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Nutrition FAQ: Fructose in Sports Gels and Drinks

Last updated 2011-05-01 - Send Feedback
Related: Nutrition, training

The sports drink/energy gel maker Pacific Sports states the following about its AccelGel product (and similar claims about Accelerade):

Accel Gel is the first energy gel specifically designed to deliver rapid energy to working muscles. What makes Accel Gel unique is that it is the only gel that contains the patented 4:1 ratio of carb to protein and it uses a combination of three carbohydrates to maximize transport and uptake into muscle cells. This novel combination guaranties instant energy when you need it. The superiority of Accel Gel was shown in a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. James Madison University researchers found that Accel Gel offers significant advantages of GU, a leading carbohydrate gel, both during and after exercise. Researchers found that cyclists using Accel Gel had 13% More Endurance and 50% Less Muscle Damage

What relevance is a patent? It’s a red flag when that where the discussion starts. I asked Dr. Clyde Wilson what he thought of these claims, and he responded:

Products with high levels of sucrose and fructose are not good for muscle fueling with high levels of intensity; the study was low intensity which is why the fructose helped at all.

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Convertion rate of fructose to glucose

According to Dr. Wilson, the liver converts fructose to usable glucose at the rate of about 1 to 1.5 calories per minute (60-90 calories per hour)— too slow to provide enough energy for high levels of activity.

For moderate and high levels of exercise, muscles require readily available glucose, which is best supplied by glucose chain polymers such as maltodextrin, found in other sports-oriented energy gels. These products provide immediate energy with no need for the liver to convert them to glucose.

Your author’s experience

I (Lloyd) use Accelerade as “baseline calories”: 1 scoop of Accelerade into 1 liter of water (quite diluted compared to the company’s standard dilution), which I consume in 45-90 minutes, depending on temperature.

The 1-scoop-in-1-liter mix has proven itself in many endurance events, and matches up very closely to what Dr. Wilson suggests about the calories per hour of fructose.

I take most of my calories vi Gu energy gel, which is 80% maltodextrin; 2-3 packets per hour for 200-300 calories mostly from maltodextrin.

What I’ve also found works well: a good quality sourdough bread (the kind I buy doesn’t crumble, I toast it in advance, and bread converts readily into glucose). You’d have to experiment here, some breads might not work as well.

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