The Effect of Ingesting Carbohydrate and Proteins on Athletic Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Nutrients. 2020 May 20;12(5):1483. doi: 10.3390/nu12051483.


Endurance athletes participating in sporting events may be required to complete multiple training sessions a day or on successive days with a limited recovery time. Nutritional interventions that enhance the restoration of endogenous fuel stores (e.g., liver and muscle glycogen) and improve muscle damage repair have received a lot of attention. The purpose of this review is to investigate the effect of ingesting carbohydrate (CHO) and protein (PRO) on athletic performance. Studies were identified by searching the electronic databases PubMed and EMBASE. Random-effects meta-analyses were conducted to examine the intervention efficacy. A total of 30 randomized controlled trials (RCT), comprising 43 trials and 326 participants in total, were included in this review. The meta-analysis showed an overall significant effect in Time-To-Exhaustion (TTE) and Time-Trial (TT) performance, when ingesting carbohydrates and proteins (CHO-PRO) compared to CHO-only (p = 0.03 and p = 0.0007, respectively). A subgroup analysis demonstrated a significant effect in TTE by ingesting CHO-PRO compared to CHO, when supplements were provided during and/or following an exercise bout. CHO-PRO significantly improved TTE compared to CHO-only, when a long-term recovery (i.e., ≥8 h) was implemented (p = 0.001). However, no effect was found when the recovery time was short-term (i.e., ≤8 h). No significant effect was observed when CHO-PRO and CHO-only supplements were isocaloric. However, a significant improved TTE was evident with CHO-PRO compared to CHO-only, when the supplements were matched for carbohydrate content (p < 0.00001). In conclusion, co-ingesting carbohydrates and proteins appears to enhance TTE and TT performance compared to CHO-only and presents a compelling alternate feeding strategy for athletes.

Keywords: athletic performance; carbohydrate; protein; sports nutrition; time-to-exhaustion; time-trial.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletes*
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Eating
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sports Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Time Factors


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Glycogen