Like most answers in fitness, the most accurate one is: it depends.
So what does it depend on?
Here are some factors that will be important to help you decide:
- Hydration Status Coming Into Your Workout
- Temperature of the Environment During Your Workout
- Duration of Your Session
- Exercise Modality & Intensity
- Salinity of Your Sweat
- Food Quality Outside of Your Session
To clarify some things, let’s give you three examples..
- Age 41
- Goals: Weight Maintenance, Fat Loss
- Currently it’s May in the US.
- Spends 4-5 Days / Week for 45-60min engaged in either CrossFit class, running or strength training, depending on the day.
- Her typical time of day to workout is 6-7am.
- She limits the amount of processed foods she eats, but still allows space for “enjoying life.”
For Angie, she is perfectly fine drinking sips of water during her workout, since she typically (1) enters her sessions well hydrated (2) 6am isn’t overly hot (3) her sessions aren’t extended well over 45 minutes (4) she doesn’t sweat particularly heavy relative to her peers. She can get her micronutrients & electrolytes through the whole foods she consumes.
If Angie finds herself getting extra hungry after her sessions, especially if she enters a negative caloric balance, she may choose to start supplementing with a protein (e.g. Whey Isolate) during the tail end or after her workout. Extra protein will help her recover, stay satiated and maintain more of her muscle mass during a conversative cut.
Alternatively, if she starts working out mid-day and/or extending her workouts longer than 60 minutes, it will be wise to supplement with a carb + electrolyte supplement since her clean diet may not supply her with enough carbs and sodium to keep muscles functioning optimally.
- Age 33
- Goal: Stave of the “dad bod” and be able to enjoy food without gaining weight
- Currently it’s November in the US.
- Attends 4pm CrossFit Class 3-5x / week
- Doesn’t eat very clean, regularly having processed foods
For Chad, he likely doesn’t need to supplement with protein, carbs or electrolytes because his diet already supplies him with the fuel he needs -and likely- more than enough sodium since he eats a fair amount of processed foods. Since he goes home at 5pm after class, he will eat dinner and there is no need for post-workout protein and/or carb supplementation.
If Chad notices that he struggles to drink plain water during his workout because “it’s boring” or he just doesn’t find it very palatable, then he may consider a low calorie mix (e.g. BCAAs) that adds flavor and encourages him to drink more during his session.
- Age 27
- Goals: Competitive CrossFit
- Currently it’s July in the US.
- Often she has both a AM & PM Session each day, 75-90minutes in length
- She eats very clean & tracks her nutrition closely
For Heather, she will likely be served well by supplementing with a mix that restores what she loses in her sweat and uses as fuel during her sessions. This is because (1) it is hot when she trains (2) she trains frequently and her sessions often extend past 60 minutes, and (3) she eats very clean so she will have little sodium coming from processed foods. She is also a competitive athlete, so any small improvement in performance that can be gained from supplementing with well-researched products will be worth it.
She can mix an electrolyte supplement (e.g Nuun) with her water during and between workouts. She can add BCAAs and Carbs during her session, and add protein and more carbs after her session (prior to eating a regular, whole foods meal).
Heather is smart. She checks to make sure her supplements are purity tested and she is careful to only put high-quality ingredients into her body to help fuel her performance.
No, you don’t have to supplement with anything…they are supplementary.
But if you notice something is “off” (e.g. getting light-headed during a workout), then you can choose to troubleshoot your problem with the help of supplements.
And if you’re an athlete, then take a performance-based mindset to your supplementation, while of course, acting within the rules of your sport.