Lab-manufactured sports products are a go-to supplement for many athletes today to maximize performance. But as consumers seek out simpler foods, there is an opportunity to find more diverse, whole food options for athletes.
A series of recent studies published in Nutrients, Journal of Applied Physiology and European Journal of Applied Physiology, shows promising results for one whole food option – the potato.
These three studies demonstrate that whether consumed before, during or after workouts, potatoes positively impact performance and recovery as effectively – and sometimes more effectively than – traditional commercial sports products, such carbohydrate gels.
Nicholas Burd, PhD, primary investigator of the study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology:
“While ingestion of concentrated carbohydrate gels is commonplace, my study indicates that whole food alternatives – like potatoes – when fed during exercise, are equally effective in supporting athletes' performance.”
“These promising results complement two studies from my peers, demonstrating that potatoes can also support muscle building and recovery.”
“Collectively, these are important findings as they provide a new wholesome, nutrient-dense and cost-effective option for athletes.”
Together, these studies are a foundational turning point for both the sports and nutrition research world – opening up new fueling and recovery sources for active people and novel research hypotheses for scientists.
Specifically, the studies found that:
- As a significant part of a higher protein diet (above the Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA), consuming potato protein isolate throughout the day for two weeks – including before resistance exercise – increased muscle protein synthesis in women (Oikawa et al., Nutrients, 2020)
- Russet potatoes consumed during a cycling trial improved performance and sustained blood glucose concentrations of trained athletes equal to that of a commercial sports gel (Burd et al., J App Physiol, 2019)
- Potato-based products consumed after a 90-minute cycling trial helped replenish muscle glycogen stores and support subsequent exercise as effectively as common sports supplements (Flynn et al., Eur J App Physiol, 2020)
Brent Ruby, PhD, FACSM, the lead researcher of the study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology:
“Evidence shows many athletes – especially women – have lower energy intakes and consume less than the recommended amount of daily carbohydrates during intensive segments of training and competitions.”
“In our study, there were no differences in post-exercise muscle glycogen recovery and time trial performance when we compared common sport supplements with a potato-based feeding plan.”
“Moreover, participants rated the post-exercise potato meals as more tasty, satisfying and acceptable compared to commercial sports supplement foods.”
“This indicates that potatoes may be a viable and more economical option to help athletes meet their recovery fueling needs.”
Stuart Phillips, PhD, lead researcher for the study published in Nutrients, further added that his research is important for consumers leaning towards plant-based lifestyles.
“Plant-based diets are certainly growing in popularity. But compared to animal-derived proteins, we know much less about how plant-based proteins can support muscle protein synthesis.”
“Our study demonstrates that potato protein – which is a high-quality protein comparable to animal-based sources and better than many plant sources – is an effective option for exercise regimens and muscle protein synthesis.”
While choosing potatoes as an optimal performance food may seem odd and difficult to execute, the trials demonstrate that various potato forms can be used to support athlete's needs – ranging from a simple puree to potato pancakes or hash browns.
“Potatoes are a versatile ingredient and there are many different forms of this vegetable for consumers today.”
“While we tested a potato puree in our study, athletes can opt for different potato recipes and on-the-go products as their exercise fuel.”
These three studies provide exciting new evidence to the field of sports nutrition, but they are just a start.
“Our study is the first, to our knowledge, to examine effects of potato protein supplementation in any capacity in humans – and it clearly showed the inadequacy of the protein RDA.”
“Given that recommendations and personal preferences are shifting to more plant-based, whole food options, we need more research around diverse fuels for athletes and active people alike.”
“Researchers should continue this important work and consider other ways in which potato-derived ingredients, in various forms and situations, can support exercise performance.”
All three studies were funded by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE). APRE is a not-for-profit organization funded by the potato industry, including potato growers and processors, dedicated to advancing the scientific understanding of the role potatoes play in nutrition and health.