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What is Carbohydrate Loading?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Carbohydrate loading is a strategy sometimes employed by athletes in preparation for some type of competitive event. The idea behind this approach is to ingest foods that help to create a reserve of carbohydrates in the body, specifically in the muscles. According to proponents of this strategy, a carbohydrate loading diet provides energy that the athlete can call upon during the heat of the competition.

While there are various approaches to carbohydrate loading, most involve the consumption of large amounts of starches prior to a competitive event. The starches are thought to convert into the right type of carbohydrates, and boost blood sugar storage levels in the body. While there are those who also tout the use of foods that have high fat content as well as plenty of carbohydrates, many trainers focus on starches like potatoes and corn as essentials for the carb-loading process. This is because the consumption of large amounts of fat are sometimes thought to interfere with the mental and physical reflexes of the athlete, effectively undermining any benefits gained from the increased glycogen levels.

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When beginning a carbohydrate loading regimen, it is important to determine the amount of carbohydrates that must be consumed each day to achieve the desired effect. Many formulas call for including a certain number of grams of carbs in the daily diet, with that number based on the individual’s actual body weight. Other approaches call for simply increasing the carbohydrate intake to somewhere in the range of ten to twelve grams. This increase in carbohydrate consumption usually begins no later than five days before the competition, and continues right up to the day of the event.

Along with engaging in the carbohydrate loading, an athlete is also likely to make changes in his or her exercise routine. Generally, as the consumption of excess carbohydrates continues, the athlete will alter the daily workout so that the exercises are a little less intense. This is done gradually, which is supposed to allow the body to adapt to the new approach without any ill effects.

While there are many proponents of carbohydrate loading, detractors doubt the efficacy of this approach. There is also some concern that the excessive consumption of carbohydrates could set the stage for health issues later in life, such as increasing the chances for the development of some form of diabetes. At present, studies of the effects of carbohydrate loading yield conflicting results. This has led to a situation where many professional athletes consider the practice a safe and effective means of preparing for any athletic competition where the will be at least ninety minutes of non-stop effort on the part of the participants.

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