Runners and cyclists have touted the benefits of carbo-loading for years. But since the rise in popularity of fad diets such as Banting and Keto, greater numbers of people are dropping the food group completely, which is not recommended by dieticians. We examine the concept of carbohydrate loading, how the body uses carbs and how they can support athletic performance in long-distance runs and rides.
When carbohydrates are digested by the body, they are converted and stored as an energy source called glycogen. This glycogen is mainly located in the liver and muscles. During exercise or high-energy physical activity, the body accesses the easiest available source of energy; the food in one’s stomach, followed by glycogen and then body fat. Carbo loading is thus a nutritional strategy to increase the glycogen levels above their normal amount, so that your body has access to this fuel whenever it needs to perform.
Several carb-loading diets exist, with three and six-day programmes favoured by many. But the most simple and basic is to avoid exercise for one day and eat a high-carb diet of approximately 10g per kilogram of body weight. This diet may be appropriate for exercises that burn glycogen in the muscles fast, such as prolonged cycling, running, triathlon or stage events. This helps to reduce fatigue and as research has shown, may improve one’s performance by three percent for exercise longer than 90 minutes.
Foods To Eat When Carbo Loading
- Fruit juice
- White bread
- Fruit-based smoothies
- Sports drinks
- White rice
When carbo loading, try to include other foods with low fat and low fibre contents, such as lean protein. Advice on how much protein you should eat in a day can be found here. It is not advisable to eat high-fibre foods the day before a big running even as it can cause gastrointestinal inconsistencies and problems during the run.
Foods To Avoid When Carbo Loading
- Rich, creamy sauces
- Ice cream
- Energy bars
Need a little mealspiration for healthy food ideas? Below are delicious meal ideas for effective carbo loading.
- Bagels or bread with peanut butter (or a nut butter of your choosing)
- Pasta with chicken breast and asparagus
- A big baked potato with tuna (use olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice instead of sour cream)
- Simple chicken or turkey sandwich with a little low-fat mayo, lettuce and sliced tomato
- Grilled salmon with rice
- Vegan basil pesto pasta
Don’t forget to refuel your body after any form of exercise! Try our post-workout smoothie for a yummy energy boost fast. If you have any questions related to carbo loading and what works for your body, it is always advisable to consult a medical professional. Click here to find a doctor in the Medshield Medical Scheme network.