You must have seen players drinking or sipping water but not fully drinking it. They'll take a swig of liquid, but instead of swallowing, they'll spit it out. I am sure you have seen your favorite player do that every week on the field. Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kyle, Walker, Leo Messi, Tony Kross, Dele Alli; you name it. On the sidelines during the match, while taking instructions from the managers, before penalty shoot-out; they do it on many occasions. But ever wondered why? I mean, why even drink the water if you’re not going to fully swallow it?
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After repeatedly noticing this, I actually looked into it, and here’s what I found.
Yes, players are aware that they’re drinking or sipping the solution in the bottles and then spitting it out again. They are not doing it to look cool. It is not even random. Spitting out water looks cool and common among athletes. But It is on purpose. Yes, it is.
The practice is called carb rinsing. Yup, you heard it right. That’s not even water. That’s a Carbohydrate Solution that looks like water.
This practice involves swishing a carbohydrate solution in your mouth for about 5 to 10 seconds and then spitting it out. This may look gross but studies suggest that carb rinsing boosts athletic performance during high-intensity activities that last about 1-2 hours.
The basic drink is a carb-filled liquid, in this instance, sugar and salt mixed drink. It activates pleasure and sense receptors in the brain that makes it think, extra food or energy is going into our system. That little extra energy that players otherwise would have to gain by swallowing liquids which in turn can lead to bloating or cramps.
"You’re sort of tricking the brain a little bit; that’s what we think the mechanism is."
-Asker Jeukendrup, an exercise physiologist and sports nutritionist
It’s because you are going to do every trick in the book to try to maximize cognitive focus after two hours of pretty intense hard work. Studies suggest that carb rinsing may provide a small performance benefit which is around a 2 to 3 percent performance boost — said Dr. Sourav Poddar, a sports-medicine physician at UC Health in Denver. But basically what it does is, it gives a break of 2-5secods to our brain during intense physical and mental pressure.
In a study, conducted at the University of Birmingham in 2004, it was found that that carb-rinsing made cyclists about a minute faster in 40-kilometer (nearly 25-mile) cycling time trials.
Gatorade Sports Science Institute stated- “rinsing the mouth with a carbohydrate-containing solution is associated with improved high intensity endurance exercise performance.”
Gatorade makes these drinks and solutions that players use for rinsing their mouth.
Several studies have shown that rinsing increases the amount of protein secreted into the saliva, namely a mucus MUC5B. MUC5B is produced while exercising and the mucus stops the mouth from drying out. This mucus makes the saliva thicker, which makes it harder to swallow, so we spit it out
Some research has suggested that carb-rinsing is only really effective in exercise periods between 30 minutes and an hour. But the placebo of carb rinsing is proved to be more than that. But some studies in the review found that this practice had no effects on performance statistically.
Some sports, such as basketball and tennis, penalize players for spitting, but football and rugby don’t, so the players are free to expectorate.
So the next time you’re playing sports and want to impress your friends, consider spitting out your drink. (Just don’t be gross)
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Spitting drinks and Corona Virus
Due to the COVID 19 Pandemic before the return of Football from suspension, there were talks about banning spitting on the field. Penalising for spitting during the game on side-lines could potentially lead to spreading of the virus if the player has it. But FIFA believed it would be impossible to apply consistently as not every incident would be caught by an official. So, FIFA issued a guideline to not issue yellow cards when dealing with spitting.
But players had been warned to avoid it. Officials will take no punitive measures for it but they are advised to do it in a safe manner.