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Effect of Carbohydrate & Athletic Potential

Are Carbohydrates Maximising your Athletic Potential?

Now that we have touched on some of the effects of carbohydrate on general health, let’s progress into carbohydrate as a primary fuel source in athletic events. In this article we will have a look at the literature and discuss how you can optimise your performance through the fourth discipline of triathlon, aka “fuel and nutrition”.

 

Limited Storage Capacity

The leading limitation of carbohydrate (CHO) as a fuel is it’s storage capacity (500-600 grams) and the need for continually refueling to maintain these stores. The rate of CHO absorption can be minimally manipulated and may depend on your CHO sources used. Interestingly the maximal CHO absorption capacity that has been achieved is 1.8g of CHO / min  (4,6). But CHO storage (500-600g) is dwarfed by fat storage (5+) kg even in a very lean individual). This is a phenomenal difference, this benefit alone should be enough to spike any endurance athletes attention. I say endurance athlete because any sport under 1-1.5 hr can store enough CHO to supply energy for their chosen activity, and in this case using fat as a fuel may not be the best strategy. But it is endurance athletes who regularly exceed this time threshold and who can really benefit from utilising fat as a fuel. However, this is only one benefit and there is a growing body of scientific evidence suggesting a wide range of other benefits that I will discuss and will benefit majority of athletes regardless of  the sporting event.

Source of Carbohydrate: Is it important?

Many athletes fail to recognise or understand the difference between different types of CHO. CHO can be divided into two main divisions, the rapidly oxidized CHO (up to ~60 g/hr or 1 g/min; include: glucose, maltose, sucrose, maltodextrin and amylopectin starch) and slower oxidized CHO (up to ~30 g/hr or 0.5 g/min; include: fructose, galactose, isomaltulose, trehalose and amylose). The reason for different oxidation rates is due to the different CHO sources using different CHO transporters in the gut and increasing the amount going from the gut to the blood. Therefore, ingestion of multiple transportable (glucose + fructose) CHO vs. single transportable CHO enhances exogenous  (external from body  eg food, supplements etc) CHO oxidation and increases performance (9)

Gels & Long distance Triathlon

To the best of my knowledge Zügel, (2016) (15), is the only study that has specifically looked at the administration of gels in long distance triathlon. A number of studies have looked at other shorter disciplines comparing gels to a liquid source of CHO with varied results. (1,2,12) Long distance triathlon possess several unique conditions compared to these sports such as, the inability to consume fuel while in the swim and possibly the change in body position across the three disciplines over the day that may impair gastric emptying (nutrition moving from the stomach into the intestine to be absorbed) and increase GI distress(11). In a study of long distance triathletes (15) the results suggested that gels compared to liquid CHO caused no difference in performance. But the study did show that people that consumed gels had an increase GI distress.

Gastrointestinal  Distress

As a CHO based athlete the need for continuous refueling is essential part of training and racing. But what we see is that sometimes these high and regular fuel intakes are closely related to Gastrointestinal (GI) distress. The ability to tap into endogenous fuel (produced internally in body) sources over exogenous fuel (external from body  eg food, supplements etc) would be extremely advantageous in minimising/preventing GI distress.

When consuming exogenous CHO, multiple transporters have been shown to not only increases CHO absorption but also aid in reducing GI complaints. Therefore, it is advantageous to consume CHO from multiple transporters, from a performance standpoint along with minimising GI distress. O’Brien, & Rowlands (2011) (8) concluded that a 0.8 ratio (0.8 fructose + 1.0 maltodextrin) presented the least amount of GI distress. If you are someone who is particular sensitive, this is an important consideration when selecting you personal fueling strategy.

Gut Traininability

Higher absorption of CHO is associated with less residual CHO in the intestine and it could prevent GI distress, an obvious potential strategy would be to increase absorptive capacity of the gut through training the gut to tolerate higher levels of CHO (15). However, more research is required.

