Strategies of dietary carbohydrate manipulation and their effects on performance in cycling time trials

Sports Med. 2013 Aug;43(8):707-19. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0054-9.


The relationship between carbohydrate (CHO) availability and exercise performance has been thoroughly discussed. CHO improves performance in both prolonged, low-intensity and short, high-intensity exercises. Most studies have focused on the effects of CHO supplementation on the performance of constant-load, time-to-exhaustion exercises. Nevertheless, in the last 20 years, there has been a consistent increase in research on the effects of different forms of CHO supplementation (e.g., diet manipulation, CHO supplementation before or during exercise) on performance during closed-loop exercises, such as cycling time trials (TTs). A TT is a highly reproducible exercise and reflects a more realistic scenario of competition compared with the time-to-exhaustion test. CHO manipulation has been performed in various time periods, such as days before, minutes before, during a TT or in a matched manner (e.g. before and during a TT). The purpose of this review is to address the possible effects of these different forms of CHO manipulation on the performance during a cycling TT. Previous data suggest that when a high-CHO diet (~70% of CHO) is consumed before a TT (24-72 h before), the mean power output increases and reduces the TT time. When participants are supplemented with CHO (from 45 to 400 g) prior to a TT (from 2 min to 6 h before the TT), mean power output and time seem to improve due to an increase in CHO oxidation. Similarly, this performance also seems to increase when participants ingest CHO during a TT because such consumption maintains plasma glucose levels. A CHO mouth rinse also improves performance by activating several brain areas related to reward and motor control through CHO receptors in the oral cavity. However, some studies reported controversial results concerning the benefits of CHO on TT performance. Methodological issues such as time of supplementation, quantity, concentration and type of CHO ingested, as well as the TT duration and intensity, should be considered in future studies because small variations in any of these factors may have beneficial or adverse effects on TT performance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Physical Endurance / drug effects*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates