Hillariously sweet, super cheap, and surprisingly effective: glucose!
With that being said, athletes around the world have, somewhat paradoxically, stuck to complex carbs before competition only to then fuel their performance with extremely sugary intraworkout bars, gels and drinks.
Now, a recent study from the University of Florida, shows that "a fiber-free, glucose-derived meal may be superior to a low glycemic fiber-free whole meal in supporting moderately high intensity exercise in some highly motivated recreationally trained endurance athletes" (my emphasis in Waggener. 2016) - not exactly what you'd expect, right?
No reason to feel embarrassed, though: Even the authors of said study expected that their likewise fiber-free whole milk supplement with a low glycemic (LGM | GI = 41), would "equal or surpass the effects of an iso-kilocaloric, high glycemic (HGM) pre-exercise meal of glucose" (GI = 100).
Timing + intensity (and fiber) may matter, here! While there are surprisingly few studies that actually compare high vs. low GI carbohydrate sources pre-workout, a 2001 study by Kirwan using totally different CHO-sources (2 different breakfast cereals: rolled oats (moderate GI, 61; MOD-GI) or puffed rice (high GI, 82; HI-GI), combined with 300 mL of water) suggests that high-fiber low GI meals are advantageous if (a) the time-trial begins after 45 minutes of rest (instead of 2h of medium-intensity exercise) and you are (b) training / competing at a low intensity of only 60% VO2peak and thus for 2h+, which is obviously not exactly representative of endurance sports competitions or resistance training workouts w/ higher intensities.Furthermore, the scientists expected that both would kick the ass of an artificially flavored placebo. when either of the three treatments was consumed 30 minutes before a 2-hr submaximal steady state ride at 55% of VO2 max that was followed by brief rest, and then by a final time-trial to exhaustion on the cycle ergometer (TTE) at 80% of VO2 max - the test was repeated on three separate days.
"The test drinks in this study consisted of whole cow’s milk (837.2 kJ / 320 ml fluid volume: 16 g carbohydrate, 10.7 g fat, and 10.7 g protein; Publix, Inc.) and two contrast drinks, one consisting of glucose polymer drink iso-kilocaloric to the whole milk supplement (837.2 kJ / 300 ml fluid volume: 50 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, and 0 g protein; Cardinal Health, McGraw Park, IL) and a placebo/control drink (water). The placebo was an artificially flavored, unsweetened beverage (2 g of NutraSweet in 300 ml bottled water; [...])" (Waggener. 2016).To avoid that the subjects' baseline diet would mess with the results, the diet in the days before the test was standardized (high in carbs 60.5% = typical end. athlete diet) and controlled via food logs.
|Figure 1: Stamina (length in minutes) during the time trial after 1h of low-medium intensity exercise (Waggener. 2016).|
In fact, there was a non-significant (+18% time to exhaustion, blue bar in Figure 1 | not significant due to the large inter-individual differences) advantage for the HGM meal, which outperformed both, the LGM and the placebo on the most important test: the time to exhaustion trial - and that in spite of the fact that it was performed after a 2h! medium intensity workout, during which the subject's serum glucose and insulin levels should have performed the initially hinted at, purportedly ergolytic (=the opposite of performance-enhancing) roller-coaster ride.
- Kirwan, John P., et al. "Effects of moderate and high glycemic index meals on metabolism and exercise performance." Metabolism 50.7 (2001): 849-855.
- Waggener, Green T., et al. "The Effect of a Low Glycemic vs. High Glycemic Pre-Exercise Meal in Recreationally Trained Endurance Cyclists." (2016).