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The dangers of carbo-loading

The dangers of carbo-loading

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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.

ANY PROBLEMS?

The trouble with that is, it can cause all kinds of gastrointestinal distress and there is no proof that it actually works for everyone.

The answer is, 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.

Then, closer to the event, start to add more starch based carbs gradually, eg. pasta, bread, rice two or three days beforehand.  Pre-race pasta parties at this stage are definitely a good idea.

BEST SOLUTION

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 like 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).

FURTHER READING

  1. Read more about how Carbohydrate affects your swimming performance and the difference between simple, complex and fibrous carbs.
  2. Find out what you should be eating around Competition Time.
  3. Read Swimfit blogger Gareth's diary as he tried to 'get ripped' with a strict diet and swimming.
  4. Leave a comment below or head to Ask an Expert with a specific question about carbohydrates or your competition nutrition.

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  • 2

    2.24pm 18th September 2013
    Ray Smith from Sheffield

    I imagine that they just want your granddaughter to have a good breakfast (high fibre and carby but not sugary) because she cant have a big lunch (and full stomach) just before swimming. 
    Porridge ticks the boxes:  High in fibre and lots of low G-I (slow-release) carbohydrates. A quick google search of why porridge is good for you reveals all sorts of positive benefits being claimed.
    Having said that… for youngsters, porridge is boring:  The packaging is far too grown-up and the taste is bland.  You could address the taste bit by adding a spoonful of honey or raisins / sultanas / nuts, but in my experience kids are not easily distracted away from the brightly coloured boxes of sugary pap aimed at them in the supermarket.
    A pragmatic compromise might be any of the wheat-based cereals that do not have added sugar.  Check the ingredients on the sides of the boxes - you’d be surprised by what you find.
    I’m not convinced that Corn (maize) based cereals are all that good for you:  Cornflour is high GI and very low in fibre and with added sugar, it is the very opposite of what you are after.
    Broadly then:  Any decent breakfast and a light lunch sounds about right for your granddaughter.

  • 1

    8.39pm 14th January 2012
    Jeff Linney from Greater Manchester

    Help Please !
    My grandauhter Elissa as just joint a swimming club ,they have recomended a high carb breakfast for before her swim at 1.15 pm .They have recomended porridge then a light meal at 12 pm of mybe fruit,with some sill water to take with her to the training.Problem is she wont eat porridge ,Is there a good subsitut to repalce it.

Go Swimming has everything you need to know about swimming. If you are a parent, a non swimmer or just want to improve your technique this is the section for you.

In British Swimming you will find information about the world of high performance sport, including the disciplines of Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming, Water Polo and Para-Swimming.

The ASA is the governing body for the sport in England. In this section you will find all you need to know about joining a club or competing in England and becoming a swimming teacher or coach.

The IoS delivers the ASA’s courses and is a member organisation. Whether you are a teacher, coach, employer or club you will find everything you need to know about qualifications or educating your workforce.

Accessibility - Text Only - Display Options - Accessibility

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