Carb Loading Before a Strength Training Workout
If you’ve trained for a race, sporting game, or any event that will physically challenge your body, you’ve probably heard of the importance of carb-loading. Carbohydrate loading is an advanced technique that many athletes use to improve their performance during strenuous physical activity.
But what exactly is it? How often should you do it? And is it something that you need to do before you train? Let’s answer all of your questions and more.
What Is the Role of Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, also known as sugars and starches, are one of the main energy sources to power your body. There are two types: complex carbs and simple carbs.
Complex carbohydrates include starchy vegetables, sweet potatoes, peas, legumes, and corn. These are usually more nutrient-packed and filled with fiber, a necessary nutrient to help digestion. Simple cards, like fruits and dairy products, are still important – though they’re less nutrient dense.
When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose. Glucose in the blood is used to form a molecule called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. This molecule powers your body and allows you to perform the functions you’d associated with working out. Unused glucose is converted into glycogen stores in the muscles and liver for future use.
General dietary guidelines recommend that carbohydrate intake make up 45% to 65% of your daily caloric intake. So if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day, you should make sure that anywhere between 900 and 1,300 calories come from carbs.
Of course, if you’re training, you need to replenish the energy you’ve lost. And carb-loading can help you prepare.
What Is Carb-Loading?
The body only stores small amounts of muscle glycogen to support you during recreational exercise. But if you work out for more than 90 minutes or so, your muscle glycogen levels may deplete, and your energy levels may tank. This is when fatigue sets in, and you’ll start to notice a decrease in your performance.
This is where pre-workout carb-loading comes into play. Increasing your carb intake before an intense workout allows your muscles to store more glycogen and therefore gives you more energy during your training session.
True carb-loading needs to be done about a week before your event, such as a marathon race or sporting event. One to three days before the event, you should consume about eight to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. This is an increase from the typical five to seven grams needed for typical athletic training methods.
Considerations for Carb Loading
Carbohydrate loading doesn’t mean you just eat everything in sight. There are a few things to consider in order to do it properly. The first is to try to cut back on foods higher in fat in order to compensate for the extra carb-rich foods.
Low-fat diets are recommended during a carb loading period because they are the slowest form of energy to be processed by the body. So save the peanut butter for another day and start loading up on brown rice and whole-grain bread.
You also want to try to reduce your training volume in the days ahead of strenuous physical activity. This helps you conserve energy without depletion so that you'll be good to go when you finally engage in your endurance event.
Additionally, you’ll need to continue to give your body energy during the event itself. Be sure to have a sports drink handy or consume energy gels to replenish lost electrolytes and keep performing at your best. Then, be sure to eat plenty of carbs post-workout to restore lost energy.
Do You Need To Carb Load Before a Workout?
Endurance athletes should probably carb load before a big game to boost athletic performance. However, you do not (and should not) carb load before every single training session.
Eating too many carbs can naturally increase your weight if you are not exerting enough energy during your workout to get back into a caloric deficit. Typical training sessions do not exert enough energy to make carb loading an efficient form of energy production. Plus, your daily training sessions shouldn’t be strenuous enough to require carb loading in the first place.
Instead, give yourself a nice carb-heavy snack about an hour before a training session to have enough energy to power through. And if you have two to three hours to spare before you train, you can eat a full meal as normal to give your body the fuel to get stronger than ever.
Is Carb Loading Safe?
Carb loading is relatively safe and effective for most endurance athletes. However, it doesn’t come without risks.
The biggest risk is digestive discomfort. Since many foods high in carbs are also high in fiber, you’ll want to be careful that you limit your fiber intake during a carb-loading phase. Be careful about how much you consume foods like beans and broccoli, as these can make you feel bloated and gassy.
Carb loading can also affect your blood sugar levels. Carb loading is not recommended if you have diabetes or insulin resistance.
In general, it’s best to consult with a dietician before you decide to move forward with carb loading. While it can be beneficial for some – it might not be right for everyone.
How Can I Carb Load Properly?
Many athletes try to carb load, but many fail to do it properly. Remember to make sure that you’ll actually benefit from carb loading. You probably don’t need to carb load unless you’re engaging in an activity lasting longer than 90 minutes without breaks.
Also, it may be best to focus on familiar foods. Only eat foods that you know your body is able to handle well without feeling sick, bloated, or otherwise uncomfortable.
If you’re looking for some quick and easy foods to help carb-load, here are a few that work for most people:
- Low-fiber cereals
- White bread
- White rice
- Fruit juices and jelly
- Energy bars (low-fat)
- Fruit smoothies
You also want to make sure you’re still getting enough protein to help with muscle synthesis. Lean protein sources like fish or poultry tend to be best. While protein powders and bars are great, be careful – many of these are super high in fiber and might do more harm than good on the day of your event.
Carb loading is a way to increase the energy in your muscles before an endurance event so you can perform at your very best. It involves eating a higher volume of carbohydrates, your body’s main energy source, within the coming days of the event.
While you probably don’t need to do it before your next training session, it is something to consider if you’re about to be involved in a marathon, sporting event, or race.
In addition to a proper diet, you’ll need to ensure your training regimen is top-notch. Speede uses the latest AI muscle science to adapt to your muscle’s strengths and weaknesses. This gives you a more effective workout in a shorter amount of time.
Request a demo today to feel what we’re talking about.
Carbohydrates: How carbs fit into a healthy diet | The Mayo Clinic.
Carbohydrate-loading diet | The Mayo Clinic.
Adenosine triphosphate | American Chemical Society
Basics of Carbohydrate Loading for Sports Performance | Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics