How to Understand the Impact of Carbohydrate Loading

Two Methods:Impact of Carbohydrate LoadingProcess of Carbohydrate Loading

Carbohydrate loading is a training method that involves eating extra carbohydrates in order to saturate the muscles with glycogen, therefore increasing energy. For endurance athletes, carbohydrate loading can be an effective way to have enough energy to finish endurance events. It is important to understand that carbohydrate loading involves more than just eating extra carbohydrates before an event. In order to use this technique, one must understand the process of carbohydrate loading and the impact it has on the body and on athletic performance. By understanding the process and using it properly, an athlete can use carbohydrate loading to their advantage.

Method 1
Impact of Carbohydrate Loading

Energy is stored in the muscles in the form of glycogen. Carbohydrates are converted to glycogen during digestion for use by the body as fuel. The muscles typically store only enough to support recreational activities and exercise, which is why eating throughout the day is important to maintain energy. However, during endurance events, such as triathlons or marathons, the body will exhaust the energy supply stored before the athlete has a chance to restore the fuel to their muscles. This is where carbohydrate loading can have an impact. Having the extra glycogen allows the athlete to compete the endurance event without using all the energy stored before the finish.

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    Know when to carbohydrate load. For carbohydrate loading to have an impact, you must be doing an endurance activity lasting longer then 90 minutes. The muscles typically store enough energy for 60 to 90 minutes of activity. With carbohydrate loading you should have enough energy to last more than 90 minutes without fatigue.
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    Understand how carbohydrate loading impacts performance. Carbohydrate loading saturates the muscles with glycogen, which helps keep you from being fatigued. Not becoming fatigued during an event is important to finish. After loading, your performance may increase because you find you don’t need to slow down as much towards the end of the event and your muscles don’t feel as exhausted. Exhausted muscles can lead to camps or injuries.
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    Choose the best foods for carbohydrate loading. Since carbohydrate loading affects the body and performance, it is important to choose the best foods for it. You will want to avoid high fat foods because they will negate the impact of carbohydrate loading. Also, you will want to avoid high fiber foods because they digest slower and may negatively impact performance by causing gas or bloating. You will need complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, and simple carbohydrates, such as grape jelly or sports drinks. It is important to take in these simple sources of carbohydrates in order to eat enough to saturate the muscles.

Method 2
Process of Carbohydrate Loading

Carbohydrate loading is a process that takes approximately a week to achieve. It involves a depletion phase and a saturation phase. It is important to follow the process to achieve the best results for optimum athletic performance.

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    Decrease carbohydrates for 3 days 1 week before the event. You can continue to train during this time. You will need to make carbohydrates 50 to 55% of your total calorie intake. This will help deplete the muscles of glycogen stores. One gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories; if you are on a 2,500-calorie diet, you will need to consume between 312 g and 343 g of carbohydrates in a day.
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    After the 3 days of carbohydrate decrease, begin to taper off exercise. Your body needs to rest and not burn too much energy in order to be prepared for the event. Taking a break from exercise not only allows for maximum loading, but also keeps your muscles from being overused before the event begins. This is important to carbohydrate loading and cannot be skipped!
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    After the 3 days of carbohydrate decrease, increase carbohydrates to 70% to 75% of total calories. So, if you are on a 2,500 calorie diet you will need to consume between 437 g and 468 g of carbohydrate in a day.
    • Plan ahead. This will help ensure you get enough carbohydrates to fully saturate muscles. If you don’t consume enough, then the loading will be wasted.
    • Add snacks to daily meal plan. You will need snacks to get enough carbohydrates without becoming overly full in one meal.
    • Eat enough calories during the day. This is pivotal. If you cut back on calories because you are not training, then you will not get enough carbohydrates for the loading to have an impact. Eat the same amount of calories as you would during training. This is especially important for women carbohydrate loading. Women may actually need to slightly increase the amount of calories they consume in a day for the loading to have an impact.


  • If you are concerned with getting the right amount of calories or carbohydrates work with a trainer or dietitian to get an individualized meal plan.


  • If you have diabetes, carbohydrate loading can be dangerous. Do not attempt carbohydrate loading without speaking to a doctor.
  • Short term weight gain may occur, but this is only temporary and weight should return to normal after the event.
  • Use only for events lasting longer than 90 minutes because it is not effective for shorter events.
  • Carbohydrate loading may not be as effective for females, probably due to lack of dietary calories.
  • Not effective for sporting events, such as football where the athlete is not in constant play and practices often because the body cannot load properly or use it properly.

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Categories: Carbohydrates