Carbohydrate supplementation and prolonged intermittent high-intensity exercise in adolescents: Research findings, ethical issues and suggestions for the future

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Abstract / Description of output

In the last decade, research has begun to investigate the efficacy of carbohydrate supplementation for improving aspects of physical capacity and skill performance during sport-specific exercise in adolescent team games players. This research remains in its infancy, and further study would be beneficial considering the large youth population actively involved in team games. Literature on the influence of carbohydrate supplementation on skill performance is scarce, limited to shooting accuracy in adolescent basketball players and conflicting in its findings. Between-study differences in the exercise protocol, volume of fluid and carbohydrate consumed, use of prior fatiguing exercise and timing of skill tests may contribute to the different findings. Conversely, initial data supports carbohydrate supplementation in solution and gel form for improving intermittent endurance running capacity following soccer-specific shuttle running. These studies produced reliable data, but were subject to limitations including lack of quantification of the metabolic response of participants, limited generalization of data due to narrow participant age and maturation ranges, use of males and females within the same sample and non-standardized pre-exercise nutritional status between participants. There is a lack of consensus regarding the influence of frequently consuming carbohydrate-containing products on tooth enamel erosion and the development of obesity or being overweight in adolescent athletes and non-athletes. These discrepancies mean that the initiation or exacerbation of health issues due to frequent consumption of carbohydrate-containing products by adolescents cannot be conclusively refuted. Coupled with the knowledge that consuming a natural, high-carbohydrate diet ~3–8 hours before exercise can significantly alter substrate use and improve exercise performance in adults, a moral and ethical concern is raised regarding the direction of future research in order to further knowledge while safeguarding the health and well-being of young participants. It could be deemed unethical to continue study into carbohydrate supplementation while ignoring the potential health concerns and the possibility of generating similar performance enhancements using natural dietary interventions. Therefore, future work should investigate the influence of pre-exercise dietary intake on the prolonged intermittent, high-intensity exercise performance of adolescents. This would enable quantification of whether pre-exercise nutrition can modulate exercise performance and, if so, the optimum dietary composition to achieve this. Research could then combine this knowledge with ingestion of carbohydrate-containing products during exercise to facilitate ethical and healthy nutritional guidelines for enhancing the exercise performance of adolescents. This article addresses the available evidence regarding carbohydrate supplementation and prolonged intermittent, high-intensity exercise in adolescent team games players. It discusses the potential health concerns associated with the frequent use of carbohydrate-containing products by adolescents and how this affects the research ethics of the field, and considers directions for future work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-828
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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