Written by: Martijn Redegeld
As you have read in a previous blog, the intake of carbohydrates during longer and/or more intensive efforts is a must. From the weekly Sunday morning run to a challenging tour, and from a football match to a marathon, carbohydrates are the body's preferred fuel during exercise. But what is the best way to get these carbohydrates? Is it best to choose a sports drink, an energy bar or a gel? Or will an old-fashioned banana or currant bun also suffice? Many athletes swear by specific products? But what does science say about this: you can read that in this blog.
- Various studies have shown that an energy gel, energy bar or sports drink are just as fast and efficient in providing carbohydrates to the muscles. Everyone can therefore choose / combine products according to their own preference and practical convenience.
- Only when bars with a relatively high amount of proteins, fats and/or fibers are chosen, can this lead to a slightly slower fuel supply in the muscles (and a fuller feeling in the stomach). In certain situations this may be desirable, but in other situations it may lead to stomach or intestinal complaints.
- In addition to the right amount of carbohydrates, don't forget to include the right amount of fluids and electrolytes (especially sodium) in your nutrition plan.
Efficiency of Carbohydrate Burning
Various scientific studies have delved into this question in the past. The main question that had to be answered during these studies is how well and how quickly the carbohydrates from the various products can be used as fuel in the muscles. By measuring this 'carbohydrate combustion' of an energy bar, energy gel and energy drink, it can be determined whether one of these products uses more or less carbohydrates as fuel, and whether this happens just as efficiently.
Energy Sources for Athletes
Various scientific studies show that there is no substantial physiological difference between an energy bar, gel or drink at both lower and higher carbohydrate intakes. In other words: all products actually deliver the fuel to the muscles just as efficiently. It should be noted, however, that the energy bars in these studies were easily digestible and contained few fibres, fats and proteins (such as the Amacx Energy Fruit Chew or Amacx Turbo Chew). This ensures that the passage through the stomach and the eventual absorption in the intestine is almost as fast as with an energy gel or drink. This means that it does not matter to an athlete whether he/she opts for an energy drink, gel or (easily digestible) bar during training or competition. Therefore, choose especially based on personal preference and practical convenience during exercise. Just make sure that you choose products with an optimized carbohydrate ratio if you aim for intakes above 60 grams per hour (glucose:fructose = 2:1 with intakes up to +- 90 grams per hour and glucose:fructose = 1:0 .8 to +- 120 grams per hour). Read more about 120 grams of carbohydrates here.
Impact of Protein, Fat and Fiber on Gastric Transit and Performance
If a bar with more proteins, fats and/or fibers is chosen (such as the Amacx Energy Oat Bar), the passage through the stomach will be slightly slower, so that the fuel will also be available later in the muscles. This often translates into a 'fuller' feeling in the abdomen. This may be desirable during quiet endurance training or quieter moments in a long competition. However, during intensive exercise, bars with a higher fiber, fat and/or protein content can also cause stomach or intestinal complaints. If you experience this, try replacing your bar for an energy gel or drink.
Finally, do not forget that in addition to carbohydrates, the correct intake of fluids and electrolytes (especially sodium) are also important for optimal performance. Amacx products all contain similar amounts of carbohydrates and a substantial amount of sodium. However, where an Amacx Energy Drink bottle also supplies 500ml of moisture, this is not the case with a bar or riot. Therefore, do not forget to drink enough if you mainly get your carbohydrates from bars and / or gels. You can read more about this in future blogs.
1. Pfeiffer et al MSSE Med Sci Sports Exerc. 42(11):2030-7, 2010 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20404762/)
2. Pfeiffer et al MSSE Med Sci Sports Exerc. 42(11):2038-45, 2010 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20404763/)
3. Hearris et al J Appl Physiol. 132(6):1394-1406, 2022 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35446596/)