Eating this very odd food may give you extra energy for your next workout

If energy gels aren’t around, try eating mashed potatoes to fuel your next workout.

A new study headed by researchers at the University of Illinois, in partnership with the Alliance for Potato Research & Education, found that consuming potato puree during exercise can help just as much as popular carbohydrate and electrolyte boosters often used by cyclists, runners, and other athletes during strenuous exercise periods such as marathons and sporting events.

Sport gels quickly entered the mainstream for exercise aficionados looking for a quick energy source either during raining, normally designed to be taken at the beginning of or every 30 minutes during long endurance races like marathons. These gels, which are often found at sporting goods stores, range from having 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per package. For potatoes, that’s about one cup of diced potatoes, according to the USDA.

So why potatoes? According to the paper, they are a “cost-effective, nutrient-dense and whole-food source of carbohydrates” that ofter a savory fuel option compared to the often sweet sports gels.

Potato sweat?

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, assigned 12 healthy and serious cyclists who previously passed a physical fitness and training exam one of three different recovery boosters: water alone, carbohydrate gel, or carbohydrates obtained via potatoes during a 120-minute cycling challenge.

Researchers measured blood glucose levels, body temperature, exercise intensity, and other measures such as concentrations of lactate and a metabolic marker of intense exercise.

“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 University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Nicholas Burd. “Both groups saw a significant boost in performance that those consuming only water did not achieve.”

While the sample size of participants is rather low, researchers did say participants who consumed potatoes had “more gastrointestinal bloating, pain and flatulence than other groups,” which could be due to consuming more potatoes to match the glucose levels that are in gels.

“All in all, our study is a proof-of-concept showing that athletes may use whole-food sources of carbohydrates as an alternative to commercial products to diversify race-fueling menus,” Burd said.

The study was conducted by Nicholas Burd, a kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois, Amadeo F. Salvador, a researcher at the University of Illinois, and others.