What is Carb-loading? Easy Guide to Achieve Great Results
Reading time: 5 min

What is Carb-loading? Easy Guide to Achieve Great Results

Reading time: 5 min
Learn how to fill your glycogen stores before training or race.
What is Carb-loading? Easy Guide to Achieve Great Results

To be able to perform at your best during intense endurance exercise, you need to fill your glycogen stores.

To achieve this, athletes use a nutritional strategy called carb-loading.

In this blog you'll learn what carb-loading is and how to properly execute this strategy. You will also learn the strategy recommended by renowned nutritionist Dr. Tim Podlogar.

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What is carb-loading?

Carb-loading, also known as carbo-loading or carbohydrate loading, is a nutritional strategy that allows you to fill your glycogen stores before intense exercise, such as a marathon or a race.

To achieve this, you must consume a high amount of carbohydrates, which your body can first digest into glucose and then transform into glycogen.

Carb-loading is primarily used by cyclists, runners, and triathletes before intense exercise that lasts several hours. The reason is that prolonged exercise takes a heavy toll on your body's glycogen stores, which is why you need to fill them up as much as possible before starting the race.

Nutritional strategy carb loadingCarb-loading is a nutritional strategy used to fill the glycogen stores before training or race.

Also keep in mind that carb-loading is only one part of the nutritional strategy employed by athletes, the other two being fueling and recovery.

Carb-loading is a nutritional strategy that aims to fill your glycogen stores before an endurance event.

How to carb load?

The fundamental principle of carb-loading is consuming a high amount of carbohydrates over a pre-determined period of time. This period can range from 1, 3, or even 6 days before the event.

While many athletes begin their carb-loading process with one final training session, which aims to fully deplete your glycogen stores and prepare the body for better glycogen absorption, you should not train or only perform light training once you begin to carb load, as this will deplete the glycogen stores you aim to fill up.

While you are carb loading, there are specific foods you should consume and specific foods you should avoid. The core principle is that around 70% of your diet should consist of carbohydrates while avoiding fat and dietary fiber.

You should avoid fat because it increases your caloric intake and might cause you to gain weight, which is something endurance athletes aim to avoid, while dietary fiber might make you feel too full to consume enough carbohydrates and cause digestive issues during the race.

When carb loading, around 70% of your diet should be carbohydrates.

Carb-loading with Dr. Tim Podlogar

The renowned nutritionist Dr. Tim Podlogar recommends 1-day carb-loading as a sufficient nutritional strategy for most athletes and events.

Dr. Tim Podlogar recommends to always do a fasted training session before you begin to carb load. This will stimulate your muscles to store more glycogen and improve glycogen synthesis. It will also make you more hungry, which will allow you to eat more food.

Carb loading with Dr. Tim PodlogarDr. Tim Podlogar is not only a scientist and nutritionist but also a dedicated amateur cyclist.

According to Dr. Tim Podlogar, you should consume 10 to 12 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body mass, which for a 70-kg athlete means an intake ranging from 700 to 840 grams of carbohydrates.

Dr. Tim Podlogar also recommends to respect your regular protein intake and avoid consuming fat and dietary fiber.

According to Dr. Tim Podlogar, one day of carb-loading is enough.

What foods to eat during carb-loading

When carb-loading, these are the foods you should eat 1 day before the event:

  • white rice
  • rice waffles
  • rice noodles
  • groats
  • white bread
  • white pasta
  • couscous
  • banana
  • honey
  • jam
  • fruit juice
  • fruit yogurt or plain yogurt
  • Haribo gummy bears

When carb-loading more than 1 day, you may also include these foods in your diet:

  • some fruit
  • cooked vegetables
  • lean meat
  • red meat
  • skimmed milk products
  • low-fat cheese
  • tofu
  • whey
  • eggs, egg whites
  • fish

There is also a list of foods you should avoid, especially during the last day before the event:

  • whole-grain rice
  • whole-grain pasta
  • whole-grain bread
  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • legumes
  • raw vegetables
  • fruit
  • nuts
  • seeds

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Examples of meals during carb-loading

As long as you respect the recommendations above, you have plenty of liberty in creating your own meals during carb-loading. But you might want to preserve your energy for more important things than making up your own menu.

