For most people, the idea of “carbo loading” seems counterproductive to getting results, but for those in the endurance world it’s a tried and true approach to training before events.
Carbo Loading is a way to increase glycogen – the storage form of carbohydrates in our bodies. Glycogen is a precious resource that our muscles and liver hold onto for energy, which can be the difference between finishing strong… or maybe not finishing at all.
After stored glycogen is depleted you can fatigue before the race is over; you will often hear this referred to as “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” This state of exhaustion is preventable, and there exists a way to boost reserves by modifying your diet and exercise in the days preceding a race. It may sound simple, but it is more complicated than simply eating a big pasta meal the night before a race.
Like stretching a rubber band back in order to shoot it forward, depressing glycogen stores allows one to hyper-fill the space, so to speak. Intense or extended training with comparatively moderate to low carbohydrate intake for a couple of days nearly depletes glycogen stores. Follow this with a few days of tapered training and increasing carbohydrate intake maximizes the recently exhausted glycogen stores. Here’s how to do it according to sports nutrition professionals like Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD and PowerBar‘s Expert Panel:
Throughout this time, maintain low-fat protein and small frequent feedings
Day 3 from competition: taper down training & increase intake of carbohydrates (choose readily digestible, higher glycemic carbs after training session)
Day 2 from competition: short, light training only & high carbohydrates *3.6-5.5 g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight per day (= 8-12 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight)
Day before: rest & high carbohydrates as yesterday *if you’ve skipped previous days plan and going for one-day load eat 4.5-5.5 g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight (10-12 g per kg of body weight)
The best results are seen when the carbo loading approach is practiced and fine-tuned during the season so there are no surprises before the big event. Note: A little weight gain is common, as water is bound with the additional glycogen in muscle tissue. This is nothing to worry about and can actually help with hydration.
Of course, even a perfect carbo-loading program won’t overcome the detriments of a poor diet and sloppy training throughout the season. But for those of you already following a great exercise and food regimen, the right carbo-loading may give you an edge-up on the competition or the ability best your previous personal record.
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