Consuming potato puree during prolonged exercise works just as well as a commercial carbohydrate gel in sustaining blood glucose levels and boosting performance in trained athletes, a new study suggests.
"The research has shown that ingesting concentrated carbohydrate gels during prolonged exercise promotes carbohydrate availability during exercise and improves exercise performance," said study's lead author Nicholas Burd, Professor at the University of Illinois in the US.
"Our study aim was to expand and diversify race-fuelling options for athletes and offset flavour fatigue," Burd said.
Potatoes are a promising alternative for athletes because they represent a cost-effective, nutrient-dense and whole-food source of carbohydrates, the researchers reported in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Furthermore, they serve as a savoury race fuel option when compared with the high sweetness of carbohydrate gels.
The researchers recruited 12 participants who were healthy and devoted to their sport, averaging 165 miles per week on their bicycles.
To qualify for the trials, the cyclists had to reach a specific threshold for aerobic fitness and complete the 120-minute cycling challenge followed by a time trial.
Participants were randomly assigned 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.
The researchers standardised what the 12 cyclists ate for 24 hours before repeating the 120-minute cycling challenge and time trial, which was designed to mirror typical race conditions.
Throughout the exercise, the team measured participants' blood glucose, core body temperature, exercise intensity, gastric emptying and gastrointestinal symptoms.
The researchers also measured concentrations of lactate, a metabolic marker of intense exercise, in participants' blood.
"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.
"Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve," Burd added.
According to the study, plasma glucose concentrations went up by a similar amount in those consuming potatoes and gels.