Triathletes’ Carbohydrate Loading

Carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients that the body requires, along with fat and protein.

Carbs can be found in various forms, like veggies, fruits, unrefined grains, noodles, bread, dairy, sports beverages, and exercise nourishment supplements like jellies, chews, and beverages.

Carbohydrates essentially provide glucose, and this is utilized by the body to make energy, with one gram yielding four calories, the same amount as that which is given by proteins, however, fat supplies nine calories every gram. There are many forms of carbohydrates:

  • Monosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides

Reframe the words “mono- and disaccharides” as “basic sugars” and “oligosaccharides and polysaccharides” as “complex sugars” to consider simple carbs and complex carbohydrates. The body will be able to use carbohydrates as energy faster if it is not complex.

Eating simple carbohydrates can cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to increase quickly, while complex carbs take longer to process and result in a gradual increase in blood glucose levels.

It is neither advantageous nor disadvantageous when considered in the right circumstances for what it is meant to be used for.

Carb Loading

An athlete gets their muscle, blood, and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stored ready for a race by eating a very large quantity of carbs in the days preceding the competition.

Carb loading is a regular occurrence in sports where one has to use their endurance for a long period. This generally requires the body to use carbohydrates as a main energy source and typically consists of activities with an aVo2 max that is higher than 65-70%.

This topping up of carbohydrates leads to an increased amount of glycogen which can be up to 100% more than the standard amount of glycogen stored.

The Swedes pioneered the notion of carb loading in 1967, researching and demonstrating that the body can store carbohydrates in the muscles and liver more effectively and boost glycogen reserves.

Unfortunately, their system required three days of intense exercise as well as three days of eating a diet that was heavy in carbohydrates, which is not the kind of tapering typically done before races now.

Subsequent research showed that the same advantages could be gained by doing three days of low-intensity workouts and consuming high carbs for three days, where 70% of daily calorie intake was made up of carbohydrates.

Jump to the current time and there are a couple of research-supported methods of consuming carbohydrates to charge up your liver and muscle glycogen to a level of 80-90% before a defining competition.

One day of consuming a high-carbohydrate meal plan in which the total grams of carbohydrates are calculated by multiplying one’s body weight in kilograms could result in an increase in muscle glycogen levels of up to 90%.

An alternate method for increasing glycogen levels by more than 80% is to have one day of short, strong workouts (in little time) accompanied by gentle exercise and full rest the following day, as well as eating a lot of high glycemic foods and fluids right before a race.

Foods with a high glycemic index, such as white rice, white bread, white pasta, and pretzels, are those that are quickly broken down and absorbed, leading to a sharp spike in blood sugar.

Female Athletes and Carb-Loading

There is a lack of studies examining the impact of carb loading on women during events that simulate a race. Most research has concentrated on the amount of energy being consumed (normally 70-75% of all energy consumed) as a way of carb loading.

The research did not figure out if the amount of energy consumed daily sufficed for training and competing.

Hence, although the diet contained 70% carbs relative to total nutrition intake, the actual number of grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight may not have been enough for loading.

There have been studies done on loading in female athletes where the amount used was of a sufficient quantity (for example, 8-10g/kg/bodyweight/day) that concluded that glycogen stores can be increased.

Ladies need to eat based on their body weight and eat plenty of carbohydrates to increase their glycogen stores.

A further thing to think about is what stage of the menstrual cycle one is in and how that impacts the consumption of carbohydrates. It seems that women have an increased ability to hang onto glycogen during the segment of the menstrual cycle that comes after ovulation, which is about two weeks long when contrasted with the period preceding ovulation, which is from the beginning of bleeding through the day of ovulation.

It is essential to bear in mind that what is successful for one woman may not be as effective for another, and further investigation still needs to be done. It is absolutely essential to collaborate with your trainer and dietitian to experiment with what you can comfortably eat.

