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Dextrose May Boost Sports Performance

Study Shows the Sweetener Was More Effective Than Another Sugar
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 13, 2006 -- Dextrose, a type of sugar, could kick athletes' sports performance up a notch, new research shows.

The sweetener was the underdog winner in a recent study of sugar supplements given to college athletes.

The researchers compared dextrose to ribose, another form of sugar. They expected ribose to win. But they were wrong.

The report by Laura Dunne, MD, of Ohio State University's Sports Medicine Center appears in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

Sugars Square Off

Dunne's eight-week study included 31 women on Ohio State's rowing team.

First, the researchers timed each woman as she rowed about 1.2 miles (2,000 meters).

Next, the women drank beverages made by the researchers before and after every practice for eight weeks. The drinks either contained supplements of dextrose or ribose. The rowers weren't told which drink they got.

Lastly, the researchers timed the rowers again at the end of the study.

Rowers in the dextrose group improved their times by an average of 15.2 seconds. That's 10 seconds faster than the improvement in the ribose group.

Surprising Results

Dunne's team didn't expect to see dextrose in the winner's circle. They quote an article from another sports medicine journal that called ribose a "rising star on the supplement scene."

Michael Mackin, MD, who worked with Dunne on the new dextrose study, commented in a news release.

"After studying previous research, we initially hypothesized that the use of ribose would result in improved rowing times," says Mackin. In fact, dextrose was just used for comparison as a placebo, adds Mackin. He is the chairman of general pediatrics for the Children's Hospital at The Cleveland Clinic.

A mix of varsity and junior rowers took part. Not all finished the study or attended every practice session.

Rowers in both groups were equally exhausted after the time trials and recovered in the same amount of time. Mild stomach discomfort was more common in the dextrose group, the study states.

Athletes' Advantage?

Mackin says the unexpected findings "could impact how people prepare for races in the future."

He adds that the results "could springboard research into the exact amount of sugar required to optimize performance and what amounts can most effectively enhance the performance of athletes competing in different types of events."

When the researchers interviewed some of the rowers after the study, they realized that several had correctly guessed which drink they'd gotten.

That shouldn't have changed the results, write Dunne and colleagues. They argue that those rowers likely viewed ribose as more helpful than dextrose, but dextrose still won at the finish line.

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