Carbohydrate loading: a practical approach

carbohydrates loading

It’s been known the benefits of the carbohydrate loading protocol. I’m going to show you how you can get the maximal benefit from this protocol through a practical approach based on the latest science reviews.

What is a Carbohydrate loading?

It is a strategy used by endurance athletes, such as runners, triathletes or cyclists, to maximize the storage of glycogen (or energy) in the muscles and liver.

Carbohydrate loading is generally recommended for endurance events lasting longer than 60 – 90 minutes.

An exhausting exercise is first performed to deplete the glycogen stores, and a high-fat, high-protein diet is followed for three days to keep the glycogen stores low. After depletion of the muscles, a high-carbohydrate diet is followed for one to three days to restore and supersaturate the muscles with glycogen (5).

What are the benefits of a carbohydrate loading?

The main benefit is a increase in performance. One study (1) shows this during a 25 km trial. They divided  the athletes in 4 groups:

  1. Trained athletes with carbohydrate loading.
  2. Trained athletes without carbohydrate loading.
  3. Untrained athletes with carbohydrate loading.
  4. Untrained athletes without carbohydrate loading.

The results showed that the athletes with lower level of aerobic capacity had better performance time after carbohydrate loading. They ran faster and had a higher glucose and lactate concentrations in the last 5 km.

How to approach a carbo-loading?

Dietary carbohydrates (CHO) should exceed 8 g x kg body mass x day or 10 g x kg lean body mass x day (4).

For instance, for a 70 kg person with a 10% of of of body fat, it would be 63 kg of lean body mass: . I use to do the 1 day protocol, so the total carbs intake would be 10 g x 63 kg x 1 d = 630 g of CHO.

As long as the amount ingested is adequate for loading, the type of CHO is less important, with the exception of 1-d loading protocols where the glycemic index may be an important consideration (3, 4). Raw honey is my favorite for these days along with oats, which I have around 400 gr. The rest is for pasta with tomato or whole bread toasts with marmalade.

Considerations

Water intake is very important when we perform a carbohydrate loading. Each 4 g of water bind each 1 g of glycogen. And each kilogram of muscle tissue contains between 10 and 15 gr of glycogen (7). It means that, for a 70 kg person with a 45% of muscle tissue (31,5 kg), it would need: 15 x 31,5 x 4 = 1890 ml or 1,9 liters of water.

I hope you find this article useful and you can enhance your times in the following races!

Sources

  1. The effect of a carbohydrate loading on running performance during a 25-km treadmill time trial by level of aerobic capacity in athletes.Sullo A, Monda M, Brizzi G, Meninno V, Papa A, Lombardi P, Fabbri B.
  2. Segmental extracellular and intracellular water distribution and muscle glycogen after 72-h carbohydrate loading using spectroscopic techniques.Shiose K, Yamada Y, Motonaga K, Sagayama H, Higaki Y, Tanaka H, Takahashi H.
  3. Carbohydrate loading in human muscle: an improved 1 day protocol.Bussau VA, Fairchild TJ, Rao A, Steele P, Fournier PA.
  4. The latest on carbohydrate loading: a practical approach.Sedlock DA.
  5. Carbohydrate loading–a review.Forgac MT.
  6. Carbohydrate Nutrition and Team Sport Performance
    Clyde Williamscorresponding author and Ian Rollo
  7. Glycogen storage capacity and de novo lipogenesis during massive carbohydrate overfeeding in man.Acheson KJ1, Schutz Y, Bessard T, Anantharaman K, Flatt JP, Jéquier E

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