I’ve been writing again and again about the importance of consuming carbohydrates during endurance events. Hopefully, I’ve made my point by now. But how about carbohydrates during sporting events of shorter and higher intensity? Watching my cousin play hockey this weekend inspired this blog.

During endurance events, consuming carbohydrates improves performance by providing a fuel source when body stores of carbohydrates become limited (AKA they prevent athletes from hitting the wall). However, in sporting events where body stores of carbohydrates are not a limiting factor to performance, carbohydrates can still be used as a performance enhancer. This includes sports that have multiple sprints followed by periods of recovery, like soccer or hockey.

During these higher intensity, shorter duration events, carbohydrates don’t even need to be swallowed to improve performance. Instead, carbohydrates exert their effects simply by activating brain areas associated with reward. This results in improved performance by allowing athletes to increase exercise intensity with a reduction in perceived exertion. This can be accomplished by using the carbohydrate mouth rinse technique.

A carbohydrate mouth rinse is simply swishing a carbohydrate containing fluid in the mouth for about 5-10 seconds and then spitting it out without actually swallowing it. Since the carbohydrates are not being swallowed, the benefits from this swishing are not from carbohydrate absorption and the consequent utilization as a fuel source by the body. Rather, the benefits come from activating motivation and reward centres in the brain. This brain activity seems to reduce perception of given intensity, which allows athletes to produce more power output with the same degree of discomfort.

Interestingly, the sweetness of the carbohydrate containing fluids has no influence on benefits. The carbohydrates glucose and maltodextrin are most commonly used. Glucose is a very sweet tasting carbohydrate. On the other hand, maltodextrin is tasteless. However, research shows that they both improve performance similarly. This suggests that the carbohydrates probably exert their positive effect via oral receptors in the mouth.

If you want to use this technique to enhance your performance, Gatorade or Powerade will both do the trick. However, from a rehydration standpoint, most athletes would benefit from swallowing the fluid after rinsing it around in their mouth. Athletes who may want to spit it out after the rinse include those who get gastrointestinal problems from consuming carbohydrate containing beverages during exercise. The carbohydrate mouth rinse may also be a good technique for athletes during endurance events who are experiencing gastrointestinal problems.

With hockey season in full swing, try using the carbohydrate mouth rinse to bring your performance to the next level!