We've got you covered.

Carb loading before raceConsuming an energy gel 30 minutes before physical activity can help you make that final push in filling your glycogen stores.

Here are some examples of meals you can use to great effect. Note that we've only specified the quantities for the final day before the event, which is the most important one. This is also because the days prior to the event, some athletes still perform training sessions, which affects the amount of food you should consume.

Example of meals 3 days before the event

Breakfast:

  • white bread toast
  • Skyr yogurt
  • chicken breast
  • small amount of fresh vegetables

Snack:

  • whey protein
  • small amount of fruit

Lunch:

  • rice
  • chicken or tuna fish
  • cooked carrots
  • corn
  • low-fat cheese
  • a piece of white bread

Dinner:

  • meat or fish
  • white pasta
  • small amount of vegetables

Example of meals 2 days before the event

Breakfast:

  • groats
  • banana
  • honey
  • Skyr yogurt

Snack:

  • whey protein
  • small amount of fruit

Lunch:

  • pasta with shrimps
  • vegetables

Dinner:

  • lean meat
  • couscous

Example of meals 1 day before the event

Breakfast:

  • 150 grams of cooked rice
  • 50 grams of honey
  • Skyr yogurt

Snack:

  • 100 grams of cooked rice
  • 100 grams of honey

Lunch:

  • 150 grams of white pasta
  • small amount of sauce
  • 5 rice waffles

Afternoon snack:

  • 100 grams of white pasta
  • small amount of sauce

Dinner:

  • 10 rice waffles
  • 100 grams of honey
  • 2 spoons of cottage cheese

Examples of meals on the day of the event 

Breakfast:

  • 150 grams of rice cooked in low-fat milk
  • 1 spoon of sugar
  • 2 spoons of cocoa

Snack (1 hour before the event):

  • 1 banana
  • 100 grams of gummy bears

Common carb-loading mistakes

If you follow all the recommendations above, you shouldn't make many mistakes in your carb-loading process. Nevertheless, let's cover some basic mistakes you might make.

  1. You carb load when you don't need to: carb-loading is an essential strategy for long endurance events, but it is generally not needed for events that last less than 90 minutes or that are performed at low intensity.
  2. You consume too much fat: if you consume too much fat during carb-loading, you might further burden your digestive system and consume too many calories, which may result in unnecessary weight gain.
  3. You consume too much fiber: if you consume too much fiber during carb-loading, you might find it hard to consume enough food and it might lead to digestive issues during the event.
  4. You perform too many training sessions: if you perform training sessions during carb-loading, you will deplete your glycogen stores and increase the required caloric intake.
  5. You fail to eat enough carbohydrates: to successfully carb load, you need to consume high amounts of carbohydrates, as seen above. If you fail to eat enough, you won't completely fill your glycogen stores.
  6. You eat too many carbohydrates: it might seem difficult, but that's also an option. Consuming excessive amounts of food will only burden your digestive system without additionally filling your glycogen stores.
  7. You are under stress: an upcoming event might cause stress, which affects glycogen synthesis. If you feel under stress before an event, you might want to check out the tips of our sports psychologist!
Carb loading strategyIf you want to achieve top athletic performance, you should learn how to use carb-loading.

Conclusion

Carb-loading is a nutritional strategy used primarily by endurance athletes to fill their glycogen stores before an endurance event.

Carb-loading consists of eating high amounts of carbohydrates and avoiding fats and dietary fiber.

While you can do carb-loading over a period of several days, one day before the event seems to be sufficient, as also recommended by the nutritionist Dr. Tim Podlogar.

For best effect, combine carb-loading with proper fueling and recovery strategies.

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