Carbohydrate loading is simply adding extra grams of carbs in your diet before a type of endurance competition. Athletes will gradually increase carbohydrate intake and taper their exercises some time before an event (Blake, 2019, pp. 430). However, why would an athlete take away that very important source of fuel? According to Blake, the goal is to maximize storage capacity of muscle glycogen (pp. 430).
Researching the Science
We have already proven that increasing the amount of glycogen, a polysaccharide of glucose, can improve an athlete’s performance at an optimal pace for a longer period of time (pp. 430). However, not all athlete’s are equal. Meaning, athletes that are competing in an endurance event or exercise for a time equal to or greater than 90 minutes will benefit. For instance, endurance events are those like triathlons, skiing, or cross country. Also, research has shown that women are less likely to improve their performance since they oxidize more fat than carbohydrates and protein (pp. 430). Finally, researchers explain how muscles store more water than glycogen (pp. 430). In this case, excess water may decrease flexibility or improve weight gain as undesirable results for the athlete.
Carbohydrate Loading Regime
Historically, this carbohydrate loading called for athletes to train hard for 3 to 4 days while eating a low-carbohydrate diet. Their total carbohydrates for the day was less than 5 to 10 percent of the total calories consumed. Initially, this period of hard training and eating less carbohydrates was called the depletion stage. Shortly after the depletion stage, athletes would rest for 3 to 4 days and eat a diet high in carbohydrates. Unfortunately, many athletes believed that having a depletion stage was necessary to cause greater gains during the carbohydrate loading stage. However, this is not the case today.
Carbohydrate loading has now been modified for the athlete today. Think about it. Every person has a different weight, age, gender, health status, and certain types of bodily regulations that make them different from one another. Therefore, the carbohydrate loading regime follows closely to the original, but it slightly different. Too many times athlete’s have experience irritability, hypoglycemia, and fatigue (pp. 431). Thankfully, researchers have found a healthier way to improve the human body’s performance for an endurance event.
Modern Carbohydrate Loading
When an athlete decides to train for an endurance competition, they must consider the new way of carbohydrate loading. Through research and their certified dietician, athletes will taper off exercise 7 days out from the event. New research suggests by tapering their exercise 70%, they will not burn the glycogen fuel that needs to be stored for the upcoming event (pp. 431). Also, all the while they are tapering their exercise routine, these athletes are consuming 4 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight during the first three days. Then the last three days are left for the athlete to consume 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. Researchers suggest a meal high in carbohydrates should be around 250-300 grams with moderate protein intake and low fat intake 3 to 4 hours prior to the event (pp. 431). This will maximize glycogen storage even more!
Each athlete training for competitive events based on endurance should have certified coaches including a dietician or nutritionist. A sample meal for an athlete training to compete for this type of event might consume a total of 3,300 calories, 610 g carbohydrates, 125 g protein, 40 g fat on the day of the event. Slightly less calories and ratios are consumed just a few days before. Now that blows low-carb and low-fat diets right out the window! Always remember, no matter what type of athlete you are becoming and which event you are training for, you must consume adequate amounts of calories. This means you must consume grams in the hundreds for both carbohydrates, and for protein 0.8 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. Fats should always stay high at 50grams or more! This is for many reasons like hormone regulation and energy output for those endurance events.
Author: Jamie Moore Sam Houston State University Pre-Nursing
Blake, J. S. (2019). Nutrition & You (5th Edition) (5th ed.). Pearson.