Episode 103 – Carb Loading

 Defining a Carb Load  

  • A carb load involves an exceptionally high carbohydrate consumption, designed to maximise glycogen stores.

Why Carb Load? 

  • As you said, the basic premise of carb loading is to maximise how much glycogen we have stored in our liver and muscles 
  • Glycogen is simply the storage from of carbohydrates or more specifically glucose in our bodies  
  • And we know that glucose is our bodies preferred fuel source for exercise over a certain intensity threshold  
  • So by maximising how much storage we have of glucose, we are able to maintain a higher intensity for longer leading to overall better performance  
  • Using an example – “hitting the wall” in a marathon is typically deemed to be when glycogen stores get low, which causes performance to drop off, but if we are starting at a higher baseline of glycogen storage then we can prolong the amount of time before this occurs  

How to Carb Load

  • While there are multiple methods for carb loading, including options that involve high intensity exercise to deplete glycogen, to encourage glycogen supercompensation, the current consensus of carb loading is pretty simple. 
  • For 1-2 days prior to an event, consume 10-12g/kg of carbohydrates. 
  • 70kg athlete would require 700-840g of carbs – disclaimer about how this is super high 
  • Tapering exercise during those days is also important to avoid depleting glycogen. 

Who Should and Shouldn’t Carb Load 

  • Anybody trying to maximise performance in an infrequent endurance event that is >90 minutes in length should do a full carb load. 
  • The further you get from that description, the less likely it is you should do a full carb load. 
  • Slightly shorter events, or those that are more frequent could benefit from a slightly scaled back version of a carb load. 
  • And of course, if you are not trying to maximise performance, you do not need to do a full carb load 

Carb Loading Tips 

  • Use low fibre, easily digestible forms of carbohydrate 
  • Do not go high protein or high fat – this is simply because the calorie content will get insanely high if you do not keep these down to at least a moderate degree 
  • For context 800g of carbs, is 3,200kcal BEFORE factoring in any protein or fats 
  • Don’t be afraid of higher sugar products – they will make it easier to reach this carb target. 
  • Literally track your carb intake or make a plan where you have calculated the numbers. If you don’t do this, it is highly likely you will fall short. 

Carb Loading Example 

Idk if this is good podcast content – but I have an example of what ~800g of carbs could look like as a day on a plate type thing – adapted from Tyler’s one on the blog:

Breakfast: 6 weet-bix, 1.5 cups of skim milk, 1 banana and 2 tablespoons of honey (155g carbs) 

Snack 1: 600ml powerade, a chocolate chip muesli bar and 100g of lollies (133g carbs) 

Lunch: Tuna + 1 cup of white rice + 600ml orange juice +  10 Jatz Crackers (140g carbs) 

Snack 2: 5 tspn milo, 1 cup skim milk, 4 chicken and avo sushi rolls (163g carbs) 

Snack 3: 600ml Powerade, 100g of lollies 

Dinner: 200g of pasta with some chicken in it, 600ml of soft drink and 2 slices of garlic bread (143g carbs) 

Dessert: A magnum ice cream and another 4 tsp of milo with 1 cup of skim milk (60g of carbs) 

Other Quick Notes 

  • Water weight – will increase, but it’s not a concern 
  • Body composition – If done infrequently, it won’t really matter. So much will be burned as energy in the next day anyway. 
  • GI Upset – Taking the steps recommended here should minimise GI upset. But if you get it regardless, it could be worth just scaling the numbers done. A partial carb load is better than nothing. 
  • Overnight Glycogen Stores – Glycogen stores drop overnight. It is important to have carbs the next morning prior to the event if possible.  

Relevant Links/Resources

Blog Post

Carbohydrate Loading – What It Is and How To Do It