Carbohydrates: The Low Down on Loading Up

Carbohydrate loading can be a confusing term and is often misinterpreted in the sporting world. It is defined as a change in your training and nutrition that allows you to maximise your muscle glycogen stores prior to an endurance event, to perform better. Many people think that if they are involved in a sports team or a sporting event they need to “Carbo load” the night before. This is only necessary for people who are planning to compete in endurance events (longer than 90 minutes).

Any individual who will be exercising continuously for over 90 minutes at a constant pace will benefit from carbohydrate loading. People involved in sports like marathon running, cycling, long distance triathlons, cross country skiing, endurance swimming and hiking, will see the value of this dieting technique.

It has been proven through many studies that increasing your muscle glycogen levels, through a high carbohydrate diet, will delay the onset of muscle fatigue by 20% and improve your exercise performance by 2-3%.

The way to carbohydrate load is to change your training and eating during the lead-up to the event. This technique was originally developed in the 1960’s and involved a depletion phase and a loading phase. The depletion phase is where you would exercise to fatigue for 1-4 days and follow a low carbohydrate diet. Then for the loading phase you would taper off your exercise or rest for 1-4 days, prior to the event, while following a diet high in carbohydrates.

The best way to increase your carbohydrate intake is to include foods that are considered high GI, like sugars, cordials, soft drinks, sports drinks, jams, honey, jellies, canned fruits and lollies. It is also important to remember to reduce your protein intake and fibre intake during this phase. Another point to remember (and not to be concerned about), is that during this carbohydrate loading phase you may increase your body weight by a few kilos, through increased food intake and water consumption. This will naturally decrease after you finish the event and return to your normal nutritional ways.

Overall, if you feel that you will benefit from carbohydrate loading before an endurance event, it is important to speak with a professional about what is involved, to prepare yourself. Ensure that you do not make these changes too close to the event, to guarantee your body will respond well to this nutritional training.

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