Ranking the best intra-workout supplements of 2020

Ranking the best intra-workout supplements of 2020

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An intra-workout supplement contains compounds that help keep your body performing at peak performance in the midst of a tough workout.

These supplements can help you salvage an off-day at the gym, or push yourself beyond your normal level of performance.

With the right combinations of vitamins and supplements, you can stay strong throughout even the longest and toughest workout sessions.

We’ve reviewed and ranked the ten best intra-workout supplements that will push your fitness to new heights.

Rankings

1. Blackwolf Intra-Workout

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If you need an intra-workout supplement mix that will actually help you to power through tough workouts, without sapping your strength or stamina, then Blackwolf Hunt Intra-Workout is most-definitely the supplement for you!

This powerful formulation is geared to get you through the toughest training sessions with power, strength, and endurance.

It includes ingredients such as L-taurine, whey protein isolate, coq10, zinc, and selenium… and well as others.

One of the better higher carb-to-protein ratios on this list, which will literally help to give your body more fuel for those tougher, harder training sessions.

Our #1 intra-workout.

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2. Iron Brothers Supplements BCAA/EAA Formula

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Iron Brothers Supplements BCAA/EAA Formula contains a wide variety of amino acids to sustain both mental and physical performance.

In addition to your typical branched chain amino acids, you’ll find other amino acids like tryptophan that are specifically designed to keep your head in the game with better focus, concentration, and mental energy.

You’ll also get electrolytes from sodium and potassium, and just enough carbohydrates (from pea starch, a sugar-free carb source) to support a high intensity interval workout.

For long sessions with a lot of variety in training, Iron Brothers makes the most versatile intra-workout supplement, making it our top pick.

3. Old School Labs Vintage Bolt

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If your primary intra workout need is a boost in BCAAs, Old School Labs Vintage Bolt is a great choice. It has no added stimulants, and thanks to using stevia and beet root powder, it’s free of sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial coloring agents.

The inclusion of MCT oil is a nice extra; this rapidly-absorbed fatty acid can be burned during a long workout to sustain low to moderate intensities for longer.

4. Scivation Xtend BCAAs

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Scivation Xtend BCAAs, made by a division of the well-reputed supplement company Cellucor, focuses on delivering branched chain amino acids, electrolytes, citrulline, and vitamin B6.

These ingredients boost your performance in both high-intensity and resistance-based exercises, and should help keep you going even in hot and humid conditions.

Thanks to some non-caloric sweeteners, it’s both carbohydrate and sugar-free, making it an excellent choice if you are trying to keep your performance high while keeping your carb intake low.

5. Kaged Muscle In-Kaged Intra Workout Fuel

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Kaged Muscle In-Kaged Intra Workout Fuel provides high-intensity energy thanks to its balanced blend of BCAAs, the stimulants caffeine and taurine, and a mix of citrulline, beta alanine, and electrolytes from coconut water powder.

The caffeine is derived from green coffee bean extract, so it will contain the plethora of supporting biological compounds that modulate caffeine’s activity.

The beta alanine is well-suited for enhancing performance in HIIT-style workouts and short to medium sprint efforts. Kaged Muscle is a great all-around choice for long gym sessions done at a high intensity.

6. Myokem mTor PRO

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Myokem mTor PRO combines a broad range of amino acids with panax ginseng and astragalus extract for an herbally-derived stimulant effect.

You’ll get a surge of energy mid-workout, but won’t get the caffeine crash that can sometimes happen on a caffeine-heavy intra-workout supplement (though you also won’t get the proven performance enhancing effects of caffeine, so there is a tradeoff).

Purists won’t like the sucralose flavoring and Blue #1 artificial coloring, but just about everyone else can be happy with this intra-workout supplement.

7. Jacked Factory Intra Surge

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For a true rush of mid-workout energy, give Jacked Factory Intra Surge a try. Thanks to a combination of caffeine fermented BCAAs, and a blend of ginseng and astragalus root, this supplement directly stimulates your neuromuscular system to operate at a higher level.

