Carbohydrate Loading

The goal of carbohydrate loading is to superload muscles with glycogen to delay fatigue and enable you to maintain high intensity exercise for longer.

When competing for over 90 minutes normal glycogen stores will not be enough to maintain exercise. Carbohydrate loading is a method of increasing stored glycogen by 200-300%, thereby allowing the marathon runner to delay fatigue and maintain high intensity exercise for longer.

Carbohydrate loading is of no benefit for sports of short duration, and is undesirable in sports with strict weight criteria. However, it is a must for marathon runners.

How do you carbohydrate load?

    • Think of carbohydrate loading as an exaggeration of your normal high-carbohydrate training diet.
    • In the final three to four days before your marathon, taper exercise while increasing carbohydrate intake to 9-10 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight.
    • The idea is to increase carbohydrate intake without actually increasing total energy intake.
    • The easiest way to increase you carbohydrate intake is by replacing most of the fat in your diet with carbohydrate.
    • You can also use carbohydrate supplements to increase your carbohydrate intake.
    • If you are competing regularly you will find you carbohydrate load to varying degrees depending on how important the competition is.


Steps to follow when carbohydrate loading

    • Follow a high carbohydrate training nutritional plan.
    • Follow your usual exercise tapering in the three to four days before your event. Use this time to fine-tune skills training and focus on your mental preparation.
    • In the last three to four days before your marathon, replace the majority of the fat in your daily eating plan with carbohydrate. This will allow you to eat more carbohydrate while still consuming the same amount of energy.
    • Another option is to use carbohydrate supplements to increase your carbohydrate intake, for example, sports drinks and liquid meal replacements.
    • Drink plenty of fluids; your body needs water to store with the extra carbohydrate.
    • Expect to gain some weight due to the extra water stores.
    • In your training diet use nutrient-rich carbohydrates like rice, pasta, bread, cereals, fruits and vegetables (eg: potato, kumara).
    • When you are carbohydrate loading you can also use carbohydrates that are not as nutrient dense and therefore not as bulky, to help you reach you carbohydrate target. For example, sports drinks, fruit juice, sweetened soft drinks, canned fruit with added sugar, sugars, jam and honey.
    • Make the most of the carbohydrate in your meal. For example, instead of having lasagna, which has only a small amount of pasta, cook a large serve of pasta with a tomato based sauce.
    • Many junk foods are not good carbohydrate loading foods as they usually contain more hidden fat than carbohydrate, for example, potato chips, cakes and biscuits.
    • Plan your pre-competition meal and fluids. The goal of your pre-competition meal is to top up liver and muscle glycogen stores and blood glucose, ensure optimal hydration, prevent stomach upsets and prevent hunger.
    • Try carbohydrate loading in training.