An Introduction to Carbohydrate Loading...
Glycogen, it's the fuel source critical to athletic performance can only be stored by the body in limited amounts. It is, therefore, no surprise that a key focus of competition nutrition is the priming of muscle glycogen stores. Famous in the world of endurance sports, carbohydrate loading is a sports nutrition technique that aims maximise muscle stores of glycogen to improve performance
Today, we examine how our endurance athletes can use carbohydrate loading to boost their performance
Who uses Carbohydrate Loading?
The body is capable of storing enough glycogen to sustain exercise up to 90 minutes in duration. Beyond this, athletes must dip in to less efficient, alternate fuel stores to sustain activity leading to slumping in energy levels and decreased performance.
Although most notably used by marathon runners, long-distance cyclists and triathletes, carbohydrate loading is an effective performance-enhancing strategy for moderate-high intensity continuous or intermittent events lasting 90 minutes or longer.
How do I go about Carbohydrate Loading?
Original protocols developed in the 1960's had athletes enduring a 3-4 day carbohydrate depletion phase followed by a 3-4 day loading phase. Considering Australian marathon legend Steve Moneghetti described feeling like "death warmed up" during the depletion phase, endurance athletes can breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing that research has since moved on.
With studies revealing the depletion phase to be unnecessary, the modern-day carbohydrate loading protocol has become much more manageable, involving a 2-3 day exercise taper in combination with a carbohydrate enhanced diet in the days prior to competition.
What does a carbohydrate enhanced diet look like?
If we're putting numbers to it, a high carbohydrate diet involves 7-10g carbohydrate per kilogram body weight for our boys, and slightly less at 5-8g per kilogram for our girls. However, the best way for athletes to achieve this is to focus on including two to three serves of carbohydrate-rich foods at meals, alongside carbohydrate-based snacks.
While consuming some carbohydrate prior to exercise is an integral strategy to enhancing performance for all athletes, for our endurance athletes, the use of carbohydrate loading in conjunction with tapered exercise in the days leading up to competition could provide them with an additional competitive edge