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.
1. Iron Brothers Supplements BCAA/EAA Formula
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.
2. Old School Labs Vintage Bolt
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.
3. Scivation Xtend BCAAs
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.
4. Kaged Muscle In-Kaged Intra Workout Fuel
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.
5. Myokem mTor PRO
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.
6. Jacked Factory Intra Surge
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.
7. Magnum Opus Intra-Workout
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.
8. Universal Nutrition Juiced Aminos
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.
9. NutraEdge Edgepower Intra-Workout Formula
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.
10. BCAA Max Pump
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.
Intra-workout supplement benefits and side effects
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.