The carb loading diet is often used to prep for endurance activities such as adventure races and triathlons.  You’ve undoubtedly heard people say they’re carbing up, but there’s quite a bit more to it than just buffet sized bowls of pasta and loaves of bread.

What It Is

The carbohydrate loading diet is basically where you consume an extremely large number of carbs. However it is more than a matter of simply eating a large amount of carbs right before an event. The timing and the types of foods have to be calculated as well as the changes in exercise.  The carb-loading diet should not be confused with carb cycling where one alternates short periods (1-4 days) of high, medium or low carb intake.  This is repeated for numerous cycles while the carb-loading diet is intended for events or days of intense training.

How It Works

Carbohydrates primary function in the body is to provide energy. The body can then store these carbohydrates for later use in the form of muscle or liver glycogen and adipose tissue. This being the case, the point of the diet is basically to allow you to store much needed energy before a race or big event. However, it’s important to note that a diet of too little or too much carbohydrate intake can be dangerous to your health and difficult for the body to react to.

The standard for this diet is to increase carbohydrate intake during the three days before the major event. During these three days it’s advised to either taper down training or take complete rest days. The body then can rebuild itself so that it will be fresh and strong for the event.  To further optimize the loading effect it’s also best to consume slightly lower carbohydrates before the load.  This depletes stores triggering the body to use whatever carbs it can to replenish glycogen and can even cause a super compensation effect (Storing more glycogen than is normally possible).


Putting Carb-Loading Into Action

The exact amount of carb intake varies on the individuals’ size and experience with carb loading. The general rule of thumb for a normal training regimen is to have about four to six grams of carbohydrates for every kilogram of your body weight. On the last few days of your training, however, the amount of carbohydrates taken in must be upped to about seven to nine grams. So a 180 pound male would consume between 570-730 grams of carbohydrates a day.

As I mentioned earlier timing is a crucial component.  If you do exercise you want to consume a majority of your carbs around your training session.  Aside from that consuming carbs every two to three hours and tapering off as the day goes on is optimal.  No matter how you consume your carbs you will notice a definite lack of energy.  You would think that with all the energy from carbs you should be well energized.  However with insulin levels spiking up and down all day it actually makes you rather tired.  That coupled with the time it takes to prepare and consume don’t plan to be productive and slash things off your to do list.

Equally as important as timing is source.  People react differently to different types of carbohydrates.  Different types of carbohydrates go preferentially to replenishing different glycogen stores.  For example fruit contains fructose, which will fill liver glycogen over muscle glycogen.  The best thing to do is to practice loading up before your first event.  Try different sources such as rice, pasta, potatoes, bananas, oats, breads, cereals, fruit, quinoa and the like.  See which ones make you feel bloated and which your body readily absorbs.  The last thing you want to do is worry about how your body will handle the carb load before your big event.

Carb-loading has a host benefits including prolonged performance in events.  If you decide to give carb-loading a try just be sure to follow the guidelines set out.  Practice it a couple times before your actual event to determine the best timing, sources and amounts for your body.