The importance of nutrition and weight training is known by most, even novices. Eating well around a training session not only ensures energy levels remain consistent throughout, but also, muscular gains are maximized (by limiting catabolism, as written about here).
Intra-workout nutrition is defined as nutrient intake during a workout. For the strength athlete, is this necessary or simply a revenue raiser by supplement companies?
The Concept –
The process of training elicits a catabolic response from the body, whereby degradation trumps the making of new proteins. Furthermore, training depletes certain elements, like amino acids and glycogen. This can have a detrimental effect on performance.
In order to flip the balance to favour anabolism (protein building) while maintaining a constant supply of nutrients, sipping on a protein-carbohydrate blend is said to do the trick.
What Does The Evidence Say?
Much of the research thus far has been conducted on endurance athletes. From these studies, it’s clear that a mix of carbs, proteins and electrolytes offers benefit to these individuals.
In the athlete pursuing strength, the research fails to isolate intra-workout nutrition from pre and post-workout. Consequently, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness due to a lack of separation.
Some papers suggest good pre-workout nutrition (30-50g of carbs and protein, plus a small amount of fat, 1-2 hours before training) makes an intra-workout redundant.
The Flaws –
For one, nutrient uptake isn’t instantaneous. It takes time, 15-30 minutes, before nutrition makes it’s way into the blood stream for use.
Secondly, the function of the gastrointestinal system is significantly reduced during a workout, further hindering uptake. Blood flow at this time is re-directed to muscles screaming for nutrition due to the physical stress they are under.
Finally, a weight-based training session doesn’t deplete glycogen stores as bouts of endurance do. As a result, ‘topping up’ glycogen is not required.
Who Should Use It?
Certain conditions and athletes call for this type of nutrition, including:
- Long, intense training sessions (2+ hours).
- Multiple workouts in the same day.
- Individuals looking to gain significant mass (i.e. another method to increase overall caloric intake).
- Endurance athletes.
- Individuals with very high metabolisms.
Guidelines For The Minority –
If you fit into the above categories, below is a good framework to follow to optimise nutrition during your workout:
- Carbohydrates – 20-50g (mixture of slow and fast release).
- Protein – 20-50g.
- Fats – 5-20g (keep on the lower side as it slows digestion).
Guidelines For The Majority –
For most, the following principles will keep you in good stead:
- Focus of pre- and post-workout nutrition.
- Hydrate throughout the workout with water.
In Conclusion –
As alluded to earlier, the evidence certainly isn’t strong enough to warrant that every strength athlete uses an intra-workout. Remember, supplements in general should be just that. They should be a useful adjunct to a sound foundation. The changes in performance that this type of supplementation offers is minimal in the scheme of things.
As always, focus on the basics.
By Andrew Cammarano