Potatoes and sport

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Most athletes need to focus on getting enough carbohydrates into their diet. Potatoes are a great source of carbohydrate and are a great way to do this. Read what Jeni Pearce, Performance Nutrition Lead at High Performance Sport New Zealand says about potatoes for performance.

Potatoes and carbohydrates

To help get the correct balance of carbohydrates and protein that enhances sports performance, enjoy potatoes as the carbohydrate foundation of a meal with protein as the accompaniment. Carbohydrates by themselves are not fattening, however, eating excess calories can be. For example, overeating chips or butter-filled baked potatoes can be fattening, but so can overeating any food, or drinking too many sport drinks and protein shakes.

Two servings of potato (1 serving is 150g) can fuel your muscles with ~1000 carbohydrate-rich kilojoules – an energy bar also contains ~1000 kj but it will not have the nutrients that potatoes contain. The carbohydrates in many sports supplements – glucose, fructose, glucose syrup and other sweeteners – offer no nutritional value.

Baked, mashed, or boiled potatoes actually provide more energy-delivering complex carbohydrates than pasta. Eating foods low on the glycemic index, which means the sugars are processed more slowly therefore delivering a steadier stream of energy, improves endurance, according to a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. For more information see our post about energy and glycaemic index here.

Nutrient rich potatoes

Potatoes are nutrient rich, and are a natural source of potassium and vitamin C. A baked (or microwaved) pre- or post-exercise potato offers nutritional advantages over an energy bar. When eaten plain, potatoes contain no fat, cholesterol or sodium, and they even come in an edible, fibre-rich wrapper.

Potatoes, of course, don’t come with a handy ‘Nutrition Facts label’, which makes it easy to forget their impressive benefits. One cooked 150g potato contains 25g of carbohydrates, 0.3g of fat, 3.2g of protein, and 2.8 of fibre. It also provides 602 mg potassium which is critical for fluid balance and muscle function – much more than the amount in one large banana (100g banana contains ~350g potassium).

Post-run, potatoes replenish carbohydrates quickly, and topped with protein such as Greek yogurt or cottage cheese, they help repair muscle fibres. Potatoes are a perfect runners’ food but steer clear of the fries.

Potatoes contain vitamins and minerals and they are easy to prepare, eat and digest. “People often assume that because potatoes are white, they’re a nutritionally empty food,” says Tara Gidus, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “But the opposite is true. A large baked potato is just as effective as pasta at getting runners ready for a hard or long workout,” says Gidus. “Runners can’t go wrong with potatoes.”

For more information visit www.runnersworld.com and www.usatriathlon.org