Carbohydrate is the primary fuel supply for the body during exercise. Although carbohydrate fuelling is known to be a crucial part of performance by pretty much everyone, it’s often neglected. Whilst I was racing and training on the road I was frequently not fuelling correctly – I had a rough idea of what I needed to do but I think if I understood the process a little more back then, I would’ve put a lot more thought, effort and time to ensure my body was sufficiently fuelled.
What do carbohydrates actually do?
Carbohydrate is the initial fuel our body needs in order to fulfil energy demands. Carbohydrate is digested and broken down to yield ATP, through the oxidation of glucose molecules. ATP is a high-energy molecule found in every cell. Its job is to store and supply the cell with needed energy. ATP is essentially the fuel inside the bodies own biological battery.
There are plenty of different theories and methods out there that promote low carbohydrate and high fat intake training. This article is going to stick to the principle of fuelling adequately using carbohydrates and we will tackle that topic at a later date!
Should type of training effect my fuelling strategy?
No matter what type of session you’re doing, energy is needed and ATP is required for the biochemical reactions involved in any muscle contraction. Depending on the length and duration of the session your fuelling needs to be different. Short sprint type sessions obtain all the necessary fuel from the muscles prebuilt up stores. In contrast, longer endurance sessions require consistent fuelling throughout, as your body has time to break down and utilise any ingested fuel.
Endurance training fuelling
The amount of carbohydrate your body is able to utilise for energy each hour is something that’s been up for debate for a while. Up until recently, it was thought that your body could only absorb 1g per minute (60g per hour). However, recent studies have shown that this could actually be a low estimate with your body being able to absorb upwards from 90-105g an hour with a mixture of carbohydrates (like fructose and glucose).
In regards to performance gain, a recent study tested different carbohydrate drinks over a 3 hour endurance TT event. A drink using a combination of carbohydrate sugars (glucose:fructose) showed a performance gain of 8% over a basic glucose drink. The basic glucose drink out performed a carb-less placebo drink by 17%.
Effects of not fuelling enough
Not fuelling sufficiently has many ill effects on the body. Whilst some people exercise with the sole purpose of losing weight, putting stress on your body without sufficient fuel regularly could have some serious side efforts. The dreaded ‘bonk’ is never far around the corner whilst limiting your bodies fuel supply but insufficient eating can also lead to things like; physical exhaustion, irritability and insomnia! When you under-eat, your blood sugar is going to be unstable, releasing cortisol and adrenaline to compensate. If these hormone levels get too high, you won’t be able to sleep and with the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin added into the mix you’re highly susceptible to negative mood changes.
Different ways of carbohydrate fuelling during rides
Now we know how crucial sufficient carbohydrate fuelling is in order to perform, how do we actually go about getting it? Below is a list of varying products currently available to help you reach your fuelling needs. It’s worth noting that everybody is different and different products will naturally have a different effect from person to person. We highly recommend testing any new products you’re looking to use in a low importance training session first before using them in competition.
Science in Sport Go Energy Powder – carbohydrate per serving 47g
Over half of your hourly recommended carbohydrates in a single bottle!
Science in Sport Go Energy Gel – carbohydrate per serving 22g
A good serving of carbohydrate and easy to ingest during harder efforts or race situations
Science in Sport Go Energy Mini Bar – carbohydrate per serving 26g
A good serving of carbohydrate and can sometimes agree with people better who prefer to consume something solid over a gel option
Science in Sport Beta Fuel Energy Powder – carbohydrate per serving 80g
A massive chunk of your recommended carbohydrate intake all in a single bottle! This powder has utilised the combination of maltodextrin and glucose to hit your bodies maximum ingestion rate
Stealth Juice Bar Orange and Pineapple – carbohydrate per serving 27g
A similar carbohydrate content to a standard energy bar but made with 25% fruit juice concentrate
Born XTRA caramel flapjack bar – carbohydrate per serving 38g
A high carbohydrate content flapjack style bar – maybe a product for those who prefer to eat something they’re more accustomed to from everyday life
Medium banana – carbohydrate per serving 27g
Not easiest product to transport in your back pocket but definitely the most natural!
Fig roll – carbohydrate per serving 12.6g
An easy product to get hold of, small enough to carry multiple on the bike and most likely one of the cheapest!
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