Carbohydrate Mouth Rinsing

In recent years there has been emerging research around the ergogenic (performance enhancing) action via the central nervous system. It has been demonstrated that CHO mouth rinsing presents performance enhancing benefits in events 60 min or less. There is limited research in endurance based events (60 min+). But this could offer athletes the ability to bypass or reduce GI distress associated with CHO refueling, making it especially useful in the run segment of triathlon due to increase in GI distress seen with high impact and jaring activity. However, as an emerging area of research more depth is required to identify the exact mechanisms at play and to provide guidance on best practice for a strategy like this.

Metabolic flexibility

When it comes to optimising you your fourth discipline “Nutrition”, you need to look at what your current training load, the duration of the event you are training for and what is the best practice nutrition that will allow you to achieve your goals. For longer events (training 12 + hours a week and events greater than 2 hours in duration) the best possible nutritional approach would be to seek and attain metabolic flexibility.

So what is Metabolic flexibility:

When I say metabolic flexibility I am referring to your ability to adapt your fuel utilisation to meet the energy demands of the exercise stress which you are putting yourself through. For long distance events, low-moderate exercise intensity your body will be most efficient when utilizing fat as a fuel. You want to be an efficient fat burning machine, this will allow you spare your limited muscle glycogen stores so that when you need to use them for that all out maximal sprint finish, your body can adapt and change fuel sources from fat to CHO to meet energy demands.

By not aiming to achieve metabolic flexibility you are limiting your performance potential by not maximising your ability to utilise alternative fuel sources. I would even go as far to argue metabolic flexibility is one of the most performance enhancing strategies you can train to promote overall health, weight maintenance, longevity and sporting performance.

As a metabolically flexible athlete having the ability to shift from CHO to Fat as a primary fuel source (almost exclusively, very minimal CHO) when they are resting, sleeping and moving slowly is highly beneficial. One of the most beneficial components is that you are reserving your limited CHO to be utilised in higher intensity activities like sprinting. Therefore a metabolically flexible athlete or fat adapted athlete has the ability to maximise their substrate utilization and ensure optimal efficiency for endurance events. It is like fueling your body with diesel (fat) & high octane fuel (CHO), giving you the efficiency and endurance of the diesel coupled with the ability to tap into your high octane fuel when you need surge or increase intensity. Compared to fueling with one or the other on its own, this approach would seemingly limit your capacity to shift between the two when required.

To achieve this you need to look beyond the limited CHO and train your body to utilise other limitless fuel sources like fat alongside CHO to truly maximise your potential. In our next post we will compare the metabolically flexible fat adapted athlete vs the traditional high CHO based athlete.

 

References:

