A new study by potato scientists suggests that spuds are just as good for endurance athletes as those gelatinous supplements.

By Mike Pomranz
October 22, 2019

Autumn has arrived, the falling leaves painting the ground in swaths of yellow, orange, and red. Thanksgiving preparations are ramping up—and for you athletic types that may include your annual turkey trot run. But here's something new to consider: During this year's race, don't grab for an energy gel to sustain your strength; reach for a familiar Thanksgiving dinner side… pureed potatoes, of course!

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A new study—which, very importantly, was supported by the clearly pro-potato-leaning Alliance for Potato Research & Education—determined that "consuming potato puree during prolonged exercise works just as well as a commercial carbohydrate gel in sustaining blood glucose levels and boosting performance in trained athletes," according to the News Bureau for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where the research was conducted.

To back this theory, scientists found 12 hardcore cyclists who were asked to pass a series of fitness tests to prove they weren't just in it for the free potatoes. The cyclists were then randomly chosen to either consume water, a commercially-available carbohydrate "energy" gel or an equivalent amount of carbohydrates obtained from potatoes before extensive monitoring during a cycling workout. "We found no differences between the performance of cyclists who got their carbohydrates by ingesting potatoes or gels at recommended amounts of about 60 grams per hour during the experiments," said lead researcher Nicholas Burd, a University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor. "Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve."

However, the potato group did suffer one setback: "Those consuming potatoes experienced significantly more gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence than the other groups," the News Bureau wrote. "This may be a result of the larger volume of potatoes needed to match the glucose provided by the gels, Burd said."

In the end, the study determined, "Potatoes are a promising alternative for athletes because they represent a cost-effective, nutrient-dense and whole-food source of carbohydrates." Adding, "Furthermore, they serve as a savory race fuel option when compared (with) the high sweetness of (carbohydrate) gels." Next up, let's see how well sweet potatoes and marshmallows work!

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