Performance of physical exercise increases the demand for energy. Compensation for energy expenditure comes from ingestion of carbohydrates, fat and protein. Regarding carbohydrate, energy release is three times as fast as from fat but is limited to stores in the muscle and liver. Adequate carbohydrate ingestion before, during and after exercise replenishes carbohydrate stores and prevents increased use of protein for energy production (Waganmakers et al., 1991). The choice of specific low-, medium- or high-GI carbohydrates may be dependent on the functional outcome to be gained i.e. pre-exercise preparatory carbohydrate ingestion to provide energy during exercise or post-exercise replenishment of muscle and liver carbohydrate stores.
It is evident from the literature that an increase in fat oxidation (and reduced carbohydrate oxidation) occurs during exercise after consumption of a pre-exercise low-GI carbohydrate compared to an isocaloric high GI carbohydrate (Stevenson et al., 2005 and 2006; Wee et al., 2005; Wu et al., 2003 and 2006). Therefore, the role of consumption of a low GI carbohydrate source in maintaining blood glucose carbohydrates for longer might preserve exercising glucose concentrations and extend prolonged endurance performance. Interestingly, a high GI CHO 3 h before exercise was more effective in increasing muscle glycogen concentrations compared to a low GI carbohydrate (Wee et al., 2005). More muscle glycogen stores were also used during exercise in the high GI trial whereas the low GI meal demonstrated an increased fat oxidation rate, potentially demonstrating how low GI pre-exercise meals preserve muscle glycogen concentrations and allow for more sustained carbohydrate availability over the endurance exercise.
Wu et al., (2008) have demonstrated that consumption of a low GI meal 2 h before exercise results in better endurance running performance compared to high GI meals. Additionally, Wong et al., 2008 demonstrated all subjects ran faster over 16 km following consumption of a low GI meal 2 h before exercise compared with a high GI meal. Muscle glycogen sparing was thought to be the working mechanism evidenced by a higher fat oxidation rate.
Several studies have reported that the GI can play a significant role in exercise recovery (Erith et al., 2006; Stevenson et al., 2005a; 2005b; Siu et al., 2004). Carbohydrate ingestion has repeatedly been shown to increase post-exercise glycogen replenishment (Ivy et al., 1988; Tsintzas et al., 2003). The amount and timing have of post-exercise carbohydrate have been widely examined and standard guidelines produced (Hawley et al., 1997; Burke et al., 2001). The recommended type of carbohydrate is still a matter of debate. In relation to resistance exercise, standard nutritional guidelines recommend ingesting a combination of carbohydrate and protein to maximise recovery (Manninen et al., 2006). The timing of post-exercise recovery is important as studies have shown positive carbohydrate replenishment of high GI in the immediate post-exercise period whereas low or high GI can be consumed if recovery extends beyond 24 h if sufficient amounts of carbohydrate are consumed (Kiens et al., 1990; Burke et al., 1993; Pitsiladis et al., 1999; Lambert et al., 1997).