Written by: Martijn Redegeld
The importance of higher carbohydrate intakes during endurance sports
In a previous blog you could read how many carbohydrates you would need per hour during your training or competition. Intakes of up to about 90 grams per hour have been common for many years during long and intensive efforts, but recently more endurance athletes seem to be pursuing even higher carbohydrate intakes. A combination of old and new scientific findings confirm that it is possible to absorb this extremely high amount of carbohydrates without getting stomach or intestinal complaints. How you do that, and when this can offer you an advantage, you can read in this blog.
- A carbohydrate intake of 120 grams per hour can offer an important advantage in performance and recovery under certain conditions (long/heavy efforts, possibly several days).
- If you are aiming for this high carbohydrate intake, make sure you choose products with a glucose-fructose ratio of 1:0.8, which you will find in the Turbo Line from Amacx.
- In addition, it is crucial to ensure that your stomach and intestines are well trained to absorb these very high carbohydrate intakes during exercise in order to prevent complaints.
The role of the right carbohydrate combination for higher absorption
During the entire process of digesting and absorbing the carbohydrates, up to the transport through the body and the actual supply of energy, there is one limiting step. This is the absorption of carbohydrates in the intestines. For a long time it was thought that this was limited to about 60 grams per hour, because the absorption of glucose in the intestines is limited around that amount. However, various scientific studies in the 1990s showed that the right combination of carbohydrates (glucose:fructose ratio of 2:1) enabled an intake of at least 90 grams per hour. By using this combination of different carbohydrates, two absorption systems in the intestines are used, with which the intake can be significantly increased without causing stomach or intestinal complaints. Products from the Amacx Energy Line contain this ratio.
Extremely high carbohydrate intakes of up to 120 grams per hour lead to improved endurance performance and better recovery.
More recently, individual endurance athletes reported intakes of (well) above 90 grams per hour, often accompanied by impressive performance during extreme endurance exercise (such as an Ironman or multi-day running or cycling race). While this was previously considered impossible, recent scientific studies show the opposite. In these studies, groups of cyclists and runners tolerated carbohydrate intakes of up to 120 grams per hour without any gastrointestinal complaints. Not much later it was also established that these high carbohydrate intakes also lead to higher oxidation, which means that this fuel is actually used in the body as extra energy. This would then provide improved endurance performance, a better feeling when walking or cycling, and contribute to a better recovery.
Who are extremely high carbohydrate intakes suitable for?
This of course sounds fantastic for any professional athlete, but also for many ambitious recreational users. However, before we start consuming large amounts of energy drinks, bars, or gels during each workout, it is important to consider under what specific circumstances these intakes offer added value, and also which products are needed to achieve this in such situations.
Extremely high carbohydrate intakes of added value
Firstly, these high intakes will only provide added value during efforts of extremely long duration and/or intensity, where the recovery time may also be short (such as during a multi-day event). Think of ultraruns, a Granfondo (such as the Amstel Gold, Marmotte or Trois Ballons) or a multi-day running or cycling event in the mountains. During these types of events, the body's energy needs are so great, and large amounts of carbohydrates are burned hour after hour. This increases the risk of completely depleting the body's stores and thus getting the well-known 'hunger knock'. Intakes of up to 120 grams per hour could postpone the complete depletion of these body's own stores for as long as possible. However, if your training or competition is not of such a high duration or intensity, a lower carbohydrate intake (for example 60 to 90 grams per hour) will suffice.
How to choose the right products for high carbohydrate intakes
Second, if you want to aim for intakes above 90 grams per hour, make sure you choose the right products for this. Recent studies show that the relative proportion of fructose in the mixture of carbohydrates must be increased to allow absorption in the gut. A ratio between glucose and fructose of 1:0.8 seems to be the most ideal for making optimal use of the absorption system of glucose as fructose. Products from the Amacx Turbo Line are an ideal choice for this. These products also contain 40 or 80 grams of carbohydrates, which makes it very easy to reach 120 grams per hour. If you choose products with a different carbohydrate ratio (e.g. 2:1), part of the carbohydrates will not be absorbed. This can possibly lead to stomach or intestinal complaints, such as nausea, bloating or diarrhoea.
Stomach and intestinal training for processing very high carbohydrate intake
Finally, the body, especially the gastrointestinal system, must be trained to process these very high intakes. Just like your physical condition, the gastrointestinal system is also very trainable. You will have to gradually increase the carbohydrate intake over a longer period of time to increase the tolerance of the gastrointestinal system. You can read in the next blog how you can train your stomach and intestines to do this without any problems.