Carbohydrate loading is a technique used by athletes to increase the amount of energy that can be stored in the muscles in order to improve their athletic performance especially during long duration events. The amount of carbohydrates that an athlete should consume will depend on their personal needs, the sport, event and training regimen. However, the foods chosen to eat immediately prior to an event should be the same foods eaten during training. No new foods should be introduced just before the event.
The idea behind carbohydrate loading is that when you exercise, your body uses glycogen which is a form of carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles to provide energy. However, at some point during the physical activity this glycogen is depleted, and the athlete experiences a drop in performance. This is because fatigue sets in as the body does not have energy to carry on or push harder. However, building up your glycogen stores before an event by carbohydrate loading can prevent this, which will lead to an increase in energy levels and even improve performance. Some carbohydrate loading techniques for the different level of athlete are as follows:
For elite athletes: Before starting with the loading, extra carbohydrates from the body have to be depleted. Prior to the event a low carb diet is followed for 3 to 4 days and then carbohydrate loading is followed for next 3 to 4 days. While in loading phase, the amount of physical activity is decreased to facilitate extra glycogen storage by the body. So, the cycle should typically start 7 to 8 days prior to the event.
For moderate level athletes: Loading for this level of athlete starts 3 to 5 days prior to the event which includes the depletion stage as well as the loading stage.
Carbohydrate loading is most useful for an endurance athlete such as a marathon runner, triathlon participant, swimmer, cyclist or any other event lasting for more than 90 minutes. Other athletes generally don’t need carbohydrate loading. The goal of carbohydrate loading is to increase the carbohydrate intake relative to the intake of proteins and fats. So, carbohydrates should comprise between 65 and 75 percent of total calories.
When one plans carbohydrate loading before the event / competition, it is important that the athlete has had a trial run at least a couple of weeks before the main event / competition. This helps him / her determine exactly how much carbohydrates will be needed to feel energetic and improve the performance. Results are better with carbohydrate loading when foods that minimize gastrointestinal stress are chosen. So, it is advised to experiment with different food combinations much prior the event day so that the body has had some time to get adjusted to it.
Many endurance athletes prefer to have foods with low glycemic index for carbohydrate loading because it has minimal effect on blood glucose levels. Low glycemic foods commonly include vegetables, whole wheat pasta, and grains. Many marathoners and triathlon participants have carbohydrate rich dinners the night before the race. Stuffing oneself is never a good idea. The meal can be carb rich but overeating is not recommended. Muscles also use amino acids extensively when functioning within aerobic limits, so make sure the meals also have adequate amount of protein.
The technique of carb loading should always be done under the supervision of a sports nutritionist to get proper guidance so that it does not backfire especially if a person is a diabetic. The key rule of sports nutrition is to avoid trying anything new on race day which also applies to the carbohydrate loading phase. Café Nutrition with their rich experience in the field of sports nutrition is a leading choice for many aspiring and elite sportspersons from various sports.
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