Carb-Protein Sports Drinks Better for Athletes
Compared with a carbohydrate-only drink, a combination carbohydrate-protein drink, may improve athletes’ endurance and help them suffer less muscle damage from intense exercise, reports Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (2004;36:1233–8).
Carbohydrate beverages provide glucose (sugar) for the muscles to burn as their energy stores decrease during prolonged exercise. These drinks have been shown to improve exercise endurance, increasing both the length of time until the person becomes exhausted and an athlete’s power output towards the end of a long exercise session. Some research suggests that adding protein to carbohydrate beverages provides the added benefits of decreasing muscle damage and replenishing muscle energy stores after exercise.
The new study investigated the effect of a carbohydrate-only drink versus a carbohydrate-protein drink on exercise endurance and muscle damage in 15 male cyclists. The participants were randomly assigned to drink either (1) 4 ounces of a carbohydrate beverage, or (2) 4 ounces of a carbohydrate-protein beverage every 15 minutes while exercising. Each group also drank 24 ounces of the beverage within 30 minutes after exercising. The carbohydrate beverage had a 7% carbohydrate concentration, providing 2 grams of carbohydrates per ounce. The carbohydrate-protein beverage also contained 7% carbohydrates, with the addition of 0.5 grams of whey protein per ounce. Exercise consisted of riding on a stationary bicycle at a predetermined intensity until exhaustion, followed by a rest period of 12 to 15 hours. Then the ride was repeated at a slightly higher intensity, again until the participants were exhausted. Seven to fourteen days after the second ride, the participants switched treatments so that the group who drank the carbohydrate-only beverage in the first part of the study now drank the carbohydrate-protein beverage and vice versa. Blood samples were taken during and after exercise to determine the amount of muscle damage sustained during the different treatments.
During the first ride, participants who drank the carbohydrate-protein beverage were able to ride 29% longer than those who drank the carbohydrate-only beverage. Results were even more impressive during the second ride; people who drank the carbohydrate-protein beverage rode 40% longer than those in the carbohydrate-only group. Tests of muscle damage indicated significantly less damage among participants who consumed the carbohydrate-protein drink than among those who drank the carbohydrate-only beverage.
Adding protein to a carbohydrate sports drink appears to significantly enhance exercise performance and decrease muscle damage after periods of intense exercise. As the addition of extra carbohydrates to sports drinks beyond a certain concentration does not result in improved exercise performance, this finding will benefit those athletes searching for a competitive edge.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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