What is Carb-Loading?
A strategy used to increase the amount of fuel stored in the muscles to improve athletic performance. This method generally involves greatly increasing the amount of carbohydrates in the diet several days before a high intensity endurance athletic event along with a decrease in activity level.
What is the purpose of Carb-Loading?
Carbohydrate loading is most beneficial to an endurance athlete, such as a marathon runner, cyclist, or swimmer that is preparing for an event that will last 90 minutes or longer. When individuals engage in long, intense exercise, the body needs extra energy to keep going. The purpose of carbohydrate loading is to give you the energy to complete an endurance event with less fatigue, improving your athletic performance.
What is the role of a carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source. Complex carbohydrates include legumes, grains and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, peas and corn. Simple carbohydrates are found mainly in fruits and milk, as well as in foods made with sugar, such as candy and other sweets. The body converts carbohydrates into sugar, where it enters the bloodstream and is transferred to other cells in the body. The other cells use the sugar for energy. Stored sugar is called glycogen and is typically stored in the muscles and liver, which is used as an energy source at a later time.
Details of the Diet
After exercise for 90 minutes or more, the muscles start to run out of glycogen. At that point an individual starts to become fatigued and performance may decrease. Carbohydrate loading allows you to store up more energy in the muscles, which will give you more stamina and the ability to fight fatigue.
- A week before the event, adjust your carbohydrate intake, if needed, so that it’s about 50 to 55 percent of your total calories.
- Increase protein and fat intake to compensate for any decrease in carbohydrates.
- Continue training at your normal level. This helps deplete your carbohydrate stores and make room for the loading that comes next.
- Three to four days before the event, increase your carbohydrate intake to about 70 percent of your daily calories.
- Cut back on foods higher in fat to compensate for the extra carbohydrate-rich foods.
- Also scale back your training to avoid using the energy you’re trying to store up. Rest completely the day before your big event.
During and After the Event
Even if you’ve practiced carbohydrate loading, you still need to replenish your body’s energy during the event to maintain your blood sugar levels. This can be done by consuming sports drinks, gels or bars, or fruit during your event. Also, eat carbohydrate-rich foods after your endurance event to replenish your glycogen stores.
Risks of Carb-Loading
A carbohydrate loading diet can cause weight gain, digestive discomfort, and blood sugar changes. Athletes, especially diabetics should consult their physician before starting a carbohydrate loading diet.
Tips for a Carb-Loading Program
1. Know good sources of carbs-
- Starches: bread, pasta, rice, cereal, bagel, oatmeal, pancake, English muffin, tortilla, couscous, low-fat muffin, gnocchi, polenta and quinoa
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, peas, pumpkin, squash, beans and lentils
- Fruit: bananas, apples, peaches, pears, pineapple, oranges, cherries, mango, kiwi, any form of dried fruit, canned fruit
- Dairy: flavored low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt
- Snacks: pretzels, animal crackers, Fig Newtons, low-fat granola bar, low-fat crackers, baked chips, and graham crackers
- Beverages: flavored low-fat milk, juice, sports drink, Boost or Ensure, low-fat smoothie
- Sports Bars/Energy Bars: PowerBar Performance Bar, Clif Bar
- Extras: honey, fruit preserves or jam and maple syrup
2. Drink your carbs
- Drinking your carbohydrates is a great way to incorporate carbohydrates without feeling weighed down or bloated.
3. Consider limiting your fiber
- may contribute to race day gastrointestinal distress
- may produce a sense of fullness that will leave you less inclined to keep stocking glycogen stores
4. Go low fat
- Eating very low fat will allow a runner to avoid excessive calorie consumption, weight gain, and the general sense of race day sluggishness that comes with them.
5. Eat often
- Can help avoid feeling heavy and bloated
6. Test it out
- A great day to do this is before a long-run training day. This will help in understanding how to incorporate sufficient carbohydrates not only in daily training, but when carbohydrate loading. It also will help gauge if you feel like this is a sufficient amount of carbohydrates to fuel a successful race day performance.
7. Avoid drastic changes
- Stick with foods that you are familiar with. This isn’t the time to experiment or make any drastic changes to the diet.