Carb-Loading Done Right

August 24, 2017

Over the years and with the influence of low-carb weight loss diets, carbs have gotten a bad rap amongst the general population (although they don’t deserve it!). But if you are an endurance athlete, periodized carbohydrate intake, carbohydrate intake during racing, as well as carb-loading are all scientifically proven performance strategies. In short – carbs are your friend!

Carb-loading has to be one of the most misunderstood sports nutrition strategies among endurance athletes. It’s not about stuffing your face with cabs the day before the race (that picture of the giant bowl of pasta – we’ve all seen it…), but rather a strategic increase in carbohydrate dense foods over the few days prior to the race.

The goal: increase glycogen stores. Think of it as filling your gas tank before a long road trip. Your muscles store glycogen (sugars) but when you are regularly training 6 days per week, you are constantly expending glycogen (during training) and replenishing it through the diet. But rarely do we max out our stores.

For any event longer than 2 hours (Olympic distance triathlon or longer) you may want to consider carb loading.

As you taper the week prior to the race, you decrease your total energy expenditure (calories burned in a 24h period) as well as your glycogen expenditure. Couple this with an increase in carbohydrate intake and here is where the magic happens! Aim for 7 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight over the 3 days prior to the race. Heavier ‘’Athena’’ athletes can aim anywhere between 5 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per kg body weight as glycogen stores may max out earlier and the volume of food may be too much.

4 practical carb loading tips:  

  1. Decrease the protein and fat in your typical day by about half. Remember, you are tapering so you will not be as hungry and if you simply add on all the extra carbohydrates, it will be just be too much food!
  2. Avoid high fibre foods 1 to 3 days leading up to your competition. Stick to lower fibre, more refined options such as bagels, pasta, couscous, gnocchi and white rice instead (you eat less for the same amount of carbohydrate).
  3. Swap your usual options or add carbohydrate dense foods to each meal (ex. 100% juices or smoothies; jam, honey or maple syrup; bagels, dried fruits, etc.)
  4. Don’t weight yourself! You will gain a kilo or two but this is simply glycogen that is stored in the muscle with water (not fat weight). It will be gone by the run, promise!

Here are some examples what you can swap and add to a typical day when carb loading.

Sample menu for a 60-kg female (420 g carbohydrate goal) 

 Carb loading menu triathlon


Stephanie Jamain, RD, CSSD, M.Sc. (c)

Sports Nutritionist

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