How to Boost Carb-Loading Before a Cycling Race

How to Boost Carb-Loading Before a Cycling Race

Most cyclists and triathletes have heard about and experienced the consequences of insufficient carb-loading before races.

Carbohydrate loading has been used for many years to boost performance in cycling races lasting more than two hours in duration.

While there are various methods of carb-loading, the process basically involves consuming large quantities of carbohydrate-rich food in order to fill the muscle glucogen stores.

More muscle glycogen protect you from (or delay) exercise-induced hypoglycemia and help you to exercise longer at high intensity.

Please remember to practice your carb-loading plan well before your priority race.

Since carb-loading only last a few days there are no reasons to worry about that some minerals and vitamins are not represented sufficiently in your carb-rich diet.

After the race you return to your normal, balanced diet and that’s fine.

It is important to know that when you carb-load you also increases your body mass. It is estimated that every gram of glycogen stored is associated with app. 2.7g of water. So you can expect a body mass gain of app. 2kg when you are fully loaded with carbohydrates. This is important to know and may influence your decision on whether you should carb load or not.

Many experiments have been performed to find the perfect method for carb loading before races. The best known method is the carbohydrate-depletion/carbohydrate loading method. The theory behind this strategy is that exercising to exhaustion 6 days before your major race combined with a low-carb diet until three days before the race depletes muscle glycogen.

When your glycogen stores are completely depleted the theory is that your muscles are hungry after storing glycogen and are able to ‘super-compensate’ the last three days before the race. So it should be possible to store even more glycogen than through regular carb-loading procedures.

I’ve tried the depletion-load method once and I ended being well loaded for the event.

Though, it is a bit problematic to train to exhaustion just 6 days before a major race followed by low-carb dieting. That’s not optimal tapering. So the carbohydrate-depletion/carbohydrate loading method works best in theory. And the theory has not proved to achieve higher glycogen content than regular 3 day carb-loading in scientifical studies.

In practice you can reach full benefit from carb-loading just three days before your major race:

Here is my advice for optimal carb-loading:

1) Consume for 7-10g carbohydrate per kg body weight per day.
If you are highly trained you should probably aim for close to 10g/kg body weight /day the last three days before your race. If you are out late, it is still possible to achieve great results with just one day concentrated carb-loading.

2) Minimize fibre-rich food
Since many carbohydrate sources contain fibres, you may need to prefer carbohydrate sources with a low content of fibres. Large quantaties of fibres may cause flatulence, diarrhea, gastric and gut discomfort.

So it is recommended to choose a high-carb, low-fibre diet (white bread, white pasta, white rice, liquid forms of carbohydrates etc.)

3) Increase fluid intake
As mentioned above, carb-loading is associated with water so you’ll need to drink more fluids to stay well hydrated. Fluids can also be seen as a source for carb-loading if you don’t want to eat pasta all day long, e.g. soft drinks, juice, sport drinks etc.

Again, make sure to test your carb-loading procedure BEFORE you enter an important race. We are all different and you might need to make individual customization to get a perfect diet plan.

Finally there is a sweet little ninja trick that may boost your carb-loading:

When I have athletes at cycling races I always ask them to do a short, high-intensity interval the day before. This is both mentally and physically a great way to prepare their bodies for competition.

In the mirror of carb-loading this little trick also increases the glucose uptake at a minimal cost of muscle glycogen.

Thus, you might end up maximizing your glycogen storage and being physically and mentally prepared for action. Cool, right?

15 comments… add one
  • Richard Link

    An article of a university tells me that you should consume 5 – 7 g for each kilogram of weight. You should start 48 hours before the race.
    They say that your body needs 24 to 48 hours for storing the carb in the muscles.

    Both stories are rather similar but what’s best ??

  • My article is also based on scientific literature. It’s clear that there will be different conclusions if you go through several papers, websites and books. Though, I suppose most nutritionists would agree that 7 to 10g carbohydrate per kg body weight is appropriate for a highly trained endurance athlete. Less than 7g per kg body weight is probably not enough to load carbohydrates sufficiently.
    I agree that the difference between 48 to 72 hours cargo-loading is minimal (if any).

  • Westly Windsor Link

    Hi Jesper, Thanks for the article on carbo loading, something I have know about for many decades.
    What I have never had explained to me is with all this carbohydrate [sugar] being consumed what is happening with the the pancreas and insulin production that would be knocking down the rise in blood sugar and the liver making fat ?
    This carboloading seems to go against all the facts that one should keep sugar and processed grains to a minimum except when actually exercising.
    Your comments please.

  • Kelcey Link

    How short is the high intensity workout the day before competition? Can you be specific? How hard is the intensity? Above FTH? How many intervals and how long are they? Thanks.

  • Mostly I use app. 5 min at threshold power. Recently, I have also been experimenting with even shorter duration at power outputs above threshold power. It’s clear that these intervals must never be exhausting.

  • @Westly – If you are a healthy person then your pancreas will release insulin that induces a rapid increase in the glucose uptake in your muscles. Increasing the total amount of glucose (stored as glycogen) enhances your performance at endurance events lasting more than 1.5 hours.

  • ck chim Link

    Hi Jesper,
    I have always experience cramps in my hamstrings after 100km during long rides. I will certainly try carbo loading as recommended. In addition, what is your advice on nutrition during the ride itself ie energy gels and electrolytes during what time intervals. I’m also using Perpetuem ( hammer product) during the rides.

  • Kelcey Link

    So you do approx. 5 minute intervals at FTH; If your interval is 5 min., what length is the recovery between sets? 5 min. as well? Do you cap your workout at say 30 minutes excluding warm-up and cool-down? Say 5-6 intervals? I am doing a sprint race in about a week so I’m assuming I need to keep my workouts during taper week short. Thanks again!

  • Gerry Coady. Link

    Thanks Jesper for the information.

    Gerry Coady.

  • thomas Link

    5-7 is good enough between training (high volume)
    7 tot even 12 g/kg BW you need idd to maximize glycogenstores before a race or major event….
    It also differs a bit of the amount of muscle mass: more muscles = higher storage
    1 kg “wet” muscles contains about 15g glycogen
    and roughly 40% of the body are muscles: so when you weight 70kg , you have about 28 kg muscle mass => about 420 glycogeen
    just try to eat 350-550 g carbs three days before major event to maximize glycogenstores

  • Woody Link

    To make things clear, Jesper: You recommend to do a workout with a single 5 minutes effort at threshold power, the day before the start or the day before starting to load the carbs (say 4-3 days before the start)?


  • @Woody – I recommend a short 5min interval the day before the start.

  • reza Link

    nice thank you for this

  • Pedro Link

    Excellent comments Jesper…well done!
    In an earlier life I was able to run a sub 2 hr 12 min marathon and always used the carbo loading system as you have outlined. Now using the same practices for cycling…still works well.

  • thomas Link

    Actual scientific litterature:
    3 days 7-10 g/kg body weight => maximal glycogen storages
    this protocol increases glycogen storages as high as the “tradiational” , Scandinavian system 1 day depletion- 2 days high fat/protein (no carbs) – 3 days high carbs

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