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How to Use the Carbohydrate Mouth Rinse in Cycling

By Jiri Kaloc

We know that cyclists have been relying on carbs to fuel their hard rides since the earliest reports from the Tour de France. And they have been doing it for a good reason – carbs are the key fuel source for high-intensity performance. But did you know that a simple mouth rinse with a carbohydrate drink can improve performance too? This article will explore why and how to do it right.

What are the advantages carb rinsing?

Just like with carbohydrate intake, carb rinsing has the potential to improve performance. As weird as it sounds, 10 out of 14 studies on this topic done since 2004 have shown positive effects on performance, so we can be relatively sure this is not just a theory but something that works. Mouth rinses gained popularity in cycling especially thanks to “train low” strategies. This means training fasted, training with low glycogen, training twice a day or training with low or no carbohydrate intake during a cycling session. The problem with this training is that performance might be impaired at higher intensities due to low carbohydrate availability. And that’s where carbs rinses are the ideal solution. They help keep the intensity high without actually putting any carbs in the stomach.

© Marco BERTORELLO / AFP / Profimedia

How to do a mouth rinse right

Most of the studies on this topic suggest doing a 5-10 second mouth rinse with a sugary beverage in regular intervals with spitting the drink out after, of course. When the workout intensity allows for a light breathing pattern, use a 10-second rinse before spitting out. When intensity increases and your breathing gets heavier, do the minimum 5-second rinse or wait a few minutes if there’s an easier segment ahead. The ideal would be to rinse every 5 to 10 minutes during the first 60 to 90 minutes of the session.

What kind of drinks should you use for rinsing?

Firstly, you don’t have to rinse with your expensive isotonic sports drink. The electrolytes from an expensive hydration drink would have no added effect for rinsing and you’d be wasting your money. All you need is carbohydrates, more specifically, we know that glucose, maltodextrin or sucrose are all effective and there aren’t big differences among them. So, you can use pretty much any juice or sweetened soda you have sitting around in the fridge. Just avoid drinks with artificial sweeteners because those don’t produce the same effects as real sugars. Alternatively, you can make your own drink by mixing roughly 30 g of table sugar (a little bit over 2 tablespoons) in 500 ml of water.

© Philippe LOPEZ / AFP / Profimedia

Don’t forget to brush your teeth after

This might sound like a funny comment but it’s very serious. Check out our previous article on sugar consumption and dental problems in elite athletes. Brushing and regular dental visits are very important if you want to keep your teeth healthy.

Who should use rinsing?

Mouth rinsing is probably not very useful for events such as typical mountain bike races, track cycling or cyclo-cross where athletes start very explosively and have no chance of taking their hands off the handlebars. The best scenarios are “train low” sessions where you want to use the rinse to boost your intensity without ingesting carbs. Another good use case is for cyclists who have a low tolerance for food intake during or right before workouts. They can ride fasted and use the rinse to make the ride more enjoyable without the risk of digestive problems.