Could potatoes be an alternative to energy gels?

Potato found to have same energy-boosting benefits as carbohydrate gels

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Not a fan of energy carbohydrate gels? Struggle to stomach sweet sickly energy gels and tired of spending your hard-earned cash on them?


Then, believe it or not, potatoes could be the answer! Scientists from the University of Illinois have found consuming potato puree during prolonged exercise works just as well as gels in sustaining blood glucose levels and boosting performance. This means potato, in a puree form, could be a great savoury alternative to sweet, sickly energy gels.

“Research has shown that ingesting concentrated carbohydrate gels during prolonged exercise promotes carbohydrate availability during exercise and improves exercise performance,” said Nicholas Burd, who led the research. “Our study aim was to expand and diversify race-fuelling options for athletes and offset flavour fatigue.”

“Potatoes are a promising alternative for athletes because they represent a cost-effective, nutrient-dense and whole-food source of carbohydrates,” the researchers reported in the Journal of Applied Physiology. “Furthermore, they serve as a savoury race fuel option when compared (with) the high sweetness of (carbohydrate) gels.”

The study monitored 12 active people who cycled an average of 165 miles a week, who either consumed just water, a commercially available carbohydrate gel or an equivalent amount of carbohydrates obtained from potatoes 

Before testing the cyclists had to reach a specific threshold for aerobic fitness and complete a 120-minute cycling challenge followed by a time trial.

The researchers standardised what the 12 cyclists ate for 24 hours before then repeating the cycling challenge and time trial, which was designed to mirror typical race conditions.

Throughout this participants’ blood glucose, core body temperature, exercise intensity, gastric emptying and gastrointestinal symptoms were measured, as well as lactate concentrations, a metabolic marker of intense exercise, in participants’ blood.

“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,” Burd said. “Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve.”

Plasma glucose concentrations went up by a similar amount in those consuming potatoes and gels. Their heart rates increased by a similar amount over the water-only cyclists, and they were speedier on the time trial.

Those consuming potatoes experienced significantly more gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence than the other groups, however. This may be a result of the larger volume of potatoes needed to match the glucose provided by the gels, Burd said.

“Nevertheless, average GI symptoms were lower than previous studies, indicating that both (carbohydrate) conditions were well-tolerated by the majority of the study’s cyclists,” the researchers wrote.


“All in all, our study is a proof-of-concept showing that athletes may use whole-food sources of carbohydrates as an alternative to commercial products to diversify race-fuelling menus,” Burd said.