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Potatoes as effective as carbohydrate gels, new study says

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Consuming potato puree during prolonged exercise works just as a carbohydrate gel in sustaining blood levels and boosting performance in trained athletes, scientists report.

The scientists recruited 12 participants who were healthy and devoted to their sport, averaging 165 miles (267 kilometers) per week on their bicycles. All had been training for years. To qualify for the trials, the cyclists had to reach a specific threshold for aerobic fitness and complete a 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.

Blood glucose levels were just as high in the riders given potato as those given gels, and TT performance also improved with no difference between spuds and gel.

“Research has shown that ingesting concentrated carbohydrate gels during prolonged exercise promotes carbohydrate availability during exercise and improves exercise performance,” said University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Nicholas Burd, who led the research. “Our study aim was to expand and diversify race-fueling options for athletes and offset flavor fatigue.”

“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 savory race fuel option when compared (with) the high sweetness of (carbohydrate) gels.”

“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,” Burd said. “Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve.”