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The New Rules of Carb-Loading: Fueling Your Performance

A shirtless bodybuilder prepares a large bowl filled with fruits and vegetables.
Discover the latest science-backed guidelines for carb loading to enhance endurance performance. Learn how carbohydrates impact athletic readiness, the purpose of carb loading, and tailored strategies for different workout durations. Whether you're fueling up with carbs or training fasted, prioritize sustainable progress and optimal performance. 🏃‍♀️💪
Source: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Pump Club email, 2024-March-12
Research suggests that carbs help support better performance — especially if you’re performing a longer endurance-focused workout.

Carbohydrates play a crucial role in athletic performance, and understanding how to optimize carb intake can significantly impact your training and race-day readiness. Let’s delve into the latest science-backed guidelines for carb loading and explore strategies to ensure you hit the start line well-fueled.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are one of the three essential macronutrients, alongside fat and protein. They come in various forms, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, pasta, bread, milk, sports drinks, and nutrition supplements. At their core, carbohydrates are converted into glucose, providing energy (four calories per gram). Simple carbs (monosaccharides and disaccharides) break down quickly, leading to rapid blood glucose spikes, while complex carbs (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides) digest more slowly, resulting in steadier blood glucose levels.

The Purpose of Carb Loading

Carb loading involves replenishing muscle, blood, and liver glycogen stores by consuming a high amount of carbohydrates in the days leading up to a race. This practice is particularly valuable for endurance events where the body primarily relies on carbs as its fuel source (typically above 65-70% of your VO2 max). Supercompensating glycogen stores can boost performance by up to 100% above normal levels.

How Much Should You Carb Load?

To effectively increase muscle glycogen stores, aim for approximately 8-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day during the carb-loading phase. Here’s a practical example: If you weigh 150 pounds, target 450+ grams of carbs daily. Adjust this based on your specific weight and training volume.

Tailoring Carb Intake to Workout Duration

  1. Longer Workouts (Over 2-3 Hours): If you’re engaging in extended endurance activities like long runs or bike rides, prioritize pre-workout carbs. Aim for 20 to 40 grams of carbs (equivalent to 1-2 slices of bread or a banana) combined with 20 to 40 grams of protein.
  2. Shorter Workouts (Under 60 Minutes): For shorter sessions, your carb needs are lower. Consider alternatives like coffee, a quality pre-workout supplement, or electrolytes. If fat loss is your goal, reducing carb intake before workouts may support your objectives, as long as it doesn’t compromise performance.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Listen to your body, experiment, and find what works best for your individual needs. Whether you’re fueling up with carbs or training fasted, prioritize sustainable progress and optimal performance. 🏃‍♀️💪

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