Carbo-loading is necessary only if you’re an endurance athlete, explains a health expert

Carbo-loading seems like a fun way to boost your performance. After all, enjoying a heaping serving of pasta to meet your fitness goals sounds quite enjoyable.

But does stuffing yourself with spaghetti offer benefits? Experts say yes, but only if you’re an endurance athlete.

Carbo-loading basics

The body stores energy in the form of glycogen, a substance made up of many connected carbohydrates that are stored in the muscles and liver that is easily converted into energy.

Jaime Schehr, a registered dietitian and naturopathic physician, explained that endurance athletes use carbo-loading to optimize their performance by enhancing their energy stores. When done correctly, carbo-loading helps boost glycogen storage in your cells. (: Study reveals marathoners and elite athletes have high levels of gut bacterium that improve exercise endurance.)

You can do things to help you sleep better at night. You can avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. Also, while alcohol is well-known to help you fall asleep faster, too much close to bedtime can disrupt sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol.

This is good for athletes, such as marathon runners, triathletes or competitors taking part in endurance-based sports. The larger your energy stores, the more fuel your body has easy access to.

When carbo-loading, you consume more carbs than usual for several days. At the same time, you decrease physical activity to reduce the amount of carbs your body is burning.

Note that the number of carbs you can eat ranges from 2.3 to 5.5 grams per pound (about five to 12 grams per kg) of body weight per day. For example, if you weigh 154 pounds (70 kg), you can consume 350 to 840 grams of carbs per day.

Eat Nuts. Despite being high in fat, nuts are incredibly nutritious and healthy. They are loaded with magnesium, vitamin E, fiber and various other nutrients. Studies show that nuts can help you lose weight, and may help fight type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, about 10-15% of the calories in nuts aren't even absorbed into the body, and some evidence suggests that they can boost metabolism.

But not everyone can reap the benefits of carbo-loading.

Who benefits from carbo-loading?

Carbo-loading is effective, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re not an endurance athlete, you don’t need to increase your carb intake.

New racers shouldn’t carbo-load. Schehr advised that carbo-loading is only for people who have “raced distance” before and would like to try a different method of fueling their race.

Still can’t decide if you should try carbo-loading? If you’re joining a race that lasts longer than two hours, you could benefit from this method.

You can increase your carb intake if you’re biking or running for several hours, which can significantly decrease the amount of glycogen in your muscles. Doing these kinds of exercises can cause fatigue when your glycogen levels get too low.

Alcohol is pure carbohydrate and pure calories, makes you sleep badly, and keeps your blood sugar unstable.

In a study from the journal Sports Medicine, scientists found that carb-loading helps reduce fatigue and improve performance by at least two to three percent when exercising for more than 90 minutes. On the other hand, carbo-loading may be ineffective for shorter durations of exercise or activities that involve short bursts of activity like weight training.

Should you avoid carbo-loading?

Schehr warns that not everyone needs to undergo carbo-loading. If you’re a new racer or regular gym-goer, you can skip carbo-loading because you don’t really need it.

In fact, it might even backfire on your health goals.

The method isn’t effective for weight loss or weight gain, nor does it work for a sustainable diet plan. Carbo-loading is a very specific technique that is more suited for intended outcomes that involve both endurance and performance.

Cut down on processed food. Processed foods are not good because (1) most nutritional value is lost in the making of these foods and (2) the added preservatives are bad for our health. Many processed foods contain a high amount of salt content, which leads to higher blood pressure and heart disease. Processed foods are anything that is not in its raw form. In general, most food in supermarkets are processed — the more ingredients it has on the label (especially the ones ending with ‘ite’ or ‘ate’), the more processed they are. Watch out for those with salt/sugar in the first 5 ingredients and go for unprocessed food as much as possible.

Carbo-loading may also cause water retention, which isn’t ideal for some endurance athletes. According to Schehr, with every gram of stored carbohydrate, you store an extra three grams of water.

Some runners may benefit from this side effect, but others might notice an increase in their overall body weight that may negatively affect their race performance.

Carbo-loading is best for long-distance runners or those competing in endurance events. But if you’re running a shorter race or if you want to stay in the best condition for an athletic event, follow your regular diet to avoid negative side effects like water retention.

Eat a Healthy and Varied Diet. Eating a healthy diet should be our first priority, as the food we eat gives us the energy to function properly. In order to have a healthy diet, you could follow Canada’s Food Guide. It can help you to learn the appropriate portion sizes for the four food groups. Of course, eating a lot of vegetables and fruits is great for our health. It can also be a good idea to prioritize organic foods , as they contain fewer chemicals. Making the decision to eat a healthy diet is making the decision to respect and love ourselves.

Sources include:

MindBodyGreen.com

Healthline.com

NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov

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