A High Carb Diet for Endurance Athletes
The goal of carbohydrate loading is to provide an endurance athletes with increased fuel and prevent the athlete from “hitting a wall” at the late stage of the competition.
Why are Carbohydrates Important for Exercise?
Carbohydrate is the primary fuel for endurance exercise. During light exercise fat is used as an energy source but as the exercise becomes more intense the carbohydrate use is increased to greater than 50%. At maximal exercise levels carbohydrate is used almost exclusively.
After a carbohydrate is eating it is digested into glucose and carried in the blood stream to muscles tissue. The glucose then can be used to provide energy allowing the muscle to function. Depleted muscle glucose can cause fatigue and decreased endurance.
Who should Carbohydrate Load?
Carbohydrate loading is only beneficial for endurance athletes who sustain prolonged periods (greater than 90 minutes) of intense exercise. These athletes include distant runners, cross-country skiers, distant swimmers, triathletes, long-distant bicyclist and similar athletes. Stop and go athletes, such as soccer, lacrosse and tennis, who participate in tournament play may also benefit for carbohydrate loading.
What is Carbohydrate Loading?
Carbohydrate Loading is a diet technique in which an athlete takes in a high amount of carbohydrates over several days. This is done to promote a significant increase of glucose stores in the muscle. The goal is to increase performance length and energy before the athlete becoming exhausted.
Traditionally the method of carbohydrate loading recommended that an athlete start with a day of carbohydrate depletion followed by 3 day of moderate carbohydrate intake. This is followed by 3 days of tapering of exercise and an intake of a very high carbohydrate diet. Current research shows that depletion is not needed and carbohydrate loading can be done in 3 days.
It may take an athlete’s body sometime to get use to the increase in carbohydrate load. An athlete should do a practice carbohydrate loading prior to an actual event. This will help train the body to tolerate the high level of carbohydrates.
Recommended Carbohydrate Method
Research has shown that by eating a high carbohydrate diet combined with reduced activity levels and rest an athlete will be able to effectively increase glucose stores in the muscle. The following list is a suggested schedule to maximize carbohydrate loading.
- Day one: consume 10-12g /kg body weight* of carbohydrate and taper exercise.
- Day two: consume 10-12g /kg body weight of carbohydrate and further taper exercise.
- Day three: consume 10-12gs/kg body weight of carbohydrate and rest
- Day four: competition
* To determine grams (g) of carbohydrate needed, take weight in pounds and divide by 2.2 to determine kilograms (kg). Times the kg by grams of carbohydrate. For example, if an athlete’s weight is 180 pounds (81.8kg) they should consume 818-981g of carbohydrate.
For an endurance athlete carbohydrate loading should be included as part of a well balanced diet to help provide for increased energy during long distant events and decrease the rate of fatigue.
- Burke LM. “Nutrition strategies for the marathon: fuel for training and racing.” Sports Med. 2007; 37(4-5):344-7.
- Melivn H Williams. Nutrition for Health, fitness and sports.New York: McGrall Hill. 2005.
Melissa Black RD, CD