Background: The brain requires a continuous supply of glucose to function adequately. During aerobic exercise, peripheral glucose requirements increase and carbohydrate supplementation improves physical performance. The brain's utilization of glucose also increases during aerobic exercise. However, the effects of energy supplementation on cognitive function during sustained aerobic exercise are not well characterized.
Objective: The effects of energy supplementation, as liquid carbohydrate, on cognitive function during sustained aerobic activity were examined.
Design: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, between-subjects design was used. Young, healthy men (n = 143) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 treatment groups. The groups received either a 6% (by vol) carbohydrate (35.1 kJ/kg), 12% (by vol) carbohydrate (70.2 kJ/kg), or placebo beverage in 6 isovolumic doses, and all groups consumed 2 meals (3200 kJ). Over the 10-h study, the subjects performed physically demanding tasks, including a 19.3-km road march and two 4.8-km runs, interspersed with rest and other activities. Wrist-worn vigilance monitors, which emitted auditory stimuli (20/h) to which the subjects responded as rapidly as possible, and a standardized self-report mood questionnaire were used to assess cognitive function.
Results: Vigilance consistently improved with supplemental carbohydrates in a dose-related manner; the 12% carbohydrate group performed the best and the placebo group the worst (P < 0.001). Mood-questionnaire results corroborated the results from the monitors; the subjects who received carbohydrates reported less confusion (P = 0.040) and greater vigor (P = 0.025) than did those who received the placebo.
Conclusions: Supplemental carbohydrate beverages enhance vigilance and mood during sustained physical activity and interspersed rest. In addition, ambulatory monitoring devices can continuously assess the effects of nutritional factors on cognition as individuals conduct their daily activities or participate in experiments.