T1D, Sport, and the Oral Receptors

Have you ever noticed the effect of glucose the moment it hits your mouth mid run, mid bike ride, swim, soccer match, whatever sport you’re active in?

I didn’t.

Not until recently, that is.

Like most active individuals with type-1 diabetes (active individuals, period, actually), the reason I eat carbs mid run or bike ride is to prevent or treat low blood sugars, replenish my muscle glycogen stores, and boost energy.

I’ve for sure noticed when certain carbs go wrong in my belly; hello gel-induced cramping!

But the second I pop those Swedish Fish, shot blocks, energy drink in my mouth?

Nope, haven’t ever noticed or paid attention to whether there’s an effect or not.

But then, the other day I was out for a 70-minute run and at about 40 minutes, I noticed my blood sugars plummeting. I stuffed three Swedish Berries into my mouth and kept going.

I kid you not, within seconds, I had a sudden spring in my step, my feet were no longer slogging, they were kicking up with exuberant force, I was grooving to the music in my ears, and smiling as I sped past all the cute little houses on the route.

I didn’t even mind the rain slapping my face like I had 10 minutes prior.

The power of Swedish Berries – who knew!

That boost of energy wasn’t long lived, mind you. It only lasted about 20 or so minutes before my legs started feeling heavy again. But, it was clearly there for those 20 minutes.

But wait a second, how can that be?

Science clearly says it takes 15-30 minutes for simple sugars to be absorbed into the bloodstream – how on earth could I possibly get a jolt of energy instantaneously?

Placebo? Science? Both?

I’m going with all three!

Did you know your mouth has oral receptors that trigger a brain response with carbohydrates that can improve performance outcomes?

They totally do!

You don’t even have to swallow the carbohydrates for the receptors to activate the pleasure and reward centres of your brain, which then rewards you by decreasing fatigue and increasing endurance capacity.

Science is so freaking cool!

I learned about these oral receptors last year in my sport nutrition course, and was reminded of them again throughout my most recent dietetics practicum placement with Canadian Sport Institute.

In sport, the majority of athletes who use this central mechanism are team sport athletes (soccer, rugby, hockey, etc., etc.) and they do it by way of a mouth rinse: spray some Gatorade into their mouth, swish it around for 10-15 seconds, spit it out again, and repeat every 5-10 minutes. It’s meant to be an energy boost to supplement their other sport-nutrient strategies.

But it doesn’t just have to be team sports. For me, a runner, the effect was clear.

I do acknowledge the effect could have partially been placebo; I’d been highly sensitized by my recent learnings and maybe that was the impact.

I did another trial run to be sure.

It was a short run, just 5 km from my son’s school to home.

I was feeling a bit crummy and lethargic that morning, but my blood sugars were playing nice at the start of the run hovering around 5.5 mmol/L.

I downed 2 Swedish Fish (10 grams carbs) no bolus and started the run.

It was the fastest paced 5 km I’d completed in a long time.

Placebo, maybe.

Oral receptors, possibly.

Impact, hells yeah.

Full on positive impact.

And I’ll take that no matter what the reasoning!

Crazy eyes and all 😀

Related Research:
Rollo, I. , Cole, M. , Miller, R. & Williams, C. (2010). Influence of Mouth Rinsing a Carbohydrate Solution on 1-h Running Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise42(4), 798-804. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181bac6e4.

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