Carb Loading Versus High-Carb Fueling

It is vital to keep in mind that fatigue is not solely caused by the level of muscle glycogen. Eating a lot of carbohydrates allows one to maintain even blood sugar levels, and if enough of these types of food is consumed, it prevents the depletion of the liver’s stored glycogen.

As you increase your resistance to fatigue through practice, there is a heightened ability for the body to break down blood sugar and a better system for providing energy. To sum up, as you become fitter, you become much better at fueling your body.

The idea of loading up on carbs is an important and useful approach to take. This tactic should be rehearsed during preparation and used during the competition.

An athlete’s capacity to ingest generous quantities of carbohydrates and their body weight during a competition will give rise to the continuous burning of carbohydrates as a source of energy, eventually resulting in constant strength and velocity.

A Carb-Loading Plan

It is important to stick to relatively plain and familiar foods before participating in a race. The focus is on providing energy for a specific reason, not creating gourmet meals. The following are five pieces of advice for eating properly leading up to an athletic race, as well as a special diet recommended in the 24 hours before the event.

Top Tips for Carb Loading up Race Week

Begin high carbohydrate consumption a minimum of 24 hours before any race that’s longer than 90 minutes.

The best way to optimize loading would be to up your carbohydrate consumption two days before, getting at least 6-8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.

Consume a combination of high-glycemic foods and fluids to reach the recommended intake levels.

Partaking of a certain amount of carbohydrates can help diminish that sensation of fullness. Some liquid refreshment ideas are fruit juice, chocolate milk, and energy beverages.

High glycemic foods are key.

Examples of food items that are high in carbohydrates include white bread and bagels, white pasta, white rice, white potatoes, breakfast cereals like Rice Krispies or cornflakes, pancakes, rice crackers, dried fruit like raisins, bananas, mangoes, pineapple, and sweetened dairy items like fruity yoghurts.

Reduce total fibre intake in the 24-48 hours leading into a race to minimize content in the intestines.

Do not exceed 1-2 servings of leafy and fibrous vegetables.

On race morning, aim to consume a meal of approximately two to three hours before the start time of about 80-100g carbs containing fibre.

Fibre aids in shielding the lining of the intestines from an issue brought about by extreme temperatures. Carbohydrates also play a major role in this. It is recommended to eat oatmeal (whether cooked or eaten cold as overnight oats), whole wheat toast/bread, a banana, and yoghurt.

The Importance of Consuming Carbs

If you are running at an aerobic speed or a fast speed, your body will create energy by burning carbohydrates.

The carbohydrate you metabolize is glucose. Glucose is what we call simple sugar.

Simple sugars, as their name suggests, are straightforward carbohydrate molecules consisting of one (monosaccharide) or two (disaccharide) sugar molecules. As glucose is a straightforward compound, it can be broken apart and used for energy.

It is necessary to comprehend that glucose is not readily kept because of the straightforward structure of the molecule. Rather, the body keeps it in the form of glycogen in the muscles and the liver. Glucose is a large chain of molecules composed of multiple glucose units.

At the start of exercise, glucose which has been stowed away in the bloodstream is utilised by the body. These molecules are quickly used up.

Then, the body starts splitting up the glycogen particle to unbind the glucose. Sugar is broken down in the muscle cells to create ATP (Adenosine triphosphate), the leading source of energy for the organism.

Simply put:

  • Glucose is the fuel.
  • Glucogen is the tank storing the fuel.
  • ATP is the energy (in its purest form) that needs fuel to be produced.

Tracking Carbohydrate Intake

Every athlete’s stomach and metabolism are different. Moreover, the heat and moisture levels of the place in which you practice or the track you plan on racing have an effect on your metabolic rate.

It is recommended that you record your nutrition intake in an exercise log. Write down the details of the type of nutrition you consumed.

