Updated: September 10, 2012

I work with a lot of athletes and most are always looking for new tips, tricks and techniques to gain a competitive edge. It seems one of the latest strategies is called "carb rinsing" which involves drinking a carb solution, like a sports drink, but spitting it out rather than swallowing it. Recent research from the University of Birmingham found that the "rinse" activated muscles as if the athletes had consumed carbs.

In a nutshell scientists found that just having carbs enter your mouth can trick your body into thinking energy is on the way. In the studies the athletes who simply rinsed performed as well as those who fueled up on food or a sports drink.

I did a TV interview about the trend and I was asked if I would recommend the technique for non-athletes as a weight loss tool. My answer is definitely not. I've had clients tell me that they eat foods or drink beverages and spit them out to avoid calories. Doing so is not only unpleasant, but it's usually associated with disordered eating, which can spiral into a more serious eating disorder.

Now for athletes in high performance mode it might be worth a try – the research is certainly compelling. But in general I would encourage athletes to consume actual carbs, from food, coconut water or another beverage. Other studies have shown that eating carbs before training improves endurance because carbs are the fuel that allows your brain, muscles and nerves to do their jobs. Without enough you "hit the wall" like a car running out of gas.

That's why athletes should ideally eat carbs at every meal. A high overall carb intake allows athletes to stock carbs in their muscles. That "piggy bank" of carbs, called glycogen, is then right there and can be accessed immediately to keep the muscles working. Glycogen stores are especially important for endurance athletes, to keep them going during long activities when they can't stop and eat.

In general athletes need about 50-60% of their daily calories from carbs. For an athlete who needs 2,500 calories a day that's somewhere between 300 and 400 grams of carbs. And of course the best choices are those created by Mother Nature – fruits, veggies and whole grains, carbs naturally bundled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

If you're not an athlete you can stick with a slightly lower percentage of calories from carbs, say 45-50% and of course non-athletes generally need fewer total calories (for 150 pound person office work burns about 100 calories per hour). So for a person who only needs 1,600 calories a day that's about 200 grams of carbs daily.

Want to know what that might look like? Come back tomorrow - I'll lay it out!



Be the first to comment!