Winning with Nutrition: How Functional Carbs Can Support the Needs of an Athlete

Wazzup Pilipinas!?

Our nutritional needs can be as unique as fingerprints.

Athletes are an example of a consumer group with special nutritional requirements. Some of the more common concerns among these consumers include boosting energy levels before or during exercise, as well as post workout recovery. Research has shown that an overwhelming majority of Asian consumers turn to food and drinks for an energy boost, with energy drinks, fruits and sports drinks being particularly popular.

However, even among these active consumers, different athletes have different needs.

Endurance athletes for instance, require a diet that provides them with sustained energy. This is where functional carbohydrates, otherwise known as smart-release carbohydrates, can play a role. Functional carbohydrates, such as BENEO’s Palatinose™ (generic name: isomaltulose), can help to enhance fuel management and endurance by delivering full carbohydrate energy in a balanced and sustained manner. That’s why they can be used to meet a wide range of consumer needs — including those of athletes.

 So, what are the nutritional requirements of an athlete?

Athletes train regularly and rigorously. They are constantly pushing themselves to improve and surpass their limits, hence physically exerting themselves more than the average person. For athletes, not only is it absolutely essential to have sufficient energy, but it is also just as important to have efficient fuel management.

However, beverages such as energy or sports drinks tend to have a negative image with the consumers. About two-thirds (67%) of Asian consumers found that energy drinks provide an instant but short-lived energy boost, while 48% of them found that sports drinks fail to provide them with long-lasting energy[1]. More than half (53%) are also concerned that energy drinks are unhealthy[2]. This means that there is an opportunity to optimise products targeted at the energy-related nutrition market.

Why functional carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are essential for athletes as they are our body’s main energy source. However, it is important to look at the quality of the carbohydrates we consume. ‘Fast carbohydrates’ such as maltodextrin and sucrose are commonly used in sports nutrition products, and release glucose into the bloodstream quickly when digested. This results in a rapid increase followed by a sudden decline in glucose levels as our body regulates the sudden rise, and this is known as the ‘boost and crash’ effect. While this is suitable for those in need of an instant burst of energy, these high-glycaemic carbohydrates are not ideal for those looking for endurance in their training or for achieving balanced energy levels throughout the day. Functional, or smart release carbohydrates, can help to provide a more steady and sustained energy supply, resulting in blood glucose levels that stay balanced — without sudden ups and downs.

Palatinose™, for instance, is ideal for athletes looking for a sustained energy supply. It is derived from pure beet sugar and also occurs naturally in small amounts of honey. In addition to having a natural, mild sugar-like taste with good solubility, this smart release carbohydrate is also fully yet slowly digested, thus providing full carbohydrate energy in a balanced and sustained manner. Scientific data from over 30 blood glucose response trials have all found a lower blood glucose response to Palatinose™ as compared to sucrose, maltodextrin, or other carbohydrates.

This lower and more balanced blood glucose response results in less insulin release and an improved metabolic profile, without the significant drops in blood glucose that are often associated with conventional higher glycaemic sugars. In addition, the lower insulin levels allow for a higher rate of fat burning instead of carbohydrate burning for energy supply. An increased fat burning rate is beneficial for the body composition of athletes, and also means that when Palatinose™ is used in sports nutrition products, consumers can draw on their carbohydrate reserves for longer.

Endurance athletes have also attested to its effectiveness. One of these athletes is Kafka Pampudi — an Indonesian CrossFit trainer who also regularly engages in endurance exercises such as cycling. After using Palatinose™ consistently for four months, he found that it had increased his endurance significantly. “When I was consuming regular carbohydrates, my energy was sustained for around one or two hours,” said Kafka. “But when I took Palatinose™, it can keep me energised for three hours or more!” He also discovered that supplementing with the functional carbohydrate helped to reduce his post-workout fatigue.

It is clear that athletes have very different dietary requirements — being a performance-driven group that regularly pushes themselves to meet their goals.

To help them keep up with strenuous physical activity, it is vital for them to factor in a relatively high energy intake. On the other hand, they must look towards products that deliver sustained, long-lasting energy to ensure consistency and endurance in their performance. Strong, promising functional ingredients like smart release carbohydrates can therefore suit their needs, helping them reach their full potential.

[1] BENEO (2020) Health & Nutrition Survey

[2] BENEO (2020) Health & Nutrition Survey

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