  1. Burke, L. M., Wood, C., Pyne, D. B., Telford, D. R., & Saunders, P. U. (2005). Effect of carbohydrate intake on half-marathon performance of well-trained runners. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 15(6), 573–589.
  2. Campbell, C., Prince, D., Braun, M., Applegate, E., & Casazza, G. A. (2008). Carbohydrate-supplement form and exercise performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 18(2), 179–190.
  3. Cipryan, L., Plews, D. J., Ferretti, A., Maffetone, P. B., & Laursen, P. B. (2018). Effects of a 4-week very low-carbohydrate diet on high-intensity interval training responses. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 17(April), 259–267.
  4. Jentjens, R. L. P. G., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2005). High rates of exogenous carbohydrate oxidation from a mixture of glucose and fructose ingested during prolonged cycling exercise. The British Journal of Nutrition, 93(4), 485–492.
  5. Jeukendrup, A. (2008). Carbohydrate feeding during exercise. European Journal of Sport Science (Vol. 8). https://doi.org/10.1080/17461390801918971
  6. Jeukendrup, A. E., & Wallis, G. A. (2005). Measurement of Substrate Oxidation During Exercise by Means of Gas Exchange Measurements. Int J Sports Med, 26(S 1), S28–S37. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-2004-830512
  7. Malatesta, D., Brun, J.-F., Astorino, T. A., Maunder, E., Plews, D. J., & Kilding, A. E. (2018). Contextualising maximal fat oxidation during exercise: determinants and normative values. Frontiers in Physiology, 9(599). https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.00599
  8. O’Brien W.J., Rowlands D.S. Fructose-maltodextrin ratio in a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution differentially affects exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rate, gut comfort, and performance. Am. J. Physiol. Gastrointest. Liver Physiol. 2011;300:G181–G189. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00419.2010.
  9. Oliveira, E. P. De, & Burini, R. C. (2014). Carbohydrate-Dependent, Exercise-Induced Gastrointestinal Distress, 4191–4199. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6104191
  10. Painelli, V. D. S., Nicastro, H., & Jr, A. H. L. (2010). Carbohydrate mouth rinse : does it improve endurance exercise performance ?, 2–5.
  11. Peters, H.P., van Schelven, F.W., Verstappen, P.A., de Boer, R.W., Bol, E., Erich, W.B., de Vries, W.R. (1993). Gastrointestinal problems as a function of carbohydrate supplements and mode of exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 25, 1211–1224. doi:10.1249/00005768-199311000-00003
  12. Pfeiffer, B., Stellingwerff, T., Zaltas, E., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2010). CHO oxidation from a CHO gel compared with a drink during exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(11), 2038–2045. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181e0efe6
  13. Prado, E., Roberto, D. O., & Burini, C. (2014). Gastrointestinal Complaints During Exercise : Prevalence , Etiology , and Nutritional Recommendations, 44, 79–85. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0153-2
  14. Stuempfle, K. J., Hoffman, M. D., & Hew-butler, T. (2013). Association of Gastrointestinal Distress in Ultramarathoners with Race Diet Association of Gastrointestinal Distress in Ultramarathoners with Race, 2, 103–109.
  15. Zügel, D. (2016). Carbohydrate Intake in Form of Gel Is Associated With Increased Gastrointestinal Distress but Not With Performance Differences Compared With Liquid Carbohydrate Ingestion During Simulated Long-Distance Triathlon.

Let’s talk Science: High Carbohydrate Vs High Fat

This article is for those that enjoy diving into topics or for someone who likes to have evidence before they make a decision.

What is Science Telling Us?
As with anything in science there are a wide range of beliefs regarding best practice for nutrition. In my last post I presented an overview of the traditional nutritional beliefs and practices (Food Pyramid: We Got It Wrong!). The goal for this post is to update you on the current literature and to pull out relevant pieces of information that will help to educate and guide you towards making a informed decision.

Common Disadvantages Associated Carbohydrate:

What happens when we consume Carbohydrate (CHO)?

As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that prompts cells to absorb and store the glucose in your system. Insulin is a vital part of our bodies normal functioning and metabolism. But when constantly bombarded with glucose through a regular uptake of high CHO the body is forced to continuously produce insulin, resulting in chronically (long term) elevated levels of hormone.

Next, similar to when your body is exposed to a drug, your body becomes resistant to the normal levels of the hormone and will require increasing amounts of this hormone to carry out the same function. With your cells not effectively responding to insulin you end up with the accumulation of glucose in your blood. This response is known as insulin resistance and is the defining symptom of type II diabetes and can be linked to a whole host of other metabolic conditions.

So can Carbohydrates can be dangerous?

When we talk about CHO we need to acknowledge that there are good and bad CHO sources. Something the oversimplified food pyramid was aware of but neglected to include for simplicity. The bad CHO such as our highly refined & rapidly-absorbed (High Glycemic Index (GI)) CHO (e.g. cereals, white bread etc) are dangerous to your health. These high GI CHO foods cause your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly after eating them and force insulin to peak rapidly and remain within your body. If you eat enough of these types of foods, and regularly eat them as part of your daily diet, then you are almost guaranteed to end up with insulin resistance.

Another downside to this way of eating and elevated levels of insulin is that it creates a pro-inflammatory state that can damage tissues and blood vessels. People who have symptoms of insulin resistance also tend to have high levels of inflammatory markers within their body and blood. Inflammation is a process by which your body’s inflammatory markers and white blood cells work to protect you from foreign substances. High inflammation is seen in people who suffer from diseases such as Cancer, Alzheimers disease, Arthritis and Cardiovascular disease.

