Competing at a high level is a must for athletes. The great ones can seemingly perform at their highest levels time and time again. How do they fuel themselves to perform this way? A number of strategies are used, but no approach has more science to back it up than delivering carbohydrates during exercise.
For nearly every kind of athlete, carbohydrates are the gasoline in your fuel tank. Sure, you can argue as to which carbohydrate is better than others, but you first must accept that for working muscles nearly any form of carbohydrate is better than some other alternative fuel source.
A recent study examined the impact of delivering carbohydrate during prolonged exercise, but these authors in particular were interested in determining the impact of adding some protein to the carbohydrate (Betts, Williams et al. 2007). Why protein? Well it can also be used as a fuel source during really long bouts of exercise, but this isn’t the main reason. Protein is needed to help recover from the stresses of intense exercise and because of this, many authors have indicated that adding protein may offer an added performance benefit. In this study, the authors has six active men complete a long (90 minute) treadmill run at a challenging exercise intensity and then monitored them during four hours of recovery. During the recovery period, the participants ingested three different combinations of carbohydrate and protein. After the recovery period, the athletes were required to get back on the treadmill and exercise to exhaustion. Performance on this 2nd bout of exercise revealed that when a low dose of carbohydrate was provided, performance could be increased a little more when a small amount of protein was added to the carbohydrate. This is good news for you that recognize the value of carbohydrate, but maybe want to limit how much of it you have to consume and instead would rather take in a little protein. Interestingly, though, when a higher dose of carbohydrate was given with no added protein powders, performance was also greater when compared to the low dose of carbohydrate, but similar to when protein was added. In other words, if you want to increase your running performance and your body responds better to carbohydrate, then a higher dose without any added protein can also improve your performance (Betts, Williams et al. 2007). Most studies use a carbohydrate solution that is around 7 – 8 % carbohydrate which means for every half-cup of water you use you should mix around 9 – 10 grams of post workout carbohydrates with it. Not sure how much is 9 – 10 grams? Look on the label to estimate how much you should use. In summary, athletes demand performance and to perform maximally your muscles demand carbohydrates.
Betts, J., C. Williams, et al. (2007). “The influence of carbohydrate and protein ingestion during recovery from prolonged exercise on subsequent endurance performance.” Journal of sports sciences 25(13): 1449-1460.