  1. Total carbohydrate consumption per hour.
  2. Frequency of carbohydrate intake. Did you consume carbs every 20 minutes? Or 100 carbohydrates one time an hour?
  3. What type of carbohydrates did you eat? Primary glucose? Or a 1:1 ratio of fructose and glucose?
  4. And most importantly: How did you feel? Energized? Tired? Did you experience brain fog, or were you clear-minded?

The optimal information for constructing a diet plan based on carbohydrate intake stems from regular exercise like that of a race. If you intend to take part in a triathlon, you can expect to spend four hours doing strokes in the water.

Hence, it is essential to build your approach based on data that originates from long biking journeys lasting over four hours, during which your body was able to expend the same quantity of energy.

Carbohydrate Intake During the Marathon

Some triathletes depend on liquids like sports beverages or gels to get their carbohydrates during the run rather than chocolate bars. Eating this food is much simpler to process and less difficult on the stomach.

This enables me to consume small amounts regularly, thus maintaining a consistent supply of carbohydrates for my body. Lionel Sanders, who is counted among the top triathletes in the world, does this too.

However, it is imperative to emphasize; explore and ascertain what works best for you. Practising gives you the ideal moments to experiment and figure out which type of carbs works best for you.

Course Nutrition During a Triathlon Run

At Ironman (or half-Ironman) competitions, you’re likely to come across electrolyte-infused drinks, H2O, energy gels, and bananas for snacking. But you can also bring your own nutrition.

Carbohydrate Intake on The Bike

You need to adapt your plan for consuming carbs by the length of your race. Let’s take the Ironman Race as a starting point.

The bike section in an IRONMAN race, or any triathlon competition, is the longest and provides an ideal opportunity to refuel. During this segment of the competition, taking in essential nourishment is ideal since your pulse will be reduced.

You should find what works best for you. Since your heart rate is slower and your stomach is more efficient currently, you can liberally eat food that is harder to break down.

It might be something solid like energy bars or fruit. It is essential to consume a healthy amount of fluids and maintain a good level of energy. Always wash down solid carbohydrates with water. This will aid in the digestion of your food and keep you in optimum health.

Consume your last solid food bar no less than one hour before beginning the running portion of the bike race. This allows for gut emptying. The final gel should be taken 20 minutes before transitioning. Ensure that you keep hydrating with water and sports drinks until the end.

It is beneficial to have a mixture of carbohydrates in your diet as they are processed in different ways and cause your blood sugar levels to rise at different speeds.

Course Nutrition During the Bike Segment

At checkpoints during lengthy triathlons, athletes will normally have access to hydration drinks, Redbull, plain water, nutrient gels, bananas, and energy bars. Volunteers will provide you with everything required, so you won’t have to dismount your bike.

There are a few things you should be aware of when carb-loading:

  1. You’ll gain weight, and that’s good! For every gram of glycogen, you’re storing another 4 grams of water. This simply means your body is better hydrated – and ready for a hard race.
  2. Make sure to drink a lot of water while carb-loading.
  3. During a carb-loading period, make sure to reduce the amount of fibre you’re eating. It will reduce the chance of stomach upset on race day. Chose white bread over whole wheat.
  4. Do not over-eat or consume too many carbohydrates. You shouldn’t replace everything with carbs for five days. This will indeed be taxing on the GI system. Instead, you should gradually increase the number of carbs during the five days. And make sure to still get greens for vitamins and minerals.

The Importance of Consuming Carbohydrates after Exercise

During exercising and mainly during a competition, your body will deplete its glycogen reserves. Consuming carbs will naturally replenish them.

It is recommended that within 30 minutes of exercise, you eat between 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbs for each pound of body mass or 1.1 to 1.5 grams of carbs for every kilogram of body mass. This will refuel your body’s glycogen stores.

When both protein and carbohydrates are eaten together, insulin production is increased. Consequently, the food consumed before exercising or competing should include both carbohydrates and proteins. It is suggested that for every 3 parts of carbohydrates, one part of protein should be consumed.


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