Waking up a few hours before an early morning practice isn’t always the most realistic option for high school and college athletes. Knowing the importance of fueling properly, many athletes make a point to at least consume something light before heading out for practice.
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Unfortunately for others, the thought of eating that close to the start of practice is enough to make them queasy. Ideally, for those who struggle to eat right before activity, waking up an hour earlier can give them enough time to feel comfortable.
For those who can’t wake up any earlier, or who cringe at the sight of food right before practice, there may be an alternative. It may be as simple as swishing a carbohydrate beverage around in the mouth for a few seconds.
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A carbohydrate mouth rinse is a strategy developed over the last few decades. Athletes can take a carbohydrate-based beverage, such as a sports drink, and swish it around in their mouth for 5-10 seconds and see a positive response. This is likely due to receptors in the mouth that recognize the presence of carbohydrates.
In some scenarios, the response is just as significant as actually drinking the beverage. This action can be performed both before and during activity, and is likely most effective when repeated over the duration of activity. It also appears to be most effective when carbohydrate storage is lower, such as after an overnight fast or late in a training session.
A carbohydrate mouth rinse may provide an alternative option for athletes who don’t feel comfortable consuming something immediately prior to activity, but who recognize that performance suffers due to a lack of energy. It may also be an appropriate alternative for those who struggle with occasional gastrointestinal issues during exercise due to their pre- or intra-exercise nutrition.
Although it may provide a potential benefit in various scenarios, it is likely most effective for endurance activities lasting 30-70 minutes. For activities longer than this, the goal remains to consume carbohydrates if at all possible to avoid glycogen depletion.
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It’s important to note that this strategy is not meant to replace breakfast or pre-exercise meals. Instead, it’s a tool that may be used in scenarios where athletes do not have the time or ability to eat immediately prior to or during activity. Energy needs must still be met to properly support training, and a mouth rinse cannot replace calories that must be obtained from food. For this reason, if you rely on a mouth rinse before exercise, it is important to consume a quality recovery meal with protein, carbohydrates and fluid.
Training sessions vary in duration, time of day and intensity. Diet and nutritional strategies may also vary in order to properly support each activity. The more nutrition tools athletes possess, the more flexibility they have to support their training. A carbohydrate mouth rinse is one technique that may prove beneficial for those occasions when a solid pre-exercise meal is not an option or when carbohydrate consumption during activity is a challenge.
Jeukendrup, A., Rollo, I. and Carter, J. (2013) “Carbohydrate Mouth Rinse: Performance Effects and Mechanism,” Sports Science Exchange, 26(118), pp. 1–8.
de Ataide e Silva, T., Di Cavalcanti Alves de Souza, M., de Amorim, J., Stathis, C., Leandro, C. and Lima-Silva, A. (2013) “Can carbohydrate mouth rinse improve performance during exercise? A systematic review,” Nutrients, 6(1), pp. 1–10. doi: 10.3390/nu6010001.