Carb Loading Basics || What you Should Know
What is Carb-loading?
Carb-loading is one of the best methods for endurance athletes to prepare for upcoming events. This ensures the best performance and efficiency of the athlete. Carb-loading is the process of consuming more carbohydrates than usual during the week before an endurance event. This increases the amount of readily available energy for performance.
Carb loading is only recommended for those participating in events longer than 90 minutes as there is no real use in storing high levels of carbs for activities that do not require it.
Although the process of carb loading is to completely fill your muscles with glycogen, it will not enhance your performance by making you run/swim/ride faster, but it will enable you to perform at YOUR best for a longer period of time, allowing you to complete your event before hitting the “wall” or at least prolong it.
How Does It Work?
Carbohydrates are the easiest macronutrient for our body to convert into glucose (energy). When we eat carbohydrates from foods such as fruit, vegetables, rice, pasta and bread, they are firstly digested then converted into glucose.
When you exercise, your muscles use glycogen (stored glucose) as energy, but your body is only capable of storing enough glycogen for 90 minutes of exercise. After surpassing the 90 minutes, your carbohydrate levels are no longer available, meaning your body has started to run low on glycogen. Your body will start to use fats and proteins which are not as efficient as carbohydrates in converting to energy, and now you will have to work harder to produce glucose. During this process athletes are at risk of hitting the dreaded “wall”, meaning their performance will begin depleting. Therefore, many endurance athletes turn to carb-loading so they can prepare and have more energy ready for use before their event.
How Do You Carb-Load?
Carb loading will need to take place over 2-3 days before the event you’re preparing for. The exact quantity of carbohydrates to be consumed varies from person to person based on gender, weight, age etc. Generally, females require 5-8 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight, to be consumed each day of the carb loading process. Whilst males will require a bit more, at 8-10 grams per kilogram of body weight.
It is key to keep an eye on your fibre intake on the days that you carb-load, when preparing for your event. Some foods receive their carbohydrates from fibre e.g. cereal. It’s important not to eat too much fibre as you may end up with an upset stomach, bloating and a struggle to consume enough carbs as fibre dense meals often take longer to digest and tend to have you feeling heavy.
To ensure you reach your daily carbohydrate numbers, make sure to eat smaller more frequent meals, as it is easier to consume more carbs this way. If you were to eat larger meals, it will leave you feeling uncomfortable, lethargic and extremely bloated. It is also good to keep your daily calorie intake as close as possible to usual and just increase the portion of carbohydrates in comparison to proteins and fats.
It is important not to take carb-loading as an opportunity to over-eat or to eat whatever your heart contents, as you need to ensure that you are still consuming healthy and balanced meals. So, stay far and clear from your favorite high sugar and fatty foods. You may also spike your blood sugar levels if you consume sugary carbs, which will unfortunately lead to a crash. Make sure to consume slow-release energy carbs (Low GI) such as beans and sweet potatoes.
You may also find it helpful to add protein to your meals to provide you with another energy boost. Protein will help you by lowering the GI of your meals, through slowing down the digestion of carbohydrates ingested, in turn encouraging the slow release of energy.
Carb-loading can lead to 1-2kg of short-term weight gain. The weight gain is nothing to worry about as it is only from your body storing the extra glycogen and water in your muscles. You will see the weight away after your endurance event.