What the science says: Effects of carb ingestion on skill maintenance in squash players

1st August 2017

In this new semi-regular feature, we’ll be investigating some of the scientific studies that have been done into squash to see ‘what the science says’.

Searching through the academic journal databases for research studies performed into major mainstream sports such as football, rugby, and tennis, yields thousands upon thousands of results.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, squash’s much lower profile means there haven’t been anywhere near as many scientific trials centred upon the sport over the years. There is however a relatively small but solid amount of squash based studies available out there with a bit of searching, and I’ll be picking one out from time to time to examine in these blog posts to reveal the experimenters’ findings.

Today, we’ll be looking at Bottoms, Hunter, and Galloway’s 2006 research into the ‘Effects of carbohydrate ingestion on skill maintenance in squash players’.

The aim of the researchers in this study was to ‘explore the effect of CHO (carbohydrate) ingestion on squash skill following short-duration exercise simulating the demands of squash play’. A lot of players use carbohydrate-based sports drinks during play, and research has generally shown positive effects in prolonging energy levels during longer duration physical activity (~1hr+). Some research has also demonstrated carbohydrate ingestion may improve reaction times following fatiguing exercise, and this study thus set out to further examine this and to discover whether carbohydrate ingestion might also aid shot quality/skill maintenance within a squash-specific environment.

16 high-level players (Scottish National or 1st Division League standard) aged between 18 and 38 were selected for the study. The test protocol involved them being scored on their shot accuracy during a boast and drive routine, before being taken through a court shuttle + ghosting routine to simulate the demands of a game, and then repeating the boast and drive assessment. Subjects were given either a carbohydrate-based beverage or a plain placebo drink (looking and tasting the same, but without the carbohydrate content) to consume at set points during the test protocol. Results were then compared between scores achieved with the ingestion of the carbohydrate drink, and with the ingestion of the placebo drink.

The researchers concluded that the results of the study ‘lend some support to a positive effect of carbohydrate on the maintenance of skill following short-term fatiguing exercise’. The effect size was acknowledged to be small, but the researchers did note better maintenance of results in the boast and drive skill test score for the carbohydrate ingestion trials – they theorised that CHO ingestion and possibly the associated elevation in blood glucose concentration may be acting to improve cognitive function and that this may be responsible for the small changes in skill that were observed’.

As with most scientific studies, issues like small sample sizes (amount of people in the study), methodological flaws (issues with the design and implementation of the testing), and significance of results (whether the results may have been just due to chance) always need to be considered before drawing any concrete conclusions. The outcome of this study however, does suggest that drinking a carbohydrate-based drink during your games may perhaps have a small but beneficial effect on the accuracy of your shots toward the end of a game.

So if you find yourself tired and hacking shots all over the middle of the court at the end of your matches, knocking back a carbohydrate/sports drink may indeed offer some small advantage… We can probably assume with some certainty that it won’t really help you if your shots tend to spray all over the court at the BEGINNING of the match unfortunately though!


Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Conditioning Director

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