Many of you have probably heard of carbohydrate loading and it goes something like this, you eat a lot of carbohydrates before your race and get faster. Right? That touches up a little on it, but I often find athletes asking me this.
Well, how much, when, and why?
This article discusses the best way to maximize your carbohydrate, or glycogen stores, prior to a big competition. Carbohydrate loading can increase your performance come race day. In fact, it can make you go harder, faster and for longer especially in events 90 minutes or longer.
What is it?
Carbohydrate loading refers to ingesting or consuming a larger portion of carbohydrates prior to competition.
Why do it?
Out of the three major substrates in your body (protein, fat, and carbohydrates(carbs)), carbs are the most readily available for energy production. What this means is the more of it you have available, the better off you will be come race day. You will be able to go harder and for longer especially in events longer than 90 minutes(1).
In fact, a research article called “Carbohydrate Loading and Exercise Performance” found that “high carbohydrate diets have been reported to improve performance by 2 to 3%.” (1)
Best Methods: How to go about come race week
Most research points to starting about three days out, but some research suggests that you can see gains even within 24 hours with the proper procedure. Ideally taking the three day method is best, but I’ll go into two different approaches and let you decide what do:
1) Three day out method:
Increase your carbohydrate intake to 8 g/kg starting 3 days prior to your race. Meaning a 50 kg athlete would need to take in 400 grams of carbs per day. Or for the average person who doesn’t count every calorie, increase your carbohydrate intake by about 10-15% of what it currently is.
My advice is to look at your daily plate of food and put 60-70% of that in the form of carbohydrates, or 2/3rds of the plate should be carbs. Start this process 3 days out.
On top of this, make sure you are taking advantage of the “window of opportunity” immediately after workouts, especially after harder workouts. This window occurs within the first 20 minutes after exercise and is where your body absorbs 3-4 times as many carbs as any other time of the day. Meaning, it is a crucial time to get carbs stored. So take advantage of it. Google “window of opportunity” or look into one of my other articles to find the exact details on this.
2) One day method/24 hours:
Increase your carbohydrates 24 hours before your event. For events that start in the morning means starting this loading period either two nights before or the entire day before the event, and not focusing on just the dinner before the event.
During this period, increase your carbs to 70% of your plate for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also snack on carbs in between meals trying to match your typical caloric needs. On top of this make sure you take advantage of the window of opportunity after your workout the day before the event (as mentioned in the 3 day approach).
Carbohydrate loading can benefit your next event by improving both your overall speed and your time to exhaustion. Keep in mind, however, that every athlete is unique and responds to just about every mode of training and nutritional supplement differently. Some athletes might find this very effective whereas others not so much.
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Coach Drew Edsall