Carb Loading for Athletes

If you are familiar with the term carb loading, you know it’s a method used by a lot of endurance athletes to increase the storage of glycogen (for energy use) in the body.

For many martial artists, this does not necessarily apply if you are cutting weight for tournaments.  You can still cut carbs the days before (which you have to anyway) and then maximize your intake after weigh ins but you will by far not have the same exact effect as for example a cyclist doing carb loading because you do not have enough time to load carbs after weigh ins, which are often the day before the event.

An average person in normal circumstances has enough glycogen stored in the body to last you for 90 minutes when doing a physical activity, such as running, cycling, etc.

When you carb load, you can increase the amount of glycogen stored from 25-100% (for adult men shown in some studies, results for women are less steady), which means it your body’s reserves will last you longer than 90 minutes so any loss in performance by lack of energy will be postponed or not be present at all if you fuel your body during the activity.

running in a fieldFirst and foremost, it is important to increase your carb intake the last few days before your goal event or race.  You do need to make sure this does not cause any intestinal problems that may affect your performance.  If you have never done carb loading before, try it out before during training to see how your system reacts.

The first phase of carb loading:

A week before the race, decrease your carb intake (don’t cut them out all together) and resume your training as normal.  Increase your protein and fat intake to compensate for the lowered carb intake.  This will make your body react to the lack of carbs but not deteriorate your body of performance by cutting calories.  About 50-55% of your caloric intake should come from carbs during these two to three days.

The second phase of carb loading:

Three to four days before the event or race, increase your carb intake drastically and cut back on your fat intake.  At this point, about 70% of your total calorie intake should consist of carbohydrates.  Lower your training intensity and frequency to allow your body to store more glycogen (converted from carbs) than normal.  The day before the race, rest completely or do an extremely light workout to loosen your muscles.

Even though you do carb loading, you may still feel fatigued during or after the race.  This may be muscle damage, buildup from lactic acid etc.  Energy storage and processes are only one piece of the puzzle.  However when done right, it may benefit your performance drastically.  Don’t forget to continue to fuel your body during the race to prevent fatigue.  When carb loading, a temporary weight gain is seen frequently.  When your body stores more carbs it also stores more water, therefore the weight gain.  This should however be temporary.  If you have long term weight gain, you are most likely consuming too many calories overall.

Every individual responds differently to carb loading and discuss the process with your doctor, trainer or nutritionist in more depth before attempting.



personal trainer fitness programs FitGuanaBy Sander Vanacker for FitGuana

Sander Vanacker is a personal trainer, CEO of Bring Back Nature, Inc. and founder of FitGuana.  He believes in improving health and wellness by incorporating more nature into our lives, being active and spending more time outdoors.