Carbohydrate loading is a strategy involving changes to training and nutrition that can maximise muscle glycogen stores prior to endurance competition.
The technique was originally developed in the late 1960's and typically involved a 3-4 day 'depletion phase' involving 3-4 days of hard training plus a low carbohydrate diet. This depletion phase was thought to be necessary to stimulate the enzyme glycogen synthase. This was then followed immediately by a 3-4 day 'loading phase' involving rest combined with a high carbohydrate diet. The combination of the two phases was shown to boost muscle carbohydrate stores beyond their usual resting levels.
Ongoing research has allowed the method to be refined so that modern day carbohydrate loading is now more manageable for athletes. The depletion phase no longer exists because it has been proven that it is no longer necessary, which is a bonus for athletes as this phase was very difficult. Today, 1-4 days of exercise taper while following a high carbohydrate diet (7-12g/kg body weight) is sufficient to elevate muscle glycogen levels.
Muscle glycogen levels are normally in the range of 100-120 mmol/kg ww (wet weight). Carbohydrate loading enables muscle glycogen levels to be increased to around 150-200 mmol/kg ww. This extra supply of carbohydrate improves endurance exercise by allowing athletes to exercise at their pace for a longer time. It is estimated that carbohydrate loading can improve performance over a set distance by 2-3%.
Some examples of dietary requirements for an athlete which is Carbohydrate loading:
This table refers to an athlete who is about 70kgs. Breakfast | 3 cups of low fibre cereal with 1 ½ cups of milkbananaorange juice | Snack | Toasted muffin with honey500ml sports drink | Lunch | 2 sandwiches with desired filling.200g low-fat fruit yogurt375ml can soft drink | Snack | Banana smoothie Banana and honey cereal bar | Dinner | 1 cup of pasta