The stereotypical image of carbo loading is plates piled high with spaghetti bolognaise, or lots and lots of slices of bread. Putting together a reasonable diet plan for effective carb loading requires a bit more subtlety.
The Science Of Carb Loading
Two articles [1, 2] published in the Journal of Sports Sciences in 2011 summarised the research and thinking behind nutritional strategies for endurance sports. Both papers included sections on carbohydrate loading.
The objective of carbohydrate loading is to super load your muscle glycogen stores. Muscle glycogen is your body’s preferred source of fuel in moderate intensity, long-term activities. For exercise sessions lasting more than 90 minutes, having the maximum available stores means you can perform at higher intensities for longer.
Although individual responses to carbohydrate loading vary, a general recommendation is to consume approximately 8-10g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight in the 24-48 hours preceding your target event.
For a 70kg person, this means consuming between 560g and 700g of carbs each day for the two days before a race. That is a lot of carbohydrate. It’s tricky to build a diet that delivers this many carbs without taking in too much fat and protein as well. This is a problem, because you don’t want to put on too much extra weight just before the race.
As a bit of a side note, as you store extra glycogen, you also store extra water. Each gram of glycogen brings with it about 3g of water. If you carbohydrate load really well, you can end up putting on 1-2 kg of extra weight just from this stored glycogen and water. It’s a tricky balance, but overall probably worth it for peak performance.
Anyway, what does this much carbohydrate look like in practice? Let me show you …
Sample Day’s Eating Plan For Carbohydrate Loading
The following sample diet plan is designed for a 70kg athlete. It delivers 567g of carbohydrate. It contains 2948 calories, 25g of fat and 107g of protein.
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If you’ve got other ideas, experience or tips, I’d love to hear from you.
- How do you carb load?
- What are you favourite carbo loading foods?
- What is your experience with carb loading before big events?
References & Credits
 Louise M. Burke , John A. Hawley , Stephen H. S. Wong & Asker E. Jeukendrup (2011) Carbohydrates for training and competition, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:sup1, S17-S27, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.585473
 Asker E. Jeukendrup (2011) Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:sup1, S91-S99, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.610348