Cutting–edge research led by Dr Michael Newell, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Nutrition at the University of Westminster, has found that consuming a moderate amount of carbohydrates can enhance performance during longer duration exercises.

The study, ‘Metabolic Responses to Carbohydrate Ingestion during Exercise: Associations between Carbohydrate Dose and Endurance Performance’, reveals that the majority of performance gains occur with around 40 grams of carbohydrate for each hour of exercise. The paper goes on to explain that it is at this level that sufficient metabolic changes occur to promote better physical performance. Any further changes in metabolism do not result in an improvement in performance. Interestingly, there does not appear to be one stand-out explanation for the improvement in performance.

The research suggests that people who are planning to undertake prolonged endurance activity of up to 2–3 hours, such as running a marathon, completing a triathlon or undertaking long-distance cycling, may consider consuming around 40 grams of carbohydrate spread evenly over every hour to maximise their performance.

There is a trend for active people to focus on eliminating carbohydrates from their diet to enhance their training. However, consuming a moderate amount of carbohydrate can be beneficial to help sustain training intensity during a workout. In turn, this could lead to an enhanced workout and potentially greater adaptations to the training undertaken.

Dr Michael Newell said about his research: “We are seeing more and more endurance athletes reducing the amount of carbohydrates in their diet to enhance their performance. However, carbohydrate is still king when we are fuelling sustained endurance activities. What we show with these data is that you don’t have to consume a lot to achieve the greatest benefits.

“Those hoping to enhance their performance should look to consume moderate amounts to see the greatest gains in performance. This research highlights that we can reduce the amount of sugars individuals are consuming during exercise and still enhance the intensity of the activity. Taken together, this could be crucial for individuals looking to live a sustainably active lifestyle.”

Find out more about the Sport and Exercise Nutrition MSc course offered at the University of Westminster.

Read the full research paper.

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