Key Points: A high carbohydrate + hydrogel sports drink did not improve performance in a study of elite XC skiers.
Have you been wondering whether using a hydrogel sports drink would improve your cross country skiing performance? In the past several years researchers have looked at the addition of alginate or pectin to sports drinks to increase available carbohydrate to support intense endurance activities. Alginate and pectin can form a gel when exposed to stomach acid, and theoretically can allow ingestion of high amounts of carbs with less gastrointestinal (GI) distress. At least one commercial sports drink (Maurten) has embraced this technology.
This is one area where there is actually an XC specific study! In 2019, Pettersson et al, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, looked at the effect of using a high carbohydrate (CHO) drink with added alginate and pectin (hydrogel) on performance in elite male and female biathletes and XC skiers. The 12 subjects completed 120 minutes of diagonal-style roller-skiing followed by a double poling time trial. Researchers looked at rates of burning CHO and fat, blood glucose and lactate levels, ratings of GI discomfort, and ratings of perceived exertion (RPE.) (RPE is the athlete’s rating of how much physical effort their performance required.)
Analysis of the results showed that using the high CHO + hydrogel vs. a placebo drink led to increased burning of carbohydrate from the drink and decreased burning of fat, while preserving muscle and liver glycogen. (This is consistent with studies of other athletes.) There were no differences between drinks in GI discomfort or RPE.
The authors conclude that the high CHO drink with hydrogel was well tolerated and might be helpful to meet CHO intake recommendations without a large fluid intake. Since the cold environment of skiing may mean lower sweat rates, this is a potential benefit. There was, however, no improvement in the time trial performance with use of the experimental beverage.
The bottom line is that you might find a hydrogel sports drink helpful to maintain your fueling, but there is no evidence that it will improve your performance.
© 2020 Kathleen Searles, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
Reference: Pettersson S et al. Effects of supplementing with an 18%carbohydrate-hydrogel drink versus a placebo during whole-body exercise in -5°C with elite cross-country ski athletes: a crossover study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2019, 16:46
Participants started at 3 AM with a 3 mile mountain bike ride covering 3,100 vertical feet. From there they watched the sunrise and skied the Fourth of July bowl, noted for snow that lingers into summer. This was followed with a 10 K run and then a 25 mile lap of the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race (which covers 4,000 vertical feet).
The approximately 12 hour day culminated with a traditional Fourth of July picnic. Participants touted their anticipation of celebrating the finish with an ice cold beer. My sports nutritionist mind thinks recovery, so I started brainstorming which picnic foods would be helpful.
What's a Fourth of July picnic without a burger? Recovery foods provide fluids, electrolytes, carbs, and protein. A burger is a great source of protein plus carbohydrates from the bun. Alternatively, grilled chicken and some pasta salad would provide protein and carbs. For vegetarians, baked beans would do the trick. These foods will also provide some sodium and potassium.
A great picnic food choice is watermelon. It has a high water content, carbs, and antioxidant carotenoids including lycopene. Training at altitude and competing in endurance events both create oxidative stress, and dietary antioxidants may decrease inflammation and improve immune function.
But what about the beer? A couple of years ago, scientists at the University of Granada in Spain decided to see if beer was effective for rehydrating athletes. They found that up to 660 ml (about two 12 ounce servings) of regular beer (4.5% alcohol content) along with water as desired to meet thirst was as effective as just water for rehydrating. Compared to sports drinks beer does not have as much carbohydrate or sodium, so try adding a salty snack like some chips or pretzels.
So, if you are like Joe Howdyshell, who says, “Me and some of my friends like to do these crazy adventure things,” go for it and have fun with your nutritional recovery too!
© 2017 Kathleen Searles, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
Nutrition expert and snow enthusiast! Follow this blog for news and info to help move your skiing/boarding forward with good nutrition.
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Kathy advised me in my role as Headmaster of Carrabassett Valley Academy, a high level competitive ski academy located at Sugarloaf, Maine. Kathy worked with the CVA coaching and kitchen staffs to help design a more nutritious menu for adolescent snow sport athletes. She very wisely directed how coaches could encourage good eating habits of athletes when traveling on the road. Kathy is always expanding her scope of service and is innovative in designing cutting-edge nutrition programs. – John Ritzo, Maine Ski Hall of Fame