Potato Is ‘Promising Alternative’ To Carbohydrate Gels To Boost Athletic Performance

There is a new reason to add potatoes to your diet, especially when you are one of those people who enjoy a very active lifestyle. Researchers found that the starchy tuber works as effective as carbohydrate gel in increasing physical performance of athletes.

The new study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, shows the health benefits of potatoes could help extend exercise and sustain blood glucose levels during a physical activity. Researchers analyzed the health and performance of athletes who trained regularly every week for years. 

"Potatoes are a promising alternative for athletes because they represent a cost-effective, nutrient-dense and whole-food source of carbohydrates," the researchers said in a press release. "Furthermore, they serve as a savory race fuel option when compared (with) the high sweetness of (carbohydrate) gels."

The team gathered 12 healthy and active athletes. Researchers asked the participants to perform aerobic fitness and a 120-minute cycling challenge.

The athletes were then divided into groups, with one consuming only water during prolonged exercise, another group taking carbohydrate gel and those who received potatoes. The participants then joined an exercise that mirror typical race conditions.

The researchers analyzed their blood glucose, core body temperature, exercise intensity, gastric emptying and gastrointestinal symptoms. 

“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,” Nicholas Burd, lead researcher and a professor at the University of Illinois, said. “Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve.”

The groups that consumed either potatoes and gels showed similar levels of increased plasma glucose concentrations during exercise. They also experienced higher heart rates and faster performance.

The findings suggest that whole-food sources of carbohydrates could be an alternative to commercial products to boost the performance of athletes. However, Burd noted some participants who consumed potatoes experienced gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence.

More studies are required to further understand how potatoes could be used as “race fuel” without having side effects. 

Potatoes and Cyclists According to a new study of bicycle enthusiasts, potatoes make a savory alternative to sweetened commercial gels used by athletes for a quick carbohydrate boost during exercise. Graphic by Michael B. Vincent