Carbohydrate content of foods consumed during exercise
Information obtained from manufacturers’ websites upon sodium-dependent transporter (SGLT1) for absorption and this becomes saturated when carbohydrate intake reaches 60 g/hr (Jeukendrup 2014). To address this limitation, it has been suggested to include fructose. Fructose has its own transporter and can be absorbed through a different pathway. While consuming fructose alone may cause GI distress, consuming glucose plus fructose seems to result in less (GI) distress, which can permit greater exercise capacity. Thus, choosing a mix of carbohydrates, such as glucose and fructose, that can be transported across the intestinal wall by multiple transports results in greater carbohydrate oxidation and allows carbohydrate intake during exercise to reach 90 g/hr without GI distress (Wilson, Rhodes, and Ingraham 2015). For exercise lasting 2.5 hours or longer, exogenous carbohydrate sources are especially important for maintaining power output. This is why many sport nutrition products are now formulated to include both glucose and fructose, providing an accessible medium for these nutrients.
Whether the carbohydrates are in liquid form or solid form seem to have similar performance-enhancing effects, so one is not necessarily advantageous over another in regard to performance. This allows athletes to choose that which is preferable or more practical or both. Some athletes find sport nutrition drinks, or sports drinks (such as Gatorade, Powerade, or homemade varieties), to be efficient in meeting their needs given that sports drinks provide all the essential nutrients carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluids. The ideal carbohydrate concentration of sports drinks is 6 to 8 percent. This allows for adequate carbohydrate intake compared to a less concentrated formula, but is not too concentrated so that it would cause GI distress.
Most commercial formulas are within this range, though they vary slightly. Gatorade is at the lower end of the range with 6 percent carbohydrate concentration, whereas Powerade is at the higher end of the range at about 8 percent. The higher percentage will deliver more glucose to working muscles, but tolerance may decrease as the concentration increases. Athletes should try different products and see what works best for them. Some athletes choose to get carbohydrates from a combination of carbohydrate-containing beverages and from food sources, while other athletes choose to drink water and obtain their carbohydrates (and electrolytes when needed) from foods. These are all acceptable approaches and just depend upon preference. The key is to ensure all needs are being met in accordance with the demands of the activity.
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There are athletes who believe they cannot tolerate food or that they cannot even drink water during exercise. These athletes should understand that depending upon the duration, intensity, and frequency of exercise, inadequate provision of appropriate nutrients becomes a limiting factor during exercise. Not only is performance impaired, but an athlete’s mood and psychological well-being during exercise suffers due to carbohydrate’s effect on CNS. Dehydration and inadequate fuel can make exercise feel more strenuous and tiresome, impairing an athlete’s ability to train hard. In working with a sports dietitian or nutrition expert these athletes can be coached on how to “train” their bodies to tolerate nutrients needed for training. Through consistent and gradual exposure to essential nutrients, tolerance of foods and fluids can improve. These efforts should begin well before competition so that not only can they enhance their training, but also by race day these athletes have optimized their nutrition plan.
Some athletes successfully meet their exercise nutrient needs with sport nutrition products. Other athletes desire to take a more “whole foods” approach in efforts to minimize or limit intake of processed foods. Some athletes use a combination of tactics. All approaches can provide adequate nutrients if the recommendations are followed regarding fluid, carbohydrate, and electrolyte requirements. For example, some cyclists consume peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mashed sweet potatoes, and homemade sports drinks to meet their hourly nutrient needs; others consume sports gels and sport drinks to achieve the same goal. Some endurance runners use salted, boiled potatoes in combinations with fig cookies and sports gels. There are a variety of food and fluid options for athletes to consume during exercise that can be selected according to convenience, preference, and personal nutrition philosophy.
Of note is that the majority of studies examining the effects of carbohydrate during exercise have been conducted on cyclists and runners. Less research is available on team sports involving intermittent, high-intensity effort such as soccer or football. It is believed that the recommendations are similar to those of endurance sports, though the timing of carbohydrate consumption should be based on the sport type and other practical considerations (Beelen, Cermak, and van Loon 2015). For example, in a team sport such as soccer or rugby, athletes may be limited to consumption of carbohydrate during half-time due to lack of access to foods and beverages during playing time. Additionally, there is some research indicating carbohydrate consumption during sport can improve reaction time, concentration, and power in various team sports and in skiing events. It is important that athletes keep in mind carbohydrate’s role in CNS functioning as well as its importance for muscular contraction to emphasize its importance for skill-based work.
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