Carbo-loading is a nutrition technique typically employed by endurance athletes (open water, triathlon etc…) to maximise their energy storage capacity ahead of competition.
While some people swear by it, carbo-loading can actually be quite hit and miss whether it actually has any benefit in terms of increased or prolonged energy on race days.
The technical term is carbohydrate super compensation, which means you deplete your body completely of carbs first and then continue to train long and hard whilst not replacing your body with any carbs. Then, once you are depleted, you load on lots and lots of starchy carbs.
The trouble with carbo-loading for competitions is that it can cause all kinds of gastrointestinal distress and there is no proof that it actually works for everyone.
Stick to a high carbohydrate diet continually, but make sure that the carbs you are eating are predominantly from fibrous sources such as green vegetables.
Closer to the event, start to add more starch-based carbs gradually – such as pasta, bread, or rice two or three days beforehand. Pre-race pasta parties at this stage are definitely a good idea.
The right stuff
Rather than carbo-loading, ASA nutrition scientist Ian Freeman suggests a balanced carbohydrate/protein rich diet, and provides these tips to try and build in the following:
- Limit your intake of pasta, rice, potatoes and other starchy carbs until the day before big events and training sessions. Instead try to get more fibrous carbs on board e.g. green vegetables.
- Avoid simple sugars such as chocolate, cakes and biscuits to refrain from spiking your blood sugar levels. Instead look to gain simpler sugar sources from fresh fruit, as the fibre keeps your blood sugar under better control.
- Increase lean protein intake sources e.g. poultry, lean red meat, game meats.
- Take a 60:40 carb:protein shake with 50% low fat milk 50% water immediately after training to boost your immune system and deliver extra calcium.
- Enjoy one cheat day per week where you can eat whatever you like (but still stay controlled).