A new study in the American Journal of Physiology suggests that sugary water offers greater performance gains for athletes — including cyclists — than some sports drinks.
The University of Bath researchers conducted a study with club cyclists to determine the impact of prolonged exercise on glycogen levels. They tested various sucrose- and glucose-based drinks and also found that cyclists found riding easier (including on their gut) when they took in sugar in the form of sucrose rather than glucose.
Although an increasing number of sports-performance drinks designed to provide energy during exercise now use sucrose, or mixtures of glucose and fructose, many still rely on glucose alone. The researchers claim that such glucose-only drinks could produce gut discomfort and suggest that sucrose-based alternatives, or sugar in water, can help make exercise easier.
“The carbohydrate stores in our liver are vitally important when it comes to endurance exercise as they help us to maintain a stable blood sugar level,” lead researcher Dr Javier Gonzalez said. “However, whilst we have a relatively good understanding of the changes in our muscle carbohydrate stores with exercise and nutrition, we know very little about optimising liver carbohydrate stores during and after exercise.
“We found that the exercise felt easier, and the gut comfort of the cyclists was better, when they ingested sucrose compared to glucose. This suggests that, when your goal is to maximise carbohydrate availability, sucrose is probably a better source of carbohydrate to ingest than glucose.”
The scientists behind the new study recommend that if your goal is optimal performance during exercise lasting more than two and half hours, then consume up to 90g of sugar per hour – diluted to 8g sugar per 100ml. The research is being published in the international journal the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism.