For ’90s kids, the idea of swishing something in your mouth probably brings back horrible memories of being in homeroom at school and having to gargle a foul-tasting fluoride rinse. The offputting dental hygiene program was implemented to make your teeth strong and cavity-free, but it mainly just gave us an aversion to swishing anything in our mouths.
But researchers at the University of Georgia recently found that—for endurance athletes, at least—rinsing your mouth could be bring a benefit, except by swapping fluoride with sugar. According to a new study published in Human Kinetics, when runners swish around—but don’t swallow—some sugar water in their mouths while competing, it works to increase endurance, leading to faster running times.
In the study, 16 endurance athletes between 18–45 years old competed in a 7.9-mile race on an indoor track. Each swished and spit out a drink eight times—they either got a plain water, a water-based solution made with table sugar, or an artificially sweetened solution (to simulate the sweetness without the actual sugar). The results showed that the runners who got a hit of sugar—but not just sweetener—gained about a 5% improvement in performance, which was significant, said the study authors.
“It was surprising to us how drastic the improvement in times was,” said Jamie Cooper, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of foods and nutrition at UGA, in a press release. “These were endurance-trained individuals, so to see a 5% improvement in performance—almost three minutes on average—was huge.” The believe that the taste of sugar primes the brain to start to increase energy output in lieu of actually getting the fuel in the body.
The authors mention that this strategy won’t do you any good during a marathon—you need to actually consume the carbs for a run that long—but you could see some improvements if you're going out to run a 10k or cycling for 20 miles.
Compound that with the fact that consuming carbs during long, grueling endurance workouts might actually help protect your immune system from workout-induced stress, and a mid-workout hit of sugar is starting to look, well, tasty.
Is a long run or ride in your weekend plans? Fuel up with some of our favorite energy chews and gels for endurance exercise.