These days every supplement company under the sun seems to be offering a “bleeding-edge” intra-workout supplement. Thing is, most of these supplements (Granite Supplements, True Nutrition, and MPA Supps being the few respected exceptions) come with a wildly inflated price tag and a “bloat” of ingredients that don’t need to be included, aside from increasing the sticker price.
If we’re being perfectly honest, once you know what to get, you can whip up your own intra-workout shake—customized to your preference and goals—for a fraction of the cost.
A quick disclaimer: Intra-workout shakes, while able to have a noticeable impact on your training, recovery, and progress, are not essential to building muscle, burning fat, or attaining superhuman levels of strength. The intra-workout shake exists as but a tool that you can use to your benefit if you have all your other ducks in a row.
By “other ducks” I mean:
- Optimized sleep cycle and recovery measures.
- Consistently eating to support your goal.
- Not skipping sessions because you “don’t feel like it.”
- Understanding the importance of maintaining hydration, and actually doing so.
- Have your basic health supplementation needs covered (zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, fish oil, sleep and stress management if need be) before bringing intra-workout support into the mix.
You must do these things while also have a goal of building a physique that turns heads. If you’ve got the above on lock, then it makes sense to bring an intra-workout shake into the mix.
The way I see it, the purpose of using an intra-workout shake is seven-fold:
- To increase blood flow to your target muscle(s).
- As you’re creating tissue damage within your target muscle, to bring nutrients into the muscle during your session as opposed to waiting until afterward.
- Support your training session by ensuring hydration and electrolyte balance, which will, in turn, enhance muscular contractions and deliver a wicked, skin-splitting pump.
- Slam the door shut on any potential muscle-wasting (unlikely, but hey, gains are precious.
- Improve power output. If you can squeeze out a few more clean reps with a little extra weight, that’s progressive overload, baby.
- Increase cellular swelling. The more you can swell your cells, the bigger your pump and, according to Arnold, the greater your gains.
- Provide a sustained source of energy to keep you pushing as hard on later exercises as you did in the beginning (especially if you have longer training sessions).
And by writing that, I just resold myself on the value of using the ultimate intra-workout shake.
Fortunately, many of the ingredients are affordable, and those that aren’t will last a while and/or provide you a lot of bang for their buck. To build your own intra-shake, here are the ingredients you need to get your hands on:
1. Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin
Purpose: HBCD is a quick-digesting, rapidly-absorbing carbohydrate that’s been broken down into its simplest form so it sinks right into our bloodstream. This makes it perfect for supporting long, high-volume training sessions with a bit of glucose to fuel your pump.
Dose: 15-45 grams (depending on the context of the rest of your nutrition)
2. Citrulline Malate
Purpose: Increases nitrogen production, raises arginine levels in your blood, reduces lactic acid and ammonia build up while training, decreases muscle fatigue, and allows for an increase in ATP and recovery. In short, this does A LOT of great things for your training session, and is quite cheap.
Dose: 6-8 grams
3. Beta Alanine
Purpose: Buffers acid in your muscles while training, which often allows for a few extra reps. As a byproduct, beta alanine can also decrease fatigue while training and increase total workload.
Dose: 3-6 grams depending on your tolerance
Purpose: Cell membrane health, neuro-protective aid, tissue growth, power output, and a plethora of other benefits to your brain, muscles, liver, and bones.
Dose: 5 grams (no need to load or cycle)
Purpose: Any claims that glutamine will help with building muscle are marketing hype and bullshit. That said, it is quite effective for improving gut health and shoring up your intestinal lining.
Dose: 5 grams
6. Essential Amino Acids
Purpose: This is the bigger, badder, more effective brother of BCAAs. EAAs cover all nine amino acids on the spectrum, and can serve as a suitable substitute for a whey protein supplement.
Dose: 10-15 grams
7. Hydromax Glycerol
Purpose: Adding glycerol into the mix of your shake will serve to increase the absorption of the other ingredients.
Dose: In a perfect world, you want to dose glycerol in a one-to-one ratio. So if you’re using five grams of creatine in your shake, use five grams of glycerol.
As for where to get these ingredients, that’s a sticky question these days. It seems every other week there’s a new company being publicly roasted for loading their products with fillers, amino spiking, using low-quality ingredients, using misleading labels, or straight up listing things on the label that aren’t present whatsoever in the product.
Keeping that in mind, I personally stick to using True Nutrition for all my “performance” supplement needs. Being able to pick and choose my ingredients, buy in bulk, and be assured of the quality makes using True Nutrition a no-brainer. Without turning this into a thinly-veiled pitch for True Nutrition, Dante Trudel, the founder, is a former competitive bodybuilder, incredibly smart man, and he shells out thousands of dollars of company money each month to get his products third-party tested to ensure that they meet what the label says. Talk about integrity. As a final note, you can save a bit of coin if you use the code “AXM750” at checkout.