The only downside is that you might not be able to use this intra workout supplement every day—your central nervous system might get tapped out with daily use of this supplement.

8. Magnum Opus Intra-Workout

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Magnum Opus Intra-Workout takes what you might call a “shotgun approach” to an intra-workout supplement. If there’s any chance a supplement might be able to help your mid-workout energy level or performance, it’s in this product.

There are BCAAs for muscular and metabolic function, bicarbonates and beta alanine for high intensity endurance, calcium and sodium as electrolytes, and a range of B vitamins for greater energy levels.

Many people may not want such a long list of ingredients, but if you are willing to take more of a risk, it might be a good choice.

9. Universal Nutrition Juiced Aminos

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Universal Nutrition Juiced Aminos provides a wide variety of amino acids, from BCAAs to more obscure amino acids. It’s stimulant-free, but you might get an energy boost from the inclusion of taurine.

The primary concern with this supplement is the use of sucralose and other artificial flavorings and colorings, instead of something like stevia. If that doesn’t bother you, it’s still a decent pick.

10. NutraEdge Edgepower Intra-Workout Formula

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NutraEdge Edgepower Intra-Workout Formula relies mostly on a blend of the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, plus a “recovery matrix” that consists of glutamine and citrulline.

It includes black pepper extract, which is typically included in herbal supplements for better bioavailability, but not much in this supplement would require such a boost.

The other downsides are the fact that this supplement is flavored with artificial compounds, and it uses the artificial sweetener sucralose instead of a natural sweetener. On several fronts, it’s outclassed by the competition.

11. BCAA Max Pump

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BCAA Max Pump relies on branched chain amino acids plus betaine for better workout performance, but without broader support from a wider range of ingredients, its performance benefits will be dampened when used as an intra-workout supplement.

It may have some long-term effects when taken for weeks at a time, but the paucity of high-quality ingredients, plus the inclusion of sucralose, Yellow #5, and Red #40 as artificial coloring agents significantly diminishes the utility of this intra-workout supplement.

Who Should Buy Intra-Workout Supplements?

Intra-workout supplements are great for most people looking to gain a competitive advantage during their workout. They are also excellent for endurance athletes who are looking to push harder for longer. Bodybuilders will also find them useful for promoting recovery as well as improving the rate of muscle growth.

Some ingredients included in intra-workout supplements may be banned by WADA, so professional athletes should be cautious before using them. Intra-workout supplements should also not be used by pregnant women or children as some ingredients may cause negative side effects in these populations. Diabetics should also be cautious when using intra-workout supplements since they may cause blood sugar issues.

How We Ranked

When formulating our rankings for the best workout supplements, we first looked at the various ingredients included. Specifically, we wanted to see clinically backed ingredients that would support muscle growth and endurance, such as BCAAs, electrolytes, and creatine. Max Pump made our list for providing a healthy dose of BCAAs but ranked low for using a lot of dyes and artificial sweeteners. Magnum Opus provided a good mix of BCCAs, electrolytes and B-vitamins to boost energy and support recovery. Kaged Muscle opted to include caffeine to help further increase energy levels. While a good option, we don’t love the idea of adding more stimulants, especially when most pre-workout powders are already loaded with them. As such, it ranked in the middle of the pack. 

Nitric oxide boosting supplements like beetroot powder were rewarded, as this helped to improve blood flow to the muscles and support recovery and endurance. This is the main reason why Bolt ranked high despite its lack of BCAAs and beta-alanine.

Products that included EAA instead of BCAAs and a fast energy source like carbohydrates were our optimal choice. These two ingredients provided the necessary recovery agents in a quick delivery system to drive nutrients into the muscles. Iron Brother’s contains both these ingredients, on top of some electrolytes, to super hydrate the muscles – which is why it ranked so high on our list. 

BlackWolf went the extra mile to provide cognitive nutrients to help maintain your focus during even the most intense training sessions. Furthermore, they included whey protein isolate, which provides all 20 amino acids to facilitate better recovery and endurance during marathon training sessions.

