Carbohydrate Ingestion during Team Games Exercise: Current Knowledge and Areas for Future Investigation

Authors: Phillips, Shaun M.; Sproule, John; Turner, Anthony P.

Source: Sports Medicine, 1 July 2011, vol. 41, no. 7, pp. 559-585(27)


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There is a growing body of research on the influence of ingesting carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions immediately prior to and during prolonged intermittent, high-intensity exercise (team games exercise) designed to replicate field-based team games. This review presents the current body of knowledge in this area, and identifies avenues of further research. Almost all early work supported the ingestion of carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions during prolonged intermittent exercise, but was subject to methodological limitations. A key concern was the use of exercise protocols characterized by prolonged periods at the same exercise intensity, the lack of maximal- or high-intensity work components and long periods of seated recovery, which failed to replicate the activity pattern or physiological demand of team games exercise. The advent of protocols specifically designed to replicate the demands of field-based team games enabled a more externally valid assessment of the influence of carbohydrate ingestion during this form of exercise. Once again, the research overwhelmingly supports carbohydrate ingestion immediately prior to and during team games exercise for improving time to exhaustion during intermittent running.

While the external validity of exhaustive exercise at fixed prescribed intensities as an assessment of exercise capacity during team games may appear questionable, these assessments should perhaps not be viewed as exhaustive exercise tests per se, but as indicators of the ability to maintain high-intensity exercise, which is a recognized marker of performance and fatigue during field-based team games. Possible mechanisms of exercise capacity enhancement include sparing of muscle glycogen, glycogen resynthesis during low-intensity exercise periods and attenuated effort perception during exercise. Most research fails to show improvements in sprint performance during team games exercise with carbohydrate ingestion, perhaps due to the lack of influence of carbohydrate on sprint performance when endogenous muscle glycogen concentration remains above a critical threshold of ∼200 mmol/kg dry weight. Despite the increasing number of publications in this area, few studies have attempted to drive the research base forward by investigating potential modulators of carbohydrate efficacy during team games exercise, preventing the formulation of optimal carbohydrate intake guidelines. Potential modulators may be different from those during prolonged steady-state exercise due to the constantly changing exercise intensity and frequency, duration and intensity of rest intervals, potential for team games exercise to slow the rate of gastric emptying and the restricted access to carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions during many team games.

This review highlights fluid volume, carbohydrate concentration, carbohydrate composition and solution osmolality; the glycaemic index of pre-exercise meals; fluid and carbohydrate ingestion patterns; fluid temperature; carbohydrate mouthwashes; carbohydrate supplementation in different ambient temperatures; and investigation of all of these areas in different subject populations as important avenues for future research to enable a more comprehensive understanding of carbohydrate ingestion during team games exercise.

Keywords: Carbohydrates, general; Exercise; Nutrition; Sports-medicine

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Health Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Publication date: July 1, 2011

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