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 involves consuming large quantities of carbohydrate-rich food to fill the muscle glycogen stores.
More muscle glycogen protects you from (or delays) exercise-induced hypoglycemia and helps you exercise longer at high intensity.
Please remember to practice your carb-loading plan well before your priority race.
Since carb-loading only lasts a few days, there are no reasons to worry that some minerals and vitamins are not represented sufficiently in your carb-rich diet.
After the race, you return to your routine, balanced diet, and that’s fine.
It is essential to know that you also increase your body mass when carb-loading. Remember that every gram of glycogen stored is associated with app. 2.7g of water. So you can expect a body mass gain from 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 six days before your primary 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 can ‘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 up being well-loaded for the event.
Though, it is a bit problematic to train to exhaustion just six days before a priority race followed by low-carb dieting. That’s not optimal tapering. So the carbohydrate-depletion/carbohydrate loading method works best in theory. And the approach has not proved to achieve higher glycogen content than regular three-day carb-loading in scientific studies.
In practice, you can reach full benefit from carb-loading just three days before your priority race:
Here is my advice for optimal carb-loading:
1) Consume 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. You can achieve great results with just one day of concentrated carb-loading if you are out late.
2) Minimize fibre-rich food
Since many carbohydrate sources contain fibers, you may need to prefer carbohydrate sources with a low content of fibers. However, large quantities of fibers may cause flatulence, diarrhea, gastric and gut discomfort.
So it is recommended to choose a high-carb, low-fiber 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, sports 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.
This little trick also increases the glucose uptake at a minimal cost of muscle glycogen in the mirror of carb-loading.
Thus, you might end up maximizing your glycogen storage and being physically and mentally prepared for action.