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.)

Remember that sodas, granola bars, muffins, rice and soy milk, desserts and potatoes are extremely high in starch and sugars (and therefore carbohydrate calories). Artificial sweeteners are no good either…

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.

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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.

Maximize with nutrient-packed foods. Give your body the nutrients it needs by eating a variety of nutrient-packed food, including whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Eat less food high in solid fats, added sugars, and sodium (salt).

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.

Don't Drink Sugar Calories. Sugary drinks are the most fattening things you can put into your body. This is because liquid sugar calories don't get registered by the brain in the same way as calories from solid foods. For this reason, when you drink soda, you end up eating more total calories. Sugary drinks are strongly associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and all sorts of health problems. Keep in mind that fruit juices are almost as bad as soda in this regard. They contain just as much sugar, and the small amounts of antioxidants do NOT negate the harmful effects of the sugar.

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.

Sugar-coated. More than three million South Africans suffer from type 2 diabetes, and the incidence is increasing – with new patients getting younger. New studies show this type of diabetes is often part of a metabolic syndrome (X Syndrome), which includes high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. More than 80% of type 2 diabetics die of heart disease, so make sure you control your glucose levels, and watch your blood pressure and cholesterol counts.

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