How to Properly Carb-Load for Performance

This is turkey - which is mostly protein (not carbohydrates) - but you get where I'm going with this...

How to Properly Carb-Load for Performance

If you're an athlete, or someone who trains regularly for sport or general physical performance - you've probably heard of the concept of "carb loading". Essentially, carb loading is the process of over-consuming carbohydrates (a fast source of energy during exercise) in the days leading up to a training session or performance in order to store more energy. When used properly, it can provide athletes with more power output, longer endurance, and better performance. The technique was developed in 1931, and is now a common strategy for athletes to use prior to competition, however, there is certain things to understand - including HOW to properly carb load - to ensure optimal performance. 
So, with that in mind, here's everything (well...the IMPORTANT things) you need to know about "carbing up".

Carbohydrates are a fast fuel source
You probably already know this (because I already said it) but yes, carbohydrates are quickly broken down to produce ATP (energy). This process happens outside of the cells mitochondria (meaning that it does NOT require oxygen), and therefore is a prefferred fuel source especially for athletes who mainly rely on anaerobic (high intensity, short burst) performance. However, it can also be beneficial for aerobic (endurance) athletes to provide sustained energy during long-distance performances like a marathon. In these cases, storing carbohydrates through the carb loading technique can be beneficial.

Carbohydrates are broken down in to glucose - 
which is then further broken down to produce energy.
This is important for energy production during performance

Carbohydrates are stored
Without getting too in-depth in to the process, understand that when you eat carbohydrates, they are broken down in to glucose, which is then broken down further to produce energy. You have two main sources of carbohydrates to produce energy during exercise - circulating glucose in the blood, or stored glucose (called glycogen). Stored glucose (glycogen) is found mostly in the muscles itself, as well as in the liver. What energy source you use during exercise relies heavily on the intensity at which you are performing. Performing high intensity intervals will use the stored glycogen in the MUSCLES first, and rely on circulating and liver stores secondly. A low intensity (60-70% HRmax) endurance performance will use fat stores, as well as circulating blood glucose to produce energy, and rely on the stored carbohydrates later (as the performance goes on - such as in a marathon). 

By carb-loading, an individual can increase the amount 
of stored carbohydrates they have which can benefit performance

How to properly carb-load
Ok, so we understand (sort of) how carbs produce energy and how having more stored carbohydrates can benefit performance. But what are the best practices when it comes to properly carb-loading? 
While it varies from individual-to-individual, here's a common evidence-based general approach to carb loading leading up to a performance:

5 days before the performance, consume a high-carbohydrate diet for 3-4 days during the same time you are tapering exercise in order to store more carbohydrats. 

During your periodization plan (which you SHOULD have - more here), you are likely training at high intensities for several weeks leading up to a performance. By carb-loading during your tapering phase (when your training decreases to ensure peak performance), your body will store more glucose in the muscles because it has been conditioned to use muscle glycogen stores during training. In this sense, it OVER compensates, or "carb-loads", by storing more glucose to prepare for performance.

To properly carb-load, the diet should provide adequate calories for the individual and a good guideline to follow is to consume approximately 600g of carbohydrates per day, or 8-10 g/kg of body weight. By doing this, the athlete can increase musce glycogen stores by 20-40% above normal (i.e. you're LOADED). As a general rule for pre-event nutrition, consume carbohydrates (and all foods) that your body is familiar with and can easily digest. 

consume approximately 600g of carbohydrates per day, or 8-10 g/kg of body weight leading up to an event. 

By properly carb-loading, an individual can increase performance in both submaximal (endurance), as well as high-intensity, short duration exercise. It is a useful tool to use for those who wish to optimally perform for an event or to increase potential energy for a training session. As always, a proper nutrition and carb-loading schedule should be overseen by a nutrition or exercise professional. 

Got questions? Feel free to email me at or find me on my Facebook page: KFit Conditioning by Kalan Anglos

Kalan is a Combat Sports Performance Specialist who brings an evidence-based approach with practical-based knowledge to the world of combat sports and human performance. He is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA). and is currently finishing his MSc. Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. Through his masters thesis research, Kalan has established and implemented the KFit Test Battery for Combat Sport Athletes which is used by both Karate BC & Karate Canada as their standard fitness test for  athletes across the country. Additionally, Kalan is an exercise physiology lab instructor at the University of Victoria, and trains individuals (including athletes) every day to help meet their fitness needs and goals. He has many years of experience both as an elite athlete and high performance coach and is knowledgeable in the many fields surrounding fitness and training for sports performance.