Drinking water mixed with a spoonful of sugar instead of specialized sports drinks could enhance the performance of long-distance athletes and stave off the exhaustion faced by marathon runners, a new study in the United Kingdom revealed.

Researchers at the University of Bath found that stirring sugar into a bottle filled with water and drinking it before a physical event could influence the success and failure of an athlete.

The university's Health Department analyzed the impact of endurance exercise on the body's levels of stored carbohydrates, or the liver glycogen levels, and tested methods to prevent fatigue.

In a study featured in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers evaluated a group of club cyclists through an adapted MRI scanner. They tested glucose and sucrose-based drinks and found that consuming carbohydrates in glucose or sucrose prevents the decline in the liver glycogen. They also discovered that the participants of the study found it easier to exercise and felt better when they drank liquids with sucrose instead of drinks with glucose.

Glucose and sucrose are carbohydrates known as simple sugars. A sucrose molecule contains one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule bound together. Scientists said combining different sources of sugars boosts the rate at which humans can absorb these substances from the gut.

Many sports drinks still rely on glucose alone, even though other sports drinks now contain mixtures of glucose and fructose. Researchers said that glucose-based sports drinks can produce stomach discomfort. Switching to sucrose-based drinks, or water mixed with sugar, can significantly help athletes, they said.

"The carbohydrate stores in our liver are vitally important when it comes to endurance exercise as they help us to maintain a stable blood sugar level," explained Dr. Javier Gonzalez, the lead author of the study. "When your goal is to maximize carbohydrate availability, sucrose is probably a better source of carbohydrate to ingest than glucose."

Still, Gonzalez said researchers know very little about how to optimize liver carbohydrates during and after exercise. He said their findings revealed that ingesting simple sugars, especially sucrose, before and during physical activity can reduce the decline in the liver glycogen, but not in the muscles.

Meanwhile, researchers recommend anyone who undergoes physical activity for more than two hours to consume up to 90g of sugar per hour which is diluted to 8g of sugar per 100ml.

Photo: Richard Masoner | Flickr         

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