Carbohydrate supplementation: a critical review of recent innovations

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2021 Jan;121(1):23-66. doi: 10.1007/s00421-020-04534-y. Epub 2020 Oct 27.


Purpose: To critically examine the research on novel supplements and strategies designed to enhance carbohydrate delivery and/or availability.

Methods: Narrative review.

Results: Available data would suggest that there are varying levels of effectiveness based on the supplement/supplementation strategy in question and mechanism of action. Novel carbohydrate supplements including multiple transportable carbohydrate (MTC), modified carbohydrate (MC), and hydrogels (HGEL) have been generally effective at modifying gastric emptying and/or intestinal absorption. Moreover, these effects often correlate with altered fuel utilization patterns and/or glycogen storage. Nevertheless, performance effects differ widely based on supplement and study design. MTC consistently enhances performance, but the magnitude of the effect is yet to be fully elucidated. MC and HGEL seem unlikely to be beneficial when compared to supplementation strategies that align with current sport nutrition recommendations. Combining carbohydrate with other ergogenic substances may, in some cases, result in additive or synergistic effects on metabolism and/or performance; however, data are often lacking and results vary based on the quantity, timing, and inter-individual responses to different treatments. Altering dietary carbohydrate intake likely influences absorption, oxidation, and and/or storage of acutely ingested carbohydrate, but how this affects the ergogenicity of carbohydrate is still mostly unknown.

Conclusions: In conclusion, novel carbohydrate supplements and strategies alter carbohydrate delivery through various mechanisms. However, more research is needed to determine if/when interventions are ergogenic based on different contexts, populations, and applications.

Keywords: Caffeine; Carbohydrate periodization; Endurance; Fructose; Glucose; Hydrogel; Ketogenic; Metabolism; Multiple transportable carbohydrate; Nitrate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Dietary Supplements / standards*
  • Humans
  • Nutritive Value
  • Sports Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates