And the revolving door of sports nutrition has been turning for quite some time since my last update. Although I apologize for such a delay in new research updates, I find that some times it is best to wait and see what the research trends tell us over time. This assures that I can conclude some consistency in the research and that I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon of the newest findings. It also provides a good amount of time to see which professional athletes are adhering to new recommendations and what they’re performance outcomes are as a result.
I do also love reading research that gets us to question if what we are currently doing is the most effective and efficient way to attain optimal performance. Our sports are ever evolving with new training techniques and new equipment, so it’s only natural that our nutrition recommendations get regular updates as well.
Remember that the focus of these recommendations are endurance activities, and that different recommendations will benefit speed & power sports.
We know that the more energy you can consume each hour of exercise the better your performance will be. And just as you train your body to be more efficient at handling greater training loads, you must also train your gut to be more efficient at tolerating greater amounts of carbohydrates and fluids during exercise.
Past recommendations have been to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise, which is based on the knowledge that our bodies burn approximately 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute of exercise. And while this is still a good recommendation, esp. for athletes just getting into endurance sport, there is a good amount of new research highlighting the performance benefits of consuming carbohydrate in the range of 60 to 90 grams per hour. In fact the newest research to come out of the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise highlights performance improvements in trained cyclists and triathletes with higher does of carbohydrate; concluding optimal carbohydrate doses between 68 and 88 grams per hour.
The ultimate nutrition goal of any endurance athlete is to consume enough energy during training and racing so that glycogen stores can be saved for as long as possible. For instance, in triathlon adequate energy consumption during the bike leg will prevent glycogen (storage carbohydrate) from being used up which will then be a valuable resource during the run stage when energy consumption rarely matches energy output.
So if the body is burning about 60 grams of carbs per hour how is it possible to take in more energy then the body is burning without the body feeling overloaded? The answer is in the source of energy. Different types of sugars are metabolized though various pathways at different rates. So if you combined glucose, fructose and maltodextrin (a long chain of glucose molecules attached together) in an energy product the body will be metabolizing glucose and fructose using separate pathways therefore providing a longer lasting energy source that is more manageable on the digestive system.
It still goes without saying that higher rates of carbohydrate need some training by the digestive system. However, utilizing energy products with multiple types of sugars will assist in greater energy input and gut toleration. And it is also worth noting that fructose is the sweetest tasting sugar, so you may find that products with higher amounts of fructose are very sweet to the taste. Because of this, high fructose sports drinks may often be mixed to a lesser concentration. This is certainly fine since you will consume more of something that tastes better. However, just remember that diluting the concentration will also dilute the amount of carbs and electrolytes being consumed each hour, and this must be factored in when calculating energy needs per hour of exercise.
Currently two notable athletes utilizing higher carb recommendations are Richard Ussher and Chrissie Wellington. And although they continue to have great success I do have to remind myself that their digestive systems have been well trained over years of racing. We must not forget that we are all individual in our needs and toleration of foods and fluids. Utilizing your training sessions and less important races to experiment with energy products and their timing will help you to hone in on the perfect combination of energy products and timing for optimal race day performance.