In short your diet could be forcing your body into an inflammatory state which is similar to some major diseases today. We could argue that this state of inflammation is the leading cause of chronic health diseases today.

Interesting fact: Cornflakes have a higher glycemic response than raw sugar!! Now that is crazy! Why? Due to being highly refined, they developed the the cereal to be quickly absorbed to fire up the pleasure signals in the brain to get you hooked and wanting more. Food is being manufacture to act like a drug!

Interesting fact #2: Diet/Sugar free soft drinks will produce an insulin response even though they are ‘sugar free’. They produce a response in your body similar to when you ingest CHO drinks. If you are struggling to lose weight or control your weight, try ditching the ‘diet’ soft drink and replacing it with soda water with lime/lemon for a week or two..

So What is Good Carbohydrate?

Quite simply put you are looking for unrefined whole foods that are found in nature (fruits, vegetables, starches etc) .                                                                               

Why? Our bodies have evolved to breakdown utilise these fuels efficiently plus they have not be denatured (loss of nutrients) due processing.

Rule of thumb stay clear or packaged foods and if you do choose a packaged item then select one with minimal ingredients. My rule is no more than 3 or 4 ingredients, and I must be able to pronounce and recognise all the ingredients on the list. Another trick is when in the supermarket, shop around the outside aisles and stay clear of the aisles.  

Take home message: Stay clear of proinflammatory CHO ie refined, high glycemic index. When selecting CHO into your diet choose unrefined whole foods that are found in nature.

Should I consume Carbohydrate?

Yes, although it should be minimised where possible, CHO is important and should not necessarily be completely neglected. What is important is the type of CHO you choose to include in your diet. One of the biggest mistakes I see with people trying to make a change to their diet and health is that they try to completely remove all CHO straight away. Removing a complete food group can be dangerous as you can eliminate a number of key micronutrients essential for health. These micronutrients may be more easily accessible in certain substrates eg CHO over fat. Always aim to have a varied diet to ensure you obtain a variety of micronutrients, as some are limited to certain foods.

Carbohydrate Tolerance (Insulin Sensitivity)

Carbohydrate tolerances or insulin sensitivity (ability to produce adequate insulin when required, to ensure efficient uptake of carbohydrate) will vary from person to person. Therefore, it is important to identify your tolerance. If you possess a high carbohydrate tolerance you should still be careful of what kind of carbohydrates you choose to eat, focusing on high quality sources, not using it as a hall pass to eat whatever you please.

 

Kick Start Your Day the Right Way!

Ditch the cereals that we have been brainwashed to think epitomises a healthy start to your day. These highly refined, insulin spiking foods will quickly derail your day before you even start. Regardless of your carbohydrate tolerance, we should all aim to begin our days with a healthy fat focused breakfast.

Why? Fat does not spike hormones (Insulin) it instead produces a steady release of energy that will keep you satisfied for much longer than CHO.

Two of My Favorite High Fat Breakfasts

 

  • At home: Avocado & Eggs on Spinach

 

A great nutrient dense breakfast and normally my first meal of the day.With loads of added healthy oils such as avocado and coconut oil. Feel free to add meat source like bacon (Yes bacon!) or salmon etc

  1. On the Go: High Fat Smoothie

Mixed Berries, Coconut Cream, Cocoa, Almonds, Spinach, Chia seeds (Add some MCT for bonus fat if you have any). There is endless mixes this is just a base I normally work off.

 

 

Key Takeaway Points:

  1. Carbohydrates are not evil, there are good and bad sources of it like anything.
  2. Not everybody responds the same to carbohydrate some can handle more than others.
  3. Excessive carbohydrate leads to insulin resistance and in turn inflammation which is leading cause of chronic disease today!
  4. Regardless of your carbohydrate tolerance, we should all aim to begin our days with a healthy fat focused breakfast