As warm weather seeps into our blood so do the training periods, tapering sessions, races, runs, competitions and recovery days that come with sunshine and spring fever. Any good training period might also include a carbohydrate loading session 7-8 days before your competition. Carb loading is exactly like it sounds, loading your body with carbohydrates for energy to burn during the competition. Is this a necessary practice for the majority of “weekend warriors” though? If you’re maximum workout, run or race is 30 minutes to an hour; will carb loading actually increase your power?
What is Carb Loading?
Carbohydrate loading is a three step process; depletion, depravation and loading. Carbohydrates are broken down into glycogen and stored in the body to be used as energy at a later date. The muscles are the main source of glycogen storage, then the liver and finally the blood, storing glucose. Approximately 1 week before your competition, carbohydrate loading will have you exercise at a maximal level to deplete all your carbohydrate stores, eat a minimal amount of carbs over the next 2-3 days to keep levels low, then 3-4 days before the competition eat a larger portion of carbohydrate’s (compared to protein and fat) to load or increase the carbs stored in your body. The newly stored carbohydrates are used for the competition. Here’s a common Carb Loading/Exercise Schedule
Day 1 Exercise
Day 2 Varied diet with medium amount of carbohydrates, taper exercise
Day 3 Varied diet with medium amount of carbohydrates, taper exercise
Day 4 Varied diet with medium amount of carbohydrates, taper exercise
Day 5 High-carbohydrate diet, taper exercise
Day 6 High carb diet, taper exercise
Day 7 High carb diet, taper exercise
Day 8 Competition
What carbs should you eat?
Carbohydrates are found in a variety of sources. Most common sources are whole grains in the forms of breads, cereals, oatmeal, rolls, bagels, pasta and rice. Excellent sources of carbohydrates are beans; kidney, navy, black and legumes served with rice. Vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, carrots, turnips and mushrooms can also be used to carb load during this period and a good source of carbohydrates in fruits are bananas, apples, dried fruits like raisins, peaches, pineapple and cantaloupe.
Avoid highly processed carbohydrate foods with high amounts of sugar during the carb loading phase. They include cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pastries, even white bread. These are empty calories with no nutrients and will not increase your performance on race day.
Who can benefit from Carb Loading?
Athletes will benefit the most from carbohydrate loading. Because glucose and glycogen are bonded with water in the body, extra carbohydrates ingested will add weight to your body. Carb loading is not for the average weekend excursion. Not all athletes will respond to carb loading though. Carbohydrate loading is for athletes who participate in a high level of endurance exercises such as; long distance runners, soccer players, swimmers, triathletes or cross-country skiers. If an athlete is using a large amount of muscle glycogen during their event, then carb loading is appropriate. Weight lifters may also use carb loading because of the water weight gained. If they’re looking to add weight to seem bigger for the competition, carb loading may benefit them too.
A pitfall to carb loading is weight gain, which is why it’s only used and encouraged for certain events. If you’re running a 3, 5 or even 10 mile race, carb loading may not be needed. Your body will use the carbohydrates already stored for the event. Additional carbohydrates may just weight you down.
Another downside to carb loading is the lack of energy during the depletion stage. If you are on a low carbohydrate depletion day with exercise still included you may find yourself tired, cranky and unable to perform well due to the lack of energy, carbohydrates provide. Remember this will pass as the carbs are increased in the next few days and your energy returns.
Carb loading hasn’t shown health hazards in the athletes that you the process, although it should come with some warnings. Diabetics should consult their doctors before carb loading because the depletion stage may rob from too much from their blood sugar. People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels should also be careful to avoid high fat and high protein while in the depletion stage. Carb loading should be used minimally, as to prepare for an event every 3-6 months.
Loading up on carbohydrates can be an exciting time, you’re preparing for an event which you’ve trained long and hard for. Use carb loading to maximize your efforts during competition and push yourself to the next level. After the race the best tasting carbohydrates may be in the form of a tasty, ice cold beverage!
The Mayo Clinic; Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Carbohydrate Loading Diet
Tags; Carbohydrate Loading, Carbohydrates, Carbs in Vegetables, Carbs in Fruit, Endurance Exercise