Are You Carb Loading Correctly?

carb loading pastaWhy is Carb Loading Important?

Carb loading is a commonly practiced eating habit in the sports community. The idea is to consume a high amount of carbohydrates in order to increase glycogen stores. This is a practical and, in most cases, necessary way to prepare the body for optimal performance during competition. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, making crucial for athletes to insure that they have a sufficient amount stored in their liver and muscles for prolonged exertion.

Carb Loading Methods

In order to effectively carb load, you must know how much to eat as well as when to eat . Many athletes make the mistake of waiting until the night before a game or competition and eat a large meal that is high in carbs. Doing so will not give your body the sufficient time it needs to maximize carbs stored.  Rather this needs to be done over the days or week leading up to game day. There are several different methods of effective carb loading. Here is a basic break down of two simple approaches.

6-day program:
During the first 3 days you have a low carb diet (15% of calories) and normal exercise. During the last 3 days you have a high carb diet (70% of calories) and very light exercise.

3-day program:
On the first day, perform high-intensity exercise to the point of exhaustion. On the second and third day, exercise should be very limited.  During each of the three days you will have a high carb diet (70% of calories).

As seen in these methods, in addition to increasing the amount of carbs taken in, it is also important to reduce the amount of carbs put out. In each program carbs are intended to be heavily depleted going into the final three days before competition. The idea of carb depletion is that when carbs are consumed again, the body will produce more glycogen than it otherwise would. Combining this increase in glycogen with limiting exercise create the framework for successful carb loading.

How many Carbs should you be consuming?List of Carb Sources

The amount of carbohydrates you should consume varies per athlete. A simple calculation for carbohydrate intake is approximately 15 grams per kilogram of body weight (15 grams per 2.2 pounds). While carb loading is an effective approach to preparing your body to perform at its best, it is just as important to recover properly in order to be ready for the next competition. Here you will find discussion in our forums over the best ways to maximize muscle recovery.

Additional Resources

Below are links to additional information on carb loading. Carb Loading for Success touches on some of the same concepts talked about above. Effect of Carbohydrate Loading goes further into depth on the subject, referencing several reputable studies on the effects of carbohydrates.

Carb Loading for Success – What you need to know by Alison Patterson

Effect of Carbohydrate Loading on High Performance Athletes by Ali Mueller

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