A study from the University of Illinois has concluded that potatoes could offer the same benefits as energy gels to cyclists.
The study involved 12 riders completing a two hours cycling challenge followed by a time trial with riders consuming either water, energy gels or potatoes. The aim of the test was to see how effective a whole-food source of carbohydrates could be for cyclists.
Nicholas Burd, University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor, told Science Daily
: "Research has shown that ingesting concentrated carbohydrate gels during prolonged exercise promotes carbohydrate availability during exercise and improves exercise performance,
"Our study aim was to expand and diversify race-fueling options for athletes and offset flavor fatigue."
When reaching a conclusion about their findings the scientists involved in the report found that using potatoes worked to the same level as energy gels in sustaining blood glucose levels and boosting the performance of the cyclists.
Burd says: "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,"
This information provides an interesting perspective on what we should be consuming while out on a bike ride. By using potatoes or whole food based carbohydrate sources you can definitely miss out on some of the less desirable ingredients found in mass-produced energy products.
Although the tests shows there is no difference between a potato puree and energy gels I doubt we are going to suddenly see a wave of EnduroPotato™ products arrive in stores but it's definitely interesting to see that processed energy gels are no better than something which grows naturally.
The "proof of concept" test did have one downside for those using the potato puree... Bloating. In the Science Daily article Burd says that those using potatoes had "significantly more gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence than the other groups." This is definitely a major downside and apparently it is caused by the large volume of potatoes needed to match the glucose provided by energy gels. So it doesn't look like we will be seeing any pro riders swapping out their gels for puree anytime soon.
Carbohydrate (CHO) ingestion is an established strategy to improve endurance performance. Race fuels should not only sustain performance, but also be readily digested and absorbed. Potatoes are a whole-food based option that fulfills these criteria yet their impact on performance remains unexamined.
We investigated the effects of potato purée ingestion during prolonged cycling on subsequent performance versus commercial CHO gel or a water-only condition. Twelve cyclists (70.7 ± 7.7 kg, 173 ± 8 cm, 31± 9 years, 22 ± 5.1 % body fat; mean ± SD) with average peak oxygen consumption (VO2PEAK)of 60.7 ± 9.0 mL/kg/min performed a 2 h cycling challenge (60-85%VO2PEAK) followed by a time trial (TT, 6kJ/kg body mass) while consuming potato, gel, or water in a randomized-crossover design.
The race fuels were administered with U-[13C6]glucose for an indirect estimate of gastric emptying rate. Blood samples were collected throughout the trials. Blood glucose concentrations were higher (P0.001) in potato and gel conditions when compared to water condition. Blood lactate concentrations were higher (P=0.001) after the TT completion in both CHO conditions when compared to water condition. TT performance was improved (P=0.032) in both potato (33.0 ± 4.5 min) and gel (33.0 ± 4.2 min) conditions when compared to the water condition (39.5 ± 7.9 min). Moreover, no difference was observed in TT performance between CHO conditions (P=1.00).
In conclusion, potato and gel ingestion equally sustained blood glucose concentrations and TT performance. Our results support the effective use of potatoes to support race performance for trained cyclists.