Carbohydrate loading may give you more energy during an endurance event. You may feel less fatigued and see an improvement in your performance after carbohydrate loading. But carbohydrate loading isn't effective for everyone.
Other factors can influence your athletic performance or interfere with the effectiveness of your carbohydrate-loading strategy, including your fitness level, hydration and the intensity level of your exercise. Even with carbohydrate loading, you still may feel muscle fatigue.
If you're a man, a carbohydrate-loading diet can increase the levels of glycogen stored in your muscles from 25 to 100 percent of your normal amount. However, carbohydrate loading may not be as effective if you're a woman. Fewer research studies exist about carbohydrate loading in women, and they've yielded mixed results. A woman may need to consume more calories than usual during carbohydrate loading to get the same benefits as a man does. A woman's menstrual cycle also may affect the effectiveness of carbohydrate loading for reasons not yet clear.
Even if you've practiced carbohydrate loading, you still need to replenish your body's energy during endurance events to maintain your blood sugar levels. You can do this by periodically consuming sports drinks, gels, or bars, fruit, or hard or chewy candies during your event at the rate of 30 to 60 grams an hour. And don't forget to eat carbohydrate-rich foods after your endurance event, too, to replenish your glycogen stores.
Carbohydrate loading isn't right for every endurance athlete. It's a good idea to consult your doctor or a registered dietitian before you start carbohydrate loading, especially if you have diabetes. You may also need to experiment with different amounts of carbohydrates to find something that works best for your situation.
A carbohydrate-loading diet can cause some discomfort or side effects, such as:
Jan. 23, 2013
- Weight gain. Much of this weight is extra water, but if it hampers your performance, you're probably better off skipping the extra carbs.
- Digestive discomfort. You may need to avoid or limit some high-fiber foods one or two days before your event. Beans, bran and broccoli can cause gassy cramps, bloating and loose stools when you're loading up on carbohydrates.
- Blood sugar changes. Carbohydrate loading can affect your blood sugar levels. Monitor your blood sugar during training or practices to see what works best for you. And talk to your dietitian or doctor to make sure your meal plan is a safe one for your situation.
See more In-depth
- Wilmore JH, et al. Physiology of Sport and Exercise. 4th ed. Champaign, Ill. Human Kinetics; 2008:316.
- Sedlock DA. The latest on carbohydrate loading: A practical approach. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2008;7:209.
- Questions most frequently asked about sports nutrition. President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. http://www.fitness.gov/faq.html. Accessed Aug. 9, 2012.
- Duyff RL. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 4th ed. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons; 2012:539.
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov. Accessed Aug. 9, 2012.
- Whitney E, et al. Understanding Nutrition. 12th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Thomson Higher Education;; 2011.
- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 17, 2012.
- Zeratsky KA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Aug. 17, 2012.
- Nutrition and athletic performance. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009;41:709.
- Bonci L. Sport Nutrition for Coaches. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 2009:35.