An Essential Guide to Carbohydrate Loading

What is Carbohydrate Loading?

It is a dietary practice or strategy used by endurance athletes to increase glycogen reserves in muscle tissues & liver through the consumption of extra quantities of high-starch foods in order to improve athletic performance.

Carb Loading increases delay in muscle fatigue by about 20% and improves performance by about 2-3%.

The theory behind carb loading is that during exercise or any physical activity our body uses glycogen, a form of carbohydrate stored in our muscle tissues & liver to provide energy. After some time, this glycogen gets over due to which fatigue comes in & there is dip in performance. With the help of carb loading prior to an event, fatigue in the muscle can be delayed, leading to an increase in energy & improved performance.

Carbohydrate loading is one of the prevalent nutrition trends among swimmers, also known as Carb Loading or Carbo Loading before an event. Depending upon lot of thing Carb loading may or may not be helpful. Let’s understand carb loading in depth.

Carb Loading is Considered ONLY if:

  1. Exercise is high-intensity endurance activity where heavy demands are placed on glycogen stores
  2. Activity is likely to involve >90 minutes of continuous exercise
  3. You regularly eat less than 7-8g of Carbohydrate/kg of body weight per day

How to Carb Load before an Event?

Before carb loading we need to deplete our glycogen stores in order to trick the body to store more when we load glycogen. According to the Australian Institute of Sport, you should deplete for three to four days by eating a low-carb diet, then load for three to four days. During this load you need around 7 to 12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight each day.

Who should Carb Load?

Carb-loading isn't for everyone. If you're a child or teen swimmer, this dietary practice isn't for you. Young bodies metabolize food differently, as this excerpt from USA Swimming explains further: "Kids are not like adults when it comes to breaking down, utilizing, and storing carbohydrate. Young swimmers (and all child athletes) use fat more readily as an energy source, which is not the case for adults. Young swimmers have a limited ability to store large amounts of carbohydrate in their muscles. Swimmers in their childhood and teens should enjoy a balanced diet to avoid stomach problems from carb-loading on race day.

Swimmers competing in a triathlon may benefit more but even a long distance swimmer can be benefited from this technique.

Foods for Carb Loading

What is the first thing that comes to our mind when we think about carb loading? Pasta & Bread, right? Although they are a good source of carbohydrates, there are lot other foods which are rich in this macronutrient carbohydrates.

  1. GRAINS – Rice (brown/white/red), Quinoa, Oatmeal, Pasta & Bread
  2. FRUITS – Berries, Banana, Kiwi, Sapota, Oranges etc.
  3. VEGETABLES – Potatoes, Corn, Squash, Yam, Carrots
  4. NUTS & DRY FRUITS – Almonds, Peanuts, Cashews, Dates, Figs, Raisins etc.
  5. LEGUMES – Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Lentils, etc.

When to Carb Load?

For every swimmer timing & amount of carb loading will be different. For some carb loading the dinner a night before final day works better whereas for others it may cause stomach upset. For efficient carb loading make sure carbs are equally distributed throughout the day. For example, if you have to consume 700g of carbs / day, then it needs to be equally divided among 7 small meals, each consisting of 100 g carbs. Since it is difficult to consume so much of carbs in each meal, it is advised to include small high carb snacks in between like a handful of nuts & dry fruits or toast with jam/honey or oats & honey bar or sweet potato or popcorn etc.

Make sure to carb load & not fat load.

Dangers of Carb Loading

It can cause gastrointestinal discomfort. So try to experiment with foods weeks before the big day. Make sure to consume majority of carbs from fibrous sources like vegetables. Closer to the event, include more starch based carbs like sweet potatoes, breads, rice etc.

To have the best performance on the final day, it is important to eat only those foods which have been tried & tested during the training days. Athletes should consult a Sports Nutritionist before implementing carb loading & should get personalised nutrition guidance.

Author: Rashmi Cherian

Registered Dietitian (License No 61/08), Certified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist

Founder Wellness Vows


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SwimIndia does not guarantee results of any sort, before making any changes to your diet plans, please consult an expert.



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