Prolonged Exercise? Sip on Some Carbs

Do you ever exercise for one, two, or even three hours at a time? If so, a recent study suggests you can benefit from drinking carbohydrate while you exercise.

Do you ever exercise for one, two, or even three hours at a time? If so, then you can benefit from drinking carbohydrates while you exercise. An upcoming study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined this practice and how it affects performance.

Researchers studied twelve young male tennis players. Each man played tennis for three consecutive hours on two different occasions. Half of the men were given a drink containing simple carbs to sip while playing. The other half were given artificially sweetened water as a placebo. Researchers took a variety of hormone measurements via saliva samples before and after the trial.

So how did the carb group differ from the placebo group? The carb group showed lower cortisol levels post-exercise. Cortisol is a stress hormone produced as a result of exercise. Generally, you want to keep cortisol levels as low as possible for optimal recovery, so the carb group had an advantage here. The carb group also showed more stable blood sugar levels. This could mean their muscles were better replenished with glycogen as a result of carb intake, leading to increased performance under fatigue.

This study has implications for anyone who takes part in prolonged physical activity. Maybe you don’t lift barbells for an hour or more, but do you work in your yard that long? What about other recreational activities that border on exercise, like hiking or carrying your kids around a theme park? Sipping some easily digestible carbohydrates during these activities will help you feel better afterwards and recover better for the next day.

How can you apply these findings in the real world? A typical 170lb man in this study consumed about 40g of carbs per hour during the three hours of tennis. Practically, that means about 20 fluid ounces of Gatorade or 30 fluid ounces of coconut water each hour. But whatever you do, please don’t use soda.

1. Rodrigo Gomes et al. Effect of carbohydrate supplementation on the physiological and perceptual responses to prolonged tennis match play. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (forthcoming). POST ACCEPTANCE, 15 July 2013. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182a1f757.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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