Benefits

An intra-workout supplement with BCAAs can reduce muscular damage. Branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs for short, are by far the most common ingredient in intra-workout supplements.

That’s because of a long litany of scientific research that’s attested to their utility when it comes to sustaining high intensity exercise for longer, especially in difficult conditions. First off, branched chain amino acids consumed during exercise appear to protect your muscles from damage.

This was demonstrated in a study published by researchers in Australia in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness in 2000 (1).

The experiment involved two groups of subjects who took either a BCAA supplement or no supplement for 14 days, then completed an exercise test on a stationary bike.

The researchers found that the subjects who took the BCAA supplement showed lower levels of a protein called creatine kinase in their blood after the exercise session, indicating they’d suffered less muscular damage during the exercise session.

This suggests that a BCAA containing intra workout supplement can help sustain your effort level in long sessions, since your performance will clearly start to drop as your muscles get progressively more damaged.

BCAAs can also improve exercise performance in the heat. Since almost all intra-workout supplements are powder based, you can mix them up with water and use them to re-hydrate.

The presence of BCAAs in an intra-workout supplement can enhance your performance in the heat, possibly through a physiological or even a neurological pathway.

This was the conclusion of a scientific study published in 1998 in the journal Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise by researchers at Rutgers University (2). Their experiment involved a group of subjects performing a cycling time trial in the heat, taking either a BCAA or a placebo drink en route.

The researchers found that all markers of physiological performance were similar between groups, but the group taking the BCAA intra-workout supplement was able to cycle for longer than the group taking the placebo.

Interestingly, since performance in the heat is regulated heavily by your brain, it’s possible that the BCAA intra-workout supplement altered their thermoregulation, versus altering some physiological parameter to sustain their effort longer in the heat.

Of course, it’s also possible that some physiological variable that isn’t measured by the researchers is responsible for the improvement in performance.

In either case, the findings of this study make a particularly strong case for taking an intra-workout supplement with BCAAs in it if you know you’ll be working out in hot and humid conditions.

An intra-workout supplement with electrolytes can also improve performance in the heat. Many of the best intra-workout supplements take further advantage of the fact that they’ll be mixed with water by including electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

When mixed at the right concentration, these intra-workout supplements can further improve exercise performance in the heat by optimizing your hydration level.

Research published in 2014 in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports by researchers at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain (3). The study involved ten men who cycled in very hot and humid conditions, either after consuming water or a water plus sodium electrolyte drink.

The researchers found that those who took the electrolyte supplement had superior performance, and moreover, the researchers could trace this improvement in performance to better maintenance of their blood plasma levels.

This means that an intra-workout supplement with electrolytes like sodium and potassium can allow you to perform better in hot conditions compared to a similar workout session where you were only refueling with water—and that’s before considering the performance enhancing benefits of the BCAAs or any of the other ingredients in the intra-workout supplement.

Side effects

The most basic intra-workout supplements (those based purely on BCAAs and electrolytes) have pretty much no short-term side effects. BCAAs are found in plenty of foods, and likewise for electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

Further, BCAAs are used in much higher doses in medical settings as treatments for various diseases, also without major side effects (4).

In the long-term, chronically high sodium intake could lead to higher blood pressure, but it’s very unlikely that your intra-workout supplement will be a major contributor to your overall dietary sodium intake.

When you start taking supplements with high doses of caffeine or beta alanine, you can start getting more side effects. Caffeine can cause jitteriness, nausea, and insomnia (indeed, many people take it to avoid having to sleep), and beta alanine can cause flushing, itching, and development of a rash.

Recommended dose

A well-formulated intra-workout supplement will balance out the effective dose of all of its active ingredients. In the case of BCAAs, that’s in the neighborhood of three to six grams in a serving.

Caffeine dosing is usually based on body mass, but doses of 150-200 mg can be quite effective for normal-sized people.

