Our trained athletes require sustenance during prolonged workouts but what if that sustenance could come from a natural source? New research is now revealing that consuming potato puree works just as well as a commercial carbohydrate gel in sustaining blood glucose levels and boosting performance.
"Research has shown that ingesting concentrated carbohydrate gels during prolonged exercise promotes carbohydrate availability during exercise and improves exercise performance," said University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Nicholas Burd, who led the research. "Our study aim was to expand and diversify race-fueling options for athletes and offset flavor fatigue."
"Potatoes are a promising alternative for athletes because they represent a cost-effective, nutrient-dense and whole-food source of carbohydrates," the researchers wrote in the Journal of Applied Physiology. "Furthermore, they serve as a savory race fuel option when compared (with) the high sweetness of (carbohydrate) gels."
The research followed 12 cyclists who had been training for years and randomly assigned them to one of three conditions during the experiments: They would consume either water alone, a commercially available carbohydrate gel or an equivalent amount of carbohydrates obtained from potatoes.
To ensure all other things were equal, the researchers standardized what the 12 cyclists ate for 24 hours before testing them. Then they made them exercise and measured their blood glucose, core body temperature, exercise intensity, gastric emptying, gastrointestinal symptoms and concentrations of lactate, a metabolic marker of intense exercise.
"We found no differences between the performance of cyclists who got their carbohydrates by ingesting potatoes or gels at recommended amounts of about 60 grams per hour during the experiments," Burd said. "Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve."
Not all was rosy in the trials, however. Those consuming potatoes had significantly more gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence, an effect the researchers attributed to the larger volume of potatoes needed to match the glucose provided by the gels.
"Nevertheless, average GI symptoms were lower than previous studies, indicating that both (carbohydrate) conditions were well-tolerated by the majority of the study's cyclists," the researchers wrote.
"All in all, our study is a proof-of-concept showing that athletes may use whole-food sources of carbohydrates as an alternative to commercial products to diversify race-fueling menus," Burd said.