You’ve probably heard the term carbo-loading before. Perhaps, like myself, you were wondering what it actually means. Yes, clearly it means a person is eating a lot of carbs … but why would someone want to do that? Are there any real benefits of carbo-loading? And if so, for who?
Carbo-loading 101: The Basics
Carbo-loading refers to eating an excessive amount of carbohydrates after moderate exercise. In general, it’s recommended that 45-65% of our daily caloric intake comes from carbs. This is known as the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (abbreviated AMDR – these ranges also exist for fat and protein). In carbo-loading, a person will consume roughly 70% of their calories from carbs.
Omg. 70%?! Why in the world would someone eat that much carbs?
Yes, it seems high … but keep in mind the upper limit of the AMDR is 65%. As we exercise, our body uses up our stored fuel. The primary fuel that is used at the beginning of our workout is glycogen, which is a stored form of glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar – AKA blood sugar (this is what is regularly monitored in diabetics). Glucose is the preferred fuel source for most of our body, especially the brain. So, when we exercise and our body needs fuel, it will break down glycogen to form glucose. Glycogen is found in in two parts of the body: muscle and liver. Muscles are a bit self-centered in their glycogen use – they hoard it for their own use and don’t like to share with other parts of the body.
To answer the question, if we eat a carb-rich meal post workout, we are increasing our muscle glycogen stores. This means that the next time we work out, our muscles will have more glycogen to use as fuel, hence they will be less tired. This translates into increased performance.
Sweet. So in that case, I’m hitting up them carbs tomorrow after the gym!
Carbo-loading is not recommended for everyone who works out. It really is specifically tailored to those who are training for a competition or some type of endurance event, such as a marathon. This usually implies that the athlete will be working out for 90 minutes or more.
How does it work for an athlete then? I mean, do they carbo-load every single time they train?
No. They usually follow a schedule leading up to the day of the event. Let’s pretend you’re a marathon runner and you have a marathon coming up (marathons are traditionally 42.2 km long … Yes, my eyes are bulging a bit too right now).
Six to four days before the event, you would eat a normal carb diet (between the AMDR of 45-65% of total calories) after training. Two to three days before the event, you would train for 20 minutes, then eat a high carb meal. In general, it’s recommended to rest the day right before the event, but you would still eat a high carb meal all the same.
You mentioned that this AMDR thingy also exists for fat and protein. If I work out, do I really need to eat (or drink) more protein?
This is a whole topic on its own – stay tuned for next time!