As for electrolytes, dosing is prescribed based on concentration, not absolute amount, so make sure you follow the mixing instructions closely to blend up your intra-workout supplement with the right amount of water or other liquid to get the right electrolyte concentration.

FAQ

What separates an intra-workout supplement from other pre or post-workout supplements? Intra-workout supplements are meant to be taken once during or several times throughout your workout rather than before or after. Intra-workout supplements focus on increasing your endurance and workout performance rather than shortening your long-term recovery time or improving your muscle gains. 

Why are amino acids found in many intra-workout supplements? Amino acids are the most common ingredient in intra-workout supplements since they provide the molecules that are used for repairing muscle tissue or building new muscle cells. The most popular amino acids included are either BCAA’s or EAA’s. 

Do intra-workout supplements contain carbs? Fast digesting carbohydrates are often included in many intra-workout supplements. Carbs are helpful for intra-workout supplements because they can be digested fast and used immediately as an energy source during your workout. 

Why are creatine and beta-alanine often added to intra-workout supplements? Creatine is another performance enhancer frequently used in intra-workout supplements since it improves short-term muscle power and helps you lift more weight for longer. It also promotes recovery and intramuscular hydration. Beta-alanine is another common ingredient that can boost your short-term muscle power.

What are intra-workout supplements mainly designed for? An intra-workout supplement is designed to boost your workout performance when you consume it during your workout.  This makes it distinct from pre-workout supplements, which are taken before you work out to get your body amped up and ready to perform, and post-workout supplements, which are largely geared towards recovery and muscle repair.

Though there is some overlap, an intra-workout supplement is going to deliver ingredients like electrolytes, BCAAs, amino acids, and other short-term performance enhancers. You don’t necessarily need to use an intra-workout every training session, but they can be quite helpful when you’re faced with a long, difficult workout, especially when it’s done in hot or humid conditions.

Should electrolytes be present in an intra-workout supplement? Maintaining adequate hydration during an intense exercise routine is just as important as providing your body with extra amino acids or other components. Electrolytes are included in intra-workout supplements to boost your hydration and prevent you from overexerting yourself, which can help to increase your endurance.

They also help to replenish the electrolytes you lose as you sweat, which maintains your fluid balance and enables efficient nutrient delivery to active muscles. The best electrolytes to include in intra-workout supplements are magnesium, potassium, and salt.

Who should use intra-workout supplements? Anyone can use intra-workout supplements unless your doctor tells you not to. Intra-workout supplements are the most beneficial for those who frequently work out, like bodybuilders and athletes. 

What is the best way to consume intra-workout supplements? Most intra-workout supplements are packaged in powders that can be mixed into water. 

When should you take an intra-workout supplement? Your intra-workout supplement should ideally be taken at the halfway point of your workout. For instance, a 2-hour workout would have you take the intra-workout supplement at about the one hour mark. Doing this enables the intra-workout supplement to kick in before you feel exhausted but also gives the supplement ingredients time to fade away before your workout completes.

Can you take multiple intra-workout supplements at once? You can, but it’s not recommended since your body can only digest and absorb so much during an intense session. Trying to consume multiple intra-workout supplements can overwhelm your body and might make you sick.

Can you use intra-workout supplements if you workout multiple times a day? Yes, you use intra-workout supplements if you workout multiple times a day. Using them properly can help you maintain adequate endurance. 

How long does it take for intra-workout supplements to kick in? You should stick with an intra-workout supplement for at least several weeks to a month before switching your product. This is because many intra-workout supplements need to saturate in your system before providing actionable benefits. 

Does everyone need an intra-workout supplement? Intra-workout supplements aren’t needed by anyone, and you can certainly complete your work out effectively without them. Intra-workout supplements provide the most benefits to heavy-duty trainers when it comes to muscle building, speeding up recovery time, and improving endurance. 

Why do intra-workout supplements work so well? When you engage your muscles in intense exercise, blood flow dramatically increases, which increases metabolism and nutrient delivery. Intra-workout supplements capitalize on your muscle’s ability to absorb more nutrients and supersaturate during a workout. The heightened metabolic state of your body also allows intra-workout supplements to provide your cells/muscles with nutrients needed for sustained activity, allowing you to extend your workout longer than you otherwise could.

