This is according to a group of scientists from the University of Illinois who found that pureed potatoes were just as effective at sustaining blood glucose levels and boosting athletic performance as carbohydrate gels.
The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Pureed potatoes increased performance in professional cyclists
For the study, the researchers recruited 12 professional cyclists who were then randomly assigned to three groups, with each group representing different athletic supplements, namely potato puree, a mass-market carbohydrate gel, or plain water.
According to the research team, they controlled what the 12 cyclists ate for 24 hours before making them complete a two-hour cycling challenge that mimicked a real race. This, the researchers said, helped ensure that the participants had the same amount of energy as each other on the day of the challenge itself.
During the challenge, the cyclists were given a 15-gram dose of their supplement every 15 minutes, after which they were made to complete a ‘time trial,’ in which they had to cycle as fast as they possibly could over a distance that was relative to their overall body weight. (Related: Potatoes GOOD for diabetics? Study finds prebiotic from potatoes actually reduces insulin resistance.)
This “time trial,” the researchers said, was designed to measure how effective the supplements were at pushing the cyclists in the final leg of an actual long-distance race.
The participants were all fitted with intravenous catheters, which enabled the researchers to obtain blood samples, which were then tested in order to measure their lactate levels. Lactate is a known metabolic marker of intense physical activities.
Aside from the participants’ lactate levels, their heart rate as well as core temperature, exercise intensity and gastrointestinal symptoms were also monitored all throughout the cycling challenge.
The results of the test, the research team said, were surprising, noting that there weren’t any significant differences between the performance of cyclists who got their carbohydrates from potatoes or gels.
Potato purees better than just water for performance
In addition, the cyclists who consumed the potato puree and carbohydrate gel were significantly faster than the cyclists who only took water, taking only 33 minutes to complete the challenge compared to the latter, who took 39 minutes to finish the test.
“Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve,” Nicholas Burd, the study’s lead researcher and a kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois, said.
According to the research team, the cyclists who were given the potato puree and carbohydrate gels also had higher glucose concentrations in their blood, which meant that their bodies were able to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
They also had elevated concentrations of lactate in their blood. Lactate, the researchers said, delays muscle fatigue and is, therefore, considered to be an indicator of the cyclists’ ability to perform better.
The researchers noted, however, that the cyclists who consumed potatoes experienced a variety of symptoms such as gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence. These, the research team said, were likely due to the volume of potatoes that the cyclists had to eat in order to match the glucose in the carbohydrate gels.
Despite the bloating and stomach pain, however, the researchers said the symptoms experienced by the cyclists were milder compared to the ones in previous studies, indicating that the carbohydrates were well-tolerated by the majority of the study’s cyclists.
This, the researchers said, meant that potatoes are a viable and low-cost alternative to mass-produced carbohydrate gels, most of which are filled with added sugars and artificial ingredients.
“Potatoes are a promising alternative for athletes because they represent a cost-effective, nutrient-dense and whole-food source of carbohydrates. Furthermore, they serve as a savory race fuel option when compared (with) the high sweetness of (carbohydrate) gels,” Burd said.
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