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Preparing for a Sports Event 2: Carbo-loading

Got a big sports event coming up? Chances are, your teammates and coach has asked you to eat every carbohydrate-heavy food in sight. Is that really necessary?

Should you be carbo-loading before your big sports event at all? Illustration: Canadian Running Magazine

Pasta, pasta, pasta. That is all you eat a week before your major sports event. Because, "carbo-loading". For those new to the term, carbo-loading or carbohydrate loading, is a strategy mainly used by endurance athletes, such as runners, to maximise the storage of glycogen (or energy) in the muscles and liver.


The technique is usually recommended for endurance or sports events lasting longer than 120 minutes. The idea is to consume low glycemic foods such as whole wheat pasta, vegetables and grains to fuel the entire sports event with minimal intake during the event.


While the concept is logical, the application of carbo-loading have not quite followed through. We have gotten many questions from our athletes and have decided to share them with you.




Is carbo-loading really necessary?

This is the million-dollar question. It depends. If you are an endurance athlete, definitely yes. If you are a bodybuilder or fitness athlete, researchers have advised to do it with caution.


A paper published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition stated that “If carbohydrate loading is utilized, a trial run before competition once the competitor has reached or nearly reached competition leanness should be attempted to develop an individualized strategy.”


To put it simply, the timing and efficacy of carbo-loading varies greatly from person to person. Do a little experimentation on yourself.


The effect of carbo-loading can vary between individuals.

How much do I need and how long should I carbo-load for?

The exact quantity again, varies between individuals, but for male athletes, they require 7-10g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight, while female athletes require slightly less, at 5-8g carbohydrate per kg body weight.

Previously, carbo-loading strategies involved a 3-4 day depletion phase before 3-4 days of carbohydrate loading. But that is now a myth as it has been shown that it provides no additional benefit to carbo-loading.


Carbo-loading should take place just 2-3 days before your big event, coupled with minimal activity.




What do I eat during carbo-loading phases?

Pasta and carbo-loading have become synonymous in recent years. Pasta parties are now a common trend before big competitions. But if you're not a fan of pasta, you can eat any carbohydrate. Just make sure it is low in glycemic value as it will less likely mess up your blood sugar levels.


Starchy fruits and vegetables are a good way to carbo-load if you don't want the pasta.

Tip: Eat a little less fibre as it will minimise your chances of gut discomfort on the big day.



Do you gain weight from carbo-loading?

Yes, you will. But this is due to the extra glycogen and water stored in your muscle and will be a short term weight gain of 1-2kg.



Final tips

Carbo-loading is definitely NOT an excuse to be an eating monster. Taking in large amounts of high fat foods such as bacon or butter can compromise your carbohydrate intake, leading to suboptimal fuelling, poor performance and gut discomfort.


Bear in mind that your ideal carbo-loading plan is dependent on your body composition, event and eating patterns. If in doubt, seek help!



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If you would like help with carbo-loading plans, Benchmark Theory is here to help! Just pop us an email at enquiries@benchmarktheory.com and we'll get back to you!