The term carb loading gets thrown around as a joke on pizza and pasta night but what does it actually mean for athletes? Is it a real thing?
Why carb load? What's the science?
Carbohydrates are you body's favourite source of energy. When you eat carbs, they are broken down into sugars and used by your muscles for fuel. Extra sugars are stored for later in your liver and your muscles, to be used at a later point. Generally, your body only stores enough carbs to last you 90mins of exercise.
Carb loading enhances your body's capacity to store carbs and significantly improve performance!
Be aware that carb loading can lead to a weight increase - but this is normal and okay! When your body stores carbs as glycogen, it traps water in the bonds and can contribute around 2kg of extra weight. A weight gain is just a sign that you have carb loaded effectively but won't negatively impact your performance.
Who should carb load?
If you're competing in an endurance event lasting >90mins, you will benefit from carb loading. This includes events such as triathlons, iron man, marathons etc.
Men vs Women
Unfortunately, most of our research has been conducted among men! The research is conflicting as to whether carb loading has the same benefits among women.