The effect of pre-exercise meal composition on metabolism and performance in cycling were investigated in a crossover study. Twelve competitive cyclists ingested high-fat, high-carbohydrate, or high-protein meals 90 min before a weekly exercise test. The test consisted of a 1-hour pre-load at 55% peak power, five 10-min incremental loads from 55 to 82% peak power (to measure the peak fat-oxidation rate), and a 50-km time trial that included three 1-km and 4-km sprints. A carbohydrate supplement was ingested throughout the exercise. Relative to the high-protein and high-fat meals, the high-carbohydrate meal halved the peak fat-oxidation rate and reduced the fat oxidation across all workloads by a factor of 0.20 to 0.58 (p = .002–.0001). Reduced fat availability may have accounted for this reduction, as indicated by lower plasma fatty acid, lower glycerol, and higher pre-exercise insulin concentrations relative to the other meals (p = .04–.0001). In contrast, fat oxidation following the high-protein meal was similar to that following the high-fat meal. This similarity was linked to evidence suggesting greater lipolysis and plasma fat availability following high-protein relative to high-carbohydrate meals. Despite these substantial effects on metabolism, meal composition had no clear effect on sprint or 50-km performance.
D.S. Rowlands is with the Department of Exercise Science in the Institute of Food, Nutrition, and Human Health at Massey University, Private Bag 756, Wellington, New Zealand. W.G. Hopkins is with Community Health and Sport Studies at the Auckland University of Technology, Private Bag 92006, Auckland, New Zealand.