Race Fueling

Study: Potatoes as Effective as Gels for Training Fuel

Jersey-pocket fuel gets a whole-food makeover.

Could the trendy new sports nutrition product be something we’ve been walking past in the supermarket all along? According to a new study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, potatoes are just as effective as carbohydrate gels for fueling sport performance.

The research, conducted by kinesiology and health scientists at the University of Illinois, split a sample of cyclists into three groups: a “gel” group, a “potato puree” group and a “water-only” control group. The group ingested their assigned nutrition during a two-hour challenge as well as a time trial ride, during which the researchers measured glucose and lactose concentrations in the blood.

The results found that both the gel and potato puree groups performed similarly well over the water-only group. The blood samples are remarkably similar as well, with glucose levels remaining the same for both sport gels and pureed potatoes.

Though the sample size was small (12 cyclists), the results suggest potatoes could be an affordable, whole-food alternative to commercial gels on long bike rides. This makes sense, given that maltodextrin – a common starch used in sport nutrition products – is derived from potatoes. Spuds also contain potassium, which is critical for fluid balance and muscle function. But their true value comes in their high glycemic index, which means that potatoes give an instant burst of energy shortly after consumption.

To incorporate them into your fueling plan, the plain, boiled and pureed version utilized in the study is a good place to start. For ease of transport, some cyclists find it more convenient to keep small boiled potatoes in their whole state (or cut into bite-sized pieces).

If you’re looking to go a more refined route, try these Matthew Kadey recipes for jersey-pocket fuel:

Sweet Potato Tots

Hash Brown Bacon Patties