, despite countless training sessions and enormous efforts, all aimed at the one goal of building more muscle, very little progress is often visible.

With the help of the right intra-workout nutrition, progress-oriented exercisers can finally achieve their goals. The catabolic effects of training can often result in more muscle mass being lost during training than is ultimately gained after training. Without the intake of the right nutrients during this crucial period, the body will continue to use energy from wherever it can find it.

Ironically, training energy will also diminish. Proper intra-workout nutrition seems to be the key to solving this perplexing dilemma. This simple step to maximizing your muscle gains can turn every training session into an opportunity to build more muscle.


  1. Biolo, G., Maggi, S.P., Williams, B.D., Tipton, K.D., Wolfe, R.R. Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino acid transport after resistance exercise in humans. American Journal Physiological Endocrinol Metabolism, 1995: 268, E514-E520.
  2. Bird, P. Stephen, et al. Liquid carbohydrate/essential amino acid ingestion during an acute bout of resistance exercise suppresses myofibrillar protein degradation. Metabolism Clinical and Experimental, 2006: 55, 570-577.
  3. Brown, A. (2006). Medical News Today: Vitamin B Deficiency and Poor Athletic Performance Linked.
  4. Cribb, Paul, J., Hayes, & Alan. Effects of Supplement-Timing and Resistance Exercise on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(11). Pp. 1918-1925.
  5. Douglas, E. What Happens When You Exercise With a Vitamin B Deficiency? Livestrong. [Online] - retrieved on 3.4.16
  6. Karlsson H.K., Nilsson P. A., Nilsson, J., Chibalin, A.V., Zierath, J. R., & Blomstrand, E., Branched-chain amino acids increase p70S6k phosphorylation in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2004;287: E1-E7.
  7. Luoma, T. C., Post-Workout Nutrition is Dead: Pre-Workout and Intra-Workout Nutrition is Better. [Online] - retrieved on 3.4.16
  8. Medical News Today. Vitamin B Deficiency and Poor Athletic Performance Linked. [Online] - retrieved on 3.4.16
  9. Tipton, K., D. et al. Timing of Amino Acid-carbohydrate Ingestion Alters Anabolic Response of Muscle to Resistance Exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Aug; 281(2):E197-206


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