What physical activities benefit the most from intra-workout supplements? Any physical activity or sport that includes long-term endurance trials or energy consumption is a prime beneficiary of these supplements. Cyclers and runners are particularly well-suited to intra-workout supplements because they must often maintain physical activity for several hours without stopping. 

Are intra-workout supplements better than pre or post-workout supplements? If you had to pick between intra-workout supplements or post-workout supplements, post-workout supplements would likely be slightly better in order to take advantage of the anabolic window. However, bodybuilders or endurance athletes will want every advantage they can get and should use both types of supplements.

Are natural supplements better than intra-workout powders? Powders are more efficient because they blend multiple advantageous nutrients like carbohydrates and amino acids into a single product that can then be mixed with water – which also provides hydration. 

Should I skip a meal if I am going to be consuming intra-workout supplements? Most intra-workout supplements should not be heavy enough to affect your diet or appetite. 

What liquids should be combined with intra-workout supplements? Water is the best drink to combine with an intra-workout supplement. Certain types of milk may also be mixed with a workout supplement. You shouldn’t mix intra-workout supplements with Gatorade or other energy drinks, as it may cause an overdose of certain nutrients. You may also accidentally give yourself a sugar high, which can negatively impact your recovery.

Why are BCAAs often found in intra-workout supplements? The three main branched-chain amino acids used for muscle building are valine, isoleucine, and leucine. BCAAs are important because they’re the primary building blocks for muscle growth.

How do intra-workout supplements help muscle growth? When you exercise your muscles, the muscle fibers accrue microscopic tears over time. These tears, along with the acid that builds up during you work out, make up the “muscle burn” bodybuilders and athletes are familiar with. Once your workout is complete, your body attempts to patch the tears in your muscles with new proteins and amino acids. Intra-workout and post-workout supplements can provide these amino acids to facilitate growth. 

How do intra-workout workout supplements provide energy that your body can use? The human body will normally use carbohydrates and fat for energy before proceeding to muscle or protein if necessary. Most intra-workout supplements include carbohydrates to act as quick energy sources for your body to use during a workout. 

Can intra-workout supplements help you lose weight? While not designed to do so, intra-workout supplements may help facilitate weight loss by helping you work out harder and longer. This can help to burn extra calories, which can lead to weight loss. Furthermore, intra-workout supplements can help to build more muscle which can help increase your metabolism and lead to weight loss long term. 

Do intra-workout supplements boost nitric oxide? Some intra-workout supplements that contain beetroot powder can help boost nitric oxide production in the body. This can help improve nutrient delivery and blood flow, which aids in muscle recovery and endurance. It should be noted that most intra-workout supplements do not naturally boost nitric oxide production unless they specifically contain beetroot. 

Do intra-workout supplements boost focus? Intra-workout supplements are usually not designed to boost focus, but they can enhance energy, which in turn boosts focus. Electrolytes can also help o maintain focused socially during demanding training like marathon running or powerlifting. Some intra-workout supplements may also include cognac enhancers like Alpha-GPC and COQ10 to further enhance cognitive focus and attention. 

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Recap

A well-formulated intra-workout supplement is what you need if you want to push yourself harder in the gym. By including branched chain amino acids, you can decrease the amount of damage to your muscles that you sustain while working out.

Further, an intra-workout supplement with BCAAs can improve your tolerance to heat, making outdoor workouts in the summer not so punishing.

You can improve your heat performance even more by getting an intra-workout supplement that includes electrolytes to maintain your blood plasma volume when you are sweating a lot.

If you are getting at least three grams of BCAAs in your intra-workout supplement, and if you are following the directions closely to make sure you blend up your supplement with the right amount of water, you’ll be headed for longer, stronger, and more successful workouts.

For Bodynutrition’s #1 recommended intra-workout supplement, click here.



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