Carbohydrate Loading: Facts vs. Fiction

Carbohydrates provide fuel to our cells which in turn, provide us with energy. Carbohydrates are the first choice of fuel that our body prefers when working out. Is carb loading truly necessary for body optimum performance?

Carbohydrates are quick fuel. It is easily absorbed into the bloodstream and can spike blood sugar giving you that extra boost of energy when you need it the most. Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen. Many endurance athletes will utilize carb loading before a big event to ensure that the glycogen storages in the body are at full capacity. Although carbohydrates are a necessity for any endurance athlete, you don’t actually need as much as you think.

Runners are known for carb loading the night before a big race with pasta dinners. A serving of pasta would be a good choice; however, many athletes interpret carb loading as an all-you-can-eat pasta bar. This is bad! Like any other type of food, an excess of carbohydrates are turned into sugar which is then turned into fat, not fuel. That all-you-can-eat pasta pre-race dinner now will leave you sluggish, and that extra unneeded food can put you at risk for GI distress on race morning.

The body naturally stores enough glycogen to get you through your event or workout without having to gorge yourself on carbohydrates. If you do not supplement with carbohydrates to replenish those lost glycogen stores, you will “hit the wall”. For marathoners, this is usually around mile 20. Taking an energy gel or other preferred race fuel every 45 minutes to an hour will prevent you from “hitting the wall” and will keep your energy levels high and your blood sugar stabilized during your event. This can be practiced for any endurance event from ½ marathons to 100 mile endurance events.  This is also helpful for endurance workouts of any kind.

Selecting complex carbohydrates in balanced portions the night before an event or endurance workout will serve you much better than a high calorie simple carbohydrate meal. Look for brown rice, sweet potatoes, green vegetables, oatmeal, beans, and lentils when selecting a pre-race or pre-workout dinner. You’ll have better performance and will not feel as sluggish on race morning.

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