Adding sugar to water can boost endurance better than energy drinks, study shows

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Glass of water
Droplets from condensation are seen on a glass of ice water in the heat of a street side restaurant in Fortaleza, June 15, 2014. In a project called 'On The Sidelines' Reuters photographers share pictures showing their own quirky and creative view of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Reuters/Mike Blake

Simply adding some table sugar to a bottle of water could effectively boost endurance and prevent tiredness during big physical events, a new study suggests. Scientists from the University of Bath, in the UK, have found the link between tiredness and the level of sugar in the liver.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, come from the analysis of the types of sugar, sucrose and glucose, used in energy drinks. Researchers observed the effects of the drinks in long-distance cyclists to know how different carbohydrates, an essential nutrient that provides energy, could act on the tiredness levels of athletes.

Sucrose, in refined form, is the sugar commonly used as a powdered additive, while glucose is a carbohydrate known as simple sugars. Both types of sugar can be quickly absorbed by the body to produce energy.

There are various sports and energy drinks using these sugars. Many drinks use either sucrose or glucose alone, and some use a mixture of both.

These sugars have the molecular structure that affects the rate of how the body absorbs them in the gut, researchers said. Sucrose can be absorbed faster compared to glucose.  

The findings show that stirring some sugar, or sucrose, into water works far better to obtain energy compared to drinks that use glucose alone. In addition, researchers warn that glucose-only drinks could potentially cause gut discomfort.

“We also found that the exercise felt easier, and the gut comfort of the cyclists was better, when they ingested sucrose compared to glucose,” said lead researcher Javier Gonzalez. “This suggests that, when your goal is to maximise carbohydrate availability, sucrose is probably a better source of carbohydrate to ingest than glucose.”

Gonzalez and his colleagues suggest that the ideal amount of sugar water a person should consume for an exercise that may last for over 2.5 hours, is up to 90 grams of sugar per hour, diluted to 8 grams of sugar per 100 ml.

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